A Word of Danger

THEM is the most dangerous word known to mankind.


THEM Chinese.

THEM Homosexuals.

THEM Muslims.

Over the course of this past week, I’ve heard those terms used in casual conversation.

What do you think of THEM homosexuals?

All of THEM Muslims are named Patel. They own every gas station and motel along Interstate 40.

THEM Chinese own us.

I told her not to be bringing THEM N- babies around me.


What do you think I did when I overheard these statements?

That’s right. I did nothing. I said nothing. I tried to change the topic. I looked away, purposely avoiding eye contact. I acted like I hadn’t heard them, or pretended like they hadn’t meant to say what they said.

I felt guilty about not saying anything, but I also felt guilty for wanting to say something. I thought my correction would be perceived as being impertinent, arrogant or bossy.

Strange isn’t it, how launching into a full-blown rant would have been considered rude on my behalf, but ignoring such offenses makes me a polite person?

In reality all it really makes me is complicit to a great evil.

Living Christianity rightly ought to make us extremists.

Extremists for love and justice and goodness.

It should not make us blind, deaf and mute.

Jesus never commanded us to go and live politely.

He commanded us to go and love our neighbors as ourselves.

All of THEM.

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  • Every time I just want to write “amen” in the comments, this site tells me I need to say more than just one word. So there you go.

    And Amen, Sista!

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      It’s a trick response designed to make people more effusive in their praise. Ha!

  • Yes, I can relate. My tongue used to be a lot longer until I bit it in half.

  • I especially don’t like the way the word “others” is used in the same way as your describe here, Karen. Like when “others” do this, or “others” say that, or how only “others” get it wrong or do bad stuff or can’t help themselves, or should be pulled up or pulled down, as the case may be. There are no “others”. There is only us. We. Ourselves, individually and collectively. We’ve lost the meaning of “neighbours” somewhere – neighbours are us. Perhaps “them” helps us justify not loving “us.”

  • Ugh. That’s so frustrating. I must admit, if I don’t know the person, my tendency is to react exactly like you did. I guess it’s the southerner in me. But if someone that knows and loves me (like my mother, for example) begins a conversation with the words “those people”, I don’t cut her any slack. I call her on it, at which point she begins to recite fake statistics she pulls out of the air: “98% of those people are on welfare even though they could get a job if they wanted to.”

  • Apostle Paul had experienced a person or two in his lifetime. His letter to the Romans, remember, was not written to heathens, atheists, agnostics or anyone else “on the highway to hell”. It was written to Christians at war with one another. Romans is gospel so often misread and misquoted as law. Chapter 1 is well worn today. Chapter 2, for as infrequently as I hear it discussed or read or quoted, may as well not exist. Thank God it does. There was a time when I didn’t like my own daughter much at all. Some intolerable things were going on. But there never was a time when I didn’t love her. And loving this “neighbor” required saying, doing and enduring some really hard things for a long, hard time. Loving is a broad spectrum thing. It’s not synonymous with liking and nicey-nice. Loving is the warmest deepest thing in life. At times it also tears our guts out. Loving is never demeaning or judgmental. It is never a label. Best responses I can think of to offensive, judgmental things are I-messages. “I take deep offense at that.” “I believe that’s completely unjustified.” It opens the door to further discussion, if the other person wants to, with something inarguable: what I think. But it doesn’t slam their face into the pavement in an attempt to prove them wrong or change their mind. It also doesn’t just let things go.

  • Pat Pope

    I’m with ya’ sista. I too have sat quietly while someone used a slur and really I shouldn’t have. As an African-American, I know that if someone is comfortable using a slur about one group in my presence, then there’s no telling what they’d say about my people. But I’m getting bolder after sitting idly by and being “nice” and finding that in the end I was the one hurt.

  • Pat Pope

    Just to add, sometimes I haven’t expressed what I felt when I was personally offended because I felt my feelings would be poo-pooed or I’d be accused of playing the race card. But by not speaking up, I don’t allow my feelings and opinions to be heard which almost validates what people are saying. Why not speak up and allow my opinion to co-exist with theirs and allow people to make up their own minds?

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Seems reasonable to me, Pat. I can’t fathom the sort of hurts you’ve had to endure over this very issue. I like Roger’s advice of using the I-structure so that, as he pointed out,nobody is getting slammed to the floor over it.

  • Amen to that, Karen! I wonder where we get our ethics from, sometimes. Sometimes I don’t think it’s really from the pages of scripture, or from Jesus.

  • My tendency when anything like this is to think of those people who do this without first checking myself first. “Those people do that a lot…but never me.” Somehow I think that isn’t helpful either. It starts with me, to even love those who categorize people in unhelpful, ungodly ways.

  • Jean

    Karen, another facet to those who say “them (whatever)” is the gossipmonger who begins with “They said she did (whatever)”. Sometimes, I stop the gossiper right there by asking “Who is They?” Followed immediately by “I really don’t care to hear this. Let’s talk about something else.” Usually brings the conversation to a screeching halt, but I guess that’s what I intended it to do, anyway.