Language is a fluid thing. Like all the best fluids, this can be great, but it can also suck.
When it comes to dismissing an entire segment of the population with a syllable or two, this fluidity is definitely a bad thing. Having learned that the N-word is off-limits, some folks who would like to paint with overly broad strokes have glommed on to the word “thug” as a replacement/substitute.
So, here’s the thing. We can ban the T-word if we’d like, but I think that’s being reactive at a time when we should be proactive. Let’s not ban the latest racist word and simply wait for the next one to come down the turnpike. Let’s seize control of the process and pick the next one ourselves.
We can have some fun with this. And I’ve already given the matter some thought.
I had two front-runners early on: ne’er-do-well and miscreant. Upon further reflection, I realized ne’er-do-well wouldn’t work at all — it’d be too easy to toss a couple of g’s in there and turn it into an even worse form of the N-word. So, instead, I nominate miscreant.
Won’t you be tempted just a little to smile? I mean … miscreant. It’s awfully cute, as far as hate speech goes.
Even once “miscreant” becomes loaded with years of racial tensions and oppression, I think it’s going to hold on to just a wee bit of amusing fun. Any word that makes you want to giggle can’t possibly sting the way our traditional racial epithets do.
Perform this thought experiment. You’re an African-American walking down the sidewalk, minding your own business. Suddenly, some asshole with a thick Southern drawl and a buzz cut screams out, “We don’t want your kind here, miscreant!”
Yeah, the hatred motivating him is bound to be a downer … but won’t you be tempted just a little to smile? I mean … miscreant. It’s awfully cute, as far as hate speech goes.
It could be I haven’t thought this through. It might mean that if the effort were to succeed, all the fun would go out of the word, and a perfectly enjoyable noun would suddenly be stricken from the available list for all of us.
But in a world where, apparently, there will always be ways for freedom, dignity, and worth to be undermined with a single word, can’t we take the baby step of picking a word with an intrinsic amusing nature that might help point out the absurdity of the situation? I’m willing to give it a try if y’all are.
Folks of color aren’t a bunch of miscreants, but bigots are going to call folks of color a bunch of something. I say miscreant might be a little like baby shampoo. Sure, it still stings, but it doesn’t sting as much as the alternatives.