Author Topic: The power of words (race issues mentioned)  (Read 9262 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Sirius

  • Super Hero!
  • ****
  • Posts: 9862
  • Stars in my eyes!
Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #15 on: August 03, 2010, 12:30:57 PM »
I get so tired of finding out that things I say in complete innocence are "racist" or "derogatory," or even "double entendre", usually after I've said it.  And I do think that some people completely overreact when they hear something that they think is "racist" or "derogatory."  People have lost jobs over things like that or been branded a racist or worse when they said/wrote or even wore what they did out of total innocence.

End of rant.  

Jaelle

  • Hero Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 1499
Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #16 on: August 03, 2010, 12:33:12 PM »
Thanks. I've always wondered about that. I'm glad to see others find it as baffling as we did.

(As far as the group: I was told the connection was made that circus animals are from Africa (not necessarily but still ...), so saying there's a "circus atmosphere" is poking fun at people of African heritage. Or something like that.)

So, how do you think something like this should be handled? The people were honestly outraged. CW was honestly perplexed. How do you deal with it without saying, "Go away, you're not making any sense!" (Tempting, but ultimately non-productive.)
“She was already learning that if you ignore the rules people will, half the time, quietly rewrite them so that they don't apply to you.”
― Terry Pratchett, Equal Rites

sasha

  • Member
  • **
  • Posts: 537
Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #17 on: August 03, 2010, 12:49:45 PM »
The phrase got past the editors because no one had any idea at all it was offensive, honestly. The editor got the outside groups involved because of that dichotomy ... I think he honestly had good intentions.

The writer described the event (sort of a "reading is fun!" sort of thing, if I remember correctly, with games and skits and the like) as having a "circus atmosphere." Which to him (and me, and all the rest of us) meant "fun and games and excitement!" and apparently to the other group meant "chaos and poking fun at their heritage." The term was called demeaning.

To be honest, I think that unless the event was an actual carnival, the word choice was imprecise at best, and moderately insulting (although not explicitly racist) at worst.

While some people think acrobats and elephants for circuses, others think circus freaks and shysters. The term is often used as a pejorative (e.g., "media circus"). For that reason alone, I think it was a very poor word choice.

I don't think the term itself is racist, but I can see how it would be perceived as demeaning. While the journalist didn't mean to use it as a racist term, I can see the potential for discomfort there, especially if you make the connection between some circus animals (chimps, monkeys) and how those have been used as racial slurs.

I can see why the group was upset, although they did not express themselves very well. I think it likely they were uncomfortable and reacting to feeling demeaned, but instead of spelling out their reasons for feeling that way (and it's possible they didn't quite know how to express that), they cried racism without really demonstrating why they thought it was racist.

So while I think both groups were at fault, I do think that it is a journalist's job to know language (and that includes slang and potentially racially-charged language) and even stripping away all that, circus atmosphere is still a poor descriptor of the event you described.

Sabbyfrog2

  • Super Hero!
  • ****
  • Posts: 6754
  • I'm a Super Hero! Now where's my cape?
Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #18 on: August 03, 2010, 01:07:23 PM »
Sasha I can see your point, but I have to disagree. I am sorry but I still think the offended party's waaaaaaaaaaay over reacted. I believe this was a case of people looking for offense and not really considering what the writer intended.

Whatever happened to reading comprehension?!
If the tone of his piece was light and fun, then the term "Circus atmosphere" SHOULD have been a clue what the writer is referring too, especially considering it was a kid's event. When rational people think of kids events and the word "circus" regarding a kids event, you think of fun and silliness, not race. But irrational people, looking for offense, see the word "circus" and automatically think that they are being insulted. Give me a break. I'll bet no one even noticed it UNTIL it was brought up by the initial complaintant. They probably never even thought about it that way either until someone made a big deal about it and then got up in a tizzy because they thought they were supposed too. The offended adults in the situation made it racist, not the writer. Demanding he be canned is way over the line and frankly, stupid and entitled.

I can see why the writer wanted to apologize, although I think he had nothing to apologize for, but that should have been the end of it. I think the editor should have backed up his writer and basically told those people to get over themselves.

Give me a break already.

Hanna

  • Super Hero!
  • ****
  • Posts: 7270
    • RumorsAboutMe
Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #19 on: August 03, 2010, 01:21:28 PM »
I honestly think it was just a poor choice of words.  Eleven years ago, it might not have crossed my mind that anyone would be offended, but today it definitely would.

When hear something is a compared to a circus, I usually think that means it is a crazy mess.

It's ridiculous that he was demonized for it though.  Unless there was some other reason to think he intended to be offensive it just seems incredibly extreme to do more than roll your eyes.



Jaelle

  • Hero Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 1499
Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #20 on: August 03, 2010, 02:08:19 PM »
I guess it was in consideration of the context that the whole thing surprised me. It was a very positive article, with a tone of "look what a great, fun, educational thing they're doing for the kids!"

I really am curious how, considering the opposing viewpoints, you all think it should have been handled.  :) I really don't want it to turn into a series of vents and get locked!
“She was already learning that if you ignore the rules people will, half the time, quietly rewrite them so that they don't apply to you.”
― Terry Pratchett, Equal Rites

Arianoor

  • Hero Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 1204
Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #21 on: August 03, 2010, 02:12:47 PM »

Judah

  • Hero Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 4769
  • California, U.S.A
Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #22 on: August 03, 2010, 02:30:36 PM »
I can see why the writer wanted to apologize, although I think he had nothing to apologize for, but that should have been the end of it. I think the editor should have backed up his writer and basically told those people to get over themselves.

