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Fat, Ghetto, Slut and Other Words to Quit Using

How labels limit the way we see people.

What is the worst name you've ever been called? Most likely, you can remember the term, as well as who said it, where you were and how it has impacted you over the years.

Last summer, we asked members of our People of the Second Chance community to submit labels they’d heard, used or experienced. As the comments poured onto our site, I began to understand the depth and power of words. It still gives me chills to this day when I re-read their feedback. The list is ugly, painful and personal; there are labels I’ve been called and labels I’ve called others. 

Labels lie in the way they characterize us. They strip our dignity and humanity. Labels dumb down the complexity of who we truly are. For many, they become the destructive foundation on which life is built. There are countless labels that deserve discussion, but here I want to tackle five, maybe in ways you’ve never considered before.

"Stupid"    

Calling someone stupid has a casual and lighthearted feel. It’s easy. “He’s being stupid.” “That’s a stupid idea.” “I’m so stupid sometimes.” It’s not “fag” or “retard” or some racial slur. It’s not going to raise any eyebrows with the FCC or show up on a list of words to abandon. In fact, it’s tempting to think of it as a kid’s word, not a label. What’s the big deal, right?

But ask yourself this: If it’s a kid’s word, how do you think a kid would feel if called stupid? Would she be casual and lighthearted or hurt and angry? Would he get the joke, or would it maybe shrink his self-esteem just a little bit? It’s hard to tell, because when it comes to labeling, it’s not about vulgarity or shock value but about what the label says about the person being labeled.

It’s not about kids and adults but how we choose to treat each other as human beings of all ages. And the danger with words like "stupid," which are easy to throw around, is that they normalize the belittling of people and ideas.

"Fat"

Being called fat can be devastating for people. It represents more complex issues than we realize, and in a single, ugly word, we can trivialize a lifetime of pain. Fat represents vulnerability because unlike the other labels on this list, you wear it on the outside. Fat represents heartbreak for all the failed diets and disappointing workouts. Fat represents fear for all the health risks you hear and read about constantly. Fat represents powerlessness because you can’t just wake up and stop being fat, no matter how much you want to. And fat represents pressure for all the images of societal perfection we’re presented with and long to conform to.

In a body-obsessed culture, this three-letter-word can fracture our fragile identity and self-worth. Our bodies matter to us, and they are the primary representation of how we want others to see us. That’s why this word can be so hurtful.

On the flip side, finding after finding confirms that obesity has, indeed, been rising for decades. It’s not an imaginary problem, but it’s also not something that can be simply labeled and shunned. If we’re going to arrive collectively at a healthier and happier place, we have to find a way to help each other along without labeling, isolating and trivializing. Fat lies.

"Ghetto" 

The roots of the word "ghetto" are pretty ugly. Derived from an Italian word meaning “waste,” ghetto has long referred to the concept of social separation. Jews were forced to live in ghettos during World War 2, and the worst areas of inner city poverty are often referred to as modern ghettos. So while it’s tempting to shrug the label "ghetto" off as just meaning “poor,” it actually implies so much more. Ghetto isn’t an adjective but a social concept. It means exclusion, bias and injustice.

We don’t usually call people "ghetto" to their face. Instead, we talk about how ghetto someone is with our friends. We talk about how their apartment is ghetto, or their car, or their clothes, or their music, or their accent. Pretty soon, everything about them is ghetto, and just like that, we’ve moved from adjective to social concept. Things we don’t say out loud start taking root. Their aspirations are ghetto. Their family is ghetto. Their challenges are ghetto. Their worries are ghetto. Their pain is ghetto. Their life is ghetto. Our whole view of someone is poisoned by an assumption of how we think they live their lives and how it’s different from the way we live our own.

The word "ghetto" is insidious because it has history. It has racial overtones. It separates and oversimplifies. It lies. Don’t use it. Don’t accept it. 

"Slut"

One of the worst things about labels is how they violate us. Theymake private things public, and they make false things sound true.Labels like “slut” are the worst of both worlds, deeply violating onboth accounts. "Slut" hits you socially and morally, and like all trulynasty labels, it’s hard to defend against and refuses to go away. Itturns people against the victim and even makes allies disappear. Itgets used against people who are already vulnerable and can lead todevastating outcomes. 

Sexual labels seem to be one of our favorite ones to use these days.If someone can define your sexuality, they can then ascribe all theattributes that come with it. As human beings, we are context-seekingcreatures. We need our boxes. We need our clarity. If we can takesomeone’s sexuality and place it in an understandable category, we feelat peace and our world is at balance again. And whether it be aboutlabeling an individual’s sexual orientation or one night of infidelity,sexuality is reduced to simplistic stereotypes.

So, what can we do? We can start by refusing to accept and use it. But we can also be the ally that doesn’t disappear. We can be the community that provides strength instead of scorn and helps disarm this worst of labels. 

"Racist"

If you want to hurt someone’s feelings, you’ve got labels to pick from. If you want to be mean, insensitive, smug or juvenile, you’ve got labels to pick from. If you want to damage someone’s reputation, you’ve got labels to pick from. 

But if you want to do all those things and sound righteous while doing it—then call someone a racist. 

It’s hard to defend against, and it’s almost impossible to shake if it’s shouted loud enough. It offends virtually everyone out there and hearkens back to times and places we’d all rather just forget. It’s not just a loaded word—it’s a loaded gun.

That’s not to say that racism doesn’t exist or that it shouldn’t be called out and addressed. It absolutely should. But unfortunately, in today’s environment of highly-charged politics (governmental and otherwise), the temptation to demonize an enemy or opponent is stronger than ever. Even worse, the means to do it is in our hands. From tweets and blogs to YouTube videos and stump speeches, our voices have reach like never before. And when used disingenuously, a label like "racist" is a cheap shot—a low blow. It’s a way to shut any argument down and dismiss any foe as being unworthy of engagement. As with every label, it is a simplifying word for a very complex issue that actually needs dialogue.

By all means, fight for what’s right and stand up to racist behaviors and attitudes. But let grace and love be your weapons, and leave the labels behind. Don’t use them. Don’t accept them.

These five labels—stupid, fat, ghetto, racist and slut—all have one thing in common: They devalue the victim and brainwash the user. They trick us into thinking there is a necessary barrier between us and them. But labels are never necessary and never protect anyone from anyone else. They drive us apart in the worst ways instead of bringing us together to heal with our collective strength. 

I truly believe we reinvent the world by reinventing how we live. I want to live in a world that refuses to label, stereotype or slapdamaging words on others. That means guarding my own words and not jumpingto conclusions. It means speaking up when our society and our friendswant to use labels. This vicious form of judgment needs to stop, and itbegins with you and me. 

Mike Foster is the co-founder of People of the Second Chance and the author of Gracenomics: Unleash the Power of Second Chance Living. He serves on the executive team at PlainJoe Studios and lives in Southern California. He blogs at www.MikeFoster.tv and is @MikeFoster on Twitter.  

*Images provided by People of the Second Chance

65 Comments

85,162

sarah lin commented…

Ephesians 4:29 "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."

85,162

Sarah commented…

Ephesians 4:29 "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."

85,162

fattyfatkinns commented…

Oh give me a break... I've been fat and stupid my entire life. Who gives a CRAP what people say? I honestly think people should use labels more instead of less to keep our generation from becoming the weakest, most vulnerable generation of all time. Being hurt toughens people up. It used to hurt when kids called me "chubby checker" or "fatass" but you know what? I've grown a lot from it and I'm tough as nails against anything that anyone wants to say about/to me. I mean, seriously... being hurt is a natural part of life that is absolutely vital to facilitate growth. Even the Bible says that trials and tribulations build perseverance and maturity. So, I guess what I'm saying is... this article is STUPID!

85,162

Joedoe006 commented…

Ha!...I like your spunk!...I won't say I completely agree with you, but that's a bit of a technicality....I AGREE with the spirit of your comments...this article smacks of being Politically Correct....not Politically Comical....did the author or anyone chiming in to praise the article hear of laughing and being more thick-skinned...you are right...we will continue to be so overly sensitive that it really is not spiritually nor socially mature, rather childish.

Words can hurt...if used in the wrong context or to just hurt and that's it, with no regard to a person's worth ( the N-word, White Trash)...but even words used "derisively" can be used in a spirit of affection and desire to bond with another person, stranger or not....this article misses that reality completely.

We are not THAT important...the good intention to not hurt another leads to a crippling sensitivity that wasn't there in the first place! ( Believe me, I've lived it at the university and seminary levels ) "We" want the world to bow to "our" sensitivities....Red Alert: the world is not that sensitive...just you!

3For by the grace
(unmerited favor of God) given to me I warn everyone among you not to
estimate and think of himself more highly than he ought [not to have an
exaggerated opinion of his own importance], but to rate his ability with
sober judgment, each according to the degree of faith apportioned by
God to him.

85,162

Anonymous commented…

I think that proscribing words is a lot like burning books. You shut out what you personally do not like or approve of. In the process, you do more harm than good, because you give attention to the wrong thing. I am a great advocate of using our words to heal rather than harm, so I certainly do not advocate or excuse name-calling or pejorativelabels. However, the best way to get out of that mold is to focus on the loving and healing word you want to inject into the conversation. Even when we disagree with the person on the other side of the conversation, there are probably healing and building words we can use instead of words that incite emotional, defensive reactions. Jesus said that we are to love and pray for our enemies. The words of love and prayer do not assault people. The problem with making a list of "bad" words is that by tomorrow morning, someone will have thought of another one we left off. If we who live in relationship with Christ speak words that grow out of that relationship, we will speak truth and invite relationship with others. Isn't that better than fumbling around trying to remember what word not to say?

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