Let’s just throw out there that I am a straight, able-bodied white dude from a comfortable background who missed the time when Jewish people needed their own clubs to eat or play golf by a solid generation and a half. So I apologize in advance for pointing this out like I just discovered Brooklyn or something, but it seems important to observe once in a while why people take some kinds of insult more seriously than others. For no specific reason let’s start with this guy from the epic piece on cyber-misogyny from Amanda Hess. Bolding mine.
In 2012, Gawker unmasked “Violentacrez,” an anonymous member of the online community Reddit who was infamous for posting creepy photographs of underage women and creating or moderating subcommunities on the site with names like “chokeabitch” and “rapebait.” Violentacrez turned out to be a Texas computer programmer named Michael Brusch, who displayed an exceedingly casual attitude toward his online hobbies. “I do my job, go home, watch TV, and go on the Internet. I just like riling people up in my spare time,” he told Adrian Chen, the Gawker reporter who outed him. “People take things way too seriously around here.”
The comprehension gap, as Hess and Lizz Winstead and most other women who use their real names on the internet fruitlessly point out, is the difference between insult and threats. You get used to name calling on the internet. Anonymity lets the id out and most of the time you just roll with that. They knock your appearance, call you gay, they call Lt. Col. Robert Bateman a traitor and a crappy soldier, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Hess makes it perfectly clear that the line gets crossed with threats of violence. She ended up with a committed stalker who made enough anonymity slips to earn his own restraining order, but he was a rare exception. In almost every case you just have a thousand faceless people making you want to change your locks, carry heat and drive different routes to work. The police mostly shrug it off*.
Thus for a number of reasons** you cannot wave off a guy threatening a woman the way you can one dude threatening another to fisticuffs.
You can apply the same logic to the n-word. Rightwing morons always want to say it (why?) and it pisses them off when they can’t. Of course not knowing a damn thing about history is one of those privileges that we white folk can afford. The word identifies a class of person to whom the law is blind. For 90% of American history calling someone that word carried the literal, explicit message that you could hurt them any time you wanted. Protest and you might get beaten. Resist and get lynched (or get lynched just because). Fight back in any organized way, even symbolically by doing well on your own and making the neighbors look bad, and they will burn your neighborhood and kill everyone in it while police stand by in case any white homes catch fire. And that is after slavery. During slavery it just meant that even free folk could get a bag thrown over their head, sent down the river and that would be the last anyone hears of you.
Needless to say the threat has not so much disappeared as evolved to keep up with the times. Remind me again, what was Trayvon Martin doing that made George Zimmerman follow him in his car? Being white saved my stupid teenaged ass plenty of times while my black friends had a story every week about getting stopped and searched. Somehow I always got off with tickets, if that, and unlike them I (1) usually gave the cops a reason to pull me over, and (2) never got The Talk about speaking deferentially to police. Apparently not much has changed. And have fun driving while black in the rural south, or really anywhere. Just because the officials will not watch with a toothpick in their mouth while the town hangs you from a tree does not mean the system has no way of punishing you for being black.
A few years ago a gay friend explained to me the etymology of ‘faggot’: a bundle of wood used for kindling a fire. The implied threat is fading, not fast enough, but I remember when being gay in public involved a lot more physical danger than it does today. To give a sense of the speed of change, my cohort’s first presidential election was Bush/Gore.
And yes, before anyone points it out, rappers use the n-word (without the implied threat, obviously) and some also treat women like crap. Experiencing abuse or discrimination does not automatically make someone noble. It just adds to the burden of crap that a normal person has to put up with in their life. Whatever else happens a jerk will be a jerk.
(*) When you think about it, most of the time they have to. Best of luck asking an understaffed force for whom a keyboard and a desk is punishment duty to solve every actionable threat on the internet. And that sets aside what an absolute mess the internet has made of criminal jurisdictions.
(**) 1. Men are larger and stronger. 2. Most women experience sexual assault or the credible threat of it at some point in their lives. The threat is hardly imaginary. 3. Public victim-shaming is at its absolute worst when it comes to sexual crimes. 4. Prosecutors hate to bring rape cases. Making a case is hard work, the defense has a lot of ugly but viable plays and conviction rates are lower than the slam-dunk types of case that make their record look good.