Blogathon: 9th Hour


I was reading Runaways by Brian K. Vaughn the other day. I’m not much of a Marvel girl, but Runaways is particularly good. It’s young, it’s energetic, it’s fun, it’s clever, it’s funny, it deals with queer themes in an interesting way, it’s got a very original spin on the Team of Teen Superheroes concept, etc.

But there was a scene that really rubbed me the wrong way, and brought to mind something that I’d sort of been thinking about before but hadn’t yet really pulled all the way together. Hadn’t quite pissed me off in just the right way, I guess.

There’s an issue guest-starring an older team of Marvel superheroes who were originally teen runaways, Cloak and Dagger. They’re enlisted by a cop (who is secretly working for the bad guys) to track down the kids, who Cloak and Dagger believe are bad guys.

Anyway, the cop is chatting with them and, (paraphrasing, again… I haven’t had the time today to check things to get my quotes rights and stuff) says something like:

“So, you got your superpowers from drugs, right? That must be really popular with the moral guardians”

At which point, quipping on their status as forgotten C-list characters, Cloak says “Cloak and Dagger do not care about popularity”

Har har har. But what gets me is Dagger’s response “But do not mistake us for the mere junkies you bust every day, officer”.

Junkies.

Mere junkies. Simple junkies. Just a junkie. Just a dead junkie.

I am so, so sick of that word.

What kills me is how it so transparently a dismissive, patronizing, belittling, dehumanizing slur, and yet no one seems to notice or care. It even has the classic infantilizing “-ie” suffix. But we still go around, as a culture, casually tossing it around like it doesn’t matter. And more to the point, like the human beings it indicates don’t matter.

Just a junkie.

It is so often used in such a tone, to describe someone as not REALLY counting, not having any worth, not being worth worrying about or offering credibility or mourning or trusting. “Don’t listen to Pete, he’s just a junkie”. “Oh, don’t worry. It’s nothing to be worried about. Probably just some junkie.” “Eh, probably not worth calling homocide over. Looks like just another dead junkie”. Etc.

Just a junkie.

We use it so often in such a way we don’t even notice anymore. We never stop to think what we mean by affixing that “just” to the front. It just passes right by us, without us taking a moment’s hesitation to realize how direct and overt an attempt that is to position one human life as being worth less than another.

But who cares who it hurts, dehumanizes or devalues? They’re just junkies.

I’m sick of this word, and I’m sick of people not being sick of it. I’m sick of people who call out every other slur imaginable, but let this one pass without even seeming to realize it’s there. Without seeming to realize it’s a dehumanizing slur at all.

I’m sick of the hypocrisy of people who claim to work for tolerance and human rights and social justice and equality but who still happily ignore and dismiss those human beings who haven’t had enough social privilege to even fight back against their own dehumanization, marginalization and oppression. That people who talk about micro-aggressions fail to even notice how their language, and the way they frame certain issues, is part of a system that quite literally leaves an entire class of human beings to die. Neglected. Forgotten. No one fighting for them. Possessed of too little power to even have their suffering be heard.

I want people who haven’t lived those experiences to stop saying that word. I want them to recognize what it means.

I want people to be able to see for themselves which people are being marginalized and dehumanized without having to have it told, explained and marketed to them. I want people to be able to notice the structures that exist in their own language and mentalities.

I want our efforts to treat every human life as meaningful to be genuine. I want our efforts to build a compassionate society to be genuine. I want our efforts to be critical of how frameworks and language and cultures privilege some and marginalize others to extend to being critical of ourselves, and to be capable of at least noticing the obvious ways we’re neglecting to recognize some human beings as human.

I want to be part of a movement that says it values all lives, experiences and perspectives, and means it. Knows it to be true. Lives by that.

And I don’t want to be part of yet another movement that when it promotes tolerance and acceptance is only willing to go as far as it takes to tolerate and accept themselves, and those immediately close to them, while otherwise internalizing all the cruel and ruthless structures and stratifications we’ve been handed.

No one is just a junkie. No one is just an anything.

These are human beings. These were friends of mine. I was just a junkie myself.

This is a slur. Being socially acceptable and going unnoticed and not being bleeped on network television does not make it okay. What is important about slurs is not that they’re offensive. What’s important is how they distort the way we think about people. How they keep us from seeing the PEOPLE in the people we’re naming.

“Junkie” is a slur, with all the same consequences and awful implications as any other.

Knock it the fuck off.

Comments

  1. thunk = ∫ SQRRAWK! d(MQG) + C says

    Whoa.

    You’re right.

    I honestly never thought of it as a slur; blinded by privilege it seems.

    You say all the right things in your posts. Although I stayed out of the SSA fundraising thing (shame on me), I ought to send in some money.

  2. Bia says

    This subject hits a little too close to home. Heroin has taken more than one dear friend from me.

    Even after death, five years of protracted confrontations, court dates, endless worry, lies, theft, broken promises and all the other bullshit that comes with having addiction in your life… I can’t stand the word junkie. And never have.

    I probably should voice my concern more often. But when I hear someone use the term, they are usually former addicts themselves or have endured a relationship with an addict. And where I completely agree that junkie is dehumanizing, I’m not sure I can tell someone they shouldn’t use it for one simple reason.

    It’s not the same as racist and homophobic slurs. The conditions that lead to addiction are usually forced upon those who become addicted (to whatever drug that may be). However addiction is a symptom, usually, not the actual disease. But as much as that person didn’t ask to be abused / sexually assaulted etc, they did make the decision to take those risks. For most addictive drugs, I know that people typically don’t choose addiction (though I’ve seen at least one person who did), there is a choice on the part of that addict. At some point or another they decided to take that risk.

    When someone that is a former addict or has had an addict in their lives uses junkie, it’s a way of distancing themselves from the pain. It’s a way of distancing themselves or the person they love from the actions that hurt everyone involved.

    So I don’t know. I agree with you that dehumanizing addicts is deplorable, and I personally view the term addict as a slur, I have to give pause before lumping it in with other forms of hate speech, simply because it’s a complicated matter.

    • says

      Honestly, when I hear that word, it’s most often from people calling their own lives worthless, and it’s incredibly frustrating when that happens. There’s no legitimate moral reason to object; there’s only “please don’t think this way, your life is not at all worthless!”

      • Bia says

        I think one of the most frustrating things about addicts is they don’t listen when you tell them that.

  3. Seb says

    I’ve been guilty of this one. A few years ago I lived with a friend of mine who was a heroin addict, and while I was sympathetic to him, his friends were another matter. Without going into detail, these folks were a destructive bunch of arsebutts, and there were times when I wished they would just… disappear. Or something like that, but worse. After it got to the point where I had to move out, I cut ties with my friend and haven’t made friends with an addict since. I’ve often used the term ‘junkies’ to describe those guys, even saying something like, “I mean, using recreational drugs is one thing, but these fuckwits were junkies, you know?”

    This has been a real heads up. I’m usually the one pointing out that one small group doesn’t define a whole class of people, so now I’m all like “duhhhhhhh”.

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