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Grandma's Easy Use of Racial Slurs Wasn't Really Intentional, but Kindly Stated

Updated on December 16, 2013

My Grandma was a Dearie, but a Few of Her Incidental Words Weren't

Occasionally we tell stories on our ancestors, in good humor. They can be fun for us to write, to relive, and to share.

But since some of our ancestors' humor may have been based on racial slurs, and habitual demeaning language that were just part of the wallpaper back home -- we need to take special care in sharing those tales.

This is especially true when we write from our place in the American power group (mostly northern European ancestry). We need to be sure than when we share bigotry (in the form of old-time humor) that was common and even enjoyed in our families --- doing so without denouncing that practice is tantamount to pouring salt on open wounds.

Like the driver of this truck, let's pay attention to others on the roads of our lives and have a care for their safety.

Today, December 16, 2013, we have copious opportunities to raise our awareness of slights that would be gross to us, if they were applied to us. Below find some books that can inform our consciousness.

Intro photo: ©2003 detail from Winged Daggers Leslie Sinclair. All other photos ©2013 Leslie Sinclair

Although Different in Color and Shape, They're All Still Squash

Just Place Ourselves in Their Shoes

A generous, kind, caring grandma, born a century ago to immigrant parents had inhaled some racial slurs that to her were terms of endearment, because she thought of the referneced group as rather childlike and unfortunate, but she never seemed to reach the point of recognition of the race as full fledged adult humans. Her heart went out to them. Her compassion was obvious when she spoke of hangings and such outrageous treatment.

I know that in her spirit she meant nothing disparaging, but that doesn't negate the pain that the words would have caused to others, especially to those who held membership in the race and to those who empathized with the group, if overheard.

Today, December 16, 2013, we have copious opportunities to raise our awareness of slights that would be gross to us, if they were applied to us. Below find some books that can inform our consciousness.

Let's Sand Away the Harshness of Bigotry

Blindness to Our Own Biases Can Taint Our Lenses - let's write as if we belong to one group - humanity

I can't escape the fact that whatever my socioeconomic level in my family of origin, we were formed as a reflection of the white elite. To our megagroup we were always the insiders. The aspersion inherent in the words they sometimes used or heard couldn't apply to us because we belonged, by virtue of race, to The In Group.

Personalizing articles on lenses is one of the ways we write remarkable content. We all have stories to tell and when someone risks telling about their own life in a narrative I usually find it easy to read.

It makes me eager to hear about how someone else did something, how they used to think, how they think today, what's funny to them, where their heart lies, what they make, how they make or do something, which ways they use an item, and why they buy a certain product.

But every now and then I feel like I've been slapped. Perhaps you have too. We might infuse our awareness with some stories of the effects of well planned and consequential acts of bigotry in our American public sphere.

Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City
Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City

We're fortunate if we do not identify with the common practices of subtle and blatant bigotry against any group other than our own.

There's always a chance, however, that we do. Our habits and language, our associations and neighborhoods have been formed by external influences more subtle than our normal pulse.

What is true about bigotry in Baltimore's history is also true about our other American cities, some more so than others.

We may uncover some signs of our own behaviors that make us uncomfortable just reading about them. But if we fail to acknowledge some aspect that betrays us, we will be unable to change it.

Hatred, Bigotry, and Prejudice - Definitions, Causes & Solutions (Contemporary Issues)
Hatred, Bigotry, and Prejudice - Definitions, Causes & Solutions (Contemporary Issues)

I always find it easier to relate to contemporary stories and writing than to that of distant generations.

Recent writing from top journals of our day explore the circumstances and practices that harm our very souls and threaten the very lives of groups to which we don't belong, because to us --- they may seem invisible.

Habits can limit our vision and rip the hearts of others
Habits can limit our vision and rip the hearts of others
Racial Slur gas mask
Racial Slur gas mask

Words Can Be Toxic to Those in the Other Group

I grew up hearing an older person refer to the part of a chicken's anatomy with a term that included a figure of prime importance to a great world religion.

