Return to sender

Say a person is riding the subway to work, and sombody next to them mutters a racist slur under their breath.

The default response to racist slurs is anger and indignation. But if the slur wasn’t audible, there is no anger or indignation, but merely indifference.

Further, let’s say that the slur was in a langauge that the person didn’t understand. Despite hearing it this time, they respond perhaps with bewilderment or curiosity, but not anger or indignation.

Going further, let’s say the slur was audible and clear, but it was uttered by a mentally challenged passenger. There might be some anger at what they said, but this anger is cushioned by sympathy for their condition.

Finally, let’s say a person who appears ‘normal’ utters a slur in one’s full awareness. Despite having heard this, it is possible that the slur’s recipient receives it with calmness and indifference – as though they haven’t heard it at all.

It takes a minimum of two parties to insult somebody – the person who sends the insult and the person who receives it. What we often focus on is on the sending of the insult. What we have full control over is how it is received.

Deep down, to be insulted is a voluntary choice.

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