Break the taboo, break the tension.
Certain labels, words and stereotypes can cause people a great deal of pain especially when these relate to someone’s ethnicity. These words have become so taboo that to mention them or discuss them has become something that may cause people to feel nervous and avoid the conversation. But without opening up the debate and thrashing out our feelings and worries about these labels and stereotypes they become more rarely used but retain greater power. Firstly let’s look at some labels and questions we might be afraid to ask:
‘Why is the N word offensive?’ The N word has a long and painful history, including the meaning ‘sub-human’ used by slave owners. Very few people would use that meaning today but the connotations remain of degrading people of Afro-Caribbean decent.
‘But black people use it all the time?’ Some black people do and that’s their choice. The change in the use of the word has been said to change the power behind it and make it something that only black people can say. There is now a belief that that point has been made and it’s time for everyone to stop using it. Either way it seems a lot of people are still unsure about the meaning and use of this word, is it time to stop using it altogether or is it time to openly debate its use?
‘Why is it rude to call someone from Pakistan the P word?’ In some parts of the world this is an acceptable term because it is used only to describe people from Pakistan; it’s a short hand term for Pakistani. In the UK however it has become an umbrella term covering anyone who looks like they may have migrated from South Asia. But due to it being an umbrella term based on appearance even someone whose grandparents migrated to the UK from India could be labelled with the P word and subsequently degraded to feel less British.
I have used perhaps the two most taboo labels to tackle here but of course there are plenty more racial labels in the UK. These ideas need to be explored respectfully and an informal discussion amongst friends may be one of the best ways to do it. One great example of this is by ‘Jump Off TV’ who didn’t seem to bite their tongues when having a discussion entitled ‘Are racial stereotypes acceptable’. (Videos contains strong language from the start):
“(Racial stereotyping) slowly conditions you to believe that this is how these kinds of people behave, especially if you’re not around those kind of people on a regular basis. So you can’t counteract that perception.”