We come from a culture where it was not OK to be gay, it was not OK to be black, it was not OK to be a women. If you were stupid, you got called out on it. If you were smart you got called out on it. If you had red hair you got made fun of, if you had brown hair you got made fun of. Being made fun of in one thing. Being lynched for being black is another. Living out your only one life with a women you’ll never love or be attracted to because…your not attracted to women, because you’ve been coerced by society to do so is another.
Thank the Lord, we have gone through a societal evolution. We have decided as a people (mostly) that people should be given a fair shot at life, regardless of skin color or sexual orientation. We have accepted as a norm that women should be permitted to have a voice in the public arena, hold jobs, have power and be a part and parcel of government. Those basic things were a big step forward for us. Having achieved them in law, and in theory, we have realized over time that the equality we imagined we had gained did not always play out in reality.
Being made fun of for something that made you different really does effect the way you proceed in life and the level of comfort comfortable you have in pursuit of your purpose and happiness. In time, the same people cracking jokes in school become the police putting you in handcuffs, the employer who refuse to hire you, the legislator who helped pass laws that make your life unequal. Culture matters. It’s really not OK to put people down for who they are.
When people use words like, faggot and nigger in derogatory ways as part of your everyday speech patterns is a form of violence for people who identify with those terms are being berated by pejoratives even if that is not our intention–words matter and words have power. So then we go to the other extreme and get to policing words. To the degree I outlined above, it makes sense. Problem is, our language is not built for 100% inclusive phrasing. Especially when it comes to things like gender. Most of us know and accept by now, that women can be CEOs, and presidents, even carpenters. Many of us understand that the women can be head of household. As it certainly is in my family. I have no problem saying so.
But when I’m describing general things, ‘he’ and ‘man’ are natural gender neutral terms in the English language. This both highlights the deeply ingrained sexism our culture is derived from, and the genuine innocents from which we use these terms. I mean, from a linguistics perspective things get to be deep enough to drown in at times. Somebody broke down the old English lineage of the word “man”. I can’t recall the exact breakdown, but consider my attempt as paraphrase or analogy: man was universal human, referring to nether gender. Males were werman or something like that, and females were wifman, or something like that. Then there’s a long evolution to whereupon man took on gender.
That our language at this stage fails to take on gender appropriate considerations does not make us gender bias. It so happens that we have this linguistic patterns and we also often do have gender bias. But it’s very surface to attack one through the other. Another more poignant place it shows up is in the trans and gender fluid communities. I’m not saying I’d be totally cool if I were single, and trying to get with some girl, and found out she had a penis. But to be honest, I’d be more likely to be OK with it then most men. I’m straight but I have a strong feminine side, and I like it. My mom’s gay. I’ve spent a lot of time in Provincetown (new England’s San Francisco), I’ve known gay people all my life, probably known trans people, just not well enough to know they were one).
In short, I have no problem with transsexual people. If you are a “trani”, and I meet you, expect no bigotry from me therein. But the bottom line is this; ‘they’ means plural, as in more then one person. You are born with a penis, but you want me to call you she, I don’t care if you have a full beard, I’ll do that with no hesitation. But ‘they’ is just linguistically awkward. All the other pronouns we’ve made up, well, are made up. Excuse the pun, but language is linguistically awkward. I have trouble with them. I do hope something takes hold, and generations to come, we have a credible word to use for these situations.
But right now, our language for these things is awkward. And it has nothing to do with our individual bias. It may be a reflection of our historical cultural bias. But I can’t help that. To be honest, in real life, I’m fairly linguistically brash. I’m a carpenter; I spend my days on job sites around a bunch of brash men. And I can’t claim to be one of the better ones. I jump right in. I talk about pussy. But my attitudes towards actual women reflect that of a male feminist. I really believe in feminism and empowering women; I am woman biased and I was raised in and in the midst of feminism.
My friends are referred to as niggy in the right context. Can’t help it, it rolls of my tongue; nigga doesn’t, feels awkward to me, never been close with a person who used it regularly; but I picked up niggy from friend and I use it not to be insulting but as a form of endearment. My wife says it all the time as well and wife is black; it’s hardly a reflection of racism. It’s no different then ‘dude’, or ‘man’, more like a filler pronoun. Think about it in this context; the homeowner’s girlfriend came by the job the other day. She brought her “negro”. I felt the need after they left to express how interesting it was that the billionaires girlfriend brought her negro along to carry her bags for her.
Everybody’s like, shhh, can’t say that, there’s brown people around. But the brown dude got it and is laughing about in for he knew I what I was saying was an expression aimed at the lady not the guy she brought along. I could have said it another way but sorry, that’s what she did; she brought along her “African” hand maiden. She might as well had a white baby at her teet. Notice I took all the vowels out of my “n-words”. Didn’t used to do that. I had a habit of paraphrasing the n-word free version of comments by white ‘nationalists’, but inserting the appropriate n-words where they left them out. I’d get good reactions from allies, but I’d wake up to a 24 hour Facebook ban.
Now in context, if I’m making fun of anybody, it’s racist white supremacists. But in proper context, I was attacking the notion of white supremacy not defending it. But just the word was enough to violate the terms and conditions of Facebook. The actual racist things my debate opponent was saying, for some reason didn’t. So I take the vowels out to avoid all that as I’m forced by Facebook word police to police my words. But I feel something lacking because what I express using abbreviated words and truncated thoughts don’t pack the same punch. You see, it’s not what you say, it’s what you do. It’s not the words you choose, it’s what you choose to say that matters and what your intention is behind your words that make something either hateful or thoughtful in my assessment.
This is especially true for those who hold positions of relative power in society. People who have the ability to impede or hinder the lives of other people and have the power to impact the livelihood of others should be very careful when it comes to the words they wield over others. Likewise, those of us who have the ear of those of us who have the ear of people in power have the same responsibility. By extension, this extends to just about every one of us. We all contribute to the culture in which we live. By accepting normalized subtle discrimination, we help to further normalize it.
It’s not whether or not you say ‘he’ or ‘man’ as a universal pronoun. It’s how you treat the women in your life or those who are different outside it. Even if your just at a club trying to get laid you have to pause and reflect; do you tell the women how beautiful she is, or do you engage her in intelligent conversation? To white people, if your in a mostly white working environment, do you stick to the white people, or do you engage the few brown people the same way you would anybody else? To straight people. Same thing. Do you engage with the LGBT people you encounter in your life the same way as anybody else? Do you say things when you think their not around that would make them feel uncomfortable?
In general, do you say things about groups of people when you think their not around that would make them feel uncomfortable if they heard you? These things play a real role in how a person feels about themselves. They play a real role in whether or not your employer feels comfortable hiring a person who does not fill the white male ‘generic’ category. They play a real role in legislation that gets passed and whether all groups are treated equally under the law. If we don’t want the government weighing in on these things, then we need to fix them from the ground level. If you don’t like quotas and affirmative action, if you don’t like harassment suits then the answer is to find the answer within our community around us and let decency be the moral compass.
The enmity that gnaw at society would go null and void if culture itself made them obsolete. Quotas would be filled naturally with no effort and the push for diversity would become a moot point. Nobody would be filing harassment suits if nobody was being harassed. Gay marriage shouldn’t even be a debate. WTF people? How can there even be dissenting opinion on that? This is basic equal protection under the law stuff. If we want these issues to disappear from the public forum, they are only going to go away when they are no longer an issue. These disenfranchised groups are not just going to go away and accept being disenfranchised. They will stop protesting, and stop protesting when they become fully enfranchised. Maybe we would be policing each other less and our government would be intruding even less if we just decided to treat each others how we want to be treated.