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You might have heard last week that Australian cricketer Andrew Symonds was taunted by an Indian cricket crowd with monkey chants echoing an ugly trend in European football, where black players have been similarly abused.
It got me thinking about racial slurs and how difficult it can be to pin down what is offensive and who it’s offensive to, particularly when the party doing the slurring is of the same or similar race. prior to Wogs Out of Work) you were skating a very fine line using that word to describe someone if you weren’t a “wog” yourself.
I’ve been to cricket matches here in Australia and heard visiting Indian, Pakistani and Sri Lankan players taunted with monkey noises and far, far worse, and it begs the question: does the Symonds case fall into the same category as people of similar racial groups calling each other “wog” and “nigger”? .
Given, Symonds’s background is West Indian and his taunters were Indian, but they were essentially utilising a ridiculous slur that is used on many races who have dark skin that they are somehow “ape like”.
Having been racially taunted as a kid (“greasy wog”, “white wog”, “etho”), I know it’s not fun, but you reach a point as you age where you actually pity people with such poor self image they have to attack another for something as arbitrary as race.
In a perfect world, people would never utter intentionally hurtful racial epithets, but there’s also an incredibly wide range of slurs that are constantly undergoing rehabilitation and redefinition, some of which have been drained of almost all their menace.
I was at one of my local cafes during the week and a flaming, older gay man jokingly told the cashier to “hurry up with that Jewish piano” while he was waiting for his change.
It struck me is that offensive? Then I wondered “is he a Jew?” “Is it OK to say that if he’s not a Jew?” “If the cashier said, ‘here’s your change you poof’ would that even the score?” and would the cashier have to be gay and/or Jewish to get away with that?
Reader ThePirateKing, who suggested this post some time ago, made the observation that “one commentor refers to you (Sam de Brito) as the Portuguese drag queen which part of that is more offensive?” (For the record, I find neither to be.)
Words like “coon”, “abo” and “boong” have long been held to be derogatory when referring to Indigenous Australians, but the term “blackfella” seems to have undergone renovation and is now held by many to be politically correct.
Looked at objectively, the term “abo” is a contraction of the word “aborigine”, yet it is considered hugely offensive, when the terms “Leb” or “Lebo”, also contractions, but of the word “Lebanese”, are now widely considered to be fairly neutral racial descriptions.
Another contraction, “homo”, is also still regarded to be offensive, unless used by a gay man, as is “fag”, yet words like “queer” and “queen” can be uttered pretty safely by gays and straights.
The term “Paki” is used by sportscasters and announcers in this country to describe Pakistani cricketers but it’s a nasty slur in the UK; using the word “boy” to describe a black man in US will get you knocked out, but you wouldn’t think twice about saying “my boy” to the same person in an Aussie pub.
Another question that arises is at what point does racial description become racism?
It’s not cool to call someone “darkie” but “whitie” or “white trash” is okay; “slope eyes” is offensive but “rice burner” is benign; “towel head” is derogatory but “curry muncher” and “coconut” are seen as humorous.
The grey areas also extend to gender: I’ve heard many young women affectionately call each other “bitch” but it takes on a different flavour coming from a man . for some.
New York Knicks basketball coach Isiah Thomas recently said in his testimony for a sexual harassment case that a black man calling a woman “bitch” did not carry the same negativity as a white man saying the same thing (Thomas was found guilty and the Knicks’s owners ordered to pay $US11.6 million to a former female executive who endured crude insults and unwanted advances from Thomas.)
His attitude, however, is mirrored by millions of men who somehow think referring to women as “hoes” (or whores) is a term of endearment. Imagine pulling that one out 30 years ago?
So how does a formerly abusive term become rehabilitated and who makes that call? Is it primarily the decision of the abused, the minority, the person in the position of lesser power, or can even a “cracker”, “breeder”, “bastard” like myself take the lead?
If you’d like to email me with a topic suggestion or just vent, try here. I now have more than 800 unanswered emails and no hope of catching up. So I’m instituting a no reply policy (unless you’re hot) because I’m sick of feeling guilty about it. In advance, I thank you for your email.
So often it depends on your relationship with the person. I have two friends, one of whom had a greek paternal grandfather (and has inherited the dark skin, dark hair and Greek surname, but speaks no Greek and has no greek ties at all), the other is a Vietnamese girl who was adopted during the war by a Greek/German Aussie couple, so her surname is Greek and she speaks a little Greek we call these 2 “token greeks” or “token wogs” and they don’t mind at all. 😉
I have Iranian friends. I tease them by calling them “terrorists”, but they know full well that when I call them this I actually mean “I know this is EXACTLY what you ain’t” and they absolutely know how proud I am to know them and to call them my friends.
I think if words get used a lot they eventually lose their power just exactly the same as words like “bloody” (unprintable less than 100 years ago) or f (still unprintable sometimes, but now almost common on TV). If some words are dreadful now, they will lose their power later as people adopt them as terms of endearment among friends who _know_ that their mates do NOT match the stereotype of the word in question.
One of the strange quirks of Australian culture is that you call your enemy a “bit of a loser” but your best mate is a “complete and utter bastard”. I used to have a great group of mates whose nicknames were pseudo offensive. My Indian friend was “Paki”, the Canadian was “Yankee”, the Collingwood hater was “Eddie” and so on. The more you objected to it, the more the name stuck.
But as for these type of comments or “slurs” directed at strangers, or when they are said to be deliberately hurtful, it’s a sad indictment of how pathetically small minded the speaker is. If people within earshot encourage him, or they remain silent (which can be interpreted as tacit approval), then it a poor reflection on that society as this sort of thinking is reinforced or even spread to others. In the 1940s in America, a movment dubbed “Frown Power” encouraged people to pointedly frown when they heard bigoted speech. This sort of action or even more overt objections can be enough to change the way people think as peer admonishment is one of the most effective disincentives within society. Most bigoted people are cowardly and insecure, and will only speak up if they think they have the support of the masses.