Author Topic: The power of words (race issues mentioned)  (Read 9368 times)

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Giggity

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #30 on: August 03, 2010, 07:49:01 PM »
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.

Until now, I (a 41-year-old English teacher) had no idea that "circus-like" had any meaning beyond "like a circus." It seems a fairly precise, descriptive term.
Words mean things.

Sarabande

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #31 on: August 04, 2010, 04:23:12 AM »
(Long time lurker, first time poster, so I'm sorry if I come off inarticulate and rusty.)

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

I have to POD this. Yes, the group acted unreasonably, but something did happen here that needed to be addressed (and it's a terrible shame it was done so poorly by the group).

Like another poster suggested, 'carnival-like' would have been a much better choice of words. 'Circus-like', to my mind, was problematic because it ran the danger of casting the participants as performers for another's amusement, as if there wasn't a purposeful educational benefit to their activities. Given the history of black exploitation in entertainment (e.g. minstrel shows) and the stereotyping of black people as 'uneducated' - I can see why the group could have felt belittled by that.

I don't think it's 'trying really hard to get offended' to question how language is used - even in the subtlest of ways - to privilege or subordinate groups of people, or how language perpetuates social hierachies even without us noticing. It's a tricky, tightropey thing to come forward and express that you feel hurt at something said about you out of fear that you'll be called 'too sensitive' or 'trying to be offended', and it's often very difficult to explain why something is problematic when it's embedded in the very language we use everyday.

Reiterating - yes, the group did not deal with this very well at all. However, I guess I'm interested in how the apology was phrased...if it was kind of like, 'I'm sorry - I can see why my wording was hurtful and I will publish a retraction', then I think that was honestly the best thing he could have said. However, elephantschild, you said that while he apologised profusely, he 'insisted he had no idea the phrase was offensive'. I wonder how that would make me feel...I guess it's kind of like when somebody hurts you, and when confronted, says: 'I'm confused as to why this hurts you, but I'm sorry for what I said.' It's a sincere apology, yes, and one I might accept - but there's no reassurance of understanding or that the mistake won't be repeated. It's an apology (seemingly) without attempting to understand the other's position, and perhaps that's why the group wasn't happy. That's the only way that I feel this situation could have been handled better by the CW (given the information here - sorry if I've missed something or made assumptions). It sounds like it was a very frightening and uncomfortable situation and I can sympathise with that.

jalutaja

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #32 on: August 04, 2010, 07:50:33 AM »

Like another poster suggested, 'carnival-like' would have been a much better choice of words. 'Circus-like', to my mind, was problematic because it ran the danger of casting the participants as performers for another's amusement, as if there wasn't a purposeful educational benefit to their activities. Given the history of black exploitation in entertainment (e.g. minstrel shows) and the stereotyping of black people as 'uneducated' - I can see why the group could have felt belittled by that.

I am afraid that might not be better.

I see the situation a bit like making fun of situation of the less fortunate. That if the shool was a privileged, upper class one, then no one would bat an eye if an event was described as circus or carnival.

But if it is a ghetto school, then it is all too easy to read it as: "Wink, wink! THAT is the reason why most of those people are on welfare - instead of seriously working on their education it is all CARNIVAL and CIRCUS for them!"

A similar one would be either calling a male IT person or car mechanic "cute" or doing same toward a woman. It is more likely that the woman may misunderstand the "cute" being euphemism for "not good at her job, just good for entertaining serious male professionals with her good looks"

So - overreaction, but not all that strange one.

whiterose

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #33 on: August 04, 2010, 10:39:13 AM »
Playing devil's advocate here:

- Would it be anywhere near as problematic if the school where the event took place was a more affluent school (whether public or private) that still had a predominantly black population?

- Would it be possibly controversial if it were a lower income school with a predominantly white population, such as a rural school?

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bopper

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #34 on: August 04, 2010, 11:04:05 AM »
To me, a circus-like atmosphere means that something is out of control.

Like:
How was the concert?
It was a circus in there!

The 4th definition from Merriam Webster's dicitonary:  circus: something suggestive of a circus (as in frenzied activity, sensationalism, theatricality, or razzle-dazzle) <a media circus>

So saying a reading event was circus-like was saying that the people attending were in a frenzy and implies that they can't behave themselves in an appropriate manner.

Sabbyfrog2

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #35 on: August 04, 2010, 12:35:44 PM »
I still don't get why it's so offensive. I have read all the posts here, and really thought about it and still stand by my original post. I still don't think that the term is offensive. I think it has been made offensive because of how people reacted to it. People react differently to different words. Anyone can find offense in anything. We all know that to be true. How on earth is a writer supposed to know in advance that using a euphemism meant to imply fun is going to cause such a ruckus? It seems like we expect writers to think everything they say can be misconstrued and cater to the complainers instead of just trusting the general public to use their common sense.