Give me a break already.

I agree.
Ask for what you want. Let's be clear on this one:
Subtle hints don't work.
Strong hints don't work.
Really obvious hints don't work.
Just say it!

-The Car Talk Guys

Squeaks

  • Super Hero!
  • ****
  • Posts: 5026
Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #23 on: August 03, 2010, 02:34:30 PM »
Total over reaction.  

How it should be handled.  To note from the editor, both apologizing for any hurt feelings but also elaborating on why some people were hurt by it. Try to find at least one rational and sane member of the group to maybe write something to the effect of "hey this is what we deal with, and this is how this makes us feel and this is why it sucks and hurts" to explain.   Yes go ahead and apologize, but use it as a way to inform people.  If your newspaper did not get it, than likely others may not as well, and I suspect there would have been at least one reader who would have liked learning that this group can find circus that offensive.

Approach it less as "we messed up" and more as " I was not aware, please tell me more"

Sharnita

  • Super Hero!
  • ****
  • Posts: 21417
Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #24 on: August 03, 2010, 02:37:43 PM »
I can see some people in the community where I teach reacting that way.  Last eyar was the first year we managed to bring in drug and munitions dogs into our school, though the suburban schools have been doing it for a long time.  A lot of people had a problem with the image of police bringing their dogs into a school that has about 97% black students.  There can be deep sensitivities that aren't there for other groups.

sasha

  • Member
  • **
  • Posts: 537
Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #25 on: August 03, 2010, 02:51:45 PM »
I guess it was in consideration of the context that the whole thing surprised me. It was a very positive article, with a tone of "look what a great, fun, educational thing they're doing for the kids!"

I really am curious how, considering the opposing viewpoints, you all think it should have been handled.  :) I really don't want it to turn into a series of vents and get locked!

Even though I feel the term was a mistake to use, I think the editor and your co-worker handled the flap appropriately. I don't think the reporter should have been fired, and I do think he should apologize (which he did). It is unfortunate that the group did not meet them halfway, if the apology was indeed sincere (and I have no reason to doubt that it was). I think this is an instance where a resolution that satisfied all parties was nearly impossible.

As you say in the title of this thread, it is the "power of words." Language is a very nuanced thing; to dismiss the feelings that stem from certain phrases as snowflake behavior is missing a great opportunity for understanding a different viewpoint (even if you ultimately disagree with it). Let me be clear, though: the group did overreact with wanting the person fired after he apologized. They were just as unwilling to understand a different viewpoint.

But I'm uncomfortable with the view the they were looking to be offended. As a woman, I know I've experienced conversations in which someone has said something that on the surface is very benign but which has an underlying sexist message (being called cute, for instance, by an older male--it can be meant genuinely as a compliment or it can be condescending, depending on the speaker and the context, even though the words are the same). And after hearing many such comments, it can start to be hard to discern which category they belong to. Just look at all the threads about comments on people's weight/appearance (is it a compliment or a slam at how I used to look, etc.).

The reason why I think the reporter/paper bear some responsibility is that journalists are supposed to be people with a good mastery of language: its preciseness, its power to affect people, its double meanings. That's why I think the apology was appropriate, no matter how innocently the term was used. If we were talking about Joe Schmoe's Facebook post, I would have a totally different position on this.  

I also think the group acted unreasonably, but their unreasonableness does not mean that no offense was committed.

hobish

  • Super Hero!
  • ****
  • Posts: 18186
  • Release the gelfling!
Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #26 on: August 03, 2010, 02:52:23 PM »
I think anyone finding racist connotations in "circus atmosphere" is trying really hard to get offended and ought to take a good long look at themselves.

...then again, i am the girl who was put on 6 months probation at work and accused of being a racist for using the term helper monkey. Poo throwing and banana eating were also mentioned; but someone still took it upon themselves to assume i was talking about a race of people in a derogatory way.  >:( It still burns me up, and i still think whoever it was that made the complaint was 1) looking for offense 2) trying to get me in trouble 3) has severe self esteem issues ... or all three.

It's alright, man. I'm only bleeding, man. Stay hungry, stay free, and do the best you can.
~Gaslight Anthem

Jaelle

  • Hero Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 1499
Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #27 on: August 03, 2010, 03:13:30 PM »
Oh, sasha, I agree. We really did try to handle it as "Gee, we didn't realize!" Which was the truth. And believe me, the apology was sincere. (As I said, he was really quite appalled.)

I guess it's that the apology was slapped back that the whole thing became rather complicated.

If I didn't believe words had power, I wouldn't have gone into this business.  ;)
“She was already learning that if you ignore the rules people will, half the time, quietly rewrite them so that they don't apply to you.”
― Terry Pratchett, Equal Rites

AM in AL

  • Member
  • **
  • Posts: 691
Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #28 on: August 03, 2010, 05:32:28 PM »
Give me a break already.

POD.

Parking my POD here too. I'm part of a two-tone family, and I throw etiquette out the window when it comes to confronting racists.

Real ones.

Phoebe

  • Member
  • **
  • Posts: 993
Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #29 on: August 03, 2010, 07:40:31 PM »
There are a lot of people of all types who are not happy unless they've got something to complain about, and this incident fits that pretty well.  Far too many people are too busy looking for *something* to be offended about these days, and far too often they cost the innocent *offender* his/her reputation and/or livelihood.  When does it stop?