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Are Racial Slurs OK As a Term of Endearment?

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Dr. Wendy Walsh: A recent conversation with my middle-school aged daughter started me thinking ....

two girls looking out window

Recently I began hearing my middle schooler call her close friend a "blonde." The manner in which she used the word implied that it was a short form of "dumb blonde." My kid would come home from school and say things like, "Mom, you know what my blonde said today?" This kind of bothered me -- not just because I happen to be a blonde, but because I have a really hard time hearing anyone defined and entitled by skin or hair color. You'll hear me point out someone by the color of their clothes long before I mention skin color.

So, I talked to her about it. I told her that movies like "White Chicks" and "Legally Blonde" may make it seem like girls with blonde hair are the last group that our culture allows us to make fun of, but that doesn't mean it's right. Then she stunned me with this retort: "Mom, we are best friends," she said. "We're joking. It's how she knows I love her. And she calls me her 'maid.'"

"'Maid?'" I asked.

"Yeah. She said that if we were born a long time ago, I would be a slave -- so she calls me her maid." Then my daughter pealed into giggles of laughter at the thought. (I should tell you here, if you haven't figured it out already, that my daughter is biracial, of Irish and African ethnicity.)

This whole expanded definition of the "blonde and maid" friendship didn't soothe me a whole lot. But it did get me thinking about how terms of endearment are sometimes slurs that, spoken in the privacy of an intimacy, imply, "This is our special word. Our joke. This separates us from the world and bonds us together."

A perfect example would be the fact that many African-Americans use the N-word within their racial circle, as a term of affection. Oprah would prefer to erase even that use of the word. Chris Rock thinks it's powerful. Within the context that it is used, it is a word of acceptance and brotherhood or sisterhood.

But damn the person with white skin who accidently thinks they are in the club and uses the word. For many Americans of color, that word -- even spoken in love and affection by a white person -- represents yet another thing they are robbed of. Call it culture, identity or simply a group cohesion. When a white person uses the N-word, they are often met with a glare that says, "You will not take that away from us! We remember the historical use of that word." I should also tell you that, curiously, I have been referred to by the N-word. It happened often --in a loving, intimate way -- with an old boyfriend who felt proud to call me his "N." And I accepted it with love.

But back to maids and blondes. Have our historical trappings become loosened? Are we so far past the tragedies and injustices of the past that this new generation can make light of it? Maybe it's no different from the "witch" costumes that we wear at Halloween -- a tragic symbol of the hundreds of thousands of women who were mercilessly tortured and murdered for the crime of thinking outside the box. Are these middle-school "maids" and "blondes" doing the same thing?

What do you think?



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20 comments so far | Post a comment now
HeeHee April 19, 2010, 3:38 PM

Get over it!

melissa April 19, 2010, 6:39 PM

Well this is like the second article I have read of yours on momlogic and now I wonder a little more about the first article. I did not know you child was biracial and so with your “blonde” self saying the teacher was treating your kid unfairly (I was one of the people who defended you in the comments), I wondered how your kid would get such treatment. My child does too and my child is also bi-racial. As for the maid thing at first I thought “oh no she didn’t” but that is my take on it with the memories of others’ pasts that these kids just don’t have, I mean Obama is the president of the USA. I don’t know how I feel about it. I disagree with the N word as it may have been a coping mechanism in the past but it has out lived the initial purpose and has now yet another damaging effect. I do not know if you have written any article on the bi-racial aspect but I think “white” people treat my daughter worse than they treat other “black” kids and I find this strange since it seems as if it is either because I am not likely to pull a so called “race card” attitude OR being bi-racial has a whole other prejudice to it. The nice thing is my daughter doesn’t see it but she does feel the injustice at times.

Stilettodiva April 20, 2010, 5:07 AM

I beleive that we should not refer to our kids by anything that classifies them. It could lead to them having a complex about hair, weight, race etc…..

Anonymous April 20, 2010, 7:30 AM

I believe people are way too sensitive.

