The Gruesome Truth Behind Your “Basic Bitch” T-Shirt

COLETTE MONCREIFF (GRADE 11)

Although you may have learned about the Industrial Revolution, the Civil Rights Movement, or the Election of 1800, few history classes go into any detail on the history of the language we use today. What I’m referring to is the history of swear words some people use almost every day whether it be ill-spirited or not. It is safe to say most people, some kids even, know that the word “bitch” literally refers to a female dog. While words like “bitch” are now commonly used, it was historically used to refer to women who were enslaved, especially pertaining to rape. Slave owners would often call their female African American slaves “bitch” in rape scenarios, comparing women to female dogs in heat. This was a sexist slur, saying women were sexually depraved beasts calling for the attention of men. The word was very similarly used in Ancient Rome and Greece, as an old way of saying “she was asking for it.”

In the documentary The Gruesome Truth, the horrifying history of the word “mothefucker” is described in detail. On plantations in Maryland and in other parts of the southeast U.S., African Americans were bred in order for slave owners to contribute more to the slave trade. Healthy African American men and women had their heads covered, and were essentially forced to have sex so that white slave owners could sell healthy slave children for money. Even more horrifying was the fact that these two people were more often than not related, and commonly, it was mother and son. Hence, the slur “motherfucker” originated.

These words have been used so often in the media, whether it be in a movie or on a tee-shirt, yet the vast majority of people have no idea the history these words have. The United States’ history is a gruesome one, and one that few people are fully educated on; even fewer bring themselves to face it. When I was told the history of these words I was disgusted by how much I, along with people around me, used them. Over years and years, these words have been worn down to have almost no meaning. However, with the knowledge of the meanings behind these words, we can continue to educate people on the gruesome history of our country and our language. Yes, history can be unbelievably devastating, and yes, it’s hard to acknowledge that things like this were ever normalized. But, it’s this acknowledgment that drives our society to strive to eliminate misogyny, racism, and other inhumane actions.

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