One of the best explanations of the effects of derogatory language I have ever read, by Junot Diaz:

Listen, when you use a word of hate ironically — like, and your defense is “I’m not racist, how could you ever think I’m racist??” I want you to imagine owning a gun, but never buying live ammunition. You only purchase blanks. Ok?

And say sometimes when you hang out with your close friends, you take out your gun, which they know contains no live ammunition, and you shoot it at stuff, and you think it’s funny. And maybe the first time you do it, they’re like “Shit. I mean, I know those are blanks, but that’s kind of fucked up,” but your argument is, “But I can’t really hurt anyone! They’re just blanks!” And over time they just get used to it and find it kind of funny. “Oh, that Cliff, sometimes he takes his gun out and shoots some blanks, but he doesn’t really mean anything. It’s just funny! You know how it goes.”

Now, imagine that over time, having received the acceptance for your actions from your friends, you decide you can start firing blanks around people you’ve never met. In mixed company. You’re at a dinner party one night, you’ve had a few, so you go “Hey, wanna see something cool?!” and those who are your friends at the party know what’s coming, so they’re prepared, but then the people who don’t know you, they see you whip out a piece and go “Oh shit, I’m going to die, it’s everything I feared,” but your friends explain to them it’s not a big deal, there’s nothing to be afraid of, “Cliff wouldn’t hurt a fly,” so they eventually, begrudgingly, don’t say anything about it, don’t call you, Cliff, a fucking asshole. “Fine, it’s kind of ridiculous, but whatever.” Something like that.

And then you are at a large public place. A concert, an open mic, where you and your friends are outnumbered by the rest of the audience. And maybe someone pushes you or gives you a hard time, so you decide, just to give the guy a taste of his own medicine, to pull out your gun, and fire some blanks. Give him a real, real visceral jump. And everyone around you feels threatened, unsafe, about to be part of something they were always on some subconscious level afraid would happen, but at the same time hopeful it would never happen because our society’s getting smarter and more considerate of those around them. And then some other people, who after seeing it happen, feel relieved that you were firing blanks, but also feel empowered by your choice to fire a weapon in a public place, and choose to do the same thing.

Do you get it yet?

The fact is that derogatory remarks, whether used sincerely or ironically, and ammunition, whether blank or live, still creates the same environment of discomfort and fear every time it is used. So cut the shit.

we’re coming dangerously close to the conversation i’d have with maura, when she’d say she knew exactly what i was going through, and i’d have to explain that, no, she didn’t, because her sadness never went as deep as mine. i had no doubt that tiny thought he got depressed, but that was probably because he had nothing to compare it to. still, what could i say? that i didn’t just feel depressed — instead, it was like the depression was the core of me, of every part of me, from my mind to my bones? that if he got blue, i got black? that i hated those pills so much, because i knew how much i relied on them to live?

~ Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan