The power behind derogatory terms

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Candice Compton
  • 28th Bomb Wing Equal Opportunity Office
Derogatory comments are comprised of words that tend or intend to detract, disparage, or belittle and can often be considered offensive. Derogatory words have the power to hurt and potentially cause violence or other forms of hostility. The origins of these disparaging/derogatory terms can depend on geographic location, history and culture of a particular region. The list of derogatory words based on religion, race, ethnicity, sex, color and disability among others, is growing as people find new words to categorize a particular group with the intent to demean or persecute.

Everyone has a particular bias. Their bias, combined with experiences or encounters with members of a particular group, will at times determine the use and meaning of these terms.

People resort to using disparaging terms when logic fails to resolve a disagreement or conflict. For some, it's often easier to use ignorant, destructive, yet powerful strategies consisting of insults, generalizations, detrimental stereotypes and profanity to support their argument. These profane words lack any inherent truth about any group of people.

Derogatory terms are ingrained in our society. They can often be heard in the workplace, music, movies and social media. Referring to someone as "bitch," "redneck," "gay," "retarded," "nigga," or similar words while playfully joking around is still offensive. By using these terms, it associates members of a particular group with behavior, beliefs or actions that are extremely negative. People can use these so called jokes or terms as a way of expressing how they truly feel.

In accordance with Air Force policy, use of disparaging terms is considered to be a form of unlawful discrimination. In addition to communicating hate or contempt for others, these terms have a negative impact on individuals, the mission and the installation's human relations climate. This form of unlawful discrimination causes decreased productivity, legal issues and loss of credibility. Ellsworth prides itself on being a military organization that consists of professional, world-class Airmen. This persona will be maintained as long as personnel are allowed to work and live in an environment free from unlawful discrimination.

Air Force policy states that disparaging terms contribute to a hostile work environment and will not be tolerated. This zero tolerance policy ensures that once a complaint is alleged, immediate and appropriate action will be taken to address the issue and ensure the behavior stops.

Everyone regardless of rank has a responsibility to respect one and all. Air Force core values state that Air Force members will show mutual respect. Genuine respect involves viewing another person as an individual of fundamental worth. This means members should not be judged on the basis of his or her possession of an attribute that places him or her in some racial, ethnic, economic or gender-based category. If that type of behavior is condoned or left uncorrected, disparaging terms and comments will eventually become the norm and result in a loss of integrity and promote an unhealthy work environment.

By becoming more aware of the power that words have, each individual should consider taking the time to think before speaking and recognize that some words may be offensive to others.