To me, a circus-like atmosphere means that something is out of control.

Like:
How was the concert?
It was a circus in there!

The 4th definition from Merriam Webster's dicitonary:  circus: something suggestive of a circus (as in frenzied activity, sensationalism, theatricality, or razzle-dazzle) <a media circus>

So saying a reading event was circus-like was saying that the people attending were in a frenzy and implies that they can't behave themselves in an appropriate manner.


But the first 3 definitions are:
1 a: a  large arena enclosed by tiers of seats on three or all four sides and used especially for sports or spectacles (as athletic contests, exhibitions of horsemanship, or in ancient times chariot racing) b : a public spectacle
2 a : an arena often covered by a tent and used for variety shows usually including feats of physical skill, wild animal acts, and performances by clowns b : a circus performance c : the physical plant, livestock, and personnel of such a circus

As a writer, he is supposed to invoke an image with his writing. The word "circus" brings different feelings and images to everyone. When I think of circus, I think of well, an actual circus where fun is the idea. Like the first definition. And...He didn't say that "it was a circus", he said "circus like atmosphere" as if to imply "fun". I get what he was doing. Like I said before, reading comprehension goes a long way. Honestly though, without actually reading the rest of the article it's hard to say what the tone was but my guess is that it was light and fun.


Like another poster suggested, 'carnival-like' would have been a much better choice of words. 'Circus-like', to my mind, was problematic because it ran the danger of casting the participants as performers for another's amusement, as if there wasn't a purposeful educational benefit to their activities. Given the history of black exploitation in entertainment (e.g. minstrel shows) and the stereotyping of black people as 'uneducated' - I can see why the group could have felt belittled by that.

I am afraid that might not be better.

I see the situation a bit like making fun of situation of the less fortunate. That if the school was a privileged, upper class one, then no one would bat an eye if an event was described as circus or carnival.

But if it is a ghetto school, then it is all too easy to read it as: "Wink, wink! THAT is the reason why most of those people are on welfare - instead of seriously working on their education it is all CARNIVAL and CIRCUS for them!"

<snip>

So - overreaction, but not all that strange one.

I still disagree. Why is it better for privileged upper class one? If it's offensive to one, shouldn't it be offensive to all? It's only easy to read it that way if people already think that way, and if they already think that way, that article or it's following apology did nothing to change that anyway. And the only ones thinking that way in this case were the offended parties. We as a society have become so PC to make up for the mistakes of the past that we aren't holding people accountable to use their common sense anymore. It's become expected that we will cater and coddle to avoid misunderstandings caused by... nothing.

Sorry. I see where some of you get your opinions from, and think they are valid points, but I still don't think he had anything to apologize for. I realize that what I am about to say is not really a popular, and can be considered quite dismissive, but... I think that people are reading way to much into the word "circus" and are reacting too sensitively about it. This is not a typical case of someone saying a truly rude and offensive thing and then saying that people are being too sensitive. I think this is a case of people taking offense at nothing and calling it something because of their own personal feelings. Let's (general, not everyone here) use some common sense here.
« Last Edit: August 04, 2010, 02:20:42 PM by Sabbyfrog2 »

hobish

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #36 on: August 04, 2010, 01:21:09 PM »

I still see a lot of rationalizing taking offense.



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Jaelle

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #37 on: August 04, 2010, 01:42:29 PM »
Does the tone of the article not factor in at all? As I said, it was very "look what a great thing this school has going on!"

I can honestly tell you that we were all stunned by what happened. None of all read "circus" as bad at all, but definitely as something fun.
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Shoo

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #38 on: August 04, 2010, 01:45:45 PM »
Does the tone of the article not factor in at all? As I said, it was very "look what a great thing this school has going on!"

I can honestly tell you that we were all stunned by what happened. None of all read "circus" as bad at all, but definitely as something fun.

There are people in this world who will find offense in *anything.*  The most innocuous comment can become a raging hot debate because someone went looking for offense where there was none.  It happens every single day, everywhere it seems.

I have no time for people like that.  Certain words and actions have lost their precision of meaning because of people like that.  They do a disservice to all the truly oppressed people.

Amava

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #39 on: August 04, 2010, 01:49:12 PM »
Does the tone of the article not factor in at all? As I said, it was very "look what a great thing this school has going on!"

I can honestly tell you that we were all stunned by what happened. None of all read "circus" as bad at all, but definitely as something fun.

