Restricted Area: Derogatory Words racial slurs and homo-/transphobic slurs are used for demonstration and explanation in this article.

As children and teenagers we hear often enough that words do not just have meaning: they can also hurt, although some songs and stories may claim the opposite. If you’re lucky, you’ll experience little of the negative power that words can have and see mostly the good that words can do, but unfortunately there are plenty of people who have experienced, and still will experience that some words hurt. Of course, words don’t necessarily harm or work in a positive way – there are plenty of influential words and plenty of less influential words in the world, as there are plenty of influential and less influential people in the world.

There are certain words and terms among the powerful words with a negative meaning that have been heavily debated over the last decade, or even longer. These forms are derogatory words that have been used to insult people who belong to certain groups or minorities. These words are categorized as racial slurs or homophobic or transphobic slurs, and include words such as “nigger”/”nigga”, “faggot”, “dyke”, “queer”, “tranny”, “slut” and so forth.

The debate mostly involved the discussion of whether these words should be used or avoided, or whether their meaning should be changed, and furthermore, if these slurs can be used – who is allowed to use them. To some people it is obvious that if you belong to a group that has used a slur against another group, you immediately lose the right to use that word ever again – even if you no longer intend to offend with it.

As an example for the arguments used in the debates I will discuss the usage of the n-word. When listening to rap music, there is a large chance that you will hear at least one or two songs in which the rappers use the n-word to describe themselves, their friends or other people around them. Quite some fans of this genre pick up aspects of the language that rappers use, and inherently, they might start using the n-word. The result is a discussion: is using the n-word acceptable or not?

Fact is that there is not just a consensus within these groups on the usage of a word. You will for instance find the opinion of those who agree with talk show host Oprah, who discussed the matter with rapper Jay-Z on her show. In her opinion, people, no matter whether they are black or white, should not use the n-word at all. The colonial history that the word has, the background of oppression the word comes from, makes it a word with so much power that there is no justifying the use of it. Furthermore, using the word, especially as a black person, can give others the idea that it is actually acceptable to use a derogatory form. To quote Tina Fey’s character in the Mean Girls movie on a similar matter: [to the female students] “You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.”

Jay-Z disagreed with her. He believed that with eradicating a certain word from a language we do not solve a problem, the problem lies deeper than just the meaning of a word. By claiming the word, however, he says, we strip the power it has been given from it and give it a new, empowering meaning. That does not mean that white people are allowed to use it. As the n-word was/is used by white people as a derogatory slur, and as white people are very privileged compared to black people, white people have lost the privilege to use this very word.

Of course, there are people who do not care who uses the n-word or not. Tyler the Creator, a rapper, shared his view on the use of the n-word in an interview, and he does not really care who uses the word or not. In his opinion, the word has a whole different meaning nowadays, and he does not place so much importance on language and the meaning of language. In the end, he claims, a lot is context-dependent as well. Some people may accept a word such as the n-word, while others may find it funny, and there are people who may find it offensive. Tyler says, however, that he does not have an opinion on the hateful derogatory use, as it has never happened to him.

All three, the ones who want to abolish the word, the ones who want to (re)claim the word and abolish the old, derogatory meaning and the ones who do not really care, make an interesting argument in the discussion that can be applied to many of the words that are considered derogatory.

In the end, I feel like the decision lies mostly with the people against whom the word has been used. As a white person, you cannot really decide what is racist towards a person of colour, as a straight person you cannot decide what is homophobic or transphobic towards a LGBTQ-person, and as a man you cannot decide what is sexist towards a woman. But I do think that all people have at least some emphatic capacities that make them able to estimate what might hurt or offend others, and it may be time to consider the usage of this ability more often.



Header image courtesy of


Ghent and Where to Find Books


It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a book lover in possession of just as much as any fortune, must be in want of independent book stores. And even if a book lover has to eat at their parents’ for the rest of the month because their bank account has less than a euro in it, they’ll still walk in, “just to have a look”. Recognizable? Last month I visited Ghent, and went all over town to find the best independent bookstores.

Ghent is the perfect town for poor Dutch students who are just dying to leave the country for a bit. At only three hours by train away, there are few closer, worthwhile destinations in the same price range. And what a cute town it is. Picturesque 16th Century houses along the river Leie, cobblestoned roads leading to squares with cafés where they sell the beer Belgium is famous for, a non-dangerous amount of cyclists, and an exciting collection of bookstores. Some are not much different from Dutch bookstores, while others truly have their own format or that one special thing that makes them different from the regular stores.

