Author Topic: The power of words (race issues mentioned)  (Read 9247 times)

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Sabbyfrog2

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #75 on: August 06, 2010, 10:09:44 AM »
It all boils down to semantics. I think my main issue is that people are so hung up on what could be a derogatory statement, based on what has been used in a derogatory way in the past for certain races, ethnic groups, and cultures, that it has gotten to the point where people can say that a word or phrase is thisclose to another word and that it shouldn't be used because someone MIGHT be offended by it.  Give me a break! I understand that certain words can seem offensive if it hits close to, or has a double meaning for another possibly offensive word but people really need to start using their common sense. I am not going to start watering down language, or tip toeing around simple descriptive phrases because one very small group of people might find it offensive simply because they fail to understand the REAL meaning and the context it is being used in. Yes. There are people in this world who use awful demeaning language, but expecting everyone in creation dumb to down their vocabulary because of those ignorant few is ludicrous.

Like I said before, anyone can find offense in anything really. Why on earth do we cater to it is my question? Unless the phrase or word is being used as a blatant insult, it really shouldn't cause this much drama. I wish people would stop getting so hung up on semantics. Sure there was oppression of certain cultures and some words and phrases were used to offend them. Heck, most cultures were oppressed at some point or another by some other culture. My opinion is that in today's day in age, people need to stop creating an issue where there is no issue just because of their personal feelings or what has happened in the past. It's a different time. People must realize that occasionally, you are going to come across a word or phrase that hits close to home because of past connotations. What they should do is use their brain and think about what it actually being said/written, instead of flying off the handle and crying foul. 

I still cannot in any way find anything wrong with what this writer said in his article. Even with all the reasons you all have given, I still find no fault with his description of the event. His apology was a nice gesture of good will towards that community, and I applaud his attempt, but I wouldn't have faulted him if he hadn't apologized either.

FWIW, I am of Irish, English, Scottish, and Cherokee heritage. I am a Heinz 57 mix of some previously oppressed people (and cultures that people like to make jokes about) and so there is a plethora of words that I could take offense too. But I don't. Because I am not an unreasonable or easily offended person.

wyliefool

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #76 on: August 09, 2010, 12:06:25 PM »
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...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.  Angry 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.

For goodness' sake! If the word "monkey" is racist, then what, pray tell, are we supposed to call actual monkeys? Simian-Americans?
...
A paper where I worked took some heat (fortunately, nobody demanded anyone be fired) for using the term "guinea pigs" in a headline. The story was about a product testing company and the people who sign on to be their test subjects -- human guinea pigs. However, the town where the company was located and got most of its subjects happened to have a lot of Italian-Americans. But that's just silly! The italian insult (which died out a long time ago afaik) is 'ginny' not 'Guinea.' Guinea is a Pacific island, and a small rodent.

Another paper got into trouble for referring to Irish-Americans "padding" through churches cataloguing various art and architectural features for a heritage project. "Padding" means walking very quietly, but some thought it was too close to "Paddy," which has been used as a derogatory term for the Irish (as in "paddy wagon"). Never mind that there are actual, living Irish people *named* Paddy. Wow. I got nuthin.' Do they complain about 'two all-beef patties' also? That's closer to Paddy then padding. Sheez.

...

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I hate to say it, but I've seen people used the word "niggardly" to substitute for the other n-word, knowing and hoping to call people ignorant in a certain way. And some targets have caught onto that, and become sensitive to this word as a result, too.

Well then, black folks should just point out to those people that they're using the word wrong, and showing their ignorance. Niggardly means 'cheap' not 'stupid.' Thus humiliating the ignoramus who is trying to humiliate them.

HollysCats

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #77 on: August 09, 2010, 05:23:16 PM »
I hate to say it, but I've seen people used the word "niggardly" to substitute for the other n-word, knowing and hoping to call people ignorant in a certain way. And some targets have caught onto that, and become sensitive to this word as a result, too.

Well then, black folks should just point out to those people that they're using the word wrong, and showing their ignorance. Niggardly means 'cheap' not 'stupid.' Thus humiliating the ignoramus who is trying to humiliate them.

I think you're missing a step in the scenario.  Imagine this scene:  a couple of Bart-Simpson-like boys near you are having a loud conversation about how much it bothers them when b*tches come and bother them when they're playing, how stupid b*tches are, etc., and you notice that they always really stress that one word and seem to be watching to see how people react to it.  When someone calls them on it, they get all wide-eyed and innocent and say "Of course we were talking about dogs.  What did you think we were talking about?  You do know what that word means, don't you?"

