Words as Terror Access Doors
N*gger has been a part of my identity since I was 8 years old.
For me, it is not just a comment on the racism I experienced at the behest of white people – it was a thought born during the worst days of my enslavement as I learned about black slavery in America from my white middle class teachers.
“I’m pleased to tell you that we don’t have slavery in America today. It has been long enough that no one alive remembers what it was like so we will have to use our imaginations.
People brought over from Africa to work as slaves were tied up, beaten, and sometimes mutilated. Their children were ripped away from them to go to the homes of white people to be raised as slaves there.
You might be wondering if things were so bad – why didn’t they just escape?
They had no place to go. The color of their skin announced to everyone that they were a slave. If a black person was seen walking around alone they would be asked WHERE ARE YOUR OWNERS? They would be rounded up and brought back to be punished severely.
Can you put yourself in their shoes you guys? Can you try to imagine that?”
Her eyebrows were raised with practiced compassion. She was clueless but I had LIVED it. The binding, the bleeding, the physical abuse and mutilation. The forced labor and the extraordinary retribution that would follow any attempts to assert my right to be a human being. Corralled and shut into tight spaces with other humans that were also for sale.
By 8 years old, I had been routinely raped, drugged, tortured by electrocution. I had already witnessed the deaths of at least three other people, first hand. People like me: whores.
Undesirable. Problem makers. My life had been threatened so many times I finally stopped caring whether I lived or died. Why invest hope in a future when death must surely be waiting to meet me tomorrow?
My house was a prison where white people were free to come and go as they choose and I was kept on a very short leash.
While my white brother roamed around the neighborhood with his pals and my father went to the office, I couldn’t spend one full minute in the bathroom without my mother bursting in to accuse me of some crime. I had no privacy and all my activities happened at the sole discretion of my handlers.
There was nothing in my life that was really allowed to be MINE – I existed only as a product.
The month I learned about black slavery in history class, I had been plotting my escape. The wall that I kept running up against was that there was no imaginable scenario in which an 8 year old child could be out and about alone without attracting attention.
MY BODY WILL GIVE ME AWAY, I would realize. There was nothing I could do to change or disguise my physical appearance. People would notice that SOMETHING WAS OUT OF PLACE and immediately alert the authorities -so I could be dragged back to my owners and my fate decided.
I had already told more police, doctors and teachers than I could count about what was happening to me and the other children. Nobody cared. They benefited from our abuse and those who didn’t directly benefit from it were too uncomfortable to deal with the issue head on. And, frankly, I think it would have been too dangerous for them to do so.
By 8 years of age, I had already come to terms with the hard decision not to bare children of my own. No matter what. If I was unwilling to offer my baby up to be groomed for service, it would be forcibly torn from me. They would try to breed me in my teen years and I would be left scrambling to find a way to prevent it amidst a powerless situation.
Everywhere I went, I felt on display. There was no escape from it.
When I learned about Nat Turner he became my adopted Ancestor. He was my historical proof that my reactions and my ideas were not unreasonable. That year, I had been on an especially vibrant campaign to terrorize my grown male clients. At that time, I felt that without violence, there would be no change. It was a heavy decision that took months to finally settle.
I began to spend my time dreaming up elaborate plans to organize the other kids and to give the adults NO OTHER CHOICE but to finally STOP. I would go over the plans again and again in my mind so that I could act without hesitance the next time an opportunity was presented.
Convincing others was next to impossible – everyone was too terrified. So I would usually adjust my plans and go it alone. I learned how to use the smallness of my body to my advantage – waiting under dark beds or squeezed behind the hanging closet clothes. Waiting to test a new plan. How much damage would I be willing to inflict? How much damage will it take to get the insanity to FUCKING STOP?
The men of the establishment nicknamed me “monster” and they would play pranks on unsuspecting friends by purchasing my time and waiting for a new story to happen. I set beds on fire, I bit faces. I made shoddy handcrafted weapons and put on a good bluff.
Back in the days of analogue telephones, I found the straight cord that ran between the phone and the wall outlet to be a useful tool for strangling grown men. If I could find a chair, I would drag it right up to them while their backs were turned. I would climb up and then jump off as hard as I could, attempting to hang the man with my body weight.
It never worked.
I hurt some people, but ultimately they hurt me worse. It was a tired script and it didn’t take me very long to begin to understand that the larger context in which my situation existed would make victory by even the worst violence absolutely impossible.
So I chilled the fuck out in that respect.
