As a coincidence, I wrote the following essay a few weeks ago as my response to the following: "Write a cause - and - effect essay explaining how derogatory terms applied to particular groups of people make it possible for others to ignore, dislike, or even mistreat them." We all should aware what can happen when hatred is fuelled by those terms!
Words are very powerful and hurtful tools. When they are artfully used, they are even more powerful than acts are themselves. People have been aware of this fact probably since the development of the first language, and derogatory words have been around since. It does not matter if they are based on religion, nationality, color of skin and/or sexual orientation because these terms have only one goal, and it is to hurt and humiliate. Moreover, the effect of them also creates hatred, mistreatment, loss of dignity and personality and, unfortunately, even death. Just the word “Jew”, the word that describes a member of a religion or ethnicity, can be used and was abused as a derogatory term. Sadly, it also can be said about other groups, such as the gay and lesbian minority or the Roma ethnicity that are targets of such bias, too.
A horrendous example of the effect of how powerful words can be was Nazi Germany propaganda in the 1930s and afterwards. The people behind the propaganda masterly used the Jewish community in Germany for creation of extreme nationalism by blaming them for the loss of World War I, economic misfortune and, eventually, of everything that went wrong in the country and when they needed to find a scapegoat. They intensified hysteria against Jews by picturing them as dirty, greedy and stinky inferior people who wanted to destroy the German nation. Many antisemitic laws were implemented to Germany jurisdiction in the early 1930s, among them the one that was used to justify expulsion of thousands of Jews of Polish origin from Germany to Poland where they were gathered in camps under inhuman conditions. As a result of this mistreatment, a young Jewish man, whose family was expelled to Poland, shot a secretary of the German Embassy in Paris who later died. Consequently, the Nazi regime used this unfortunate act as an excuse to start terror against Jews in Germany. The night of the terror is called Kristalnacht. Many Jewish synagogues and chapels were burnt down and many Jewish stores and companies were plundered. Repression against Jews got worse and worse. They had to wear an armband with the Star of David, they were forced to leave their homes and possessions and moved to ghettos. The conditions at the ghettos were the cause of death of many people or loss of their dignity. In 1942, the Nazi regime came up with “the final solution concept” and concentration camps were used to annihilate nearly all of the Jewish population on the German occupied territories. As a result of this concept, about six million Jews died in the gas chambers of the concentration camps. This genocide started out in the wake of hatred fueled by derogatory words toward one ethnic group.
As a matter of fact, antisemitism was not a matter only in Nazi Germany, but also it played its sad role in Czechoslovakia in the early 1950s. As a part of the fight for power and fear of Stalin, then leadership of the Communist party of Czechoslovakia fabricated a monstrous process with its own party members. Because it was looking for a scapegoat, Jewish descent functioned again as the main part in this process. Fourteen members of the Communist party leadership, among them the General Secretary of the party, the highest rank in the leadership, were charged with Zionist conspiracy, espionage, treason and sabotage for the purpose of destroying the so-called democratic regime in former Czechoslovakia. Eleven out of fourteen of them were of Jewish descent, not a coincidence, and the regime used that in the charges. These eleven were Rudolf Slansky, the General Secretary of the Communist party, Bedrich Geminder, former head of International Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Communist party, Ludvik Frejka, former chief of the Economic Department of the Presidential Chancery, Bedrich Reicin, former undersecretary of the National Security Department, Artur London, former undersecretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Vavro Hajdu, former undersecretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Eugen Lobl, former undersecretary of the Department of Commerce, Rudolf Margolius, former undersecretary of the Department of Commerce, Otto Fischl, former undersecretary of the Treasury Department, Otto Sling, former chief secretary of the Regional Committee of the Communist party in Brno and Andre Simone, former editor of Rude Pravo. It did not matter whether or not they were guilty, their descent was important. Subsequently, antisemitism grew in shocking numbers and people manipulated by propaganda demanded the capital punishment for all of them. In the end of this charade, only three people were sentenced to life in prison, the rest got the capital punishment. The process was the worst account of the propagandistic usage of a derogatory word in the history of my country.
Another group against which slurs and derogatory terms are used is the gay and lesbian minority. How many times do we hear these words and how often? They are used not only against the minority group itself, but also they are very often used in regular conversation to ridicule the other person without any connection to real sexuality of that person. Fear of unknown, unwillingness to understand and accept difference, and ignorance are mainly the cause. There is one particularly vulnerable group inside the minority and that is a group of teenagers and young people. The consequences of these slurs for them can go from just hiding their real feelings, being confused of their own sexuality or pretending to be somebody else to as far as suicide. For example, a teenage boy who lives somewhere in Wyoming and does not have many chances to come across the other people who are the same is exposed to everyday remarks and derogatory terms of homosexuality from his peers, parents, and neighbors. Now, he's confused because of what he feels and what he hears. In a while, he starts to question himself and it makes him feel less valuable than other people. In a good scenario, he tries to find any help available to him or he runs away from the family to a big city to comfort himself by the city's anonymity and bigger chances to find someone who has the same problem. Nonetheless, life in a big city is not easy especially for a teenager. He has to take care of himself, but that can bring him to more problems, such as crime, drugs, prostitution. In a worse scenario, he unsuccessfully tries to fight back his feelings and put up with the contrast between them and what he hears about them and he can end up dead one day. In both scenarios, his life is affected by the prejudice caused by powerful words.
Derogatory terms are, unfortunately, an integral part of everyday language. They are used to show our dislike with a person or ideas he or she represents. They are also used to show speaker's superior feelings. When they are used excessively against any group of people based on its ethnicity, work and citizenship status and/or religion, they can have disastrous consequences. Our own history and lives are full of examples of such consequences. Unless we stop using them, there is always going to be hatred, humiliation or loss of lives.