Someone I respected had a lot of fun, and must have felt some power, bandying about an invective that sounded funny to them as they imagined the object of ridicule as the discardable part of a fowl.

That was the way it was and I absorbed it - who wouldn't want to use an easy means of garnering good feelings. I didn't think that then, but now I realize that getting attention, even at the expense of others, must have been inherent in our adoption of family terms of ridicule.

That the comment always provided a moment of humor around the table became repulsive to me as my conscience developed, but not before I used it at a friend's family's dinner table (friends of that religion.

We in the in group don't breathe in the toxic gas emitted by such words as that one I describe above. It's as if we're wearing gas masks, but not so with those whose sensibilities have graduated to the point where they include others in their hearts.

Not Claiming Imunity Myself

Maybe it's easier for me to spot someone else's insensitivity towards the huge American racial group that has been maligned since their ancestors were forcibly imported and transported like cargo across the seas to the Native Americans' homeland. I may have made the same mistake, leaving out my abhorrence to this practice of some of my forebears, when relating family anecdotes.

Let's Not Hesitate to Take a Detour - when it comes to our potential use of racial slurs - or any other kind of bigotry

Maybe HQ would consider adding a anti-slur button to our lens workshops, to bring this concern to our attention when crafting our stories.

Let's write as if we are the ones to whom the racial, religious, gender, language, ethnic, etc. slurs of others refer.

What is your take on this sensitive topic? Am I too sensitive to the feelings of others who suffer racial slurs directed at them

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    • WriterJanis2 profile image


      5 years ago

      There is still way too much predjudice in the world whether it be towards certain races, religions, gay people, etc. I wish we could all just come together.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I do get this many times although I have to admit many of my ilk, Asians are also guilty of this. We all have our own set of slurs. Sometimes, it may not be race but social status or other things. I always remember that line in Mississippi Burning: If we are not better than them, over whom are we better then?.

      I always think of a line from a retreat master: If your heart is not safe for one person, it will never be safe for a friend.

    • sousababy profile image


      5 years ago

      This is important - and especially for writers and the reputation of Squidoo. An anti-slur type of policy (I think) is covered with the TOS about not writing "hate" lenses (but I tend to feel the spirit of the TOS would cover slurs).

      I read slurs against females quite often (even on Wikipedia). On Squidoo, there have been lenses and comments that are derogatory about females (and I've addressed them, in some way).

      Just recently (Dec. 3rd, 2013), I complained to Tom about a lens that depicted ONLY overweight females in it. In it, the lens author even explained some of the reasons why women have a harder time losing weight - and even genetic reasons (which would be out of someone's control).

      And yet, the poll at the end asked: "Do you like eating too much to care about your weight?"

      The funny thing is, the author himself appears to be overweight.

      I felt like leaving the comment, "Hey, where are all the overweight men?" There aren't any? Or is it just "socially okay" for them to "eat too much to care about their weight." (But I didn't. The last time I visited a lens like this, I was sent a bullying email from the author).

      So, I no longer follow this person. Guess that's all I can do. And last I checked, the lens is still up.

      But it's no wonder that half of girls between the ages of 3 and 6 are ashamed of their bodies.

      This issue is sensitive to me since I had a friend working on her Ph.D. who had to be hospitalized for heart problems (related to an eating disorder).

      Bravo Leslie for bringing this to light. Indeed, when we write (or talk) we must put ourselves in the shoes of others. Words hurt - and words can heal. I sure hope I do a better job myself of being more sensitive as a writer/speaker.

      You certainly continue to inspire me and it's enlightening to know you see these things too.

      Most respectfully,

      Rose (aka sousababy)

    • Kim Milai profile image

      Kim Milai 

      5 years ago

      Being multiracial myself, I am fortunate (or cursed) to get to get to see both ends. I've witnessed countless times when someone made a racial or religious disparaging remark when they think there's no one around that it would offend. I see it less often now I think only because I don't surround myself with people that do that.

      I agree that I do hear it more in older generations because that was more the norm. Side note, I love to read Fitzgerald, but some of his short stories are eye opening when they reflect the prejudice of their times.

      Excellent, provocative article.


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