There was an effort recently to ban the word "bossy", spearheaded by Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg. The reasoning behind this is that when “bossy” is used to describe women (as it almost always is), it discourages them from speaking up for fear of being saddled with that derisive term. I had never considered that before, and wondered if there are other words that can have the same effect - adjectives that have specific connotations when employed towards specific people. And I came up with at least one more example, a term which I have heard on a few occasions: angry. People of color and other minorities who are vocal about issues of race and justice are often called angry - “angry asian man”, “angry black guy", “angry feminist lady”, etc.
This might not seem like a big deal because some of these people are indeed angry in a purely objective sense. But the use of this word in this context often carries an additional connotation, that this person's anger is not appropriate or justified. That is what people really mean when they talk about an “angry _____ person” - they are saying, “unnecessarily and excessively angry _____ person.” Intentionally or not, the use of that word implies abnormality, an anger that is pathological in nature, as if a product of genetics, rather than context.
You can see this dynamic at work in nearly every racially charged controversy in American culture, from the riots in Ferguson to debates on football mascots, where people are quick to dismiss the concerns of minorities as nothing more than political correctness run amok. In this way, minorities are often portrayed as having an anger problem, rather ...1