Slurs Ain’t Cute
Posted by Kristina Agbebiyi
September 14, 2016
The first time I had ever heard the phrase “bitch” I was no older than seven years old. It was a rainy day in Michigan and my mom refused to let a white man over into our lane while driving. This infuriated him, and caused him to roll down his window. Along with a racial slur, the man leaned out of his car and the veins in his neck popped as he called my beautiful and beloved mother, a bitch. Tears formed in her eyes as she rolled up her window quickly, looked at me sternly, and said “Kristina. You are to NEVER repeat those words that you just heard.”
The first time I was ever actually called a bitch was in 7th grade math class. After declining to date a black guy in my class, a white guy harshly whispered the phrase “Youre a f-ing bitch” in “defense” of his friend. The words stung. I was embarrassed, dehumanized and, being 13 years old, I lacked the words to even explain how I felt. I started to consider that maybe I was a bitch. Perhaps I should have said yes to dating this guy that I did not like.
The most recent time I was called a bitch was yesterday, actually! After a public spat with a group I used to organize with, I woke up and decided to unfollow all of its members on social media. Scrolling through my follower count, I hesitated over each individual. I clicked on the page of a white man (someone I had actually admired), and saw that he had predictably unfollowed me. However, I let out an audible gasp after seeing that one of the org members (a black woman) had called me a “toxic bitch,” and HE had found it appropriate to retweet. I also later found out that these people engaged in blatant transphobia by using my identity as a non-binary femme against me.
Despite the fact that I had seen this white man react venomously to black women before, I messaged him asking for an explanation. I was met with a long message in which the white man acknowledged that as a white person, he shouldn’t be critiquing me in such way, but it was excusable because he was doing it in defense of his black friends. I didn’t respond, I simply blocked him.
If I had taken the time to explain to someone who has shown himself to be undeserving of an explanation, I would have responded that, “misogynoir in ‘defense’ of friends is complete and utter bullshit.”
I tend to not call people “bitches” unless it’s in a slur reclamation way, for several reasons. One: I was raised not to. Two: I was not raised in a freaking toilet. And 3? It goes against my personal code of ethics. I follow my ethical code the same way that others may follow religion. This means that any disagreement with someone does not give me the right to abandon this code. Transphobia, racism, fatphobia, and misogyny are inexcusable in all facets of life, and they are inexcusable even within an intense argument.
Despite my friend’s personal opinions of people who have hurt me, they know better than to refer to people using slurs, and overall oppressive language. They know that even in private, this behavior is inappropriate, and goes against boundaries we have set for ourselves. A white friend would never call a black person the N-word in defense of my honor, and a skinny friend would never make fun of a fat person’s weight to cheer me up. This is because I’m friends with nice people, not talking, portable trash cans.
My proximity to this specific situation aside, this behavior is unacceptable for several reasons. For starters, it’s lazy and boring. There are so many things about me that people have and will continue to critique. My irreverent sense of humor, my vanity, my ability to let my anxiety impact deadlines, are just a few of the grievances people have with me, and instead, they chose the word “bitch.” By calling me a bitch, they are indicating that they don’t even know me well enough to make a valid critique of me. By engaging in public and blatant transphobia, they show that their argument is weak and not based in logical evidence. But, I believe they already know this. People call other people slurs in order to silence them, because there is really no equivalent comeback against dehumanizing terms. There’s no way to “un-bitch” yourself, and there’s no way to really say “HEY. You may not think my gender is real, but it actually is.”
Also, if a person is comfortable engaging in oppressive behaviors in front of you, what are they doing behind your back? I find it hard to believe that misogynoir is only reserved if it’s used in a friend’s honor, especially if it consistently goes unchecked. This behavior becomes normalized within this person’s way of thinking, and permeates the interactions they have with others that are part of the group they have subjugated with their words. Suddenly every black woman that wrongs your friend is a bitch, then it’s the black woman at your job, then it’s the black woman who cuts you off while driving and this behavior is okay because somewhere at some point in time you were friends with a black woman who said that behavior was okay. By allowing hateful ideas and terms to go unchecked, we are giving our privileged friends leeway to perpetuate a system of violence. Even if their personal views aren’t affecting you, they are affecting people that look like you, and they might even be a subtle reflection of how that person feels about you personally.
Lastly, language is, and has always had the ability to be a form of violence. Learning that people were transphobic towards me affects me physically, mentally, and emotionally, just as other forms of abuse would. Because language is so easily given and spread, the violence that comes from it is often overlooked. Calling me a bitch isn’t wrong because its “mean.” Calling someone a fatty when you don’t like their opinions isn’t just “problematic.” This is violence. This is normalized violence at that. We see this violence normalized in the media with problematic women. Men just can’t WAIT to call women fat, bitches, sluts, whatever insult they would typically hide from their loved ones. It is as though these oppressive terms are sitting in their mouths, waiting to slip out at any moment. Men LIVE for this. “This” meaning, full license to bash a woman without any of the public consequences.
I wish I had some cute little ending for this. Like I wish I could say that, after a day of thought, the man came to the light. The woman offered up valid critiques of me that weren’t dehumanizing. However, this didn’t happen. The sky was blue, the grass was green, and sucky politics continued to live on for another day.