Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The N word

On Wednesday the NYT published a front page article about first year college students being taught about cultural sensitivity.

The question posed by a white female student was whether it was Ok to use the N-word when she was singing along to music in her car, or with a group of her friends (one assumes she would say the word because it was a lyric in a song; let's not lose track of the idea here and postulate she is rolling down her car window and yelling it to passing motorists.)

"Unequivocally no" was the answer.

As a farmhand in the field of language, a lover of words, and a struggling juggler of nuance and meaning, this kind of "unequivocal" pronouncement makes me crazy.

The article goes on to say that "you guys" as a way to address a group of mixed gendered individuals could be considered sexist.

Since I say "you guyz" all the time on this blog, I was understandably hot under the collar about this pronouncement from on high.

The reason this makes me crazy is that "rules" like this, pronouncements from the keeper of the diversity flame, actually DEFEAT the entire purpose of sensitivity training which is, or should be, to teach someone to THINK!

The reason the N-word is not used in polite conversation by civilized human beings who are NOT African-American is that we understand it is a word with an ugly history. That it has been embraced by African-Americans and reclaimed from that history is THEIR victory not mine. I don't get to use that word as though that history no longer matters.

BUT, when I listen to gangsta rap (and yes I do, and yes I love it) and I perhaps sing along in the privacy of my home, indeed I might say that word.

In the presence of other people, probably not.

And that's not because someone told me not to do it. It's because I've actually thought about this, and decided not to.

And diversity training that focuses on rules and not thinking about other people is exactly the road to that leads us to people disparaging "political correctness" rather  than embracing multi-cultural civility

It's incredibly rude to ask if you can touch anyone's hair, let alone a person of a different race. Sensitivity training should teach you WHY that is, not just not to do it.

It's incredibly rude to ask about someone's ethnic background unless you are a medical professional asking about diseases associated with certain population groups. Again, sensitive training should teach you why, not just not to do it.

When someone uses race and gender pejoratives in the political arena, sensitivity training should have taught you how to recognize them for what they are: weapons.

And it's cultural cowardice to bowdlerize Huck Finn even when we're all offended now by the language in that book. Sensitivity training should teach you why that is, not encourage it.

I was talking about this very topic with a respected colleague and she had a very interesting opinion on this, reprinted here:

You know what drives me crazy about these things? It intellectualizes connection and empathy. Sometimes conflict, getting it wrong (esp as a member of a dominant/majority group) is part of that, because you get feedback from people you offend. 

But trying to catalog every single thing that maybe will offend someone, somewhere? How effin' exhausting and futile. It misses the point so badly. Maybe the urge towards this is partly because kids are now growing up in a world where SO MUCH (most, even?) of their interactions are digital, so things like body language and facial expressions and reading the room are things they just never learn? 

But shame on the adults in these settings for not saying "Listen to people. Read books and view art that is made by people who are different than you. Get offline and fucking figure it out and if you get slapped on the wrist, make it your goal to not let defensiveness be your first reaction. You can be wrong and also not be a horrible person." Shame on them for guiding kids towards a place where they think that there's an actual list of "Things One Must Not Say" that they can just blindly follow. Which, you know, is also exactly the same as censorship.

What a horrible way to be.

Yes, punish racist rants and racist behavior! But saying "You guys" and writing swastikas in poop (WHICH REALLY HAPPENED--expel those assholes, yes!) are just not the same things. 

I realize some of you will have opinions on this which vary from mine. I welcome your comments. The only requirement is you express yourself clearly and without vitriol. Civility is enforced here, but that does NOT mean we will limit the opinions to mine, and those who agree with me.

Have at it.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Bowdlerize, my new word.

Like the abridged Bible and Reader's Digest Condensed books, sounds like the Monarch Notes of literature and life.

Hey guyz, play nice today.

MA Hudson said...

Whoa - this should be good!

mhleader said...

Gosh, you mean I'm supposed to be considerate of other people's FEELINGS? Try to UNDERSTAND them and where they've come from? EMPATHIZE with someone different than me?

Who knew?

And here I thought that kind of consideration, understanding and empathy was supposed to be restricted to the kale-eating vegan inhabitants of Carkoon who watch only G-rated Disney movies while denouncing the homoerotic messages of Teletubbies and Bert & Ernie.

