The reason we have the concept of a slur

(a racial slur, etc.)

is because we’re all still too scared to say that we are talking about feelings.

By starting from slur, by which we mean “a word you shouldn’t say”, we can go on and have all sorts of conversations about who can say it and when and why. We can make informational lists of words not to say. We can spread “this person said this word” like a warning, as if it conclusively tells us all we need to know about them.

With the word slur, we can do all that without discussing why it’s wrong to say those words. If we could discuss that, if we could talk about the impact slurs can have, then maybe there could be some actual nuance to those conversations about who can say them and when, but we can’t, because sooner or later the phrase hurt feelings would come up, and nobody dares say that.

A signifanct proportion of people– nice people, progressive people, people who care about oppression and justice and so forth– still find it hard to take seriously the idea of being concerned about whether they hurt people’s feelings. Even when they actually are concerned about it! It just can’t be said that way.

A slur is serious business. A slur is about oppression and social justice and academic theories. Hurt feelings sounds juvenile, trivial, weak, embarrassing.

The people who are most aware that hurt feelings are the real bedrock of the discussion– the people who’ve been hurt– are also understandably unlikely to discuss it. Nobody really enjoys saying “Words can hurt, words have hurt me, I am hurting”, because thinking and talking about your own weakness and vulnerability is hard. When you know that you’re likely to get reactions not only from people who don’t really want to hear about feelings, but from people who may actively sneer at the idea that your feelings about words count for anything, you’re even less likely to talk about it that way.

I’m writing this because I think conversations about slurs could gain some nuance from mentioning feelings more often, like I already said, but mostly I’m writing because I am juvenile and weak and trivial and embarrassing and I care about not hurting people’s feelings, with slurs or any other words, even people I don’t like, sometimes even people I hate, because it never accomplishes anything useful. And I don’t expect anyone else to feel the same way I do, and I certainly don’t think that Saying A Mean Thing makes someone a horrible person forever, but I do wish that caring about hurt feelings was considered a potentially tenable position instead of being inherently ridiculous.

This has been sitting half-written in my drafts for a bit, but today it goes out to the author of this post, and all the people who did not care about her feelings and chided her for caring about the feelings of men and boys.


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