In many ways that realization was the death of hope for me, yet in many ways it was a huge relief. I did not feel comfortable making decisions about ending others lives but I would have been willing to do it at the time if I thought it would stop the enslavement of myself and my peers.
Nat Turner was the first person who taught me that I am not ever truly alone. He had bore the same cognitive load as I. He had calculated the same plans as I and he had given his life to find out what the consequences of implementation would be.
He was not an extremist. He was bound by extreme circumstances – making decisions no one should ever have to make. He saved my life by playing that experiment to it’s logical end so that I would not have to.
Around that time, I asked several people what the word “n*gger” meant after hearing my brother make jokes to his friends.
The first five people became very uncomfortable, stiffened up and then whispered ‘Its a black person’. This wasn’t satisfactory and so I kept asking.
“It is a word you should NEVER call someone and you should NEVER say under any circumstances. It is a word used to abuse black people. When you say someone is a n*gger, you are saying that they are not a human being, that they have no value and that it is ok to commit acts of violence against them. You are telling them that what is theirs actually belongs to you. and you are telling them that they do not matter”
She explained it as only a white person could – accurately yet shallowly. I could feel her reaching inside of herself trying to find a connection to her own experiences and being left impervious to the nuances of that charged word.
To experience the word n*gger every time it is said is different than to merely understand the theory that it’s probably not a very nice thing to say.
Every time it fell off the lips of my shit stirring white brother, I experienced it.
My whole body would fall into a hell where every single act of violence I had ever experienced or witnessed had never stopped. There was no conclusion. NO safety.
The violence lay just underneath the skin of every second of my existence. I could feel and taste the air as internal organs are exposed and blood is lost forever. Adrenaline racing through the veins of the perpetrators. THEY ARE GETTING HIGH OFF OUR PAIN.
No place to escape to. No solutions. No hope.
Although I am mixed and not black, I was frequently called a n*gger. My brain made a connection from this word to the experiences I was living at the time that I learned it. I cannot untangle them. Only in recent years have I began to understand that the English language is comprised of a disgusting amount of commonplace words that have their origins in violence against minorities.
I am an angry, frustrated, terrified person and I express my pain frequently and explicitly. I freely use words like retarded, crazy, whore, pussy, and faggot.
The oppression I experience fills my body with toxins and the only reprieve is to vomit them out over and over. If I don’t, I feel I will die of a feverish sweat – my body is shaking. Expulsion is imminent.
In my writing, I vomit them out all over people who likely have no experience of the particular word I have chosen for them. Their actions open a door to that place made of the visceral experience of violence, degradation and loss of control.
When that door opens, vomit comes out.
I call heterosexual men who try to rape me faggots. I will call a gay man who harasses me because of my disability a fucking retard. Everyone is a fucking whore. Except for sex workers who piss me off. They are just lame.
And of course I never call someone the word n*gger because that is MY door to the secret world of pain that resides inside of me.
As I begin to spend more time on social media, I feel very self conscious about my language. But, frankly, I feel powerless to clean it up. I shouldn’t say retard any more. That offends people. Telling someone to suck a dick as an insult is homophobic. These are obvious things to anyone with half a brain.
As I write I struggle to find ANY words or phrases that could be used to express the depth of the anger and disorientation that I feel daily but which does not also serve as an access door to TERROR for any other person.
ANYONE WITH HALF A BRAIN is a throwback to minorities who were forcibly lobotomized. It is a door to terror.
Some words have a larger access audience than others. N*gger is going to access more people’s terror than the word lame – yet, lame basis it’s origins in the persecution of disabled people. It is merely a terror door whose hinges have worn out.
It is an old, inactive virus that clings to the DNA of the English language.
These terror access doors are the reason why people feel most comfortable in the presence of others like themselves. It is why like still tends to keep to like even after we have toiled over the issue for thousands of years.
A black person saying the word n*gger does not serve as an access door for me but any white person saying it sure as fuck does. A black man saying the word bitch and any heterosexual man saying the word whore will access my terror instantly. Calling anyone a TEASE in my presence will rape me all over again and make it entirely my fault. I will taste my own blood in my mouth.
Even to casually swear by saying ‘fuck this’ refers to rape and to the act of penetration as degrading and insulting by nature. To FUCK is to RUIN.
Motherfucker refers to a wartime practice that transcends cultures: violently raping the mothers of your enemies in front of their children and sometimes causing them to die from the injuries.