Black Iris April 20, 2010, 8:04 AM

No, it is not okay to call your friend your “maid” because she would have been your slave in the old days. They are intentionally playing with racism. I don’t think the friend is doing it to be nice either. She sounds like a fake friend, mean middle school girl. Your daughter deserves better.
This is completely different from a person referring to herself by an insult to take away the sting. It is different from a little kid who says something without realizing what it could mean. It is not the same thing as a friendly reference to color.
What about dressing up like witches for Halloween? Burning witches happened 400 years ago. Segregation happened when I was a kid. It’s not the same thing.

Lovonne April 20, 2010, 9:53 AM

If my child ever called anyone “maid” because they were from African American decent, we’d have a serious talk about what’s appropriate and what’s not. That is clearly racism and should not be joked around with. If my cousin’s child (who is mixed) was called a “maid” I’d have another serious talk but the other child’s parent. That type of behavior should not be tolerated.

Lyris April 20, 2010, 10:56 AM

What happened to simply calling a person by their birth name? “Maid” is not cool and you should really make that clear to your daughter.

Danielle April 20, 2010, 11:31 AM

You’d be surprised…I usually get asked if I’m the nanny which I don’t think as a racial slurr….then yesterday, a little blonde girl asked me who’s maid I was….I’m half asian and half latina and so are my kids are a mix of Caucasian but they are on the lighter side. I just have dark hair. So never hearing this before from a kid or adult I was pretty taken aback. I’m not sure but sometimes kids get it from their parent’s or anyone else they are being exposed to even TV. So regardless of where they got it from. I do believe it’s our job as parents to express our concern and explain that it isn’t proper so regardless of what was said they learn manners. We don’t want to be raising rude children.

th April 20, 2010, 11:36 AM

my question is how do they even know the underlying meaning of “blonde” and “maid” to even begin with those pet names. For a child to say u’ll be my “maid” because if u were born in the past u wud be a slave makes me PAUSE a great deal. something just does not sit well with me. If ANYONE were to call my son (who is also bi-racial) anything referring to a slave because he has African roots in him i would be LIVID! This whole situation is a bit disturbing.


Danielle April 20, 2010, 11:41 AM

By the way this was my first encounter as an adult with a racial slurr said to me. My kids dad said it is a reality because I’ve never noticed people treating me badly, boldly or slyly. I think it’s sad that it is more common than I am aware of. I assume people don’t like me or something…his explained he doesn’t get along with most people and my personality is hard to not to like me, unless they are racist. That confused me even more. All I hope is that my kids aren’t around people who treat people like they are less.

Cindy April 23, 2010, 7:14 AM

How do you explain the double standard of the n word? My son hears a black person saying the n word, but I tell him he’s not allowed. Lord the trouble he would get in at school!!! He also runs the risk of having the crap beat out of him if certain people hear him say it! Of course he thinks it’s cool to say after hearing it in music.

MyBrownBaby April 24, 2010, 7:27 AM

@Cindy: It’s REALLY simple: Tell your child NOT TO SAY IT. For every one black person who says it and thinks it’s cool, 100 others think it’s OFFENSIVE, RACIST, AND WRONG. Don’t let this author fool you with the “many African Americans use the N-word in their racial circle,” because THIS IS NOT THE CASE. Just because you hear it in a song or have some fool referring to you as an “N” with “love and affection”—whatever the hell that means—doesn’t mean it’s okay to say it. Because you’re absolutely right: Say it to the WRONG person? And you run the risk. Just sayin’.

Autla May 7, 2010, 12:24 AM

I am the mother of a biracial child and I disagree about the N word.I think it is a disgrace for any one to use that word other than black people because of the history of the word.I just don’t think it as appropriate being how it was originated.I can understand where black people are coming from not wanting to hear it from other people if the shoe were on the other foot.And I don’t ever hear that word from black people I know.But my son has been called whats up N from other black children at his school.And I already explained about how disgraceful slavery was before he ever learned about it in history, so he understands.And we all know history and that the N word is not cool thing to say to any human.

Hannah August 8, 2010, 6:45 PM

build a bridge and get over it, times are changing and kids joke.

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