Author Topic: The power of words (race issues mentioned)  (Read 8882 times)

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Just Lori

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #90 on: August 10, 2010, 07:56:48 PM »
There are a lot of things in the whole circus argument that make no sense to me.  I'm not surprised, as I have spent my 44 years on this earth as a member of the race that continues to hold the most power, in politics, in business, and in the general society.  If I can be sensitive by avoiding certain terms - even if I don't agree with the rationale - why shouldn't I?  There are plenty of other words in the English language.  I get that niggardly has a completely different meaning.  But if I grew up hearing the n-word and being the target of cruel remarks that include the n-word, I think I'd have a painful reaction when I heard the word, even if it's part of another word that has a different meaning.  I personally prefer not to risk hurting someone by using a word that might evoke a painful reaction, even if it makes no sense to me.

Just my $.02 in a very interesting thread.

whatsanenigma

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #91 on: August 11, 2010, 08:17:20 AM »
 I personally prefer not to risk hurting someone by using a word that might evoke a painful reaction, even if it makes no sense to me.

This, as well as the rest of your post, makes complete sense.

But, as I have asked before, how are we supposed to know in advance what will provoke a painful reaction? We have been lucky enough not to have had those experiences that make a certain word a loaded one. There are some obvious words not to say, such as the n-word, but really, circus? I have really been struggling and I just can't see how the writer or anyone else not of that culture, anyone else lucky enough not to have had certain experiences, would suspect that "circus" was a loaded word and might "evoke a painful reaction".

So that is what bothers me so very much about the reaction of the people offended by "circus" who took it to that extreme. They expected someone from a culture who, both sides readily admit, does not understand the struggles of their own, just due to the unfair luck of the draw regarding life experience.

I don't want to push it so far that I think it's the responsibility of non-white people to educate us-of course we should try our best to see the other perspective, to go out of our way to find learning experiences in this regard.

But "circus"? How would any of us ever have known? Some patience would be good here.

Sabbyfrog2

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #92 on: August 11, 2010, 09:40:51 AM »
Surianne, no one is insulting the offended people. (At least not me) But I will admit that I am questioning their rational at the time of the article. I just get the impression that there is more to this than just the writers use of words. I don't remember but didn't this take place in Atlanta? And during the 90's? I lived in the Savannah area in the 90's and can remember there being a lot of racial tension in the 90's down there.  It is still a hot spot for racial issues isn't it? I am willing to bet that had a lot to do with this. People likely saw that phrase and used it as a chance to prove their "victim of racism" status. It really is quite common. People can get stuck in their victim mentality and can easily, even if unintentionally turn things into racial issues. Not because they like to cause trouble, but because they truly don't know how NOT to. It's ingrained in them to think that way. And I believe that because we, as a society, are trying so hard to make up for the past mistakes of the people before us, that we are afraid to actually say "No. That is not what it means and that's not what the intention was. Here is a dictionary. Read it again." Instead, we cow tow and apologize over and over because we don't want to be portrayed as discriminatory. And, in turn, the ones that create issues learn that all they have to do is scream racism and they will get what they want. It creates a vicious circle of entitlement and bad community relations.   

I am of the mindset that one should take something at face value and not assume their is a deeper meaning than there really is when it comes to articles like the one we are discussing. To jump all over the writers use of the term "circus-like atmosphere" is just something I can't comprehend, because again, I get what he was trying to say. I am really trying to understand but I just can't. Perhaps it is because I am not of that particular race but I don't know. I did discuss this with a friend of mine who is of another race though because I wanted her perspective. She is honest as the sun and will give it to me if I deserve it so I trust her judgement. I thought perhaps I just need a real life living breathing person to really explain this to me because I am just not getting it. Even she couldn't find anything wrong with the phrase, at least, not until I told her why people were so offended. Even then she said, "Really? I guess I just don't get it either because I honestly never would have thought of that until you mentioned it. But now that you mention it, I guess I can see why one or two people would be a little stung by it but I bet those people are the same people who find race in everything so to them, a white guy using the words "circus" to describe a black event MUST be racist. (sarcasm is all hers) Didn't people understand what he was saying? Don't they have enough common sense to get the message? Are people really stuck on circus? I don't know why all the angst. It sounds like a fluff piece, not a deep informational and reflective article into the neighborhood." (those were her exact words; FWIW, she is an African American middle aged woman)

