“You throw like a girl!”
“What a retard!”
“Come on, take it like a man!”
“She must be a n*****-lover.”
Offended yet? So am I.
Two weeks ago, I was in a Michaels store with the intent to purchase a picture frame but like any craft addict, I was also roaming the aisles, dreaming of all things creative. I slowly made my way to the check-out when two teenage boys nearly ran into me. No big deal. I smiled but before I could respond to their apologies, Boy #1 saluted me in a very strange, seemingly rude way. I ‘m sure I gave him a puzzled look as I tried to figure out what his intent might be. At that point, Boy #2 looked right at me and yelled, “Don’t mind him! He’s just a frickin’ retard!” Then they both ran away, howling with laughter.
I was too stunned to move. My knees actually gave way and I had to grab a nearby shelf to steady myself. My stomach churned. I was horrified. What if our little gift-to-be had heard that? What if our little gift-to-be does hear that? How can I possibly respond in a way that won’t include jail time?
When did this horrible, degrading term in this context become socially acceptable, even funny? How did it become okay to use the term “retard” in a way that assaults our fellow human beings?
And while we’re at it, when did our culture start the awful rumor that to be female is to be weak? Growing up a tom boy, I often found myself fighting the gender insult, “You throw like a girl.” When did it become appropriate to use the female gender as a way to intentionally hurt someone? Now, I’m no medical wiz but I’m pretty sure no man has ever given birth. Or done the equivalent of pushing a watermelon through his nose. Or pulled his lower lip up over his head. Can one of you kind readers inform me of such an event? If so, I’ll stop right here. No? Mmmkay.
And it’s not just childbirth that deems you a strong woman. There are women all over this planet who are fighting in wars, fighting for the souls of their children, fighting for their jobs, fighting for love, fighting for their health, fighting for equality. And some women are forced to surrender, which requires a different kind of strength and a whole new blog post.
What about our cultural assumption “real men don’t cry”? Some of the most authentic, masculine men I know have cried. Wept, in fact. How strong and alive these men have proven to be in the midst of overwhelming circumstances. They have shown a vulnerability in the face of death, fiercely loved their families, and fought for noble causes. Shame on our culture for perpetuating the stigma that “real men” don’t shed tears.
And let’s not forget the racial slurs that plague our globe. In the late 1990’s, I went out with a group of college friends, every color of the skin rainbow. We waited for 10 minutes in an empty Denny’s restaurant before the hostess came to seat us. But instead of showing us to a table, she said with her hands on her hips, “We’re full tonight.” Her look and tone told us that we were unwelcome. The Caucasian men seated on the bar stools glared. My African-American friends threw their menus on the floor and we all walked out. And this was in Philly. I was sickened by this experience and for the first time, I felt the sting that my darker skinned friends had felt for years. As a result of my friendship with this particular culture, I’d been deemed a “n*****-lover”. Yes, that was actually said to me. And this event happened on the cusp of Y2K, not during the 1960’s when comments and treatment of this nature were commonplace. Have we really come so far?
God, help us.
I have heard each of these derogatory descriptions over the years and while I have inwardly cringed, I have rarely publicly defended those to whom the term was referring, myself included. In my effort to avoid conflict and to please people, I would muster an awkward smile, clam up, then switch topics.
God, forgive me.
I’m done sitting idly by. I want to fight this life-stealing rhetoric, not with aggression and rudeness but with a kindness and authority, rooted in the Truth that God created and deeply loves each person on this planet. This Truth does not change, regardless of mental capacity, gender, or race.
This incident at Michaels got me wondering about the history of these particular phrases, the history of the many phrases used by our culture to describe various people groups. I don’t know the specific origins of all of these ignorant idioms and I don’t really understand why most of our society continues to use them. But really, is that the issue?
The question I’m asking myself these days is, “What is my role?” Even if I don’t use the phrases myself, I’ve been guilty of silence, which is equally damning. Shame on me. And shame on all of us whether we’ve used these terrible terms or pleaded the fifth, not wanting to upset our friends or those in company.
THIS. MUST. STOP. NOW.
Can we agree to end this damaging rhetoric?
Can my children grow up in a world where these terrible terms are eradicated?
Can we make a solid effort to kindly but firmly challenge those who use these them?
And perhaps most of all, can we take the time to address the motives behind our words and decide whether those words are life-giving?
I dream of a world where these kinds of words are extinct. I hope that my children never hear this poison from anyone, especially their mother. And like the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom we remember and honor today, may I refuse to be silent when the right words are needed.