(This is a guest column submitted by a former editor for the Las Positas Express
God and Chabot College have at least one common problem. There is a person – at least one – whose Twitter bio claims affiliation with both, and whose behavior is therefore representing them both badly. The name of this individual isn’t important. There are more than enough people who will read this and recognize a description of their own behavior.
What is important is setting the boundaries of acceptable conversation. The use of the words “f-g,” “f—-t” and “n—-r” are outside those boundaries. No one needs to be called out specifically. This isn’t meant to start a witch hunt. I think society is very good at explaining the fact that certain words are impermissible, but we do a terrible job at explaining why. This creates an impression that society – or parts of society – have created an arbitrary rule and are reacting overly harsh in an attempt to enforce that rule.
Society does indeed create certain arbitrary rules. “The fork goes on the left of a dinner setting because,” reasons. If we all agreed tomorrow that it should go on the right, society would be no worse and no better off. It’s simply an arbitrary rule that we all agree to follow because a dinner table is prettier when it has a degree of uniformity.
Farther along that path are words like “ass—-,” “fart,” and “puke.” These words describe things that are morally neutral. Everyone farts, pukes and everyone should have an ass—-. If you don’t do or have these things, please see a doctor. Immediately. These types of words are frowned upon because they call to mind certain images that are unpleasantly biological. You may certainly use those words, but the time and the place must be carefully chosen so as to not cause anyone discomfort at the dinner table.
The words “f-g,” “n—-r” and the like are also descriptors. They describe mundane things: orientation and skin color. What places those words out of bounds is the history of violence associated with their use. Beatings. Murders. Slow economic strangulation. The basic facts of American history and contemporary practice. To use those words is to invoke that pain and threaten yet another beating, murder or any myriad awful things that have been done in proximity to those words. It isn’t merely that they are impolite – it is that those words are a threat.
I am not saying that these words ought to be banned. I am not attempting to censor anyone, or cause anyone harm for their word choices. Rather, I am asking that people think about those words as the precursors to violence. People who claim to represent Chabot or Las Positas Community College should not be threatening or instigating violence.
It is entirely possible that the person to whom I am speaking of did not think about their words. I understand that. In a heated moment things spew forth that we aren’t thinking through. That’s basic human nature. It is in those moments when we need to have someone put an arm up and gently say, “Not cool, man.” If nothing else, please understand this letter as my way of saying that.
Here’s why: I believe that Chabot and Las Positas are communities, as evidenced by the fact that 10 years later I still care enough about the place to write this piece. Because each is a community, we need to create a space for people to breathe free.