I also believe, as my friend also mentioned, that people have a mob mentality when it comes to this stuff, especially when it comes to race issues. I would still wager that not many people thought about that term that way until it was actually brought up. Whoever made the initial complaint planted the seed for everyone else. Then they got in an uproar because they were told they were supposed to be upset about it because "Look what he said about us! He called us animals!" Most of those people probably just took the initial complainant at his word without actually reading it. Even if they read the article for themselves, the seed had already been planted. There is no way they could look at that article again and NOT see that.

I find that nowadays, people are focused just on the words that are written and not the context or content and that alarms me. Don't we teach reading comprehension anymore?  If a word even comes close to sounding like another offensive word, it's taboo only because it might offend someone? Do we really expect our writers to water down language to maybe avoid offending someone? It's impossible for anyone to know what is and isn't offensive anymore anyway. Like a previous poster said, language today is a minefield. And you don't know your in it until you have set one off. I think that was a great analogy. Most writers DO go out of their way I think to avoid using obviously offensive words/phrases. How is anyone to know that 'circus' is offensive in the context it was used though? I bet that the people who found it offensive didn't know it really was offensive to them until they saw it on paper. How can you (general) educate the polulation about whats offensive to you, if you don't even think it's offensive until you see it? What can the writer do at that point? Besides, how does one educate on what's not obviously offensive in certain communities anyway? What are we suppossed to do? Get a list from every community with what phrases and words that writers, journalists, and newspeople are not allowed to use because it is or might be offensive to them? It's madness!

I also noticed that some posters here are saying that there plenty of other phrases or words he could have used to describe the event, yet no one has provided any examples of what other phrases he could have used that would evoke the same images that "circus-like atmosphere" produced for me. When I read that, I think of: controlled chaos, fun, lots of stuff going on, the eyes don't know where to look, high energy event, geared towards kids and families, balloons and snacks and colors... it really gives me an image in my head and I like it. I think for a book fare, that is actually quite a good description. If it really was that easy to substitute his phrase, I am inviting the writers on here to do so, out of curiosity's sake. (Note: This is not in anyway a poke at or provoke our writers here. I really would like to see what the other writers can come up with on a creative level.)

May I also go OT for a second and commend you all for being so great in this thread. I have found it to be a very interesting thread and one of my favorites thus far. This very easily could have turned into a heated thread and been locked, but, while passionate, we have all remained level headed, polite, and calm, even in disagreement.  Kudos to you ehellions.

Just Lori

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #93 on: August 11, 2010, 09:43:09 AM »
 I personally prefer not to risk hurting someone by using a word that might evoke a painful reaction, even if it makes no sense to me.

This, as well as the rest of your post, makes complete sense.

But, as I have asked before, how are we supposed to know in advance what will provoke a painful reaction? We have been lucky enough not to have had those experiences that make a certain word a loaded one. There are some obvious words not to say, such as the n-word, but really, circus? I have really been struggling and I just can't see how the writer or anyone else not of that culture, anyone else lucky enough not to have had certain experiences, would suspect that "circus" was a loaded word and might "evoke a painful reaction".

So that is what bothers me so very much about the reaction of the people offended by "circus" who took it to that extreme. They expected someone from a culture who, both sides readily admit, does not understand the struggles of their own, just due to the unfair luck of the draw regarding life experience.

I don't want to push it so far that I think it's the responsibility of non-white people to educate us-of course we should try our best to see the other perspective, to go out of our way to find learning experiences in this regard.

But "circus"? How would any of us ever have known? Some patience would be good here.

