“Queer handicapped Pakeha” – Wait, what did you call me?

A recent faux pas by Jeremy Clarkson (best known for his role on theBBC TV showTop Gear), has got him into hot water. Footage was leaked of Clarkson using an older version of a popular rhyme which makes use of language that is now considered to be offensive to some cultures and people.

Shortly after,American business magnate and owner of the LA Clippers basketball franchise, Donald Sterling was recorded making racist comments. Sterling now has a lifetime ban from NBA games and a fine of $USD2.5 million.

These nearly career ending faux pas have got me thinking. What other comments or slurs do people find offensive in New Zealand? And what if myself, or someone I knew, were using them?

Let’s consider a few more words and their dictionary definitions:

  • Handicap – “Disability, a human condition.”
  • Retard – “Short for mental retardation, also known asintellectual disability, a disorder characterized by significantly impaired cognitive functioning and deficits in adaptive behaviors.”
  • Pākehā – “Māori language term forNew Zealanders who are of European descent.”
  • Fag or faggot – “Now usually referring to a gay man, also having older and derived pejorative senses.”
  • Gweilo – “Common Cantonese slang term for foreigners although this does not apply to many other Asian races.  Has a long history of racially deprecatory use.”

Do you get my point here?  No…still not sure?  I’m simply pointing out that there is a lot of language around that can be considered offensive to some people, yet it is still commonly used.

For example, I could be described as Pākehā and handicapped. But if my fellow Pākehā or handicapped persons and I decided these terms are offensive, how does that impact on the people or culture who have given us these labels? Personally I strongly dislike the word handicap, which is used more often in America than New Zealand (but it’s still around), yet Pākehā is a part of everyday conversation.  Why is one so offensive, while the other is not?

So then, what if a group of people stood up and said they are no longer comfortable with being referred to in such a way?

Are we not within our right to challenge these terms and say who we feel we are! I think I should be allowed to choose my own identity.

On the other hand, I do like that a large, and growing community of people have reclaimed the word ‘queer’!  “Queer is an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities that are not heterosexual, or gender-binary. Originally meaning strange or peculiar, queer developed a usage as a pejorative term for homosexual in the late 19th century.”  However, “in the late 1980s, some political and socialLGBT groups began to reappropriate the word to establish community and assert a political identity, with it becoming the preferred term to describe some academic disciplines and gaining use as a descriptor of non-heterosexual identities.”

I think this shows that claiming, or reclaiming, an identity is an achievable option, if we choose it.

I choose to take the power by using words and terms to describe myself, that I feel most comfortable with.

As Gandhi said, choose to be the change you want to see in the world!

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