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”.
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.