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Language of hate dehumanizes target, allowing speaker to feel justified

© Carlos Barria / Reuters
Regardless of socio-economic stigmas associated with my job, has our culture reached a point where it is acceptable in everyday discourse, in a simple complaint about someone's job performance, to denigrate and dehumanize someone?

“To the bitchy server who yelled at us for sitting down at a dirty table because it was either that or the one with a diaper bag on it. F U! if you don’t like being in the service industry go get an education so you can get a different job. ps we went to Wilde Roast and spent $70 buck on breakfast. EAT IT!”

— Facebook post, July 11, 2012

I am that server. I did not yell or raise my voice, but that is neither here nor there. 

The comment was posted to the public Facebook business page managed by the restaurant where I work. I could certainly attribute the above quote to his full name, as such comments are no different from posting a flier on a telephone pole.

Any customer is entitled to his opinion and the right to express it, especially to employers. To Mr. O I say: That you were unhappy with your brief experience at the restaurant, I apologize. I would have preferred to have said this apology in person and rectified the situation. But on that Sunday morning you did not mention your discontent to me or to any other staff member. I would have gladly sought to find a solution to any problem you had, but I did not know you had one until clicking on the restaurant’s Facebook page the next afternoon.

Disassociation on social media

In using an avatar on a social media platform it’s easy to disassociate ourselves from our actions. Mr. O.’s full name may be attributed to the account, but it’s still a smoke-and-mirrors act. On the Internet we can make ourselves into anything. It can give us the courage to say whatever we feel. Yet it should not leave us unaccountable.

The feminized slurs Mr. O. used have a long history in languages. Bitch, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, dates to the 15th century. There are many more equally charged words. But if I were a male server would he still have used this term? To the cocky server somehow doesn’t quite have the same ring. And while we are quick to chide someone for using a racial slur, it is less true of denigrating language rooted in gender. What does it say about our culture when some of the most virulent slurs are feminine?   

While it’s a problematic question, language, symbols, and meanings are slow to change. But with language comes responsibility. How else do we symbolize our emotions, our ideas, our values? Words are the building blocks that connect and bind humans and the names we call ourselves and others are important. Defining. They forge the bridges between our otherwise body-bound, fundamentally isolated existences.  Names unite us. 

No longer a person

I am a server. My job is, concretely, to serve. And it carries an inherent power dynamic: the verb to serve requires another party, a noun. A person. As Mr. O. points out, I could go back to school. I could get another job. But my formal education has no bearing on my training or performance as a server. And regardless of socio-economic stigmas associated with my job, has our culture reached a point where it is acceptable in everyday discourse, in a simple complaint about someone’s job performance, to denigrate and dehumanize someone? In calling me bitchy I am no longer a person in his eyes. I am a female dog. I am reduced to being un-human.

We all hear language such as this every day. Indeed, if I had a dollar for every time I swore, I’d be a millionaire several times over. But unless we begin to critically examine the words we use and the context in which we use them, we will only continue to perpetuate hate. 

Dehumanization through slurs washes our hands of responsibility, be it on the Internet or in real life. If a person is no longer human, linguistically, any subsequent action is of little value or concern. It frees me to abuse them without being held accountable to the same moral and ethical standards due a person, a fellow man. By disregarding someone’s humanity, I get a free pass. I get to feel justified. I get to feel right, regardless of the crime I commit against them. Is it any wonder the nightly new is filled with reports of violence, murders, and war? 

I am Server. Hear me roar: Don’t all people deserve better than the language of hate? 

Mackenzie Epping graduated from Macalester College and works at a Minneapolis restaurant.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Cameron Parkhurst on 07/23/2012 - 06:37 pm.

    False anonymity

    permits online commentators to spew hatred and other nonsense with no fear of being challenged about their post. There is no reasonable discourse or accountability when people hide behind false identities.

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