Sticks and stones

Common use of derogatory language has desensitized students to its offensive meanings

*For anonymity, sources will be referred to as John Doe and Marie Major.

Students are desensitized to offensive language, and it’s time to talk about it.  

Teenagers are not known for being very careful with their words, and most pick up and use language without considering the impact. This becomes an issue when students begin to adopt harmful language, including the slurs “f*g”, “n*gg*r”, and the phrase “I want to kill myself”. Even though it is used for comedic effect and emphasis, rather than with an intent to harm, this language can reinforce stereotypes and bring up negative, painful histories.

These histories are still in the recent memories of many adults on campus. Counselor Arond Schonberg has been pulled over over forty times and been shouted at in restaurants.

“I’ve been called the n-word by a lot of white people in derogatory terms,” He said. “When I first got married, we were in Barstow and some person at a restaurant said, ‘If you’re going to sit that n-word lover and that n-word in here, I’m leaving.’”

Schonberg then relays how he felt hearing someone call him the n-word in a friendly manner, right after he’d been pulled over.

“It’s not very flattering after somebody’s got their boot on your head and their gun is drawn,” He said. “I just had a very bad experience with that word, it’s not cool.”

After being racially profiled, Schonberg has heard many excuses for getting aggressively pulled over, including being mistaken for a “five foot ten Hispanic male who robbed a 7/11.”

Many think discrimination has ended, and Schonberg wants them to know that it still happens. The language used at school reflects how its students think, and people affected by discrimination are not being too sensitive.

“Now, it’s almost worse. If you know the historical significance of the word, I don’t think anybody should say it,” He said.

Students can accidentally reinforce stereotypes and stigmatize minorities with their use of discriminatory language, even in humorous and ironic ways.

Junior Rhyan Borden has noticed students’ language changing since middle school. “You’d think I’d be desensitized, but I don’t think they’re okay at all. Especially the n-word, I think it’s very disrespectful and inappropriate.”

When asked how students could create a more tolerant campus, junior Rhyan Borden said that most intolerance on campus was born of ignorance.

“There are people who don’t know exactly where the word means and use it all the time,” She said. “They don’t know where it came from, and think it’s a fun word to use, or they do know and just don’t care.”

Borden thinks that by teaching the history of the damaging language students use, students will be able to better understand and communicate with their peers.

“Learn what the words you are using mean, where they came from, and what they were meant to do,” Borden said.

Joking about being homosexual and using the word “gay” as a way to describe uncool or bad things are also lasting mindsets that continue to push LGBTQ+ youth out of educational spaces.

Marie Major has known she was bisexual since seventh, and has a friend group of primarily LGBTQ+ students.

She hates the use of the word “f*g”, especially jokingly.

“It’s a disrespect to the hate crimes, murder, and harassment that took place so that gays could be accepted,” Major said.

She has rarely been discriminated herself, but she has witnessed harassment, relationships ending after people came out, and has seen administrators from her middle school change the way they interacted with openly LGBTQ+ students to be more professional and distant.

“They would ignore the kids yelling ‘stupid’, but would get upset with us for saying that we were gay,” Marie Major said. 

Major views reclamation of the word as barely acceptable.

“Blood was spilled over that word and that deserves to be acknowledged,” Major said.

Major points to the high suicide rate in LGBTQ+ youth, oftentimes caused by harassment and abuse at school and at home. It’s part of an overall growing suicide rate that has increased by 24% in the past twenty years.

These serious numbers can be disregarded with the amount of people who make these jokes, suicidal or not.

John Doe is suicidal, and makes suicide jokes.  Even though he takes offence when he hears them made by people who don’t understand what they’re expressing, he makes them because he feels that he has to fit in.

“It’s just the social norm,” Doe said. “So we all just join in.”