I'll have to expand my consideration, understanding, and empathy. Maybe I'll include kale-eating ovo-lactarians as well. Though...that's really pushing my boundaries.

nightsmusic said...


That is the extent of my comments on this subject today unless someone wants to start picking on the fact that I am completely insensitive and have now relegated camels to the derogatory symbol of being only humps for Wednesday's and nothing else.

JeffO said...

Bravo, Janet.

I touched on this earlier this week on my blog in discussing trigger warnings. Sadly, actually THINKING about things seems to be a dying art.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Hey mhleader, we don't only watch G-rated on Carkoon. Just last night we hung up a sheet under the palm trees and projected National Geographic's latest film on the reproductive lives of quadelapods.

Yes we do sell popped kale and salted limas at the refreshment stand but regarding today's topic...

As purveyors of language we all know which words singe the soul. Just because we hold the match does not mean we should light it.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Don't forget about Lionel Shriver's speech...

But anyway. I use "you guys", always have and probably always will. Granted, I'm frequently the only female in a group of guys (a couple of Mondays ago at our Shadowrun game, one longtime player remarked how unusual it was in his experience to be sitting down with not one but two ladies to game), so the guys don't care.

And I think one should not be afraid to sing along with the lyrics of a song one likes.

(I myself tend not to be into rap, but in case anybody's interested, my household recently discovered a somewhat metal band called Baroness and I like them quite a lot. "Morningstar" is my new favorite song.)

I'm actually known for accidentally saying horrible things to people. I'm not saying it to brag, it's really been a problem in the past. If I'm not paying attention, what's in my brain comes out of my mouth, frequently in the exact wrong way. Developing and maintaining a verbal buffer takes a lot of energy, especially when also keeping a running tally of what might offend who. But it's also worth it to me, to maintain the people around me (and/or my employment), so I try very hard.

When writing, there have been times I haven't pursued a story that's occurred to me, because it didn't seem enough like it was "my" story (which is why I brought up Lionel Shriver at the top of my comment). Just because, intellectually, I know about something (and I know about a lot of things), doesn't mean my voice is necessarily the correct one, or the best one, to expound upon it. And I don't like doing things badly.

Susan at West of Mars said...

I'm sending this link to a friend of mine in HR. I'll let you figure out why, other than to flood him with links.

Colin Smith said...

I've often said to my kids, "It's sad if I have to make a rule about something, because it means you don't just do the right thing." I wouldn't say this is universally true; sometimes we need a rule because the prohibition is not obvious. But most of the rules, laws, etc. we have exist to because someone tried to get away with something that, given common decent behavior, they know they shouldn't do. I think this explains the existence of 90% of the legal codes in most countries.

The kind of political correctness Janet decries here irritates the goooglums out of me, too. If everyone considered others better than themselves, looked at one another as fellow creatures created in the image of Almighty God, and always looked (and promoted) the best in one another, questions like, "So, what's your ethnicity?" wouldn't be taken as offensive. (And I have to say, that does rankle me as much as I understand it, because I'm fascinated by people's ethnic backgrounds--I don't judge people because of it.)

So much more I could say, but I'll stop there... for now... ;)

Colin Smith said...

BTW, there is a small subculture on Carkoon that is vegan and watches G-Rated Disney movies (aren't they all PG now?). However, they are severely marginalized and mocked mercilessly by the majority Carkoon population. I won't repeat what they are called because... well, today's topic. :)

DLM said...

2Ns: "As purveyors of language we all know which words singe the soul."

Beautiful. Subheader nom from the peanut gallery.

Colin: "It's sad if I have to make a rule about something, because it means you don't just do the right thing."

Elegant reasoning indeed. I admire you even more.

It's a funny thing, but the very phrase "political correctness" has become a clarion call to a fight. Mostly used by those who hate to be constrained in one way or another, and often those who do NOT wish to think about the things they say, it is now an extremely loaded phrase and almost universally used as a pejorative. I think that's sad, because it turns thoughtfulness into factionalism.

