Absolutely. Everything you say is true. But I'm not talking about using them in public or just casually throwing them about like they don't hurt. Because all of those words are offensive. Extremely. And any polite, caring person wouldn't maliciously go to Times Square and start throwing those words around because in that case, they do have power.I understand the OP's concern. I got into an arguement on another board where a poster said that using the 'N' word is not offensive if the person using it is black. I called them on it. I believe that the 'N' word, the 'F' word (rhymes with hag), the 'C' word and the 'R' word are all deplorable words and that no one should use them. They countered back with 'the word is only offensive if you give it that power as it's just a word'. I told them to go to Times Square and start calling the people walking by those words and see what happens. That ended the discussion. I love Joe Lansdale writings but I cringe when the 'N' word pops up. Most of his stories are set in East Texas or thereabouts and I know that the 'N' word is still flung around alot down there but it's still unsettling to read it. Does it make me like his tales less and not want to read them? No. Because I get that it's the characters that are saying them, not the author. There's a difference. But I don't like to see those words being used. I'm not a prude, but I realize that words do have power.
I am talking about in the context of a story. The writer isn't calling you personally any of these things, so they don't have power over you as you live your life on any given day. But they definitely make you react. And the author has pulled you into the moment. And they elicit an array of feelings and emotions, good and bad. The scene can take your breath away and make you stop and think. Good fiction makes you think.
An author's right to be creative and be true to the hateful nature of a character is important. I don't invest myself in someone's writing if they are afraid to be true to reality of the world they are creating. Again, I don't want them to use it just to shock me, or to be "I'm a bada ss" writer. It has to ring true to the story. Just like sex has to be important to a story, not just thrown in there to be some Penthouse Forum Letter that they wanted to write as a a teenager and didn't. We all know when someone throws something into a story to try to be cutting edge for shock value; and you know the authors who use things important to the story.
Can all words be replaced with something less offensive? Yep. But I would feel it is a cop out.