Author Topic: The power of words (race issues mentioned)  (Read 9230 times)

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hobish

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #45 on: August 04, 2010, 03:17:23 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?



Indeed. I could say that I find this post offensive and demand that jimithing apologize … that doesn’t mean it is offensive, or that jimithing needs to agree that it is.

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Yvaine

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #46 on: August 04, 2010, 03:29:49 PM »
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.

What might also make a difference is whether the event actually did have a circus theme. I can absolutely visualize a school or library having a "Reading Circus" and somehow working the theme into the event. It would be silly to take offense at calling a circus-themed event "circus-like," while I'm more on the fence if it wasn't circus-themed.

Just Lori

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #47 on: August 04, 2010, 03:48:59 PM »
I wouldn't want to be the editor in that position.  Diversitiy was (and I believe still is) a huge deal in newsrooms in the '90s, and he was probably receiving a lot of heat from above to make this situation right with the community.

Still, I don't think the word "circus" was the problem. I think the problem is that, through no fault of their own, the people who cover the community were not aware that certain words carry unsavory connotations among certain populations.  I know I wasn't.  And while I'm not convinced that "circus-like" would ever carry a negative connotation except in special circumstances, the fact is that the community has issues with the word.

Hindsight is 20/20, but perhaps the editor would have been better off looking at the big picture instead of this instance. Say to the group, "Look, this newspaper will never, ever condone racist writing, but perhaps we need to do a better job of getting to know the community and understanding why these words upset you.  How can we communicate and make our groups continue to talk?"

I think the editor made a huge mistake in handling the writer's apology.  The writer became the fall guy.  I can only imagine how demoralizing that was to the rest of the staff.  People perform better when they believe their superiors have their back and will defend them.  At least I do.

Sarabande

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #48 on: August 04, 2010, 09:06:26 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?

I've thought about it and I think that the bolded would be fair enough. Concede that mistakes happen and might continue to happen but that there's no malice behind it, and that you're open to more suggestions/communication (Just Lori has pretty good wording above).

Jocelyn

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #49 on: August 04, 2010, 10:47:43 PM »
I am reminded of a bout of letter-writing I engaged in with the campus newspaper.
A community issue was that the city/county wanted to build a highway through the middle of wetlands that also housed ground sacred to/used for worship by Native Americans. The papers (both town and campus) were full of writings along the line of 'How dare those Indians object to us taking their land for such a good use as a highway!' People characterized the Native Americans as being selfish and greedy for not willingly giving up their sacred ground, being unpatriotic and un-American for not giving up the land for the 'public good'.
The campus paper just could not cover any event related to this issue without the implication that the Native objections were irrational and unfair. After all, the 'sacred ground' wasn't a church, was it? There wasn't a building with a steeple there, was there? Heck, no, it was just a big circle in the ground and a sauna. (aka Medicine wheel and sweat lodge). They could be put ANYWHERE. So why not relocate them? For that matter, what problem would it be if there WERE a highway a few yards away? What were they doing there that couldn't be watched by others, after all a REAL church is open to all.
In the midst of this, one of the tribes sued the university for not being in compliance with Federal law about the use of native remains. The anthropology department was refusing to return remains to the tribe, as ordered by Federal law. The newspaper came out with editorials about how the Indians were being so unfair, these were museum exhibits that the anthro department had paid for. So what if it were the remains of people whose descendants didn't want them in a museum?
And then...the paper ranan article about one of the anthro professors retiring...entitled 'He's the Last of the Mohicans'.
Can you see why that was offensive? Within the context of a long string of insensitivity?
Perhaps having been called derogatory labels that seem to fit with a circus theme, there were those in the community who were sensitive to a circus analogy. The reporter may have meant nothing by it...but then, there ARE those who liken a certain ethnic group to apes, monkeys and animals, and it must get tiring for them, particularly in the context of describing what should have been a very positive event.
As Leonard Pitts so eloquently said, the offense in Mel Gibson's tirade was not that he used the N word...but that he said 'pack of n's'...and only animals hunt in packs.