It's been the same, unfortunately, with the word feminism. Enough people who ARE NOT feminists have defined feminism often enough and loudly enough, that people have come to actually believe that feminism means man-hating-angry-bra-burner. Which: sigh.

In my WIP right now, I am dealing with the way Theodoric the Great's image was rewritten after his death. In life, he was almost without a doubt educated. His policies were liberal and fairminded; he more than once taxed and required reparations for Jews, whose synagogues and persons were attacked in his realms. He was immensely canny, politically, and immensely proud of his Amal (so-called "barbarian") heritage, and dressed the part very purposely, of a new king of a new dynasty.

After his death, Theodoric was rewritten as a dirty Barbarian-with-a-capital-B. He has gone down in history as illiterate, which probably was not the case. This served the political expedients of those who did not care for his highly Romanized daughter's regency and eventual rule.

"Loaded" words get loaded to serve an agenda. To this *day* "barbarian" is an insult ... even as those once described by the word are forgotten in terms of their culture and society.

Salbert said...

Hallelujah sister. I agree with everything said. I would add, however, that there is an element of this generation needing to be protected from discomfort. Yes, thinking is uncomfortable and being exposed to certain words makes me uncomfortable. I should not have to be exposed to such hardships. Militant dogma is a far safer place to live.

Claire said...

I agree wholeheartedly with almost everything you've said there, Janet - although, like Colin, I find it sad that an enquiry as to someone's ethnic origin could be seen as 'incredibly rude' no matter what the context.

Kitty said...

Talk about timely… This article is dated 9/12/2016.

Campus Week: Lessons learned—and avoided—in a free-speech debacle in the Ivy League

E.M. Goldsmith said...

So much about this kind of thing turns me in knots because of what Janet's friend said- the rules made without any inclination to allow thinking or real communication to occur, slams up hard against censorship. It only serves to destroy diversity of thought and an open exchange of ideas. It keeps everyone walking on eggshells because people are now horrified they might offend someone or some group that might literally destroy their lives for doing so.

The current climate will not lead to an Utopia of diversity. It is tyranny. Period. It will lead to the exact opposite of diversity. Everyone will be cowed into having the exact same opinion about everything. No thinking allowed. No dissent tolerated. What a dreary gray landscape we are creating.

The aggrieved groups will become all they despise- they will turn into the oppressors they spent decades or even centuries trying to upend. And the so called "privileged" or majority will become enslaved in silence and guilt. Then the cycle will begin again. With hate, rage, and violence. Nothing is more dangerous than silencing someone. That is a wound that festers and can only be lanced with love.

We must learn to listen to one another, to talk to one another, to approach each other with love and accept that we will not always understand one another. That we may have different opinions, different ways of living, loving, and expressing ourselves. But with respect and tolerance we can walk our own paths without knocking someone else off their road. Perhaps, if we treat each other as individuals instead of groups, we might have a better result collectively.

Of course, I could be wrong. After all, my voice is not considered nearly diverse enough to have a valid opinion.

Susan Bonifant said...


To teach what to say, what not to say, while ignoring the thinking that produces those things is no better than telling our children to be silent if they can't say something nice.

A closed, stunted mind can learn to represent itself in a way that is agreeable, even as it withers in ignorance. I see it every time a public figure utters something odious but telling, then offers an apology, when what they really need is a course in how they got that way.

AJ Blythe said...

Oh wow, you do not want to get me started on this! As this post is going to exceed my daily limit threefold I'll try and restrain my rant. But political correctness has gone so far the other way it's scary. People aren't allowed to think for themselves, and if you try and offer an opinion - even a well thought out, reasoned one - you are quickly branded something nasty.

Our Australian of the Year (male) recently proclaimed that calling women 'guys' was sexist. Now, in Australia, 'guys' is used prolifically as a gender neutral term. Like our Queenly Shark, I use it to refer to my friends young and old, male and female.

So during the Olympics coverage there were rants by journalists about other journalists who referred to members of our Aussie team as 'guys'. This then led to rants about calling members of the female rugby team girls. They were disregarding the fact the team were referring to themselves as 'girls'.

A girls-only school then followed from that to ban the use of 'girls' to refer to the students (what the heck they are at an all female school if they aren't girls I have no idea).