There are people in this world who will find offense in *anything.*  The most innocuous comment can become a raging hot debate because someone went looking for offense where there was none.  It happens every single day, everywhere it seems.

I have no time for people like that.  Certain words and actions have lost their precision of meaning because of people like that.  They do a disservice to all the truly oppressed people.
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Sarabande

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #40 on: August 04, 2010, 01:57:21 PM »
Quote
If it's offensive to one, shouldn't it be offensive to all?

I wish this were the case. However, I also feel that one can't ignore the specificity of people's identities. I would also find the 'circus-like atmosphere' descriptor belittling, for instance, if there was a similar event and the participants were mentally handicapped children. I don't think it's about being 'correct', or 'safe', or about coddling - it's about letting members of minority groups define what is offensive to them, rather than appropriating their experiences/feelings and saying, 'That's all in the past. Why won't you get over this already?' (And I'm sure many of us who have suffered discrimination of any kind knows that it's not always 'all in the past'.)

It's certainly uncomfortable and as somebody who wants to enter the field of writing (although not journalism), I really do sympathise with the situation in the OP. I hope my posts aren't seen as an attack. In the OP's situation, there was an overreaction and I suspect if the critique was phrased differently ('Thank you for the positive article; however, we have one thing we wanted to bring to your attention...') a happier solution might have been reached.

(And it took me so long to write this that elephantschild has replied...yes, I agree that the overall tone of the article should have factored into how the group approached the situation. And yes, I agree that reactions like what the group displayed aren't doing members of oppressed groups any favours.)
« Last Edit: August 04, 2010, 02:00:31 PM by Sarabande »

Mediancat

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #41 on: August 04, 2010, 02:10:11 PM »
This seems like an overreaction to me, and would be the perfect place for "I'm sorry I said something that you found offensive." Which is what I would say if anyone took me to task for something like this.

There are a lot of offensive things out there; this seems like a sizeable reach to find something to be offended by. Your editor should have stood by the reporter instead of hanging him out to dry like this.

Rob
« Last Edit: August 04, 2010, 02:16:56 PM by Mediancat »
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Peggy Gus

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #42 on: August 04, 2010, 02:31:55 PM »
This seems like an overreaction to me, and would be the perfect place for "I'm sorry I said something that you found offensive." Which is what I would say if anyone took me to task for something like this.

There are a lot of offensive things out there; this seems like a sizeable reach to find something to be offended by. Your editor should have stood by the reporter instead of hanging him out to dry like this.

Rob

Agreed, I'm sure if I thought long and hard enough I could find something offensive about anything said, but really I don't have that kind of time, nor do I want to be a miserable person.

jimithing

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #43 on: August 04, 2010, 03:08:37 PM »
Does the tone of the article not factor in at all? As I said, it was very "look what a great thing this school has going on!"

I can honestly tell you that we were all stunned by what happened. None of all read "circus" as bad at all, but definitely as something fun.

There are people in this world who will find offense in *anything.*  The most innocuous comment can become a raging hot debate because someone went looking for offense where there was none.  It happens every single day, everywhere it seems.

I have no time for people like that.  Certain words and actions have lost their precision of meaning because of people like that.  They do a disservice to all the truly oppressed people.

I agree. And I really find the argument that if someone takes offense, then it is offensive, to be very weak. It's a slippery slope.

Does this mean that the woman who took offense to the "racist bagels" is correct and it then is offensive? Or the woman who took offense to separating white and colors for laundry is offended, therefore that poster needed to apologize for being offended?


whatsanenigma

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #44 on: August 04, 2010, 03:09:31 PM »
I wonder how that would make me feel...I guess it's kind of like when somebody hurts you, and when confronted, says: 'I'm confused as to why this hurts you, but I'm sorry for what I said.' It's a sincere apology, yes, and one I might accept - but there's no reassurance of understanding or that the mistake won't be repeated. It's an apology (seemingly) without attempting to understand the other's position, and perhaps that's why the group wasn't happy.

But if you really had no idea the phrase was offensive, and you really still don't understand why, though you've tried, and you actually want to but still don't...how do you handle that?

At what point do you give up and lie and say you're sorry (because you are) without having a full understanding of why what you did was wrong? At some point, the "I don't understand" has got to get tedious for the offended party.

I think it's entirely possible to accept that something was offensive to someone and to promise it won't get said again (though, not by any means that no offense will ever be given again, just that the phrase in question won't be used, and that more thought will go into the phrases that are used) without fully understanding it.

But if the offended group doesn't consider that a real apology, where do you go from there?