Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Racial slurs and racial emotions

Kuir ë Garang*

Note that people do not discriminate because they are powerful. They discriminate because they feel vulnerable and insecure. Racial slurs are indicators of internal vulnerabilities draped in feelings of superiority. 

Photo: TED Talks
White people control global economic and political power, but they do not control, nor have they ever pretended to possess, emotional power. So when it comes to emotions, power and privilege do not act as privileging and protective emotional walls. There are no special racial qualities that make people fond of or resistant to insults. People are socialized into them. Yet this simple fact is lost or overlooked by anti-racist campaigners, activists and fair-minded members of Western societies. So when Tim Wise argues, with good intentions I should say, that racial slurs like ‘honky’ and ‘cracker’ should be dismissed as silly and slurs like  the infamous ‘n-word’ should not, I do not feel supported; I feel patronized and infantilized.

Here, I know I am making a very unpopular argument in a society that is very unequal and oversensitive. However, it is unwise to place people’s emotional well-being at the mercy of the very people who discriminate against them. Admittedly, racism is a social reality in Canada, but why ask racists to be the emotional guardians of the very people they discriminate? Socially marginalized groups can ask to be afforded economic and political inclusion. That is a reasonable and necessary request. But asking for emotional protection from a discriminatory system is a socio-cultural impossibility. Emotional strength cannot be asked for but developed internally. Racial slurs will not stop by “making it awkward.” They are clever manifestations of insecurities and fears that are in most cases unfounded.

Indeed, teaching marginalized young people about inequality in Canada is imperative. However, it is very unfortunate that we have neglected to develop their emotional strength. In elementary and high school, Africans and students of African descent live with the specter of n-word. Unfortunately, what these students have is, ‘please don’t use that word it is offensive’, or they resort to fighting. In both cases, their emotional well-being is placed in the hands of the very people who discriminate against them. By all stretch of imagination, this is unconscionable.

However, I am not going to pretend that I have the magic solution to make these discriminated young people develop an impenetrable emotional strength. Yet, emotional strength is a necessary part of their well-being, so activists and parents need to devise ways to confront racial slurs without fights or emotional breakdowns. Activists tend to act sometimes as if white people are not human beings. White people would not feel the need to discriminate, insult others and fight for exclusion if they were emotionally secure. That we have to lament insults from white people more because of power and historical factors is to misunderstand the relationship between discrimination and power.

In his autobiography, Up from Slavery, the famous twentieth century African American educator, Booker T. Washington, said that “I would not permit no man, no matter his color might be, to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him.” This is a timeless reminder to every parent. But how do we make sure that people who face racial slurs on regular basis avoid hate. The answer lies in why some white people utter the n-word in the first place.

Note that people do not discriminate because they are powerful. They discriminate because they feel vulnerable and insecure. Racial slurs are indicators of internal vulnerabilities draped in feelings of superiority. But I must emphasize that the problem is not in the slurs themselves but in what they signify. In most cases, the social problem is the emotional hurt they cause. However, the main concern is not just the emotional hurt but what what makes people cause hurt could lead to. For instance, physical harm.  Nonetheless, a high school student who hurls the n-word at an African student is not saying it because he feels powerful. He is saying it because he knows it can deeply hurt the African student. While it would not be advisable to tell the African student to dismiss the slur, it is advisable for the African student to interrogate why the white student utters the slur and why the white student feels it is necessary to emotionally hurt the African student. In the end, there is a need by this white student to feel important and bigger in order to cover up any feeling of insecurity, fear and vulnerability.

Undoubtedly, society will continue to fight against marginalization and racism for they are still social realities. But no matter how marginalized and oppressed people are, they should take care of their emotional strength outside the mainstream patronage.


Kuir ë Garang is the editor of the 'THE PHILOSOPHICAL REFUGEE.' Follow him on Twitter @kuirthiy


Dear Melbournians, the South Sudanese people to be precise. Do you think we have seen it all? Do you think we have seen that: I mean in the aftermath of yesteryears, in regard to our culture and the notions around identity and belonging? Do you think we have seen the true reaping of what we sowed years ago? Do you really think so? After all, did we really sow anything like seeds and that there’s something to be reaped? Did we really live it out well to be seen today?

I am sorry to have bothered you, my potential readers, with questions regarding our social, economic, and political location in our host society: Australia. I think we have not seen it all and as a whole: The idea that people are bound by certain values and beliefs of significance to them. This requires cooperation and role-specific obligations on the roles of every man and woman across a given people and their society.


While it is possible for us to racially discriminate or judge people we know, the chances of judging people we know diminish significantly the more we know them. An easy example of the importance of understanding others is the attitude people develop when they want to harm others or when they want to deny them something valuable. Essentially, before you fight someone, you insult them. Insults are attempts at diminishing the value of people, an attempt at estranging them, as Toni Morrison argued in The Origin of Others. It is easy to discriminate against strangers or make others strangers or dehumanized in order to discriminate against them.

Transformational Leadership, Inclusive Institutions and Service Provision

Leadership, given what is happening now in South Sudan, and generally in Africa, fascinates me. And it fascinates me not in a good way but because of the sociopolitical and socioeconomic ills facing the African continent and most of the so-called 'Third World.' To me, South Sudan, now, is a classic case.

Rebellion by disaffected politico-military leaders and repression by the government of South Sudan in Juba have stunted institutional development and leadership growth. This has made service provision almost irrelevant as political survival has taken primacy and supremacy. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE

‘Black’ as an Identity Oversimplification and Mockery

Black as a universalized cultural identity of the African Person (AP)* is a residual effect of slave and colonial mentality; a racial/race paradigm. It is a malady I call, conservatively speaking, stuck-in-the-past syndrome of color constraints. Black could be an on-the-street ‘social identifier’ of race figures not a meaningful phenomenon of deep cultural identification on a universal scale.

Author's Photo Gallery - Presentations