“Why is it OK for them to say it, and I can’t?”

Ever wondered why it’s okay for some groups to use certain words but not okay for others? When it comes to slurs such as the N-word, much has been written, debated, and talked about on why it’s OK for certain groups to get away with using derogatory words in reference to their own group while others who aren’t in that group can’t or shouldn’t.

For example, why is Justin Bieber’s use of the N-word any more or less harmful than a black person using it and what’s the difference between an LGBT person using the f-bomb in comparison to a straight, cisgender person? While a case can and has been made for both sides, the deeper issue here lies in understanding the historically hateful intent most slurs carry.

Some say the offensiveness of a slur is all about the context in which it’s used, i.e. in what setting and by whom. However, context isn’t always a valid excuse. As Good Look Panelist Michael Skolnik explains, “Context certainly matters with how black folks approach the term [the N word], and yet no white person can justify using the word themselves, because we can’t pretend to expect aspects of black culture to change while turning a blind eye to the barriers to success they face every day.”

It’s important to remember when arguing that “the offensiveness of a slur depends on context” slurs carry a history, emotional impact, and different lived experiences for each and every one of us.

Here are 3 ways to think differently about using slurs:

1. Using a slur positively doesn’t take away from its historical meaning.

As the late, great Langston Hughes said on the use of the N word, “Used rightly or wrongly, ironically or seriously, of necessity for the sake of realism, or impishly for the sake of comedy, it doesn’t matter. The word n***** you see sums up for us who are colored all the bitter years of insult and struggle in America.”

The use of slurs and what they mean is something this country has been talking about for years. NPR’s Code Switch tackled the question of why understanding the historical context of slurs matters in a recent blog post:

“We have to acknowledge that we have different histories and live in different spaces, and that those spaces come with their own shared (or not-so-shared) understandings. We don’t need rules around this stuff — not that we could enforce them if we had them…We need to be more thoughtful, more deliberate and more fluid about the many spaces that we navigate.”

All of this means that regardless of intent, slurs hold meaning that can have a bigger effect than you may realize on the people around you. Good Look Panelist Mark Erwin gives an example of what this means for the gay community: “I’m sick of hearing people say that “that’s so gay” isn’t about gay people. It doesn’t matter what “that’s so gay” means to you. What matters is the silent person in the room who hears you say it, internalizing their own homophobia and hatred for themselves because of who they are. Do some research on how rejection can lead to serious depression, suicidal ideation and substance abuse among LGBTQ youth- then try to justify using a derogatory slur.”

2. Context doesn’t change or erase the emotional impact of the slur.

A Huffington Post editor says “faggot” is “the word [LGBT people] hear just before a fist meets our eye socket…it’s the word that has told us we are dangerous and filthy and evil.” Even if it doesn’t result in violence, the impact of hearing slurs like this every day in the classroom and in social circles can be really negative. Studies have shown that “49% of students in elementary schools hear the term ‘gay’ used in a negative way,” and LGBT students who experience harassment miss more school days and exhibit poorer psychological well-being than their peers. Pretty eye-opening how much your choice in words can deeply affect others, huh?

Take Erwin’s personal experience with hearing slurs for example: “The first time I was called faggot I didn’t even know what it meant. All I knew was that it obviously wasn’t good. As I entered into my teen years the word faggot was augmented with the words queer, fairy and homo. I remember running up to my room after school in tears because of how miserable the other kids made me feel. Even now as a grown man—and LGBTQ activist no less—when I hear those words I can easily revert back to those years, hating myself for something I could not change.

3. Keep in mind that the spaces that you’re in are fluid.

Erwin had this to say on the use of gay slurs: “If I, a gay man, use the word fag with one of my gay peers it’s because we’re taking the power away from everyone in this world who hates us for being gay and right or wrong, sometimes that can be healing.”  

While this may ring true for some, it’s important to keep in mind that your spaces and communities are always shifting. Even if you and your friends use certain terms with each other, it’s important to be mindful that some people might not be okay with them – and might even find them offensive.

For example in the words of Michael Skolnik, “The N-word has such historical and cultural significance that cannot be compared to other words. The N-word only ever symbolized one thing: superiority/inferiority.” Skolnik adds, while most of us understand slurs are societally unacceptable to use around strangers or in formal settings, we don’t always think that through when we’re with friends or in non-“PC” settings, which can potentially work to perpetuate implicit biases and stereotypes.

 When it comes to the question of who gets to say what, and what you should or shouldn’t say, err on the side of sticking to the elementary golden rule: if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it all. 






Check out this NPR interview with Misty Copeland!

Must find Misty Copeland’s children’s book!

You can buy it here on Amazon, if you’re so inclined.

We love Smart Girl Misty!! 



For many Muslim Americans, 9/11 was a double punch of tragedy and bigotry

The actions of 19 Islamic extremists on 9/11 left an indelible mark on America. Today, millions pause to commemorate the attacks’ 13th anniversary, to honor the victims and to remember that all life is special and sacred. But there’s an untold story amid the many speeches and moments of silence — one filled with a different kind of pain, grief and strong sense of loss. 

Those stories are now being told on social media