Friday, September 01, 2006

Terms of abuse?

It's a weekday lunchtime, late July. I'm dozing, cuddling up to boyfriend number 3 after an enjoyable (ableit sweaty) session, when he asks me a question

"You awake?" he says.

"Uh-huh", I reply, although the truth is that I'm probably half asleep.

"I heard a black guy call another black guy a nigger the other day".


"Well don't you think that's strange?" he says, really awake now.

"Why?" I say, trying to sound interested. Perhaps I'm going to have to get my brain into gear!

"Well, it's a term of abuse isn't it. Nigger? If you called a black guy a nigger he'd beat you up wouldn't he?"

"I guess so", I say. I do see what he's getting at now. Is nigger a term of abuse in a black to black situation though?

"Don't forget that Queer used to be a term of abuse for gays", I add, "and now there's even Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and Queer as Folk on TV!"

"Yeah I s'pose", says boyfriend number 3, "but what about Paki? I don't like being called a Paki, so I'd never call any of my Asian friends Paki either".

Although Boyfriend number 3 is British, he's ethnically Indian, so I can well imagine that he's been called a Paki at some point in his life.

"I always think its best to avoid being wound up by names", I reply sagely, "although I guess it's easier for me as a white guy. We're both gaijin in Japan of course! Can gaijin be a term of abuse?"


And having got all that off his mind, boyfriend number 3 is happy to cuddle up again :-).

A few days later I'm on gaydar when I spot a bio line in the chat system which boyfriend number 3 would probably be horrified to see:
I'm a cute paki lad who likes dirty white guys
So in spite of boyfriend number 3's reservations, it seems that these days 'paki' can be used harmlessly if the person using it is themselves a Pakistani.

Away from gaydar, Banana-Life who's ethnically Chinese happily calls himself a banana (yellow on the outside, white on the inside), even though wikipedia refers to it as an ethnic slur.

Delving further into the mighty wikipedia, it acknowledges the use of Nigger between black people since the 1980's, although in this context it spells it nigga. It says that it can sometimes be regarded as a synonym for accepted slang words such as dude and guy. None the less I think I'll avoid it. Even if lines like "What up, my niggaz?" are sometimes acceptable among blacks only, as a white guy I'm just going to get myself damaged if I try and use it!


Tildar said...

When the students at my University 5 years ago decided that they wanted to be identified as the Queer Student Union versus the relatively cumbersom and (from their perspective) non-inclusive termed Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Student Union there was quite a backlash from both the university community and administration and the older generation of gays and lesbians in our community. The university wanted nothing to do with such a derisive term and one couldn't even get an administrator to say the word queer, while the older GL community under no certain terms identified the word as offensive and unacceptable.

In other words, the university admins generally had a good heart, and through that they had difficulty embracing a word that had been patently offensive (this was well before Queer Eye and QAF) and the older G&Ls similarly could not forget what the word had historically meant to them. Some young GLBT identified students also were upset about the organizations identity as queer, and they too distanced themselves. This made for a difficult transition for the students looking for acceptance as an organization.

The students had come to a point where they no longer identified as patently gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender - they felt that those terms were limited and exclusionary. They chose the word queer because, to them, it seemed that:

1. The word embraced more people because it simply encompassed difference from straight

2. Taking back the world would remove its negative connotations

3. It created an identity all of its own that (to them) seemed fresh, modern, and powerful

It took about four years, but the university has become comfortable with the term, and has even embraced it, calling for queer students to be themselves on campus. The GLBT community at large has come to accept it, largely because of the increasingly common usage of the term in modern media. And the students have merged the word to include their straight allies who accept them nonconditionally.

A year later, the organization has become one of the most politically active on campus, sporting members from all sexual orientations. There is still some quiet murmurs about the use of the word queer, but largly, the identity crisis has been resolved, and the students and the organization has come out stronger for it.

Life of a Banana said...

Good post. Thanks for mentioning me. hahahhahhaha

Kiss kiss

Amopodex said...

Hey Gwailo, It's not difficult. Tildar is spot on (though he takes his time in getting there). Kidnapping a term of abuse and turning it into a term of pride is as old as the hills.


cuteCTguy said...