GoldenGemini

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #50 on: August 05, 2010, 12:03:33 AM »
I think that they had to work hard to link "circus" with "racist".  Then again, I come from a place where having animals at a circus is very rare.  It is mainly performers, so it would be even harder to link "circus" with a race.  Most of them have elaborate costumes on, so it is hard to tell even if they are female or male sometimes!

If he apologised, then that really should have been the end of it.  He didn't understand why he was apologising, but knew that he had offended this group and was sorry for that.  This is enough, in a civilised world.

Calling for him to be sacked was OTT.


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C0mputerGeek

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #51 on: August 05, 2010, 01:01:18 AM »
I had a rather intense discussion once because someone took umbrage to the use of the term 'special snowflake.' Apparently, it's also a derogatory term for white people. The person in question (she was white I am black) was very, very upset with me.

I've never heard snowflake used as a derogatory term. My nephews were teenagers at the time. I asked them if they had heard of this. They had not.

Other than apologize for the unintended offense and wait for cooler tempers to prevail, I don't really think there's much you can do when a word that should be perfectly innocuous has taken on another meaning for someone else with which you are not familiar.

Trying to get him fired was way OTT.

Slartibartfast

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #52 on: August 05, 2010, 01:08:32 AM »
Honestly, I think "circus-like" was a very poor word choice, and he absolutely should have had to apologize for that.  (Disclosure: I'm not a member of a racial group who might be offended by this phrase, and I have never heard that particular phrase used specifically for the purpose of slandering one group before, but . . .)

"circus" has a lot more connotations than just "fun":
  • out of control
  • put on purely for the entertainment of others who can afford to NOT work there
  • animals and "circus freaks"
  • outwardly bright and colorful, but lacking any significant depth (unlike, say, a play or a novel)
  • dishonesty in the form of rip-off prices, fixed carnival games, outright fraud (exhibiting a cow fetus in a jar as a "baby alien", etc.)
  • circus performers lack roots in one place, so aren't tied in to a good honest community

Given all that, I think there are many other words for "fun" that should have been used in place of "circus-like" unless the event was, in fact, circus-themed.  And I can totally understand how members of one particular group - who have a history (not necessarily all that long ago, either) of being looked down upon for being unpredictable/unsafe, lower social status, freaks/animals, shallow and incapable of deep thoughts and emotions, and inherently thieves and lazy cheaters - would object to the use of "circus-like" when any one of a dozen other words would have done just as well.

Then, if the apology was of the "Geez, lighten up!  I didn't mean anything by it, but I'm sorry you're offended!" variety, I can 100% understand getting angry over it.  Half the issue was caused because the writer and the editor "didn't mean anything" by it - it wasn't offensive to them, so they didn't stop to consider how it might sound to someone with a different racial history.  It's kind of like how teens today will call things "gay" - they will all swear they don't mean anything by it, and calling their math homework gay has no relationship to homosexuality, but they're still unquestioningly associating "gay" with "bad."

If the reporter were just using this phrase verbally in some off-the-cuff chat one-on-one with someone, it might not be worth the effort to bring it up.  However, because this was printed, it should be held to a higher standard because the reporter had more time to think through and edit.  And since it was in a newspaper, the article implicitly suggested to all the readers that using "circus-like" was the most appropriate wording in this context.  What might not have been worth confronting in a one-person conversation becomes more important when it's been broadcast to thousands of people.

Anyway, I'm not of an ethnic group who would have taken offense, but I do think the reporter and editor should have chosen another word.  And once they'd printed "circus-like" by mistake, they should have made the effort to really understand what people were upset over, instead of just shrugging and saying "People get offended by all sorts of silly things, so I'm not going to worry about it."

Bethalize

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #53 on: August 05, 2010, 02:43:32 AM »
The word wasn't racist. The person who felt it was had a very specific idea of what a circus is, and that idea is not all that the word circus encompasses. Picadilly Circus is another use of the word. Bread and circuses is another use. I don't think that a person with limited understanding should be pandered to.

