Hurtful Language

— By 22 June 2015

This article discusses discrimination and slurs. It can get a bit heavy later on, so if you don’t feel like that’s something you want to read about, feel free to navigate away and read some of our other articles!

The English Language is super elaborate and intricate language. This web of nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs has developed over centuries into so much more than method of communication, but a medium of art. Still, even though there's plenty of alternatives, people continue to use slurs that marginalise groups of people and discriminate against them.

Slurs can be and are incredibly destructive for the people who are marginalised. It is important to know what they are, why they are harmful and what we can do to stop their use in our language.

Slurs are words that are used or have been used to degrade, humiliate, or marginalise certain groups. These words can be used to refer to people of a certain race, gender, sexuality, or other trait in a negative way. In some cases they can be used to describe someone or something, or the way in which someone does something.

A lot of slurs are treated as pretty unacceptable nowadays. It's a big step forward that a lot of people do realise that words like this can be violent.

There's no one agreed on list of what words are slurs and what aren't. Some people disagree about particular words, and there's no one updating a perfectly correct list for you to track. While some googling can come up with discussions about words, the conversations are always being added to. Some of them are pretty obvious but some of them are words you might have never thought about.

Listen to the people hurt by them when they ask you to stop using a word, and remember it in the future. Even if someone else from the group says it's okay, it's much better to just try and avoid hurting anyone with them.

Often slurs have some kind of history attached to them. These words may have been used to marginalise or humiliate people, or may have been used to refer to people at a time where they faced even more oppression than they do now. The words might not have the same weight as they did at one point in history, but they are still degrading or offensive terms which cause harm. Even just their common use helps to contribute to the harmful ideas people have about these groups.

Lots of people think the fact that we have laws about it, discrimination isn't still a thing. It's pretty obvious when you live with it, though, that isn't true. Discrimination is still alive and well in our society, and slurs, even used off-the-cuff increase the damage.

For some of us, these words can even be a reminder of something really bad or violent we've experienced. Other times they can just be about putting us in our place, reminding us that there are people who still think really little of us. It can make really harmful attitudes seem normal, even though they shouldn't be.

This can be a great opportunity to teach somebody about this stuff! Not everyone is perfect, and sometimes people need someone to say “Hey, that’s not cool.” When you hear someone use a slur, try to keep your cool for your own sake, but definitely call them out on it. Sometimes they might disagree with you and continue to use it, but you need to stick to your guns. 

If you ask someone to stop using a slur and they don’t stop, don’t stress too much about it; you can’t change someone’s behaviour, you can only call them out on it, and after all, there might be someone else in the room that hears what you’ve said and cuts it out!

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