Monday, March 22, 2010

Don't Call People Names

Name calling. When you are young, you know it is wrong whether you are the one calling out the offending word or the one on the receiving end.

Dummy. Butthead. Baby. Dork.

Or what about ones that might sting worse? Crybaby. Gay. Faggot. Stupid. Retard.

I can't even bring myself to type the n-word as anything other than "the n-word."

So isn't it obvious? Name calling is wrong.

When you are young, you know it. Because if you call someone a name, you get in trouble at school. When you are young, you even believe that name calling is something people grow out of. You believe that adults don't call each other names... Until you notice that they do. Then you - while still young – begin to take your cues from the adults.

Democrat. Republican. Liberal. Conservative. Radical. Right-wing.

Babykiller. Socialist. Tea Bagger. Gay-lover. Homophobe.

At some point you start to recognize that name calling holds inherent power – that people use the words – the labels – as a power ploy. And when you start to feel like you want to do it too, you figure out why. It is powerful.

Turning someone into an object makes him or her easier to handle. Yes, handle. For when a person becomes a word - even if the word represents an idea – the person is an object. Objects can be handled. Objectified. You can assign value to an object, and the value of an object can be "no-value-at-all." In fact, you can even disregard an object. After all, if an object has lost its value to you, why do you need it any more, anyway?

Objectification has occurred with women for years. If that weren't true, we wouldn't have so many ways to verbally smear a person that have roots with the feminine gender.

Sissy. Slut. Whore. Sleaze. Hag. Witch. Bitch.

Or how about the most basic: You ... you ... you ... you, Girl!

When a woman becomes an object, her thoughts and feelings no longer matter as much as what she represents. She then learns to navigate her relationships as if walking through a mine field. Which step - which person - has the power to destroy her? Which person has assigned her life as having diminished, little or no value?

Other life circumstances can turn you into a category that is easily objectified as well.

The sick, the poor, the malnourished, the uneducated.

In my life, I moved from a YUPPIE, to a woman who had had a miscarriage, to a mother of a child with disabilities (i.e., a handicapped child) in less than one year. After briefly courting the helplessness that came with my increasingly diminished labels, I knew I had to do whatever it took to avoid moving into even more maligned categories: divorced, bankrupted, unemployed, depressed.

So if children know name calling is wrong. Why don't the grown ups?

Are they too busy categorizing and labeling to notice what is going on? Are they afraid of something that seems more easily handled when objectified? Is life easier, somehow, when they turn those who think differently and live differently than they do into objects?

I hope that is not what is going on. But I wonder...

Stross still knows name calling is wrong. He still remembers what it felt like to be called a "retard." I remember that day too. When I picked him up from school, he was noticeably distraught but too confused, too scared to share what had happened in an articulate way. Instead, he sat in the van shaking, searching for the words to tell me what had happened. Finally the words came pouring out.

Then it was my turn to search for words. I wanted the best words to share in a written note to the boys who had taunted and traumatized my son. They needed to know that no one would be able to take away their power to verbally abuse Stross. But he was my son, and I hoped they would not use their power to wound him emotionally. I needed them to know that when they wounded him, they wounded me as well.

I kept a copy of the note I sent them somewhere. Someday I'll try to find it. I don't want to right now. I don't want to remember. I've worked hard to keep my thoughts of them as young boys who made a mistake - not bullies or monsters - because they each are someone's son, too.

A son. A daughter. No one better than the other. Each a child of God. Now that's a label with real power.




Worthless White Racist said...

I find it interesting that the people who attract the most labels are often the ones who use labels frequently themselves.

For example, the ones I call "liberal" are the ones who cannot engage in a simple discussion about choices an economy makes without going on some rant about "the rich" and "not paying their fair share".

Joy said...

Perhaps, but my son doesn't use labels even though he gets labeled by individuals and society.

I think children can teach us a lot about looking at people as individuals first.

KaKi said...

WWR - I think that is a pretty big generalization. What you are saying is that as a disabled person I use more labels? That is not right. We ALL use labels when we are trying to paint a picture, or communicate, or when we are frustrated, as Joy points out in her blog. I would say that "the rich" also use the label, "the poor". I think we all need to stop using labels, use our vocabularies to get to the source of our frustration, anger and pain, instead of lashing out with name-calling.

Stross, thank you for reminding us adults of this truth!