Saturday, August 24, 2019

Right back at ya!

Some two and a half years ago, I started a three-parter on discrimination on this blog. That was one of the last posts I wrote in a long time. That three-parter was something that had been brewing in my head for a very long time, so I still intend to get back to it eventually and write the remaining two parts. The second part is one that will be more or less the same no matter when I write it, except that I might learn a thing or two and change my opinion a bit. The third part is one that is much more related to the things happening in the world at the moment, so its content will largely be dictated by when I do actually write it.

Today I want to do something different, though. I want to comment on something that I wrote in the first part, and add to it the understanding that I have gained since I wrote it. Let's start by quoting what I wrote in the past.

However, there is this strange other side to [the word nigger], where it is accepted if a black person says it. I would understand this if it was about intention and sometimes a bit of it is about intention. However, the word is also considered racist if it is used by a white person without intending to insult. If anything, the fact that white people cannot use the word while black people can sounds like racism to me.

I don't really want to get into whether calling someone a nigger is racist. I do think that I can say without evoking any controversy that you generally shouldn't call someone a nigger. Black people generally don't like being called a nigger and that should be more than enough reason not to do so. I think that by extension, we can say that is often okay for one black person to call another black person a nigger. And by putting it like that, I think that we can clearly see that the idea that whites cannot use this term isn't actually racist. After all, it's not that they are actually not allowed to say the word, it's that they shouldn't.

Today, I want to look at why a white person shouldn't call someone a nigger while a black person can do this if they want to. When I wrote that, I didn't understand it at all, and I think that the quote above very much shows that. I think I understand it a bit better now, so that's why I'm writing this.

My understanding of this changed completely when I read something on the internet. I don't know where I read it or who wrote it, but what they had written was that when you can respond with "right back at ya", an insult is much more of a playful thing than an insult.

And that's basically all there is to it. It's basically that any insult doesn't really hit as hard when it could also be used against the one using it. For that, it doesn't matter what the insult itself is. It could be some way in which a person is not neurotypical, it could be related to a hobby that isn't considered normal by the mainstream, it could be almost anything else. The key is that when the one using the insult falls in the same category, they can't really mean it as an insult, so it's playful rather than truly an insult.

Of course, being a white male was the first thing that made it hard for me to understand the way this worked for a word like nigger. However, while I think that made it hard, I also think that nigger is also a more or less unique situation where we took things to the extreme. Just like how I think that for many people the main reason it's a "bad word" is because they have been taught it's a bad word, I think that for most people a black man using the word is accepted behavior because they have been taught it's accepted behavior. And we've taken things to a rather extreme point to begin with by basically saying a word is not okay regardless of context or intention, and making basically implying that it's always just in friendliness when a black guy says the word is a similar extreme to me.

At the end of the day, understanding where this difference in judgement of people based on their skin color helped me understand why this isn't actually a problem. I'm not entirely sure if I think this is a good way to tackle problems, but at least now I understand. And if you didn't before, maybe now you can too.

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