I don’t know about you, but sometimes I don’t even know if I can use certain words without offending someone else. Some words I learned years ago, and they were okay at the time, but then time passes and then they’re not. I also often wonder what to say to people when they say something I think is offensive, especially if I like the person who said it.
I recently came across an amazing video that can be helpful for anyone who wonders about whether anyone should use the n-word or not. It can help parents talk to their kids about use of the n-word or other offensive words that some groups can use but others shouldn’t. Often as parents we want to have a discussion with our children about this, but we might not even know how to explain why it’s okay for one group of people to use a word and not okay for others to use the word. If you have a teen who’s into hip-hop or rap, there’s plenty of n-words. Ta-Nehisi Coates* does a beautiful job of explaining why every word doesn’t belong to everyone, using compassion, humour and firmness.
Is it okay for you or your teen to sing along with songs that use the n-word? Watch and find out. The answer may surprise you.
When Every Word Doesn’t Belong to Everyone by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Other Simple strategies
I really liked Ta-Nehisi’s explanation. I found it humbling and clear. But what about other words or phrases that he didn’t address? Maybe just ask the person, “Is it okay to refer to you as ***** or am I completely off-base?” Individuals in a specific culture may have different preferences. Another way, could be to do some research by talking to others or looking on the internet. Cultural competency courses are also available in some educational institutions and various communities.
What If I’m offended by someone else’s words?
What do you do if you’re offended by someone else’s words? Maybe we could just tell them that – but how do we do that in a respectful way?
A Success Story
I am going to share one success story with you today regarding when someone used the phrase, “That’s so gay”. This is a phrase that has often been used in a derogatory way.
In my situation I was with a group of teenagers. I found that using humour and the power of the group was the most effective method to help a person reconsider their choice of words. Imagine that the teenager was saying, “That’s so gay”, about Justin Bieber’s music. I found that responding, “So you think that Justin Bieber’s music is amazing?! I agree”, was the most helpful response. The teens would kind of look at me and the other teens would look to see what was going to happen. I would tell the teen that when I heard people use the phrase, “That’s so gay”, that I would take it to mean that they loved whatever they were describing, because being gay was a great thing. They would get my point without having to be scolded or have a big conversation about it which often just encouraged the behavior.
Not all my tactics have been successful, but that’s okay. Sometimes we just must try and then fail, to learn a different response. Sometimes we must be bold about saying we’re uncomfortable with something and be okay with a negative response. I am far from an expert on this, but I try when I can muster the courage.
*Ta-Nehisi Coates is an American author, journalist, comic book writer, and educator. His most recent book is We Were Eight Years in Power, a finalist for the National Book Award. He is a national correspondent for the Atlantic.
Photo by hepingting (CB106492) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons