Walking down the hall of any school or institution, standing in line for Starbucks, shopping at the local grocery store exists the not so obvious signs of racism and intolerance. It exists not just in the violence we see on our screens, but in the whispering words that linger, the rude stares, the hurtful comments.

Although living in our current age might seem more progressive than past eras, racism and discrimination are still prominent themes in the lives of many students of colour, different faiths, and LGBTQ+ students.  A very common aspect that contributes to the issue is the use (and normalization) of racial, cultural, and homophobic slurs.  Words which, whewalking through the hallway, are not shocking to hear for many. Though many label slurs as “just words” or “just joking,” the negative history and impact are rarely taken into consideration.   

The history of the “N-word,” is often used to degrade black people, but in more recent years, it has made itself a big part of Black slang. The N-word had begun to be used in the early 19 century as a means to identify African American slaves who had been brought to the North American continent on slave ships.  The slave-owners would often put the term in front of common American names.  During this time, black people were treated like animals more than they were treated as human beings, often, being compared to monkeys.  Even with an end to slavery, Jim Crow laws still existed after slavery was abolished but still with segregation laws.  Almost all Black people of colour have a story of their own regarding the dehumanizing word.  The reason why it is used amongst black people is that after all of the years in which this term was derogatorily used towards Black people, they have used as the word as a reclamation between black people, in an effort to take the power out of racist’s use of it. Many people of colour find it socially acceptable to use the N-word, despite its awful history.  Some examples of attempts at reclamation would be the rapper, Tyler the Creator, who put rainbow white power symbols on t-shirts.  Singer, Solange also wrote songs about being free to use slurs that have affected black people up until today.  

Despite this reclamation, however, slurs still have the power to be derogatory. Grade 10 student, Alexis Forson had some personal insight to offer as they are a reality everywhere, including Riverside.  “I think that a lot of people genuinely don’t believe that racial slurs, or homophobic slurs, are being used. I know a lot of teachers who just believe that the only issue at our school is the vaping crisis when so many times I’ll walk through the hallway and hear the word being carelessly thrown around.” 

Similarly, slurs that target queer people, are carelessly used, such as the F-slur and T-slur do. Being singled out through, what some believe, is a casual expression creates feelings of anxiety and ‘otherness’  from their classmates. Often, as the only minority in a room, it may be difficult for a student to state how they truly feel.  Many times, when speaking out against slurs, students are given labels of being “too sensitive” or “easily angered” and hear the standard defense of “just joking.”

Even in a school as progressive as Riverside, every now and then, there will be a reason that sets back the acceptance of all who experience marginalization.  If students are really able to recognize and take pride in each other’s differences, it has to start with language and respect.