MrsO

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #54 on: August 05, 2010, 04:16:15 AM »
I've racked my brains trying to think why 'circus' might be offensive in the slightest, let alone racist. I just can't see it, no matter what what I look at it. I'm just astonished that the "racist" comment was about a circus! Honestly! It's just insane that he lost his job over this. Political correctness gone mad.

whiterose

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #55 on: August 05, 2010, 07:32:09 AM »
I belong to an ethnic group that is often stereotyped as being "loud" (and I do have a loud, projecting voice), "preferring parties and holidays over work and school", and "always dressed well and sometimes too fancy". Yet if a similar event for a school that was predominantly of that group were to be describe as "circus-like atmosphere", not only would I NOT take offense in any way, I think it would be a stretch to imply that "circus" was saying that the students and staff were being excessively noisy, partying instead of studying, and more concerned with looks than books. If they called the event "loud" and "chaotic", then yes it would be insulting and offensive- but I would first think that they are insulting the event and possibly the school, NOT this group in general.

Yes, some circus animals do come from Latin America- and some from Asia, and some from Africa, and some from Europe, and some from North America, and they may even bring a kangaroo from Oceania. And yes, macaws are loud and have flamboyant plumage. But in no way would I assume that a say, Dia de los Ninos/Dia de los Libros event being described as having a "circus-like atmosphere" would imply that they are calling people of my ethnic group "loud/flamboyantly dressed/want to party instead of work" or comparing them to macaws.

This is waaaaaay too much of a stretch. They needed to accept the apology and MOVE ON.
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Giggity

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #56 on: August 05, 2010, 08:00:29 AM »
I don't think that a person with limited understanding should be pandered to.

BINGO.

(Which probably just offended someone.  ;D)
Words mean things.

Jaelle

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #57 on: August 05, 2010, 11:07:54 AM »
Then, if the apology was of the "Geez, lighten up!  I didn't mean anything by it, but I'm sorry you're offended!" variety, I can 100% understand getting angry over it.  Half the issue was caused because the writer and the editor "didn't mean anything" by it - it wasn't offensive to them, so they didn't stop to consider how it might sound to someone with a different racial history.  ...

Anyway, I'm not of an ethnic group who would have taken offense, but I do think the reporter and editor should have chosen another word.  And once they'd printed "circus-like" by mistake, they should have made the effort to really understand what people were upset over, instead of just shrugging and saying "People get offended by all sorts of silly things, so I'm not going to worry about it."

OK, that is NOT what happened. An apology was made. It was a very sincere apology. (Or so I believe ... I wasn't there, but I know CW.) I even said CW was appalled he unintentionally offended people. No one shrugged and dismissed anything. There was a meeting to clear the air and try to understand. The very sincere apology was kind of slapped back at him.

And, as I've asked several times, does the tone really not matter? It's been 11 years, I don't have a copy since I didn't write it, but the sentence was something like the quiet school setting "transformed for a day into a circus atmosphere full of fun and the love of reading." (Not verbatim, sorry, but similar.)

It's interesting, too, that a PP mentioned that it would be offensive if also applied to a class of mentally disabled children. DS is disabled. His preschool, a few years ago, had a "talent show" with ... you guessed it ... a circus theme. It was a hoot. DS had a blast. I have a ton of pictures. It didn't even occur to me that we could have taken it the wrong way, too, until this thread.

Well, I posted it because I really wanted to know. It's been educational! (Which is always a good thing.) Thanks to everyone for their opinions, truly.
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jimithing

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #58 on: August 05, 2010, 11:24:53 AM »

It's interesting, too, that a PP mentioned that it would be offensive if also applied to a class of mentally disabled children. DS is disabled. His preschool, a few years ago, had a "talent show" with ... you guessed it ... a circus theme. It was a hoot. DS had a blast. I have a ton of pictures. It didn't even occur to me that we could have taken it the wrong way, too, until this thread.


I read a lot of party idea websites. I guess I better start getting an angry letter ready to send off, every time they feature a circus theme.  ::)

Giggity

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #59 on: August 05, 2010, 11:34:45 AM »
You can use my Twilight letter, and just replace "vampires" with "clowns."  :P
Words mean things.