This is the same scenario, except instead of little boys, you have adults talking about how much nicer the neighborhood was before that one niggardly family moved in.  They're not calling the family stupid directly -- they're using a thinly-veiled racial epithet, and are waiting to call anyone who objects stupid.

kitty-cat

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #78 on: August 09, 2010, 05:36:54 PM »
You can use my Twilight letter, and just replace "vampires" with "clowns."  :P

Dare I ask what the Twilight letter is?




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Elfmama

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #79 on: August 09, 2010, 07:55:32 PM »

I think you're missing a step in the scenario.  Imagine this scene:  a couple of Bart-Simpson-like boys near you
"Boys" is also unacceptable in the black community, even when you are speaking of pre-adolescent males.  As soon as a child graduates out of diapers, he is a "youth".
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baglady

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #80 on: August 09, 2010, 08:18:47 PM »
I hate to say it, but I've seen people used the word "niggardly" to substitute for the other n-word, knowing and hoping to call people ignorant in a certain way. And some targets have caught onto that, and become sensitive to this word as a result, too.

Well then, black folks should just point out to those people that they're using the word wrong, and showing their ignorance. Niggardly means 'cheap' not 'stupid.' Thus humiliating the ignoramus who is trying to humiliate them.

I think you're missing a step in the scenario.  Imagine this scene:  a couple of Bart-Simpson-like boys near you are having a loud conversation about how much it bothers them when b*tches come and bother them when they're playing, how stupid b*tches are, etc., and you notice that they always really stress that one word and seem to be watching to see how people react to it.  When someone calls them on it, they get all wide-eyed and innocent and say "Of course we were talking about dogs.  What did you think we were talking about?  You do know what that word means, don't you?"

This is the same scenario, except instead of little boys, you have adults talking about how much nicer the neighborhood was before that one niggardly family moved in.  They're not calling the family stupid directly -- they're using a thinly-veiled racial epithet, and are waiting to call anyone who objects stupid.

I've *never* heard anyone use "niggardly" as a cover for the other N word. (Besides, it doesn't mean stupid; it means stingy.) The people I've encountered who would express such a sentiment about a Black family moving into the neighborhood wouldn't use "niggardly." Honestly, they're not educated enough to even know that word in its true or its perceived meaning. They are more likely to use "colored," "those people" or the other N word. Yes, it is sad that those attitudes still exist.

Not to say you haven't heard it used that way -- only that I haven't.
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HollysCats

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #81 on: August 09, 2010, 09:00:47 PM »
I've *never* heard anyone use "niggardly" as a cover for the other N word. (Besides, it doesn't mean stupid; it means stingy.)

The point I'm trying (and apparently failing) to make is that they're not using "niggardly" to mean "stupid"; they're using it to set a trap so that they can later call someone stupid.  It works like this:

Step 1:  Racist person uses the word "niggardly", possibly not enunciating clearly.
Step 2:  Non-racist person objects.
Step 3:  Racist person calls non-racist person stupid for not knowing what "niggardly" means.

baglady

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #82 on: August 09, 2010, 09:11:50 PM »
I've *never* heard anyone use "niggardly" as a cover for the other N word. (Besides, it doesn't mean stupid; it means stingy.)

The point I'm trying (and apparently failing) to make is that they're not using "niggardly" to mean "stupid"; they're using it to set a trap so that they can later call someone stupid.  It works like this:

Step 1:  Racist person uses the word "niggardly", possibly not enunciating clearly.
Step 2:  Non-racist person objects.
Step 3:  Racist person calls non-racist person stupid for not knowing what "niggardly" means.


Step 4: Non-racist person asks, "How do you know they're niggardly? Did you go out to dinner with them and they stiffed you on the check? Did you solicit them to contribute to the United Way and they refused?"
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Sabbyfrog2

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #83 on: August 10, 2010, 10:00:09 AM »
The above recent comments have really only served to prove my point that people are really only debating semantics and even reasonable people on this board are able to find offense in a simple word like 'circus' or the recent example...'Boy'. It's interesting that you bring this up Elfmama. My hubby was just discussing the use of the word 'boy' when referring to his students (urban population) at school with another teacher. My hubby (Caucasian) finds it unacceptable, and the other teacher (African American) finds it totally acceptable. And so do the students. But only when the African American teacher does it. If my hubby were to do it, they would cry racism. (Hubby has a very good rel@tionship with some of his students and they talk openly about this stuff) So, I guess it's only offensive when someone of another race uses that term. I suspect it would be the same if the journalist had been of the same race as the community. THAT is the difference that I don't think anyone else has pointed out. If the writer had been another race, I don't think anyone would have blinked an eye. I think that is really the crux of the issue.