We are being muzzled on the basis we might offend. And people are offended so easily. For something to hurt you have to let it be offensive to you. I'm not talking the big stuff here, but the things that can happen day-to-day (think the example above "But saying "You guys" and writing swastikas in poop").

As Janet said, we need to be able to think for ourselves and make decisions based on knowledge and experience. Forcing rules whereby the rationale is taken away isn't going to fix the inherent problem of ignorance.

Passing the soap box to next in queue before it is worn out...

Janet Reid said...

Claire, of course you're right. Inquiring about family origin isn't ALWAYS rude. I was thinking of people who asked my former assistant "where she was from" (the answer is Atlanta). Even so, with today's blended and mixed race families, an exploration of "from whence you came" may not always be welcome.

I found it interesting that "what are you?" (meaning Italian, Irish,Jewish, Dominican etc) is a perfectly normal question here in NYC. Coming as I did from the flotsam and jetsam of Oregon's scallywag settlers, my answer was "American" which just frustrated the person talking to me.

Was I rude? Were they? I'm not sure. What I do know is once I stopped dating, I didn't hear the question as much.

Timothy Lowe said...

This is freaking fantastic. This afternoon and tomorrow, I was set to teach "Is Huck Finn Racist?" They did some background reading from the intro to Michael Patrick Hearn's outstanding annotated version. Then I open up the blog and THIS? For realz?

I hope you don't mind if I send my students to your blog to peruse (and discuss) this entry, Janet!

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Brave Janet, what great trust you place in your community of commenters here.

I use "you guys" a lot with friends or family. It's an informal phrase, casual. I don't use it with parishioners because it's not professional. I may use it with clergy colleagues, depending upon who is present and how well I know them.

Nuance and meaning. That's the important piece. Nuance and meaning requires thinking about what we're saying. And sometimes we'll get it wrong.
Or, we might not get it all right.

I work within a diverse setting. In a recent sermon, I spoke about a local situation. In a small store, a child had been bullied by a white adult for being black. I asked the congregation, a diverse group of people, if they could commit to interfering if they ever witnessed a situation like this, to be advocates, compassionate for people who are bullied. A black woman later spoke privately with me and said, my suggestion was good but advocacy for the child could be pushed further by also letting the bully know they are out of place to harass a person because of their skin color. I appreciated her comment and later shared it, without use of her name, to the larger congregation.

Lucie Witt said...

I have a lot of feelings and opinions on this topic. I'm sure no one is shocked I'm a huge diversity advocate and that I give my students trigger warnings.

These are the rules I try to live by as a writer and human:

1. Be empathetic.
2. Do no harm but take no shit.
3. Actively think about my own prejudices and privileges. Identify them. Name them. Fight them. Talk to others who share the same ones.
4. Accept that I'll probably get it wrong a lot before I get it right.


Lucie Witt said...

As an aside I consider 'you guys' gender neutral but would refrain from using it if I knew it bothered someone in particular.

I of course don't run into this issue because I don't know why you'd say you guys when y'all is available.

DLM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amanda K. said...

The sad part is that thinking in general is no longer encouraged. Learn this for this test and then forget it, don't learn why it's important or why you might need it. Here's information on the internet, but don't think about whether it might be true or not. Here's a petition to sign or a campaign to join, but does your involvement actually DO anything? I fear for the future, really I do

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

When I was hired as the 1st female firefighter in a large department (waaay back in the 80's), my officers and fellow firefighters spent a lot of time and energy tip-toeing around what they presumed were my female sensitivities. While I spent a lot of time convincing them, mostly by example, that the ef-bomb and various other expressions didn't offend me. There was even some formal discussion about changing the word "manning" to staffing... absurd, in my opinion, and I said so. I recall one officer saying, "Okay, guys . . . and Melanie . . ." as he ran down the list of daily duties. I would speak up and say, "I'm one of the guys!" It was a strange and interesting time as we all found our footing on this new ground.

Donnaeve said...

I'm glad I paused, refreshed and read the newest comments.

Lucie I'm sort of laughing b/c I'm about to give you a "trigger warning," and it is - you will likely not agree with my position about these "safe zones." (last paragraph)

I'm supposed to be preparing for SIBA16...but...

