The S and W Words

First off, let me admit that I have used the word “redneck.” For whatever reason, this term (an obvious racial prejorative) seems to have enough cultural connotations to remove it from outright slur. The fact that many Southern whites wield it like a badge of honor also helps lessen its impact.

But I’ve never called anyone a cracker. The difference, of course, is completely arbitrary, and I don’t expect plaques from humanitarian organizations to award my great, great sensitivity.

But it seems to me that if I’m going to ask white people to refrain from verbal hooliganism, it’s only fair that I don’t turn around and refer to an Anglo person as white trash because I’m, you know, dark-skinned and stuff.

Notice that I’m not afraid to use these terms, like my head will explode if I say, “gringo.” Let’s not get hypersensitive. But it would indeed be sad if I thought I was being edgy by calling someone a honky. That’s not daring or insightful. It’s just lazy and dismissive.

By the way, before accusations of political correctness are hurled about, let me head them off by pleading for the long-overdo retirement of that term. Those two words haven’t meant anything since the late 1990s, and even then they were empty sloganeering that could be (and were) applied to everything from liberal orthodoxy to angry stand-up routines to the New York Jets offensive line. Nothing is politically correct or incorrect anymore.

In any case, I offer a deal. I will try to avoid terms that could be interpreted as a slam on white people in general (eg, the aforementioned cracker, honky, etc) if Anglos refrain from attempts to prove their hipness or street cred by throwing around the S and W words like confetti.

It’s perhaps unclear what we’re talking about. So let me clarify.

The S word is spic.

The W word is wetback.

Neither of these terms is as vivid, as ugly and jarring, as the dreaded N word, which is powerful enough to provoke discomfort even in its euphemistic form (when it comes to dehumanizing insults, blacks have the advantage, or disadvantage, over Hispanics).

But I’m proposing this because I’ve noticed that some white people seem to think these terms are harmless, or even endearing. I’m sorry to tell you that they are not. In fact, calling a Latino a spic is a damn good way to get your ass kicked all over the place, even as you shout, “But I’m down with brown! I’m down with brown!” in appeasement.

In essence, I’m providing a community service by pointing out that these words are not ok. Trust me, it might help you avoid a tense, culturally awkward moment. And we all have enough of those anyway.

So do we have a deal?


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August 2008
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