Words like “ghetto, retarded, lame, gay” and others can be heard walking through South Puget Sound Community College. Many people use these words not in the original context.
Typically people explain or defend what they really meant when using those words when they should first listen to what offended the other person.
“We need to be cognizant of how words can mean different things to other people,” said John Rajcich, Assistant Director of Diversity and Equity.
For instance the term “that’s retarded” or “lame” has been used to describe how stupid or ridiculous a person has been. Many people have used this word in a similar context. This phrase alone targets mental, emotional and physical disabilities as objects of mockery.
A ghetto is typically a section of a city which is predominantly occupied by a group of people, because of social and economic issues. There is a long history behind the word, but it became widely used during World War II when Germans reused historic ghettos to confine Jews.
Today the term is hardly used if at all in affiliation with Jews. It describes something or someone as dangerous, worn out, poor, cheap, and associates people of color within these negative aspects.
“It’s not the word itself that bothers me, but people use it as a characteristic, like it’s a trait, if you do something that is stereotypical of a black person you’re labeled ghetto,” said Rebekah Hutson an SPSCC student.
The phrase “that’s so gay” is used to describe something that is undesirable or bad. It replaces negative adjectives that can make someone of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) community feel offended or create a barrier between you and someone that identifies with that community.
“Whether you approve of homosexuality or not it is still my identity and by saying ‘that’s so gay,’ to describe stupid or inferior things you are calling my identity stupid or inferior. Consider the role reversal. What if we were listening to music together and we both were not enjoying the song that is playing and I said, ‘That’s so straight! You might feel hurt, ridiculed, and vulnerable. Those are the feelings I have when I hear you say, ‘that’s so gay’,” said Matthew A. Shrader Senator for Legislative Affairs.
When someone speaks up against words that have a negative and hateful meaning to them we so often want to defend what we said and make the offense okay for them to hear.
“You’re so sensitive” or “I was only joking” are typical responses and ways we dismiss the impact. Dismissing the impact our words had deny that such words are a powerful force to oppress one and hold someone back from reaching their goals and successes.
All words can take on a different meaning for each individual, but we so often forget the many other words out there to describe what we are trying to say without offending someone.
Historically words dehumanized people to the point where it became acceptable to hurt or dismiss their rights as a human being.
Andrew Jackson didn’t fight “Native Americans.” He fought “redskins” or “savages.” In doing so, laws and policies were put into place to commit near genocide of that culture and take their land.
It wasn’t Japanese Americans we were after during World War II to send to internment camps, but “Japs” or “Nips.”
Bullies don’t beat up “LGBTQ Americans” they go after “fags.”
For us to throw words around casually dismisses the history of hatred and oppression behind them. Ignoring the impact isn’t just dismissing “hurt feelings,” it perpetuates violence at the lowest level making the transition from just words to physical action more possible.
SPSCC has around 7,000 students attending every year and each of us have our own life experiences and backgrounds that we come from. Not one of us comes from a mold. We are individuals with positive attributes to bring to the table.
One of the values of the school posted on the website is working cooperatively in taking on challenges, making good decisions, helping each other be successful, and promoting a respectful, open and safe communication.
“Personally, I think using more respectful terms helps us engage with different people more respectfully and in a way that is mindful of our history as Americans,” said Eileen Yoshina, director of diversity and equity.
One way students can enhance each of our experiences here on campus is to recognize our talents, overcome the obstacles, and work together to secure a fun environment to learn and pave the way for other students to feel welcome on campus.
Submitted by Amanda Frank