Not All Hurtful Words Are Equal


I hope you’ve taken the time to watch Kat Blaque’s video in our last post!

As a follow-up, here’s another quick take on the difference between racism and prejudice from anti-racist educator Jamie Utt:

“I am realizing more and more that we have a problem of language precision.

Too often, when people are talking about racism or sexism or heterosexism or any other form of oppression, they’re simply referring to when a person was made to feel bad for or about their identity.

There is absolutely no acknowledgement of wider systems of oppression and power…

…But whenever we say things like “Well, sometimes women can be just as sexist as men,” we are contributing to the problem.

Yes. Any person of any identity can be an a**hole to any person of any other identity. But that doesn’t make it oppression. It doesn’t even make it racism or sexism or heterosexim or any other -ism.

There is a profound danger in watering down our discussion of identity by removing any mention of societal power, oppression, and privilege.

Doing so ensures that the conversation remains about interpersonal slights rather than about the larger systems of oppression that are the true problem.

Now, this is not to say, that the real issue is the system, so I can say whatever I want, and it shouldn’t matter. Not at all.

Our interpersonal interactions are reflections of and support structures for the larger problems of systematic inequality and oppression.

Instead, we need to recognize that not all hurtful words or deeds are equal when certain ones are backed by a history and current system of domination, violence, oppression, repression, dehumanization, and degradation.

We need to be clear that when we are talking about oppression or a particular -ism, we are not simply talking about an interpersonal slight. We are talking about something much bigger.”

You can read the rest of Jamie’s article here. (It’s actually chock full of helpful insights for those of us training to be white allies.)

It’s important to understand that we are not saying that being the target of racial animus can’t really hurt you or doesn’t “count” somehow if you are white. All prejudice stinks, and it often stings as well. We don’t have to minimize the personal pain we might feel, but we can put it into perspective.

What do you think? How is our series about the differences between prejudice and racism sitting with you?

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