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I know you like to be trendy. I know that you are witty and funny and that you are pithy with your words. I like to laugh with you, and I know you like it, too. And I respect you; I think you have many admirable qualities.
However, I have lately become uncomfortable around you. You see, you like to use disparaging comments about people; not specific to a person, but rather you like to use stereotypes generally in a derisive and hurtful way about specific groups of people.
I do not think you are sexist or racist or homophobic. Rather I think that you are trying to be witty, to make people laugh, and to stand the world on its head by using these negative stereotypes in your own humorous way.
I would like you to know that they still hurt. I often laugh while cringing on the inside. I do not like the way these comments make me feel. When I need help hanging something and you shake your head and say “vaginas” in a disappointed tone, I giggle and try not to think too much about it or about why I am suddenly uncomfortable.
I like you and respect you and you are my friend, and I know you do not mean any harm. And yet, when I have heard phrases like “throw like a girl” all my life, it is only one more to add to the list. When you tell me a celebrity you don’t like is a “dirty whore,” I don’t think it is clever or witty or pithy. Rather I think it is repeating what all too many people, in particular men but also many women as well, have said too many times and for far too long.
Sometimes, many times, I want to say something to you. I want to say, “Hey you, I really don’t like when you use those statements, those words around me. I find them hurtful and degrading.” But I don’t. Instead I bite my tongue, just as I’ve bitten it a million other times around a million other people.
I bite my tongue because I am afraid. I like you and I do not want to lose you as a friend. And I am scared because I do not want to be at the end of the next “pithy” remark. I have no desire to be disparaged as a “dirty whore,” or told that I “take things too seriously,” that I’m “too PC.” It was just a joke, just another comment, why can’t I get over it? Especially if I know that you are my friend and you would never truly disparage me for my gender? Aren’t I then just looking for something to get upset over?
I don’t believe I am. You see, it is hard to believe that you can truly respect me and believe that I am just as capable as a man when you use my gender in such disparaging terms, and you do quite often. I admit, I am a sensitive person – I am not so easily able to brush these and so many other remarks off.
I will also agree that I want a “PC” world. In fact, I myself am often much less “PC” than I wish to be, mostly because I want approval, and because I can be careless when choosing my words. I want your approval. I want the approval of my peers. I do believe that there are legitimate times when perhaps those disparaging remarks about a person’s race, gender, sexuality, and the list goes on should be used, times when those terms could lead to a more enlightening, enriching conversation. I do not believe that tossing those words out as casual jokes can in any way lead to any such enlightening conversation.
I believe that being “PC” is a sign of respect to those around you and to people you don’t know. I believe that being “PC” is a sign of understanding, that you can recognize that you do not know the experience of someone who has been oppressed, so you respect that certain words which have been used to degrade, humiliate and subdue that person may hurt that person, may even trigger that person.
I believe that using a phrase like “playing the race card,” or saying that someone is “overreacting” in those situations or that they are “too PC” is demeaning. It is an attempt to dodge responsibility for carelessly chosen words. Maybe when you use those phrases you are attempting to cover for your own insecurity over the perceived slight of being viewed as racist, homophobic, or sexist. It is an attempt to assuage your own guilt and convince anyone else around that there is no way you could have done something wrong.
But unfortunately when someone points those things out to you, you have entirely missed the point. It is not about you. They are not saying, and I am not saying, that you are sexist or racist. I am saying that the words you choose are important. I am saying that these words upset me and others, that I would hope that out of respect for me, you would choose not to use them, at least around me. I am not saying that you are a bad or wrong or mean person. I am saying that you are a person who has lived with privilege. And I am asking that you consider what those words might mean or how they might feel to someone else, someone who has not lived your experience, where those words are just words.
I only wish that I can continue to be your friend and that as your friend I can feel fully respected, even if that means that you choose your words more carefully around me. This may take more effort, but I believe that as friends this would be an effort you should be willing to give. I also believe that neither you nor I are perfect. I believe that I will have to remind you and point out when you say things that hurt me, and I believe that as my friend you will do the same if I say anything that hurts or upsets you.
And I hope that as my friend you will understand that this comes not from a place of wanting to chastise you or accuse you of something, but rather that this comes from a place of wanting to feel comfortable, safe and cherished when around friends.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Ellie Bean at email@example.com.