The dangers of reclaiming racial slurs

Deborah Dzifa Makafui November 30, 2022
Image via BBC

Racial slurs, often known as racial epithets, are expressions that denigrate people who belong to particular racial or ethnic groups. By implying that the populations being disparaged are undeserving of equality, slurs and other racial defamation tactics demean the targeted groups and support racial discrimination. 

Slurs are used similarly to the N-word, but with less power and with a different meaning, yet they are similar enough that we still recognize them as obviously offensive words. It is a deliberate verbal attack created to hurt someone, racially, as it also causes serious psychological and emotional harm to the intended victim.

A reclaimed slur is when oppressed groups of people adopt a pejorative term that has historically been used to disparage them and uses it to recapture some of the social power that has been taken from them. Many have stated that reclaiming slurs is a kind of healing from past and present injustices, but is it? There have been many battles, advocacy campaigns, and movements against racial discrimination, such as black lives matter, but racial discrimination still exists today. 

When someone in one group makes a slur for another, the addition of this rule only makes it worse and more obnoxious. In recent years, not fewer, people have become more prone to being upset by racism. Slurs have a bad and lengthy history among the group that endured racism. When a race refers to a minority race as a slur, why do people become upset if reclaiming insults is seen as progressive? The fact that words have power, significance, and the ability to alter how we think about and interpret messages must also be mentioned. It is impossible to erase a slur’s history, no matter how hard we attempt to recover it to weaken it. 

Finally, it’s all about respect and sensitivity, as with anything. Understanding that some individuals might find something offensive while others might not is important since these terms can elicit such diverse and divisive reactions depending on a person’s past experiences with them. 

The psychological consequences of racist slurs are discussed by Psychology Today. Researchers discovered that continued exposure to an accumulation of perceived daily stress and racial discrimination stress increased the probability of violence among African-American young people in one of the few studies I could locate that connected the experience of racism to violent reactions.

The Daily Life Experiences scale was used to gauge the stress caused by racial prejudice. It includes things like “Not being hired for a job,” “Your views or opinions being downplayed, ignored, or devalued,” and “Being neglected, overlooked, or not offered service (at a restaurant, store, etc.).” Only one thing comes close to qualifying as a racial slur: “Being insulted, called a name, or harassed.” This item, in my opinion, does not adequately convey the impact of hearing a racist epithet like the “n-word.” 

It’s important for marginalized communities to speak out against racial slurs and not tolerate them because they have a very painful history. This sensitive topic is also about realizing that if you don’t belong to the marginalized community in question, you will never be able to identify with them or interpret their challenges for them.

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