Last night I watched the documentary, Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine. I remember hearing about his murder back in 1998. About ten years ago my husband and I went to a play called, The Laramie Project. The play was also about Matthew’s death.
In case you are too young to remember, Matthew Shepard was a gay college student in Laramie Wyoming who was savagely beaten with the base of a gun and then tied to a fence for I think eighteen hours before someone found him. He was in a coma for a short time before he passed away. He was twenty-one years old. Initially, the two young men wanted to rob Matthew (and they did), but the horrendous beating of Matthew was a hate crime because the young men knew he was gay.
The part of the film that stood out most to me is while one of the young men who murdered Matthew walked into the courtroom he winked at people watching him. Every time the camera filmed him he was holding back a grin. It seemed to me that that young man believed he had done something right and honorable by beating Matthew and that people would agree with his actions.
That is a result of words like fag, homo, and the n word. It is also the result of words like a maniac, psycho, etc. When it is an acceptable practice to call people names, the process of dehumanization is at work. That dehumanization puts people at risk of violence. After all, if someone is a fag or n***** or psycho they are no longer, Rebecca, Brian, Joseph, Carla or a real person. They become something less than human they become something undesirable, something to be scorned, or even beaten and hated.
In the city where I live, there are often incidents of people beating up homeless people for fun. Yes, you read that right. Some young people have peed on them, had them do degrading things for money, and beat them for the fun of it. The paradox in this situation is that the people who usually commit these atrocities against the homeless are not terrible people. They are usually average young men out drinking with friends. The problem is that many people have dehumanized the homeless so that these young men think it is funny to degrade and hurt them. It is a joke. In their minds, they aren’t criminals they are just having some fun.
Many mentally ill people have been savagely beaten and killed, too. So have people of color and other minorities.
Recently it has become popular to fight against anything that is “politically correct” or “PC”. Not using derogatory language when referring to people is not being politically correct, or following some rules of “PC” language and behavior. Not calling people names can help save lives. I don’t imagine all the people that are angry about feeling they are being forced to use certain language would have a problem keeping people from being peed on or beaten.
There is such a backlash against using “PC” language, and people feel those who support it are being too sensitive. It isn’t too sensitive to want your loved ones to be seen and treated as human. In my opinion, so much hatred starts with words. I feel like most people don’t want to hurt other people, but they are exposed to so much of this breaking down of other people’s humanity that they don’t see certain people as fully human anymore.
The important thing is to make sure all of us, every single one of us, are looked at as people and not less than, or nothing, or someone that doesn’t feel, or matter.
If it means less hate crimes, less beatings, less harassment, less meanness toward others, I will be the first to try and change my language. I think freedom comes with responsibility to one another. If changing my words can help someone else, I’ll gladly do it. Yes, I will do it for you, and you, and you.