It is fun to turn around and use the insult intended for liberal progressives on the conservative base in an attempt to point out how poorly conservatives react to having their feelings hurt. The insult du jour in American political debate has become “snowflake.” When a White conservative reacts angrily to being called out on racism, it’s fun to make fun of his sensitivity and use the insult he just used on you because you are concerned with the plight of the poor. But next time that word is on the tip of your tongue, consider its origins and usage.
The term “snowflake” used to be interchangeable with “snowball” and was a thing to call people of African descent in the same way we call large men, “tiny” and bald men “hairy.” It was an insulting and derogatory name for black people and soon enough for people who sympathized with black people in the form of abolitionists. It did, however, fall out of fashion.
For a brief time in the 1860s it came to switch meanings and was used to describe whites who saw whiteness as superior and were against abolition, but while it lasted in this context for a short time, it never really stuck.
In 1996 Chuck Palahniuk wrote a biting satirical novel making fun of male culture called Fight Club. In it, the character who is not actually a character but the imagined super masculine alter ego of the main character tells people “You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake.” And while the satire somehow got lost in the same fashion that people blindly sing along to “Born in the USA” without any sort of critical thought about Bruce Springsteen’s intention or lyrics, young men began to use the term “snowflake.” As an alternative to the female pejoratives such as “pussy” or intimations of demasculinized men like “fag.” It meant the same thing, but no one would yell at you for being insensitive—with unconscious but delicious irony, people call others demeaning names really hate it when others point out what they do when they do it.
The modern iteration developed through the Palahniuk usage, but found a home on white nationalist, alt right, and far right message boards like 4chan in which it came to mean not just a feminized or sensitive man, but specifically a sensitive white man, who is weak and will melt in the coming race war. When an alt right internet troll calls you a snowflake, they are trying to say that you are white but sensitive and on the wrong side to survive a race war.
So, while it's fun to make fun of the crying Nazi of a few weeks ago who calls people overly sensitive “snowflakes” and then sobs at the thought of jail time, and it is satisfying to point out the irony, people should not use a term that cannot be decoupled from its inherent whiteness. Snow is white. Snowflake is an insult from whites at whites about whiteness.
And really, aside from the smug satisfaction of pointing out those moments of ironic hypocrisy, do we really want to ridicule weakness anyway? Most people have stopped the practice of ridiculing weakness by labeling it feminine. Our culture is moving away from the idea that sexual orientation or gender has anything to do with strength. It’s really time to allow even Nazis to cry. We should stop ridiculing perceptions of sensitivity or weakness at all, and stand up for those who need help, and accept people for who they are. When we use a term like “snowflake” even on someone who uses the term, we fall into and help build a world we don’t like and don’t even want.