The Language Police

I thoroughly enjoyed this Louis C.K. interview on Fresh Air from a few days back. The most interesting part came when C.K. discussed the use of the word "faggot" in his routine. The question came after Gross played a clip in which gay comedian Rick Crom and C.K. get into a discussion. Crom gives a history of the word that may, or may not, be true. But his subtle point was basically that he wasn't there to clean C.K.'s comedy, but that C.K. should, at least, understand the history of the words he's using:


You might want to know that every gay man in America has probably had that word shouted at them when they're being beaten up, sometimes many times, sometimes by a lot of people all at once. So when you say it, it kind of brings that all back up. But, you know, by all means use it, get your laughs. But, you know, now you know what it means.

I really like that response. The current dialouge between minority groups and the majority culture puts the burden of judgement on the minority, and casts us as the constant, ever-vigilant, school-marms, while the rest of the country goofs off. I don't have much interest in dictating to people what they say, but I don't have much interest in being lied to either. 

From the perspective of my current study, I would not, for instance, ask Southerners to stop honoring Robert E. Lee. Just don't look me in my eye and tell me he was actually in favor of my freedom. Likewise, what I got from Crom's approach was "Tell all the gay jokes you want. Knock yourself out. But take responsibility for what you say. Don't look me in my face and tell me 'faggot' isn't really an insult."


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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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