April 12, 2018
Fuck. It’s just a word. One syllable. Why should we give it power over us? People are born because of that word, and killed, and fired, and fined. (Just ask Bono.) I used to do a whole lecture in my Intro Sociology class on the social construction of profanity in which I would make each student say it out loud. The point was that the taboo on this word is so strong that some folks can’t even bring themselves to say it out loud. They can think it, or say “the F word,” which is pretty much just saying it. But they fear God or their mother or their own internalized morality and keep their mouths shut. Free yourself! Fuck!
Sometimes in the classroom I’ll drop an F Bomb for emphasis or just to make sure students are paying attention. “Antiquated gendered double standards. Don’t you think that’s fucked up?” In my mind it makes me more like the students and less like the stodgy caricature of a college professor. More relatable. Let’s break down the fucking wall of pretense. I put my jeans on one leg at a time, too.
I had an “aha” moment about that whole thing in a class I was teaching this week. I was trying to express the frustrations educators have trying to compete with technology in the classroom. I can’t lecture when students are on their phones or staring at God-knows-what on their laptops. I laid out a perfectly biting use of the word in question and it immediately sounded wrong. Like who am I just to throw this word around? I tried to make sure the students understood the context, but it bothered me all night; probably more than it bothered them.
Then I remembered an African-American student of mine at Portland State who always wore a suit to school. I regularly taught his Social Theory class in jeans and a t-shirt. He pointed out that, as a black man, his authority is not assumed like it was for me. He had to dress up to not be put as far down. As many women and people of color know, you have to work twice as hard for half as much when you are not a white male. My white male privilege allows me to dress like Mark Zuckerberg and drop the occasional F bomb without my authority being diminished. It’s good to be the fucking king.
If I was a female or a woman with the same speech pattern, it would be met with shock, disdain, and condemnation for my whole category. “She swears like a sailor.” “Well, black people are kinda thuggish.” And on and on. I would be viewed as from a less civilized demographic. Sluttish, animalistic, etc.. There’s a great video of a 14-year-old boy doing a slam poem called “White Boy Privilege.” He drops some F bombs and then says, “I can say ‘fuckin’’ and not one of you is attributing it to the fact that everyone in my skin color has a dirty mouth.”
My white maleness gives me free reign. Earlier this week I was giving a presentation in Chicago about white nationalism to a group called the Government Alliance on Racial Equity. On the opening slide of my PowerPoint it said, “Randy Blazak, PhD.” While talking to these folks, I realized it was stupid to put the “PhD.” up there. My expertise is assumed. I just made it overkill. If I was a woman or a person of color, it might have been the opposite dynamic. “Please listen to me. I have a PhD.” I’m often worried people won’t listen to me, but I should remember that my race and gender carries more weight than any letters.
If my goal is to dismantle my privilege, it’s time to lay off the F bombs. If all my students, friends and colleagues don’t have the same linguistic freedom, why should I exploit it? After all, it’s just a word.
5 thoughts on “Dropping F Bombs and White Privilege”
Great post Randy. I was brought up in a conservative Catholic family where no one ever swore except for the occasional bloody. Though my brothers and sister have made up it since. I remember when in college we attended a lecture on the art of swearing, the lecture space was packed. It was entertaining and taught me a lot. You are right though, it is just a word.
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Isn’t the vulgarity associated with the use of words like fuck, piss, shit and cunt originated in the Norman conquest of England? Is it true that fornication, urination, defecation and vulva are deemed acceptable terms in polite company because some elitist, white, Romanesque, bullies relegated the use of the native tongue, local vernacular, if you will, to “gutter talk”?
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This!!! “He pointed out that, as a black man, his authority is not assumed like it was for me. He had to dress up to not be put as far down. As many women and people of color know, you have to work twice as hard for half as much when you are not a white male.” As an Hispanic female who often gets mistaken for “the help” even when dressed up and decked out, I can TOTALLY relate to that point. I’ve tried to explain that fact to people I’m close to, some of who wear sweats and t-shirts to go a restaurant. I’m American, speak perfect English, and love punk and classical music, but all people see is my brown skin. So I get followed around a store, or asked for a refill on coffee, or told where to sign in for the cleaning crew. No shame in that, but a constant reminder that I’m not an individual, but a pre-judged stereotype. I remind myself daily to not give a fuck.