I disagree... why cant terms of abuse just be consigned to history. Its just another form of labelling even if its not offensive. What happened to Individuality.. (as he adjusts his cks, diesel jeans and gucci loafers)

Anonymous said...

I love your blog but felt sad on reading this post. My guess is you don't have many (or any) black friends, even though you may have had them as lovers. It is well known that black people refer to themselves as "niggas", or pakistani people to themselves as "paki". It is about taking away the racist associations of the words. For a white person, or a person outside of the given demographics it would be deemed racist to use those terms. White people are "honkys". Use that one.

"Nigger"- term of abuse for black people which has subseqently been taken by the black community as "nigga" for self-referral/pride. It is also used within the black community as a term for those of a lower social class, i.e. a black banker would not be a "nigga" within his own community, he would be either a source of pride or a "sell-out", depending from which direction you look at it.

Insults should be colour blind, but those terms have so much history that it is still a sensitive area. It is good that you demonstrate that.

Anonymous said...

the mighty wikipedia?

Yeah, right. Remember Wikipedia is just a collection of people's opinions on certain subjects.

Gay banker said...

Dear anonymous commentators. Why don't you get yourselves blogger IDs, especially when you've got interesting comments like those to make? You don't have to start a blog. Comments which are attributable, even to an opaque blogger account, are much better than ones which are completely anonymous.

Anyway, it's true of course, I don't really have any black friends. But 'well known' is a difficult phrase, because I reckon that always means 'well known to a certain group of people', which in this case doesn't include me and the people I interact with on a day to day basis. For example, I think it's well known that 'merde' is French for 'shit', but I'm probably wrong in the sense that there are probably quite a few readers of this blog that didn't know that.

Paki is an interesting one. I failed to ask boyfriend number 3 whether it's the Pakistani association that he dislikes, given that he's Indian and that the Indian-Pakistani relationship is a difficult one. Actually I saw the film East is East on Film4 last week and the term Paki cropped up frequently. It was definitely being used by the half-Pakistani boys in the film as a mild term of abuse "... I'm not going to marry a Paki girl".

Regular readers will know that I'm a big fan of wikipedia because I often have links to it. I would disagree that "it's just a collection of people's opinions" because many articles have had a large number of authors, reading, checking and editing each others work. I reckon it's the blogosphere which better corresponds to something which "is just a collection of peoples opinions", but even there I reckon the cross-referencing and commenting (like this) makes it bigger than the sum of its parts.

GB xxx

Anonymous said...

Thanks GB

I wrote the Wikipedia comment, and you reason it well. I swing wildly between trusting that site and my earlier comment. I do sometimes use the site, but I get very wary when I see phrases like "Delving further into the mighty wikipedia..." There is a good article on the Guardian website about web searcher's trust of the site here.

As for the Blogger ID debate, I just don't want to sign up to yet another website. And Google, I'm sure, knows way too much about me already! I do blog, though, and I really enjoy reading your blog too. I guess, on the flipside, I'd rather bloggers used a better system than Blogger haha.

Keep up the good writing and 'stimulating' thoughts. As I sit in my City gym steam room, I often wonder if I'm sat opposite you, BF No. 3 or someone you've written about.

They're good thoughts.

Gay banker said...

Well anonymous, I reckon the guardian article you mention re-inforces my belief in wikipedia! Having had an expert cartographer look at the wikipedia entries, the best criticism he could come up with was that there was no entry for a certain 16th century Italian cartographer. To me, that's a very minor problem. Furthermore, the fact that when a bad article subsequently appeared on wikipedia it was soon replaced by a better one suggests to me that their system works. Bloody brilliant in my opinion!

As with any information source, the only problem is going to be relying on it too much.

GB xxx

Gay banker said...

PS to anonymous - City steam room - Cannons City by any chance? I've heard that some quite naughty things go on there from time to time. Not that I've ever visited there of course LOL :-)

GB xxx

Anonymous said...

Actually, no, maybe I should join...?

czechOUT said...

hey GB, sorry have been away.

Your postings, the quotes...are they exact within the inverted commas, or a vague cognisance or your recollection? If the former, how do you recall them so accurately?

Gay banker said...

I hope this answers your question czechOUT :-)

GB xx