People are going to insult other people either directly or indirectly by using double meaning words or blatant racist terms in life. It's inevitable. No race or culture is innocent in this. People are going to find offense in words and phrases where none is intended because of their own issues and perceived offenses. But, we have become so PC that we go out of our way to try not to offend, or apologize for unintentional offenses that really aren't offenses, that it has become expected at this point that people will cater to the minority of offended people to keep the peace. Picking apart a journalist article, or another posters words, isn't the answer, but I guess that is what is easier to protest. Writers are unreasonably expected to predict what phrases are offensive and cater to a minority populations perceived views of racism or discrimination. Instead of expecting people to actually read what is intended, we allow them to scream foul because it's easier to apologize then actually hold people accountable for their own misunderstanding. We are allowing people to play the race card waaaaaay too much. It's not going to get better until we make it unacceptable to play the race card and start holding people to a higher standard as HUMAN's. Rudeness and racism knows no color or gender. Rudeness and ignorance is pretty much the one of the only things in this world that is non discriminant.

Elfmama

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #84 on: August 10, 2010, 11:54:31 AM »
Exactly, sabbyfrog.  Your DH can't use 'boy' in an entirely neutral way;  he can't say "Okay, I want you boys to settle down now."  Right?

Yes, it's extremely demeaning for a grown man to be called 'boy' when the speaker's intent is to show his dominance over someone he perceives as inferior.  But why in the world should that negate use of the word for people who ARE boys?
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Instead of expecting people to actually read what is intended, we allow them to scream foul because it's easier to apologize then actually hold people accountable for their own misunderstanding.
Exactly.  People are screaming and, for another example, demanding that Huckleberry Finn should be banned from school libraries because of the casual use of the 'n' word, which was in common use at the time the book was written.    In some people's minds, if it uses that word, the whole work must be racist. If they would bother to actually READ the book, they would find that it is extremely condemnatory of racism and prejudice.  But they won't look past Chapter Two, where it's used for the first time.

I see the same thing here.  "The reporter described this as a circus, so he must be calling our children monkeys!"
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Slartibartfast

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #85 on: August 10, 2010, 12:17:13 PM »
Exactly, sabbyfrog.  Your DH can't use 'boy' in an entirely neutral way;  he can't say "Okay, I want you boys to settle down now."  Right?

Yes, it's extremely demeaning for a grown man to be called 'boy' when the speaker's intent is to show his dominance over someone he perceives as inferior.  But why in the world should that negate use of the word for people who ARE boys?
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Instead of expecting people to actually read what is intended, we allow them to scream foul because it's easier to apologize then actually hold people accountable for their own misunderstanding.
Exactly.  People are screaming and, for another example, demanding that Huckleberry Finn should be banned from school libraries because of the casual use of the 'n' word, which was in common use at the time the book was written.    In some people's minds, if it uses that word, the whole work must be racist. If they would bother to actually READ the book, they would find that it is extremely condemnatory of racism and prejudice.  But they won't look past Chapter Two, where it's used for the first time.

I see the same thing here.  "The reporter described this as a circus, so he must be calling our children monkeys!"

But for me, the crux of the issue is the reporter's word choice.  Was "circus" the best word?  I'm guessing no - there are plenty of other ways to say it was a fun atmosphere without using a loaded word.  If it really was a school carnival and there was a circus theme, then "circus-like atmosphere" would be the best phrase regardless of the racial baggage and I expect nobody (no rational person, anyway) would have had an issue with it.

Just about the only way racial epithets leave language is when there is a better way to express a sentiment.  "Retarded" and "gay" are still in widespread use (at least among the younger crowd) because so far, there no accurate synonyms to express that particular mix of "this is stupid, I don't like it, you shouldn't like it either, I accept that it exists but I want to express displeasure anyway."  On the other hand, "ni**er-rigged" has been replaced by "jury-rigged" or "jerry-rigged" and "jewed down" (like negotiating a price) has been replaced with "argued down" or "negotiated down", even though there are still strong racial sentiments about both those groups, because there are now synonyms available and people can express that particular idea without resorting to racist statements.  Of course, not everyone chooses to, but everyone now has the option.

whatsanenigma

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #86 on: August 10, 2010, 02:32:49 PM »
But for me, the crux of the issue is the reporter's word choice.  Was "circus" the best word?  I'm guessing no - there are plenty of other ways to say it was a fun atmosphere without using a loaded word. 