I agree with what QOTKU has said. And, shouldn't it be obvious there is an incredible difference between what is hate speech and that which is every day speech? I.e. you guyz/guys...I mean, honestly. Sh*t like this makes me want to say, "get over yourself."

Let's face it, there can be no learning what to do, or not do without life experiences. Just like a child will learn not to touch a hot object by actually touching that hot object, that's the best way to learn. By doing. Seeing. Touching. TALKING.

What's driving me nuts are the "safe zones" universities are setting up for students to inhabit should they feel threatened in any way. And by threatened, I mean someone might say something someone, somewhere feels is offensive. Why can't "the offended" simply say, "I find that offensive and you shouldn't say it?" Why do we need coloring books, cookies, pillows, blankets and videos of puppies?

Some are calling this the "self-infantilization," of this generation, while creating the inability to cope in "real world."

There are no safe zones in the real world.

DLM said...

We're discussing thinking a lot today, and that is wise. But at the bottom of any offense lie feelings.

Whenever the focus is not on those who have a complaint, but ourselves - whether WE believe their issue to be valid, whether WE feel constrained by not exacerbating it, whether WE fear that accommodating others impinges upon ourselves - it's in the wrong place.

People do not get offended to offend others.

When someone says "I am hurt", to do anything but consider their pain is, simply, selfishness. If someone feels the question "What are you" is invasive and blunt, MY DESIRE TO KNOW is automatically irrelevant. I do not have the right to invade the matter of someone's most intimate being. My feelings, my curiosity, my sense of rightness absolutely must come after the question of causing offense.

Some people are sensitive. It is neither my right nor my place to say who is
"too" sensitive. You know why? I have not endured their pain.

... If it causes actual grief for someone to stop and think of others before ourselves, there is a problem.
... If our entire response to others' pain is our reaction to it, there is a problem.
... If we cannot listen because we are reacting, there is a problem.

We are authors. It's our job to reside in others' heads. Not theirs to come live in ours and accept that.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Lucie, I am going to frame those 4 rules and post them in my study. That is a beautiful and loving way of addressing this.

Mister Furkles said...

The problem is one of objectifying ethnic groups and treating them as a vast alien tribe. If you treat people you meet as individuals you will not be insensitive to them. The college types who insist on training students to be 'polite' in referencing ethnic groups are the other side of the same coin. They are a problem because they are still thinking of various ethnic groups as a different tribe. This does not mean that there are no ethnic groups but that they consist of individuals with a similar background who may share similar problems.

There is nothing wrong with using “guys” to refer to people of both sexes, especially if you know them. This began in the 1950s in California and by the 1960s in the rest of the USA. It is a bit better than “you all”. It is certainly better than “people” because “guys” is familiar and friendly. The word “people” to refer to others in second person easily slides into “you people” which objectifies them.

Excessive “sensitivity” becomes insensitivity.

Lucie Witt said...

Donnaeve, I'm laughing at the trigger warning."

I have no problem with safe spaces. They're typically a spot for private conversations. I just don't get the uproar. It's quite frankly weirder to me that people feel entitled to have access to all conversations.

Same for trigger warnings. All they really mean is "I'm giving you a heads up about content."

An example of how I use them in my classes is when we study cyber crime. I tell everyone the material on child pornography is graphic and if you're a survivor and find it too difficult to read to let me know and I'm provide alternative reading. To date I've taught multiple survivors. None have opted out but all have told me the heads up helped and was appreciated.

Lucie Witt said...

EM, thank you 😁

DLM said...

Lucie, I think you have the essence of a trigger warning managed perfectly. It's not that sensitive people cannot take certain subject matter at all; it is that, if they don't know it's coming, they will have a much harder time regulating their response to it, and their sensitivity may become pain and overwhelm them.

Like you, I find the idea of all-access a bit perplexing.

And yes, your four rules are wonderful!

Unknown said...

