Friday, April 27, 2018

Sky: All-Purpose Slurs

I remember back in elementary school, in the 1950s, we students had a rich variety of racist and homophobic jokes. (This was in addition to a constant crop of fart and booger jokes.) I’m not remembering the content of the actual jokes right now.…probably a blessing… but I do remember the  structure.

Q. Why did the ____________ [pick random ethnic group] do such-and-such dumb thing________________ ?

The point of the the joke was that it made fun of whatever ethnic group that came to mind, hopefully without getting me beaten up by the huge Italian guy as I try out another “Wop” joke.

Half the time, I never knew what the words meant anyway. They were basically interchangeable: Dago. Spic. Polack. Homo. Spaz. The “N” Word. Take your pick. Mix and match. Whichever you pick, it means the same: my group is better than every other group because, well, uh, just because….

Some say, times are changing. We white people can’t just expect to be quite so free to pass on the the latest condescending racial and ethnic slurs as we did sixty years ago. 

At least not in “polite company.” Most places I go, it’s not socially acceptable any more to use the “N” word, or tell a “Jew joke.” (That's in my social circle -- I know that's not true everywhere.)

Here’s an old-people-are-dangerous-joke that I think is pretty funny:

“Isn’t it a blessing that that Grandpa died peacefully in his sleep, unlike all his passengers screaming in terror?”

I’ve noticed that there is a large subset of negative words relating to cognitive functioning ….words that most of us use freely every day. How do these words sound to you: STUPID, DUMB, MORON, OUT THERE, NOT PLAYING WITH A FULL DECK, PRETTY FAR GONE, HALF THERE, CRAZY, SIMPLE, MINDLESS, SIMPLE-MINDED, IDIOTIC, DULL, LAME-BRAINED, DEMENTED, NOT THE SHARPEST KNIFE IN THE DRAWER. 

What is the purpose of using these words? What are we trying to say when we say them? We might be discussing someone’s neurological diagnosis….but probably not.

STUPID MOVIE. IDIOTIC PLOT. CRAZY IDEA. Despite the hurtful, pejorative nature of all these words, they are, by and large, acceptable when talking about, or even talking with, people on the dementia continuum, or anyone else we want to feel superior to. 

SO OUT OF IT. This double standard is hurtful and helps no one. It helps us forget that dementia is a disability that we humans need to accommodate, just like the many other disabilities we are working hard to accommodate.

But, it’s a long road. Just google “Dumb Blonde Jokes” for a rough idea of how far we have to go.


  1. Oh my, Sky. I am learning from you all the time. Thank you! (Though I will acknowledge that the above epithets -- what else can you call them? -- rarely pass my lips.)

  2. How do those words sound? Hurtful. And infuriating. I agree, these words are often used to express superiority- 'my group is better than every other group'. I also believe they express fear. Fear that I am actually the stupid one, the moron, the idiot. Fear that someday I will be out of it. So I'll call you a name and deflect attention off me.
    I remember when I was teaching I had a hard time finding empathy for bullies. Then I'd see their siblings, their parents- the people who were supposed to love them and make them feel safe- calling them names. Someone hurt them and they learned to hurt others.
    Often disabilities & challenges are invisible. And when they can't be seen people assume they don't exist. We mostly don't know other people's stories yet with great confidence we assign disparaging descriptors. We'd be better off approaching each person, each experience with a sense of wonder, with the expectation that we can learn from the other. And if we don't feel like learning we should just keep our mouths shut! Mary Y.

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