Well, yes. I agree with that. But how on earth was someone who is not a member of that culture, where it is apparently a loaded word, to know it was a loaded word?

In your other examples, like "retarded" and "g@y" and various things to do with being Jewish, those words actually mean something. Anyone would know that they refer to specific groups of people. But "circus"? As I have said, now that it's explained I think I kind of get it. But how to know in advance? The literal meaning of "circus" is, well, a circus. The literal meanings of those other things are actual terms that can be used to describe people.

And to be perfectly honest I don't understand how "retarded" and "g@y" have no succinct equivalents. The concepts were around long before those words were co-opted as a way of expressing them, and they are by no means necessary to use. Ever. People should say what they mean, not use words that don't even mean what they want to say, IMHO.

I'm just trying to understand, here, really. Because I don't want to offend anyone, any more than anyone else does, but I get more and more the feeling lately that language is being used as a minefield: You only find out what the rules are when you break them.

squeakers

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #87 on: August 10, 2010, 03:52:14 PM »
But that's just silly! The italian insult (which died out a long time ago afaik) is 'ginny' not 'Guinea.' Guinea is a Pacific island, and a small rodent.

Actually Guinea is used an an insult to Italians: "Pronounced "gi-nee." Came from "Guinea Negro" and originally referred to any Black or any person of mixed ancestry. This dates back to the 1740's. By the 1890s it was being applied to Italians--almost certainly because they tend to have darker skin than Anglo-Saxons/Germans. By 1911 the term began being applied to Hispanics, although the reference to Italians is the most common. Derived from Sicilian immigrants who paid in Italian currency, Guineas. Used in the film 'True Romance' as separate from WOPs from Northern Italy, and in The Godfather by a Northern Italian character when referring to Southern Italians and Sicilians" http://www.rsdb.org/

Last summer my youngest son's baseball coach got on the boys about their behavior in the dugout.  Some of them were climbing it and hanging off the fence, there was much yelling but not as in "good luck so and so" but more like "arrggghhh" "yaaaaww" and just general chatter not related to the game. He told them he was embarrassed that they had acted like a bunch of wild Indians.  Then he looked at me and turned 6 shades of red.

I handled it gracefully and said that yes, some of them had been quite loud and not gentlemanly. And that we would see him next game.. time to take my little Indian boy home.  (I am Native American.)

He has never used that term since.. probably because the boys who were so loud and boisterous dropped out. This year's team was much more behaved and focused.
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Sabbyfrog2

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #88 on: August 10, 2010, 04:31:54 PM »
I'm just trying to understand, here, really. Because I don't want to offend anyone, any more than anyone else does, but I get more and more the feeling lately that language is being used as a minefield: You only find out what the rules are when you break them.

That's it right there.

I don't think comparing "ret@rded" and "g@y" with "circus" are fair Slartibartfast, as those words have very clear meanings and they are obviously offensive. Anyone using them is either a) immature or b) looking to offend. (Though, g@y is debateable because it DOES have a legitimate meaning other than just Homosexu@l and that definition was around long before the currently used one.) My whole point is that common sense must prevail. The nit picking of this writers meaning over the word "circus" is really quite silly IMO. I don't disregard someones feelings about it, and am trying to understand, but I also have to wonder why such strong feelings over it to begin with. His meaning in the article was crystal clear from my understanding. I just can't grasp why it's such a big deal when the writers intent is perfectly clear.

Surianne

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #89 on: August 10, 2010, 06:05:18 PM »
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 "g*a*y" - they will all swear they don't mean anything by it, and calling their math homework g*a*y has no rel@tionship to homosexuality, but they're still unquestioningly associating "g*a*y" 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."

I completely agree.  I really don't think that the people who were offended by the poor word choice were looking for offense, I think they were legitmately offended. 

Did they overreact in asking for the writer's job?  Yes.  But I don't think it's fair to insult them (as many posters here have) for being offended in the first place.  Just because you (general) don't understand why it's offensive, doesn't mean it's not worth taking the time to understand the other viewpoint.