My husband's parents came to the US from Shanghai to attend college, and my husband was born in America. It drives him crazy when people ask him if he's ever been "back" to China, or where he's "from" as if he is somehow less of an American. I am very interested in other cultures, countries, and languages. I admit to being one of those people who ask about people's backgrounds. I admire people who are bi-lingual and can switch easily between English and another language. As a white person, I've lost any cultural identity that isn't just plain American. I have no family traditions from the five or so European countries my relatives came from. My family has only spoken English since my grandmother's grandfather arrived in the US from Switzerland just in time to fight for Kansas in the Civil War. (He lost his hearing and never learned English). I do my best to phrase my questions so I'm not denying anyone's American-ness, but I still get a chance to learn a little something about the world.

Colin Smith said...

Mister Furkles: That's interesting. If I say "you all" with an English accent, yes, it sounds cold and distant. But when my pastor looks out from the pulpit and addresses the congregation as "y'all" in his Southern accent, it sounds warm and inclusive. I've always preferred "y'all" over "you guys," and not simply because I've lived in North Carolina for 24 years. I find "Y'all" to be friendly, and it doesn't carry the potential to offend as "you guys" does. :)

JulieWeathers said...

The current political climate drives me out of my rabid mind. Straight out of my damned mind.

We have grade school kids being suspended because they chew a poptart into a vaguely triangular shape that resembles a gun. He's out of school and the school offers the other students therapy. Another kid gets suspended for playing with a nerf gun in his own danged yard, but it traumatizes the bus students I guess.

Then we have an attorney general telling the schools they are unfairly targeting minority students and it has to stop because their discipline ratios are off. A new rule is passed, they will no longer report incidents with minority students. What signal does that send to these kids? Do whatever you want, nothing will happen. And they are. When I see thugs harassing and threatening teachers with impunity it makes my blood boil, but there's a reason they know they're safe to do this. Nothing is ever done to them and I don't care what race, sex, or religion they are.

The teacher who nearly got beat to death in my youngest son's junior high was jumped by a bunch of girls. He was trying to break up a fight. He had no idea it was a trap to get a teacher so they could beat them up as an initiation into a gang.

We've ridden the political correct wagon so far into the sunset that we now live under a form of tyranny.

Bear with me, I'm not done.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

I love gansta rap and street lit. My favorite author this year is K'Wan Foye. This year he won a literary award for best street lit. He has published 13 books with Saint Martin's Press. The N word is used often in the dialog.

I've been thinking about the comment I wrote on Julie's birthday. I tried to contact her through her website but there is a bug in her contact page.

I commented, we need more diverse books. Later I laughed at my gaffe because her story is from the "wrong" side of the war and "diverse books" seems to be a synonym for minority authors. I should have said we need a new perspective.

But isn't that what it's about? A new perspective?

In Harari's book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind he cleary explains how the media, and experts — like doctors and scientits — constructed a ficticious social stygma on American and African natives. Experts wrote all kind of BS about physical and mental difference. They wrote so much of it that it became popular belief.

This politically correct list making is already a failed experiment.

As of two weeks ago the subject of mbracing social diversity was instituted into French schools starting at day care. Day care begins at 3 months old.

MA Hudson said...

DLM - nicely put.

The media has a huge role to play in the offence landscape. It straight up lies to make the headlines. The ban on 'girls' at Cheltamham Girls High was denied when the school was actually contacted. They explained that the ban had been requested by a junior teacher but was never actually endorsed by the school.

Also, the suggested ban on 'guys' by the Aussie Governor General was specific to male dominated workplaces and it was only suggested as a way to get people to think about how they use lauguage, not as a punishable offence. I use 'guys' all the time but maybe if I was the only female executive in a board meeting (ain't ever going to happen) it would feel pretty undermining.

I do understand the feeling of having to walk on eggshells but it seems a small price to pay for white, male, straight, or non-disabled, privilege.

Brenda Buchanan said...

This post is dead-on, Janet. The point of sensitivity training is to broaden people, to encourage them to consider perspectives that are not their own. It's unfortunate when it results only in people developing jerky knees, or looking for a handy-dandy rule book to memorize.

Thanks so much for this bit of thoughtfulness to ponder today.

MA Hudson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Roger Mohajir said...

