by Lisa Martinovic
Despite a generation of sensitivity trainings and multicultural studies, an astonishing number of people still feel emboldened to express their misbegotten bigotry in very public arenas. Cops and vigilantes alike are caught on tape throwing down racial slurs before they kill, Rush Limbaugh has no compunction about “slut-shaming” for a national audience, and classroom bullies drive a steady stream of gay youth to suicide. In the face of such madness we may be tempted to question the wisdom of the old nursery rhyme:
Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.
That’s what we were taught as children, but as adults we’ve learned a more nuanced understanding of the power of words. We recognize that to call an African-American a nigger, a woman a cunt, or a gay man a faggot is not only insulting and bigoted, it wounds the psyche of the person who’s been verbally accosted.
Need this be so?
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