Minorities across America have experienced hardship and discrimination continually throughout this country’s history, and a defining part of those hardships is using slurs against them. However, as time goes on and cultures evolve, so do words and their meanings.
Reclamation of slurs and derogatory language has been happening all throughout history. However, it is still a topic surrounded by confusion.
“A lot of people are born and raised a certain way and don’t seem to question (using slurs),” said Plattsburgh State student Travis Peterson. “If they grow up surrounded with their parent’s hatred, they may not understand it.”
Psychological Science a peer-reviewed journal published a study in 2013 that found participants who reclaimed their slurs and self-identified with them felt more powerful because they took the negative force away from the word.
Plattsburgh state sociology professor Lynda Ames said that slurs are used by the more dominant and privileged group for the sole purpose of separating and hurting people.
“If someone says a word intending to hurt you, one of the ways to deal with that is to say ‘You can’t hurt me. This is my word too,’,” Ames said.
As a lesbian, Ames has had her own experiences reclaiming slurs and using them with her wife and LGBT+ friends but not allowing heterosexual people use them because of the history behind the slur and the wanting to inflict pain.
Ames sees the confusion among her students in class and thinks that everyone needs to evaluate their privileged traits and oppressed traits.
“Many white people don’t understand their privilege or are willing to acknowledge and admit,” Ames said. “I’m white and I’m queer and a woman. I have privilege, and I don’t have privilege. We’re all a bunch of things altogether.”
Ames said that slur reclamation is important to understand, especially given the atmosphere on campus since the student protests surrounding the racist Snapchat post by PSUC freshman Maria Gates and the lack of response from the administration last Friday.
“The use of the word n****r and lynching are very much together,” Ames said. “You can’t use that word without invoking that threat and pain and exclusion.”
Peterson and Ames said that the best way to become educated about using this kind of language is taking classes to learn the history behind the words and the actions associated with them and most importantly talking and listening to minorities.
Ames hopes these recent events push the campus to take steps forward to become a more understanding and educated place, but more importantly safer for our African American students.
The sociology department is hosting a showing of “The Last Lynching: The Michael Donald story” in Yokum 200 on March 6 at 5 p.m. as a means to start that.
PSUC international business and global supply chain management major Bach Do said that the most important thing to think about when considering using a slur is to think about your relationship with the person and the intentions behind using the slur in general.
“Many friends don’t mean any harm (by using slurs) whether or not they mean it,” Do said. “It’s sarcastic, so it’s implied through tone. It’s not about the words but the intentions.”
Email Windsor Burkland at firstname.lastname@example.org