A great (and somewhat snarky) piece by intern Katie Davis on frequent ways people use unacceptable language, and the excuses they make about it once they are called out. Katie also makes some suggestions as to ways to actually talk to pe0ple about why it’s not ok/can be hurtful to use language in such ways.
Sometimes I think that narrow-mindedness is like the flu: it’s highly unpleasant, contagious, and comes in waves. It’s been a challenging week for me, one in which I’ve been consistently privy to the homophobic/transphobic/queerphobic remarks of the people around me. I’m not talking about teaching moments in the classroom–– I’m talking about day-to-day interactions with strangers, coworkers, friends, and family. And while listening to hatred and prejudice is upsetting enough, I’ve found myself even angrier and more exasperated by the “defenses” posited by those whom I’ve confronted about their comments.
As far as bad excuses for bad behavior go, there seem to be a few particularly common ones that folks caught using hate speech like to toss around. Though I sometimes feel like responding to these excuses with nothing but a shocked silence or an “Um, NO,” I’ve learned over the years that, in order to (a) present an argument coherent enough to potentially change the offending party’s way of speaking in the future and (b) prevent my own head from exploding in frustration, it’s best for me to keep a few good rejoinders in my back pocket. These are some of the common lame excuses I’ve
heard and some of the more successful arguments I’ve made in response.
1. The Michael Scott Defense
Excuseplanation: “I wasn’t using [insert homophobic slur] to talk about gay people, I was using it to talk about something that I think is stupid.”
I call this one the Michael Scott Defense because there’s a line on The Office where Steve Carell’s socially inept character, Michael Scott, responds to
accusations of homophobic speech by remarking: “Did you know that gay used to mean ‘happy?’ When I was growing up, it meant ‘lame.’” While the line’s meant to highlight the character’s insensitivity and foolishness, there really are people (some of whom I’ve encountered) who feel that it’s entirely acceptable to use homophobic slurs or use terms associated with the LGBTQ community as slurs to talk about things they dislike.
Response: “No one person, including you, gets to choose the meaning of words. You may say that you weren’t using that word to refer to gay/bisexual/trans/queer people, but historically that word has been used to refer to people who identify as such. When you use ‘gay,’ for example, when you really mean ‘stupid,’ you’re saying essentially that gay=stupid. And that’s a huge problem. If what you mean is that rush hour in traffic is awful, why not just say that? You’re message will be more clear, and you won’t offend people.”
2. The “Behind Their Back” Defense
Excuseplanation: “Well, I would never call an actual gay person [insert slur].”
Ughh. I hear this one way too frequently, often when people don’t know that I’m queer. This excuse usually translates into either “I didn’t mean it that way” (See The Michael Scott Defense) or “I would never say that to his/her/hir face.”
Response: “Hmm. So you have the ability to discern the sexuality of every person you meet? Don’t you think it’s possible that you could encounter an ‘actual gay person’ and not even know it? Anyways, if you know that that’s an offensive enough term that you wouldn’t say it to an LGBTQ person’s face, why would you say it at all?”
3. The Comedian Defense
Excuseplanation: “It was a joke! [Comedian/Comedy show] says it all the time!”
This excuse tends to put me on the defensive: I love comedy, and I think going through life with a sense of humor is important. But that doesn’t mean I have to see humor in “jokes” that simply restate social prejudices. That kind of comedy’s not just offensive–– it’s also just plain lazy.
Response: “Aren’t good jokes supposed to change the way we think? I have a sense of humor, but I don’t really see the ‘joke’ in denigrating a minority group. You’re free to enjoy whatever kind of comedy you like, but I think I’d rather not join you in that one.”
Feel free to use these in your own lives, or add other excuses/replies in the comments