The Power of Your (Bad) Words

Jonah Hill has come under fire this week for yelling homophobic remarks at the paparazzo who was stalking him. While it appears relatively unprovoked, I do believe that he was being followed and harassed for a long time. As such, I support Jonah in his right to tell this guy to “Fuck off.” (Although, if I was in that situation, I’d be asking myself What Would George Clooney Do? And the answer, obviously, would be smile, laugh, wave, and walk away.)

Premiere Of Twentieth Century Fox's "The Watch" - Arrivals

I believe Jonah when he says he’s not a homophobe. I believe that he has gay friends and family members whom he loves very much. But I believe that with his insult he wanted to, from a position of superiority, convey the most vitriol he could muster. And so he told this paparazzo, “Suck my dick, you faggot.”

In Jonah’s mind (a writer, actor, and improvisor’s brain), the most demoralizing thing he could think of was demanding another man to suck his dick. So while he may not be outwardly homophobic, the societal belief* that gay men are of less worth is clearly deeply ingrained in him.

* I wish I didn’t have to call it a “societal belief” but look around, we’re not past this yet.

I was dating this guy a couple months ago. (Not Jonah Hill… We’ll get back to him.) We had been seeing each other for a couple of weeks; things were going well. He ‘we’-ed us. There was potential. But he had causally dropped “retarded” and “faggot” into two different conversations. I didn’t say anything in the moment (for various reasons) but I flagged it to bring up later. So one night, we’re out drinking with a couple of my friends and he drops the r-word again. Finally! My chance to set him straight. I quickly pipped up and told him that not only do those words make me uncomfortable, but I find using them in conversation morally irresponsible.

Naturally I assumed he’d say something along the lines of, “Oh. You’re right. I’m sorry. I’ll never say them again.”

Nope. Instead he told me that he used to avoid these words, but recently decided that as he’s not a bigot, he is allowed to use these terms in jest as long as those people aren’t around. FUCK THE WHAT?! Then he started arguing some sort of backwards rhetoric about my believing the term “retarded” to be demeaning to a group of people was in itself demeaning. Let’s not forget to mention that he was also throwing the n-word around too.

Later, as I was endlessly conversing the matter with several girlfriends, I received mixed feedback. A few people told me “that’s just the way guys are” and that I should give him another chance. What?


Listen, I get it. You don’t mean any harm. It’s always been a part of your vocabulary. You’re just so used to saying it — you don’t mean it; it just comes out. That guy I dated, Jonah Hill, your boyfriend, your girlfriends, that loud dude at the beach, none of them are bad people.  Some of them might be mildly bigoted, but most of them simply aren’t conscious enough to understand what they’re saying and what it means.

What those people — you? — need to realize, and I’m saying this to those that are kind, thoughtful people (I don’t think even my bold italics could sway real bigots.), I’m saying you need to understand that your words have repercussions. Although you mean no harm, you are propagating the degradation and humiliation of other human beings. You’re selfishly choosing to keep something in your vocabulary because it’s familiar, you like the way it rolls off your tongue, and it conveys your point in a manner that you have yet to discover a better word for.
This is what Urban Dictionary has to say about the word “retard:”
1. retard
A person born with a mental condition and therefore has to work a million times harder to be able to do simple things (such as learn and communicate) that we take for granted. On top of this, a retard will usually suffer a lot of ridicule from society because people fear what they do not understand. The people who choose to make fun of the mental retarded tend to be complete morons and cannot comprehend that these people have feelings and emotions just like anyone else.
I find it amusing that saying somebody has cancer would not be taken as a joke and yet, using another disease such as mental retardation as an insult is common among society, and many do not realize that it is very offensive and that there is something seriously wrong about it.
-Urban Dictionary
If Urban Dictionary, Urban-fucking-Dictionary, thinks it’s wrong (along with, not to mention, EVERY OTHER dictionary: “often used as a general term of abuse” “a contemptuous term” “ used as a disparaging term”), then you probably shouldn’t be saying it.
Faggot isn’t okay. Neither are Chink, Nigger, or Injun. Do those words make you uncomfortable? Retard and Retarded should make you uncomfortable too.
In summation:
You are being insensitive, insecure, and frankly a massive ASSHOLE if you ever choose to use any derogatory words. Even in jest. Especially in jest. Even if you’re Jonah Hill. Pull your heads out of your asses, kids, and CONSIDER what you are saying. Or don’t. Keep dropping retarded and faggot and whatever other antiquated derogatory term pleases you into your conversations; type ’em out in your Facebook posts; yell them at your buddy for chickening out; relay them to your friends to describe how drunk you were…
And one day, when you have children, whom I sincerely hope are healthy and happy (regardless of how, from their births, they happen to experience the world), I hope that they are kinder and more thoughtful than you. I hope they choose to see the world as a place full of people just doing their best and trying to get by. I hope they embrace everyone they meet with respect and empathy. I hope they teach you how to be a better person, because if you are still so careless with how you regard other human beings that you choose to use these hateful, hurtful, selfish words, then you’re not doing a very good job yet. 

1 Comment

  1. beanie says:

    This is amazingly well said!

    I feel so strongly about the way certain people speak and use words to harm other people or describe things. For example, the word “rape”. I cannot stand when someone will say something like “I just got raped by that math test” forgetting that this word is supposed to convey pain, abuse, force, etc. If we take these words and use them to describe something so trivial, we’re taking away the power of these words. Eventually, the feeling, explanation, emotion that certain words should invoke – like “rape” – will no longer have the meaning they deserve. And then what? Well… I think we know what happens next since it’s already started.

    End of my rant 🙂


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s