name_callingI mentioned in my previous post about the Summit Against Racism, in one session a controversy arose regarding the presenter’s slides. On two slides, police labeled as “abusive,” were called pigs. Tim Stevens spoke up and said what a number of people were thinking — that this wasn’t called for. Tim’s reasoning was that a main tenant of the Black and White Reunion/Summit against Racism is building bridges and calling cops “pigs” is detrimental to bridge building.

On the slides, it did associate the term “pigs” with abusive police, but there was a quality about it, which insinuated that all cops were abusive, so all cops were pigs. This appeared on two slides– two mentions.

I wanted to speak up but felt unsure, so I was so happy when Tim did. It was clear that the room was divided between people who agreed strongly with Tim, and people who felt it was totally OK to call cops pigs. It seemed the thinking went like this- since cops have power calling them names is acceptable and even useful. Name calling (a type of bullying) is only harmful when it is done towards persons with less power than those doing it. I don’y agree with that mindset.

In my opinion, name calling is a tool of patriarchy and white supremacy. It is a weapon used to dehumanize others and develop or reinforce  a power differential. It is the first step in othering people. Othering others leads to discrimination, disrespect and violence or the legitimation of violence. People who use name calling feel entitled to do so.  Dehumanizing others creates the ability to believe that it is acceptable to treat them as less than.

Those of us who have been recipients to name calling, like “faggot,” know how it feels on that receiving end of name calling. It is humiliating and shaming and feels awful. At the Summit Against Racism, many there have been the recipients/been called other names. We understand the power of the tactic as it has been used against us. So it can appear to make some sense to decide to use that same power technique against others.

But in reality, when we call cops pigs, we don’t change the power differential, we don’t end up taking away any of their power, or having any more power ourselves. We have only the illusion that we have some power over them.

That’s why I see name calling as a tool of patriarchy and white supremacy. It is an effort to enforce a power-over way of being. Even if it makes us feel good to call others names, we are simply buying into and reinforcing the same power dynamics, and that doesn’t change the world. It just keeps the power struggle as it is.

Lastly, we must hold any cop that is abusive in their use of force or their power accountable. That is essential, even as it is complex.

As I wrote this, I began to think about my last blog post, and wondered if I’m guilty myslf of dehumanizing name calling in it. What do you think? Leave a comment and let me know.


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