The violent rape of minorities and children. Genocide. Imprisonment. War. Murder. Abuse. Enslavement. Consistent devaluation. Waste. Destruction. These are the essential building blocks of the English language.
What should we do? Should we, as a culture of segregated minorities, continue on this quest to eradicate certain words? Where does it stop? I do not know if we will have many words or phrases left by the time we have finished locking all these doors and throwing away the keys.
I propose a different solution.
Let’s all access our own terror and allow others to access theirs. And then let’s fucking support each other as the world comes crashing down around us. Lets tightly embrace strangers, press our faces against theirs and let the water of our tears mix freely. We should be fucking hysterical for a while. We should share our experiences. We should grieve.
We should LISTEN to each other and we should BELIEVE.
And when it is all done, let’s peel ourselves off the floor and create a world where our language, born of both defunct and active terror access doors, doesn’t matter any more because terror is no longer a way of life for any of us.
Am I proposing that marginalized people ‘toughen up’ when it comes to feeling feelings about words? You sure as shit better believe I am – because we are fighting A WAR. It doesn’t matter if we are peace loving spirits, have a positive attitude, try to focus on educating the oppressors – we have been handed a war against our wills and we are LOOSING IT.
Every time a person from a different minority group than you uses a word that acts as a ‘terror door’ for you and you loose it – the enemy has won that battle. You reject that person and they reject you because your ‘terror access doors’ are different and you keep triggering each other inadvertently.
This keeps you separate from that particular human being and perhaps that whole particular minority community. The two of you will never really sit down and hear each other’s stories and understand how similar your experiences and feelings have been. You will never truly be allies and combine your strengths. You are separated by the weaknesses that the common enemy has imposed upon you.
Eradicating words that have served at some point, for someone, as a ‘terror access door’ is a futile endeavor. White Invaders did not design the language to trigger their own feelings of inadequacy, shame, helplessness, worthlessness or terror – they designed the language to trigger US.
When we, as marginalized people, are filled to the brim with the toxic consequences of oppression, we are expected to find words that describe the depth of our grief over the crimes enacted against us without triggering other marginalized people.
Spoiler alert: there are none
By cleverly designing the language to trigger only the people that we are actively trying to connect with, the oppressors have limited our ability to describe THEIR crimes against us and the complicated deep feelings that result. They have limited our ability to form one nation and fight against their bullshit.
The only thing that have not limited is THEIR crimes and THEIR war on US.
We need to toughen up so that we can band together and be more inclusive. I suspect that there are many marginalized people who just frankly don’t have the energy to have their language policed on top of everything else that they have to process every single day. And so they stay within their own subset – or, worse, they stay with the oppressor because in some ways that is more comfortable for them.
We owe it to each other to toughen up.
We need to toughen up for the sake of OURSELVES. If every single time you hear another person use the word that is your personally effective slur, you completely loose the ability to function or focus then that is a pretty good sign that you still feel that way about yourself.
That is unacceptable.
I have encountered many men who will call a sex worker a ‘whore’ right before he attacks her physically. They do it to trigger us and make it less likely that we can process what is going on and respond accordingly. They are counting on us freezing as we relive every single time we have ever tried to fight a man off and lost.
I realized 13 years ago that if I was going to survive sex work, I needed to take that weapon away from them. Every night when I looked in the mirror, I would say aloud ‘you are a fucking whore’.
I would think about what that meant. Worthless. Disposable. Wrong. Lazy. Powerless.
I probably cried the first 20 times. But as I said it, it started to sound less and less credible. I am not worthless, wrong or lazy. I am disposable and powerless – but I exist that way within a fucked up social construct. It is not my fault. It is the thing I am toughing up in order to fight.
I don’t deserve to be disposable or powerless. It is wrong, and I am fighting those who enforce it against myself and others.
As I said the words aloud every single day, I began to sort out the truth from the lies, dig deeper. I began to really look at what all I was carrying and separate out MINE from THEIRS. And then I put their shit down so I could be lighter, move more freely, and become more effective.
The more I worked through my own terror and got my head straight the tougher I became. I have now been in many situations where a would be perpetrator called me a whore and I defended myself without batting an eye. And when the odds are too stacked against me and I loose a fight? I still understand deep down to my core that the attacker is absolutely fucking ridiculous.
I want everyone who stands beside me to come to every single battle they can armed to the teeth with genuine self acceptance. That is the first step to disempower those who benefit from the oppression of all.
Only when we come to the war strong, will we win it and move on to create the world that we want to live in.