WWJD?: Offensive Terms

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Jaylin Paschal

“I try to ignore offensive terms and not let negative influences impact my life,” said Peer Facilitator Whitney Fiedler.

Jaylin Paschal, Editor-in-Chief

We avoid using offensive terms in an attempt to be decent human beings. As little kids we learned not to participate in name-calling or say bad words. (Not only because it isn’t nice, but also because it may get you punched in the face.)

As we got older, the line that divided acceptable language and “bad” words began to blur and bend. What is a “bad” word? What exactly makes a term offensive? It’s all subjective, so who decides?

The person you are talking to decides. The victim of the name-calling is the only one who can truly determine how undermining a term is. The person directly attacked by your word choice. If a term is used to describe a group in society, and that group says that term is offensive, then it is. Simply because they say it is. They are the ones dealing with the emotional and internal impact of the term, so we should take their word for it, because only they could know.

If a friend tells you something that you say (or do) is offensive, take their word for it, because only they could know.

Do not get defensive. Someone telling you that what you say is mean is not the same as someone telling you that you’re mean. No one is claiming that you’re a bad person. They’re not tearing you down, they’re just standing up for themselves.

Do not try to tell them how they should feel or react. Do not try to challenge the validity of their feelings, because you could never know the pain felt when certain words are used. One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone states that a term is offensive and someone else who uses that term frequently shouts out “no it’s not” or, worse, “well maybe you’re just too sensitive/serious.”

For example, only a gay person can comment on the true emotional impact of derogatory terms used to describe them. Anyone who does not identify as gay is in no position to determine whether or not those terms are actually hurtful. And so, if a gay friend or peer tells you that they are offended when you say something along the lines of “that’s so gay” when describing something bad, listen to them. Don’t argue that it’s not or that it’s subjective. Listen to them.

It’s quite simple, really. If a gay person tells you that something you said sounds homophobic, maybe you shouldn’t say it again. If a person of color tells you that something you said sounds racist, maybe you shouldn’t say it again.

You should obviously avoid the obvious inappropriate and hateful slurs at all costs.

We should all alter our vocabularies in a way that makes everyone around us feel accepted. You may not understand why some people are offended by some things, but you should respect their wishes regardless.

What’s important is that you eventually make amends with anyone you’ve offended. Do not just offer some insincere apology and continue to say or do the same things.

You can always argue that you have “freedom of speech” and so you can say whatever you like, and you’d be absolutely right. But you do not have freedom from the social consequences that come after you decide to be rude. Although no legal trouble may arise, you could still lose relationships and respect. So, with that being said, you should not be a jerk just because you can be a jerk.

What Would Jaylin Do? Remove any offensive words and terms from her vocabulary, apologize for being offensive, and respect the wishes of those who feel targeted.