I totally agree.  Way up above, I posted some suggestions for community and newspaper leaders to help both sides understand how things work and, hopefully, build some meaningful conversation and sensitivity. (Good heavens, I sound like a corporate manual.)

Seriously, I think all of us should be open to more conversations, much like the one going on in this thread.  I think if someone accuses you of using a racist term (and assuming you're not using it in a racist manner), the natural response is usually, "Racist?  Really?  You have to be kidding me."  But perhaps the best response is, "I had no idea this term was racist.  Why does this term bother you?" and to be respectful of the reasons, even if you don't agree.  I don't think you have to agree, but I think you could say you respect their feelings and will take them into consideration in the future.

Also, if someone is offended by a term, screaming "Off with his head!" is not going to facilitate open conversations and mutual respect.  This whole episode was handled poorly on both sides, I'm afraid. 


Surianne

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #94 on: August 11, 2010, 12:18:51 PM »
Surianne, no one is insulting the offended people. (At least not me)

Actually I noticed a lot of insults throughout the thread.  This one I found really offensive and insulting:

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.


Not your post, Sabbyfrog (I'd have to go through yours to see if I found any insults, but I don't remember you saying anything like that and I think you've been respectful), but this and a few other comments were extremely dismissive and insulting. 

I don't think that kind of comment is helpful at all, and it only leads to more resentment and problems.  It's better to try to understand why the comment is offensive than to say the people being offended have something wrong with them.


whatsanenigma

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #95 on: August 11, 2010, 12:25:24 PM »
Surianne, no one is insulting the offended people. (At least not me)

Actually I noticed a lot of insults throughout the thread.  This one I found really offensive and insulting:

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.


Not your post, Sabbyfrog (I'd have to go through yours to see if I found any insults, but I don't remember you saying anything like that and I think you've been respectful), but this and a few other comments were extremely dismissive and insulting. 

I don't think that kind of comment is helpful at all, and it only leads to more resentment and problems.  It's better to try to understand why the comment is offensive than to say the people being offended have something wrong with them.



Might it be more fair to say that it's not true that anyone finding racist connotations in the word "circus" is "trying really hard to get offended", but that anyone demanding more than a simple, sincere apology and an attempt to open the conversation to increase understanding, especially when the actual demand is that someone be fired, is, in fact "trying really hard to get offended" and really does need to take a "good long look at themselves"?

That might just be splitting hairs, though. Please correct me if I have it wrong.

Surianne

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #96 on: August 11, 2010, 12:39:50 PM »
Surianne, no one is insulting the offended people. (At least not me)

Actually I noticed a lot of insults throughout the thread.  This one I found really offensive and insulting:

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.


Not your post, Sabbyfrog (I'd have to go through yours to see if I found any insults, but I don't remember you saying anything like that and I think you've been respectful), but this and a few other comments were extremely dismissive and insulting. 

I don't think that kind of comment is helpful at all, and it only leads to more resentment and problems.  It's better to try to understand why the comment is offensive than to say the people being offended have something wrong with them.



Might it be more fair to say that it's not true that anyone finding racist connotations in the word "circus" is "trying really hard to get offended", but that anyone demanding more than a simple, sincere apology and an attempt to open the conversation to increase understanding, especially when the actual demand is that someone be fired, is, in fact "trying really hard to get offended" and really does need to take a "good long look at themselves"?

That might just be splitting hairs, though. Please correct me if I have it wrong.


I'm not sure I understand what you're asking, but yes, I think you are wrong -- to me the poster said very clearly "ANYone finding racist connotations in..." and was not talking about the way they reacted, but the simple finding of the racist connotation.  So for example, several posters in this thread (including me) who understand the offense should "take a good long look at [ourselves]," according to hobish.  I find that to be extremely insulting.

She did not say "Anyone calling for the firing of this writer based on a misunderstanding should take a look at themselves."

AM in AL

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #97 on: August 11, 2010, 01:17:50 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.

