About a month ago, rapper- DaBaby came under fire for homophobic remarks he made while on stage at the Rolling Loud Miami music festival over the weekend.
“If you didn’t show up today with HIV, AIDS, any of them deadly gay sexually transmitted diseases that’ll make you die in two or three weeks, put your cell phone light in the air.”
This was one amongst a slew of homophobic and inaccurate comments he made that night.
The things Dababy said that night can be traced back to a very specific point in history when a very simple choice of words led to years of homophobia and discrimination whose effects can be seen on the world even today. Despite being such a pivotal period in history during which hundreds of lives were lost you’ll rarely hear about it or find information in any textbooks.
The first official title given to AIDS, was GRID, Gay Related Immune Deficiency. With this title, who this disease affected was clear, and for many, whose fault it was seemed equally clear. The colloquial alternatives tell the same story: it was the ‘gay cancer’ in some reports, the ‘gay plague’ in others. The most startling, however, was a term in circulation amongst homophobic elements of the US hospital system: WOGS – Wrath of God Syndrome.
Initially mislabelled GRID, valuable time was lost in responding to the crisis because most felt safe in the belief that they were not at risk since early victims were predominantly gay men. It also caused severe discrimination against anyone that was openly gay despite the fact that you were just as likely to contract the disease despite being heterosexual. There was intense hostility towards gay men and women, conservative forces condemned people living with HIV / AIDS as ‘immoral’, and President Reagan notoriously avoided public mention of AIDS until 1985. A lack of education on the subject led to a cascade of misinformation and the simple terms that were used to refer to the diseases created so much stigma that it still runs rampant today.
Language today is so complex it can take you years to learn one. Even if you’ve been speaking a language since birth, there’s so much scope to learn more and improve. Since every language is so complex it can have a huge impact on the way you think. Whether it’s how you think about time, gender, space etc. It may be impacting you in many ways you don’t even realise.
Language is what shapes our abstract thoughts therefore, words become symbolic representations of concepts and schemas acquired through culture and personal experience. When you use certain words in specific contexts, a link can form between two things and immediately cause you to create a correlation on hearing either of the words. Not only that but it can cause you to categorise and classify information so you can make extremely quick judgements to form opinions. The perfect example of this is the correlation people made between being gay and having HIV.
Words hold so much history and that is why it is so important to be aware of the way you speak. While it may seem harmless to you, a single word could hold a lot of historic significance to a certain group. Today, so many of us freely throw around slurs and other words born out of hate and most of the time there is a blatant disregard for the historical significance of the words we use.
The slew of names that circulated in the early 80s as the crisis was born have mostly been forgotten but the mark they have left is one that will be hard to erase.
Kyra is a staff reporter.
Edited by Ira.