Why can’t you slur a straight, white male?
From what I’ve been told (and what I remember of my childhood, though that’s probably very skewed) words like “fuck” and “shit” used to be a big deal. You couldn’t say them, and you couldn’t print them. Nowadays, unless children are around, no one really cares. They just mean you want a bit more emphasis in a particular sentence. You use ‘em on Facebook and no one blinks.
There are still some words that will elicit strong reactions. It’s difficult to use them in fiction without a lot of forethought. They will upset people on Facebook. There are only three I’m aware of, and they are:
What’s interesting about them is that they are slurs against a specific group. You’d think you could extend the pattern, and find equally bad slurs for the counter groups, right? But you can’t.
Honkey or Cracker? Those have no punch at all. They’re so silly that they’re often used as jokes.
Prick has some insult behind it, but not much. It isn’t directly sexual (at least, not to anyone I know), and is basically just a variant of asshole. It’s mild enough that it gets used in PG-13 movies.
Breeder isn’t even that well known, and it again sounds more like a pun than a slur. You can kinda see the intent, but it’s hard to feel it.
What the first three words have that Honkey/Prick/Breeder don’t have is a history of violence. And not just any violence, but state-approved violence. When one is subjected to violence, there is a general threat of reprisal – there are laws against this. If the offending party is caught, they will be stopped. The victim can press charges afterwards. The Leviathan is fallible, but at least in theory the perpetrator of the violence is doing something wrong.
The three slurs listed come with the promise that the victim has no recourse. Society won’t just look away, society actively approves of their victimization. In fact, if the victim tries to defend him/herself, s/he will be punished for it by the Leviathan. The victim is powerless, a piece of refuse that is only allowed to exist because most people can’t be bothered to stomp it themselves. And this promise was loaded into the word by decades of exactly that – violence against those called such names, approved of by the state. They carry a meaning far deeper than mere words can lend them, they carry the weight of physical acts and lost lives.
I’m glad those words are considered as awful as they are. It means that we, as a society, now understand how horrific that legacy is. What words a society decides are too vile to be commonly used reflects upon what that society values. It’s a good sign that we value human dignity for all.