Brava, Janet! Yours is a common-sense approach to mutual respect and freedom of expression. I go back long enough to remember when Bob Dylan's song "Hurricane" used to be played on the radio. For the younger folks reading the blog, the song tells the story of Reuben Carter, a black middleweight boxer who was accused and convicted of murder in NJ by an all-white jury with very little evidence. In the song, Dylan rhymes the lines: "To the black folks he was just a crazy nigger, no one doubted that he pulled the trigger." Some radio stations played it in full and some bleeped out the single word. Either way, I always sang all the lyrics. To do otherwise would have been missing the point. Like Janet, I wouldn't have done so in front of others. But that has more to do with my atonal singing that has been compared to a seagull gargling gravel than any embarrassment or aversion to causing offense.

Sherry Howard said...

I love that you've addressed this, JR! I have watched the younger generation in my world do a much better job of recognizing people as people, without concern for all those factors that categorize and stratify our world. There is so much I find lacking in our public schools, but I find attendance in a public school in our area prepares one to interact with all people. The awkwardness some of us felt because of self-imposed separations of cultures has been eliminated, and my heart sings to see the blends!

As a writer, I hope I never offend anyone! And I hope they tell me if I do. Off-topic a tad, but sensitivity readers mean the world to me when I'm making sure my diversity is written appropriately.

Something is wrong when fear of political correctness leaves us silent.

Diana said...

Whenever people ask me "where are you from?" I tell them I've lived in this area all my life. Except then they usually resort to asking where my parents are from. I've yet to find a flippant way to blow off that question so I usually cave and answer at that point.

I don't have much to contribute to the discussion at hand, but I do want to state this: explaining why something is offensive and/or to be avoided is all well and good, but no marginalized person is ever obligated to do so. Especially when the facade of "explain why you are offended" is so often used to hide what actually was a "here's why you shouldn't actually be offended."

Kari Lynn Dell said...

I encourage all of you to listen to this podcast by Sherman Alexie and Jess Walter, recorded after the Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket) debacle. One of the most important things I took from this was "If you're not of that culture, never presume to be inside the joke."

You'll have to listen to understand exactly what that means:

Colin Smith said...

Kari's link:

Yay! I got to linkify something for the awesome Kari Lynn Dell!! :)

John Williamson said...

“The article goes on to say that "you guys" as a way to address a group of mixed gendered individuals could be considered sexist.” The operative phrase here is “could be”. Some might take offense in the same way that some used to take offense when told that there was a rule in English such that “he” stood for both sexes. Thus a sentence such as “Each student must place his pen on his desk” used to be considered acceptable because the male grammatical gender denominated both male and female. (This notion mirrored the political landscape, a time when a man’s vote represented his own views as well as that of his wife, and so there was not seen to be any reason why the wife should vote.) Times have changed, as has the political and thus the cultural landscape. Now we are enjoined to say “Each student must place his or her pen on his or her desk.” And of course, since Old English didn’t contemplate the possibility of equality of the sexes, the search has been on for quite some time to find pronominal forms which stand for both. We usually get “Each student must place their pen on their desk” which isn’t entirely satisfactory.
My own observation is that females have gladly appropriated “you guys” as it represents a way of expressing parity with males, in the same way that many former “actresses” in Hollywood now refer to themselves as “actors”, with the emphasis on the second syllable – acTOR, not ACtor – just to make the point. This is important – to them no doubt, and possibly to everybody else as well – because there is an underlying assumption that “what you are called” might have a bearing on “what you are paid”. See, for example, the revelation that Jennifer Lawrence found out – via the Sony hack – that she was being paid considerably less than her male co-star on a movie they were featured in, one in which they both had equal roles. So language and personal denomination is important, and using language to delineate inferiority really does go hand in hand with how people treat each other.
As for the n-word, of course it is so incredibly toxic that it must never be used by whites the way it used to be – as an invective. There was an incident that took place in the White House during the LBJ administration when, in a heated exchange, Johnson referred to “nigrahs” in the presence of a black civil rights leader. Even though that was the Texas pronunciation of “negros”, it was uncomfortably similar to the n-word and LBJ apologized privately afterwords.

Donnaeve said...


'Same for trigger warnings. All they really mean is "I'm giving you a heads up about content."'

I think what differentiates what you do from what I'm talking about yours is absolutely necessary, considering what you teach.

It's been in use forever, really. There are shows on TV that give a warning - like "the following content is graphic and may be offensive to some viewers, etc."