POD POD POD. "ret@rded" and "g@y" are clearly insults - applied to anything that the user deems stupid, silly, childish, out-of-fashion, uncool, etc., etc., etc.... To most people a "circus atmosphere" connotes a noisy place with a lot of things happening.

The discussion regarding "boy" is also interesting - I have a 7-year-old AA son. He is a boy. I refer to him as my son, my kid, my child -- and my boy.

 

whatsanenigma

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #98 on: August 11, 2010, 02:08:31 PM »
I'm not sure I understand what you're asking, but yes, I think you are wrong -- to me the poster said very clearly "ANYone finding racist connotations in..." and was not talking about the way they reacted, but the simple finding of the racist connotation.  So for example, several posters in this thread (including me) who understand the offense should "take a good long look at [ourselves]," according to hobish.  I find that to be extremely insulting.

She did not say "Anyone calling for the firing of this writer based on a misunderstanding should take a look at themselves."

Oh, sorry, I will clarify what I meant. I wasn't asking about the original person's intentions who posted that quote, because I of course do not know what they were.

I was commenting more in general, to ask if yes, it is possible to overreact to an offense, and possibly to even enjoy being offended, and that this would be shown in what some of us might consider outrageous requests for remedying that offense.

I might not understand why someone is offended by a thing but I will certainly try to see it from that perspective and remedy how I think about the situation, to avoid giving offense in the future (though, of course, not being a member of that culture, I can never say "I know just how you feel now!" because that would actually be pretty insulting, I think). And someone politely correcting something I have said, with the assumption that I just didn't know other connotations it could have, the assumption that I actually DON'T want to give offense, and so I will be grateful for the information, I would welcome that.

But for someone to assume I intended to offend them, as I assume was the case in the story in the OP, that an attempt to offend was assumed, and to basically say I'm a racist when I'm not, that's a different thing. I think there is a point where we all need to learn to graciously ask for, give, and receive sincere apologies, and use the learning experience productively, and not demand extreme things like somebody getting fired, or even publicly labeled "racist".

The PP's quote you referenced just made me think about that, and where and how, and if, we draw these lines.

ETA: Meaning, also, that it's not those who take offense to things such as "circus" that need to "look hard at themselves" but instead, those who demand really intense things to compensate for being offended, and who automatically assume the worst of the offenders.
« Last Edit: August 11, 2010, 02:11:01 PM by whatsanenigma »

Surianne

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #99 on: August 11, 2010, 05:57:42 PM »
Whatsanenigma: Ah, gotcha now!  Yes, in that case I agree with you.  And I think that likely if the public response had been critical but not over-the-top and demanding firings, likely the writer would have thought about his word choices more and would be less likely to dismiss the complainers as crazies--which is more productive for both sides.

wolfie

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #100 on: August 11, 2010, 06:23:50 PM »
(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.)

The same is true for the word retarded.

baglady

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Re: The power of words (race issues mentioned)
« Reply #101 on: August 11, 2010, 11:21:48 PM »
(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.)

The same is true for the word retarded.

And both those words are still acceptable when used to refer to the appropriate people. It's not wrong to say "Bob is g*a*y" if he is homosexu@l, or to say, "Sue works with people who are mentally retarded." It's when the words are used as an insult -- "that movie is g*a*y," "that song is retarded" -- that the insult factor kicks in. (Yes, I realize that "retarded" is falling out of favor, but there are still many organizations/government agencies that use some variation of the R word in their names.)

And yes, both those words have meanings unrelated to describing people. g*a*y means happy. Re***d (the verb) means to slow. (Try using the musical term "ritard" with a high-school choir or orchestra!)

Words are words, and it's all in how you use them. And sometimes people are sensitive about certain words. The polite thing, when confronted with a word that (generic) you has an issue with is to point it out to the user, accept his apology/explanation that he didn't realize it was a loaded word, and move on.
« Last Edit: August 12, 2010, 08:56:43 PM by baglady »
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