scholars and rogues

Sticks and Stones

By Rori Black

A beautiful young blonde stares into the camera, “whore” written on the duct tape over her mouth. Her defiant eyes speak the words that the slur tried to silence. In another photo, she stares over her shoulder, the words “Fat ass” taped to her back, pointing at her anything-but-fat derrière.

I spoke to the owner and editix of The Hate Project about her fledgling site.

Melanie Teegarden is no stranger to the slings and barbs suffered by many at the hands of cruel strangers or even crueler loved ones with misplaced “good intentions”. She appears in a picture, a wheat wreath around her face with various derogatory comments scattered upon it. She is smiling, good-natured, letting the world know that it has not beaten her down and that she has embraced the words meant to cause hurt.

There’s no reason why these pictures have to be sad. They should be however the person feels. Myself, I feel ok today. These things have lost their sting for me. They are wounds healed well. Battle scars of a sort, from run-ins with the darker elements of our species.

Melanie started The Hate Project after someone put a sign saying “fat ass” on her daughter’s back. “I started thinking: wouldn’t it be perfect, a photograph of my lovely daughter and her “fat ass”, with a sign stuck to her back? What better way to take back what those hateful words stole from her, that little piece of dignity and self respect someone carelessly stole away. I started thinking of all the slurs I endured in my school years: Giraffe Neck. Knobby Knees. Freckle Face. Bucktooth.”

The Hate Project was created to enable people to look objectively “at the labels we have had thrust upon us from the outside, as a tool for deciding where it will fit into our own process of creating ourselves. “Owning” these labels for a moment by announcing them out loud can do many things:

  • Catharsis – sometimes identifying the source of pain can be the first step in healing from it.
  • Comparison – So many of us have this sense that the words used against us must have some grain of truth to them. If we are called fat, well, we must be fatter than we realized. Seeing pictures of others who have been wounded by the same arrow is a clear statement against this grain of truth assumption. Also, these pictures clearly show us that the interesting thing in each submission is not actually the word, but the person. The juxtaposition of label and human make it very obvious how poor a job the labels do at really defining human beings.
  • Celebration – In some cases, words have been hurled at us with the intention to wound, but we instead joyfully accept them as a fully valid truth about ourselves. I have had the word “Liberal” spat at me with terrible venom, but to me there is no shame in this label. I proudly wear it of my own volition.
  • Change – sometimes, having a hurtful label hurled at us is an opportunity to self-analysis. Once we have moved beyond the pain we can look at the words and decide whether they are indicative of some quality we are projecting to the world which we do not wish to have as a part of our self-identity. This gives us an opportunity to make internal changes in how we interface with the world to better suit the human being we are working to be.” (ed: Not to be confused with changing oneself to accommodate others)

While the site was originally focused on young women it is not limited to that demographic. Signs of homophobia, sizism, racism, and cultural elitism are displayed, showing how ridiculous yet hurtful these words can be.

Melanie doesn’t envision her site as Public Service Announcement or a call to arms to combat verbal abuse, the purpose of the site is for the bearers of these slights to become empowered to overcome the internalization of the hurt.

“The way I see it, The Hate Project has two main purposes: to highlight the absurdity of hate language, the ignorance and incompleteness of it, how it fails to say as much about us as it does about the abuser. I think for some of us who have endured significant verbal abuse, this is a reminder we need often. The other main purpose is cathartic, to create a ceremonial space for placing the hate into and hopefully, giving us one more tool for walking away from it.”

While vetting this piece, the aforementioned young lady expressed her gratitude that I was able to “grok” the significance of the duct tape.

My reply:

It’s my experience that when people are threatened they resort to name calling, which, in the past, has been an effective way to silence the victim, or at least derail the conversation. How does one continue a debate after someone screams “whore”? How does one reply other than to sputter and clam up either out of hurt, or because there is no reason to continue a conversation when the level of discourse has fallen so low.

The Hate Project is a way to continue the conversation, to peel back the ugly words and expose them for what they are – hate, self-loathing, and fear.

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