Fat and Not Afraid

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Fat, Bitch, Cunt and the N-word

February 24, 2012

Sometimes I get into heated conversations with people who aren't on my wavelength, people less progressive, people like my boss and former boss. These guys are fantastic bosses in every way, I mean that sincerely, but they don't understand or even acknowledge things like white privilege and it's other side, racial oppression. It's fairly frustrating for me and I should know better than to talk about politics or things like this at work. It's hard not too though when there's obviously something that they need to learn and I just can't shut myself up.

For example, somehow yesterday we got to talking about the N word, that word white people cannot (and should not) say. Their arguement was that well if white people can't use that word, black people shouldn't either. It's got to be fair. Now, I am not a person of colour so if I'm about to stick my foot or feet in my mouth, I apologize in advance. This is my take on why white people should not ever use that word (unless maybe it's in an academic or historical context, and even then dammit be careful!)

For a long time in recent Western history, that word was used by white people as a way to hurt, demean and oppress black people. Our continued use of that word continues that hurt, demeaning and oppression, full stop. If black people choose to use that word, to attempt to reclaim it in a way similar to how women are reclaiming words like 'bitch' and 'cunt', that's their business, and it's not up to white people to tell them they can't. I grew up in a small Northern Ontario town; all through primary school and through most of highschool I had 0 exposure to black people. Since discovering blogs and other online places I've learned a lot, but am still a baby at this kind of thinking. I'm coming from a place of pretty extreme ignorance, but as a friend of mine likes to say, I'll argue for compassion and empathy every time. I hope that makes sense. 

So that discussion went nowhere as both of my bosses completetly disagreed with me, and my actual boss tried to compare the word 'fat' to the n-word, that because he's fat, he can go around calling other people fat too. These two words? do not hold the same weight (pun intended) when it comes to oppression and hate, at least in my humble opinion they don't. Also, fat people (at least all the cool activists I know! :D ) are also reclaiming that word, to make it not mean 'lazy, stupid, ignorant' etc.

What do YOU think?

Ooooh, interesting post. I'm also white, caveat, but I tend to agree with you. I actually think the word "fat" has totally different issues from the n-word. I wouldn't mind if non-fat people started using the word fat in a context that wasn't negative. For me, it's not the word so much as the intention. When I hear "So-and-so got fat", I think "So-and-so's" body size should really not be gossip material. And when people outside of FA who aren't jerks use "fat" it still tends to be in a slightly apologetic way, like "I know this word is mean, but it's accurate so I'm going to use it". Positive use of "fat" is tricky, even for us fat people; I used it once to describe someone else (a stranger), neutrally, but because my audience wasn't clued in to fat acceptance, I don't think it was taken that way. I hadn't said anything mean, but I think the statement might have just been accepted as having a slight negative connotation because of the choice of the word fat, and the connotations it has in a mainstream context.

Yeah, not only do words have their own meanings, but they also get baggage attached; cultural, historical, etc. Fat is so heavily (hee hee) associated today with negative aspects it's hard to just use the word in a neutral way. It blows people's minds when I say "I'm fat." They try to come back with "But YOU'RE not fat!" or "No you're not!" as if being fat was The Worst! It's not, we've just made it that way.

It is all really to do with semantics and less the word than the inference that is important. The reason that black people can use the word nigger is because they do so in a way that is not derogatory. I use the word rather than a euphemism because I refuse to acknowledge it is any more than a word. Not using the word matters little if you simply find another word and say it with the same bile. The trouble with some peoples political correctness is it comes from a superficial sense of trying to avoid something (for laudable reasons) but in trying to encourage others not to fail to explain the reasons in a way some can understand.
It isn't the word nigger that's a problem it is the concept of racism. It isn't the word fat that is a problem it is the fact that people who use it to harm by the inference of it.
I am fat because I perceive myself as so in terms of not being happy with my appearance. Whether this is an engrained social conditioning is another matter. Some people look fantastic big and others do not, but then some people look shit with long hair. I am fat but my long hair is cool!

"The reason that black people can use the word n- is because they do so in a way that is not derogatory. I use the word rather than a euphemism because I refuse to acknowledge it is any more than a word. Not using the word matters little if you simply find another word and say it with the same bile."
I think you've hit something here, Baron, but saying 'it's just a word' ignores the racial history of oppression that's associated with that word. It's not a matter of being politically correct, for me, it's a matter of not wanting to perpetuate the harm that word carries with it. Thanks for your thoughts.

I'm always amazed at white people who put up a fight about how they should be able to use the N-word. Because... why? Why do they want so badly to use it? Why fight for it? Are their vocabularies so minimal that they need it for something? What's the point of fighting so hard for THAT, of all things?

Since the n-word was and still is used by white people to oppress and harm black people, I feel there are two basic rules:

1. White people (like myself) should not use that word and

2. We should never tell black people that they DON'T get to use that word.

I too have to work with many people who are not terribly progressive and it gets extremely tiring. It's also frustrating when you are trying to stand up for what you believe in without getting in trouble.

Jen, I found your blog through a few members of the fatstudies listserv and this particular posting caught my eye. :-)

I agree with what you've suggested about not using a particular word if you're not from a particular group that has been historically oppressed by said word.

I grew up in Toronto where EVERYONE was different and where difference and diversity was the norm. That said, I was the only Jewish kid, besides my sister, all through public school. I can relate to this post with the same prickly feeling I get when someone who is not Jewish uses the term "Jew." When I use it, or when someone else from the community uses it, I know there's a common understanding of "I'm not going to use this term to make you feel like the Other because I'm not the Other: I'm you, too; and I know what it feels like to hear that word and know when it's said with malice/hate, vs. community/empathy."



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