Near the Ghent St-Pieters station, Koningin Elizabethlaan 142, you will find Limerick, a bookstore that doesn’t seem very original at first – they offer a range of French, Dutch and English books that you can find in most other bookstores – but in the back hides a pleasant surprise: the collection of typewriters that belonged to Dutch writer Willem Frederik Hermans. This writer did not just own, you know, two or three typewriters. In his possession were no less than 150 typewriters and, after his death, all were brought to Ghent. The fact that the typewriters of a famous Dutch writer can now only be found in a tiny bookstore in Belgium caused quite an uproar in the media (as well as in the Dutch parliament), but doesn’t this hidden secret make the typewriters more amazing?

Every Sunday between 9 and 13 you can find a Book Market on the street Anjulei, parallel to the Leie. While strolling along the river you will mostly find Dutch books, an English book here and there, as well as a lot of Belgian comic books. On the same street you will also find the English Bookshop. The smell of old books reaches your nostrils even before you enter the store, which is crammed with second-hand English books on all subjects, from fiction to war and from biographies of writers to sport. It’s quite a quest to find that one paper treasure, but you might even find that one obscure book.

Paard van Troje (Trojan Horse in English), is one of the bookshops that has noticed that it should do more than just offer books to actually sell books. Therefore, Paard van Troje is a bookstore slash coffeehouse where you can get some caffeine in your system while staring at the wide array of colourful books that are neatly sorted in wooden bookcases, in old-fashioned glass vitrines and on small or big coffee tables throughout the shop. They mostly offer Dutch books, but they also sell gorgeous editions of English books as well as cookbooks and books on Philosophy. The Children’s section is fairly big, and besides books Paard van Troje sells wine, bags with some of your favourite book-related quotes printed on them, and accessories you’re dying to have. You can find this bookshop at Kouter Square.

So if you visit Ghent, be careful, as you might feel the need to ‘marry’ one of these bookstores and your bags on your train trip home might be of different quality (that is, weight) than you originally would have assumed…



A Rough Guide to Not-Being An Annoying Tourist in Amsterdam


There are not many things I hate in this world. Although there may be quite some things I cannot stand, I try to be an emotional pacifist on a daily basis. Unfortunately, people do things that make me lose my inner Ghandi. That doesn’t mean I punch people, but sometimes I really, really want to. Days where you don’t encounter discrimination of any kind, people wearing jogging pants for non-sport occasions and objectification in the media, are pretty doable. Too bad you have to lock yourself up in a barn on the countryside to experience days like that. So, I try to take some deep breaths whenever I encounter that which I despise most: tourists participating in traffic.

I do understand that Amsterdam appears to be a sweet city with cute canals and adorable architecture, but what tourists, and sometimes just people in general, need to understand is that it is the New York of charming capitals. You will probably be hit by some kind of vehicle if you forget to look any other way other than than ahead. Not a day goes by without me almost crashing into an inattentive tourist.

That is why I decided that tourist guides should have a special section on How-to-Behave-in-Amsterdam-Traffic-if-You-Really-Decide-That-You-Have-To-Participate-in-Amsterdam-Traffic. Wouldn’t it make my life as an inhabitant of this phenomenal capital as well as the lives of tourists a bit easier?

Naturally, this guide would start with: “Don’t participate in Amsterdam traffic unless you really have to, you know, in order to see the city.” A new section then would start telling you that you cannot expect the Dutch to care about the fact that you saw life in a white hospital bed and that you did not see a bike until you were five while they are almost literally born on their bikes. Continuing: “The Dutch bikers probably won’t hit you if you keep in mind that the sidewalk is for you, and that is it. See that red lane with the white bike on it? Bike, not pedestrian. Very well, stay away from that. Furthermore, bikers don’t honk. Hear a ringing sound? You are probably not where you should be. Spend some more time exploring what is in your peripheral vision, as there might be bikes as well. Just a tip.” That is all you need to know.

“One more thing though. If you want to do the thing that the Amsterdam bikers do, which is biking: Don’t do it unless you can do it while you are intoxicated. Folks, try this at home. Can’t do it? Then don’t rent that bike in Amsterdam. If you do it, don’t lose speed, know where you’re going, and remember that there are no rules, except for you because you are a tourist.”

Until the day tourist guides will help tourists stay alive while in Amsterdam, I will keep practising my bell-ringing and tourist-dodging skills as well as my pacifism.



Header image courtesty of Viator’s “The Insider’s Guide To Amsterdam”