The Daily Aztec

Reclaiming slurs is a form of resisting oppression

by Catherine Van Weele, Staff Writer

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Slut.  Faggot.  Retard.  Chink.  Dyke.  Bitch.  Whore.  Redskin.  Cunt. 

These are some of many derogatory terms that have been used to oppress and terrorize minority and marginalized groups.  

Many of these words hold strong historical values these groups associate with great pain and anguish.

Over the past few decades, many marginalized groups have been working to reclaim their antagonistic, derogatory slurs that have been used against them in the past. 

A 2013 study from Psychological Science found people felt more powerful after self-labeling with a derogatory term.  

This newfound sense of power additionally led to decreasing the negative connotation affiliated with the word. 

It enables a sense of ownership of the self, something lost upon facing years of oppression and prejudice.  

“For so long the n-word was not something I was very comfortable with, said international business freshman, Ellyse Logan, who is black.

“Growing up my parents never said they had something specifically against it, but they just weren’t very fond of the word. 

“To me it was never a bad word, but I thought of it as something I probably shouldn’t say.” 

Logan suggests that the word is embedded in the black experience, and for that reason it will never be just a word. 

She labels the term, and the experience that comes along with it, as something ‘uniquely black’ and asserts that society should educate people more about the history of the word.

Though  Logan mentions having a hard time with the word, she asserts that it is her word to reclaim, and she will do so in her own time.

Reclaiming slurs is a form of protest or resistance against the institutionalized oppression these minority and marginalized groups faced.  

It may also serve as a healing process from a history of hate and discrimination. 

 It allows for the community to decide how to identify and define themselves and not to be controlled by the government, media or other oppressive forces. 

There are many, however, who feel it is not appropriate to attempt to reclaim slur words.

They suggest these derogatory terms are better left unsaid and should not be used even for the purpose of healing and empowerment. 

Such words evoke strong emotions and memories of the historical abuse against the particular marginalized group.

“The word queer for many LGBTQ identifying people is pretty polarizing. Even though the ‘q’ has become a commonly accepted way to describe those in the community, said graphic design freshman Giulia Serbia.

“For one portion of the community, they find it healing to reclaim and identify with it, while for some it carries a heavy burden, as they remember the word being used to taunt them.

“For a lot of us, we hear it in our homes, on the streets, and we are unable to see it in a way that doesn’t bring back those painful memories.” 

To Serbia, when it comes to words like ‘queer,’ though she finds nothing wrong with it, she said it’s important that we refrain from gatekeeping other people’s identities, while at the same time being cognizant the context in which we use it.

This is because using slurs like ‘queer,’ could quite possibly offend those around us, because there are members in the community who are still uncomfortable with such cavalier usages of the word.

She continues by saying that the word can be reclaimed in time, but it’s not at that point yet  because it hasn’t been universally acknowledged by the LGBTQ community. 

The wound is too fresh, and the process of reclaiming words is not one to be rushed.  

It will take time for the wounds of oppression to heal for these historically marginalized communities.

Through reclaiming, and with time, slurs will slowly lose their purpose of intimidation and hurt as the power behind the word is transferred from the abuser to the marginalized.

Such slurs can potentially lose all negative connotations, and instead become words that empower an individual’s identity.

Catherine Van Weele is a freshman studying political science.

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