My viewpoint is leaning more towards the inability to participate in challenging viewpoints...i.e. back to the self-infantilization, while creating an intellectually delicate landscape, where nothing can be challenged or argued for the fear of offending someone by simply stating your own position.

Cheryl said...

Lionel Shriver's speech was mentioned earlier, so I thought I'd link everyone to a critical response: Shrivers on Cultural Appropriation

Cheryl said...

Gah! Wish these comments had an edit function.

JulieWeathers said...


"As purveyors of language we all know which words singe the soul. Just because we hold the match does not mean we should light it."

I disagree.

Today, you don't have a clue which word is going to trigger someone into a melt down.

My son gave me a subscription to World of Warcraft, a multi player online roleplay game. We used to play it together for years. I haven't played it for a long time, but a new edition came out and he wanted me to play it.

In the chat channel one night a new player said, "I hate the way Blizzard (the game maker) raped professions."

Ho boy.

The social justice warriors crawled down his throat with both feet. They raked this poor guy over the coals and back again about how insensitive he is to women. I whispered (sent him a private message) him and told him to ignore them. He said he may have made a mistake by rolling on a roleplay server. I think he's since left. I haven't seen him around lately, but I haven't been around that much either.

Anyway, I finally said, "I've always found it interesting that females claim rape as a gender specific crime."

Wrong thing to say.

"Men can't be raped." blah blah blah

"They can, but little boys certainly can and they grow up to be men."

Finally I said, "You know I'm familiar with rape up close and personal. All you people throwing a fit out there are being ridiculous. Calm down. It's a damned word you're giving power to."

And for all those people who want to throw a fit about the word "rape". The man used it correctly.

Rape: an act of plunder, violent seizure, or abuse; despoliation; violation:
the rape of the countryside.

BTW, I will never use again. They define rape as sexual assault on a woman, which is pretty danged sexist.

Then someone said, "This is why no one wanted you to come back Gen. You're standing up for that jerk. No one wants you here."

Words are serious when you're playing a game. And these little powder puffs fly off on some kind of rant almost on a daily basis.

When Will first got back from Iraq he started playing again after almost a year of not playing. He got in a raid with some people he didn't know and was trying to get used to playing his rogue again. He missed a move that wasn't really important, but the mage threw a fit. This kid was cussing Will out, "You motherf***ing c***, did you just buy this character?" on and on. Will apologized and said he'd been gone from the game, calm down he'd try to do better.

"Calm down? I've got finals all this week and you're trying to screw up this raid. F*** you."

He demanded the raid leader kick Will or he was leaving. The raid leader apologized but said they had to have the mage.

So, this little high school kid is all stressed out because he's got finals and that gives him the right to cuss out a vet who just got back from Iraq. A vet who has a sign out front of the camp that says, "Complacency kills. Is today your day?" A vet who has gotten up some mornings before breakfast to go out and pick up body parts.

Dena Pawling said...

Some people are offended by the use of “you guys” and others are offended by the use of “girls”.

If you're a straight, white, Christian male, in some parts of the world today you can be beheaded. But here in the US you're not allowed to say something in favor of straight, white, Christian, or male, and you're not allowed to be offended by things that go against straight, white, Christian, or male.

People are people, and deserve to be treated as individuals.

There are real victims, and then there is victim mentality.

Lucie Witt said...

Nothing boils my blood like the assertion men can't be raped.

No legit feminist would ever argue such a thing. Until the 1970s all statutes governing crimes of sexual assault used language limiting perps to males and victims to females. It was the feminist movement that fought to change those laws so men could also seek justice. Now most states have gender neutral language and penetration covers more than just a penis.

1 in 10 rape victims is a man. The problem with that data is that rape is a wildly unreported crime. Many feminist legal scholars believe male rape is the most underreported crime in the country.

Of course I have to wonder if the people pushing for those drastically important language changes were told they were big babies and to toughen up. Something tells me they probably were.

DLM said...

Dena, you know I respect you immensely, but I must ask: where in America is it verboten to speak well of white, straight, Christian men?

With all diplomacy ... this *sounds* exactly like victim mentality - that men are under siege, and those who have been oppressed both past and present are the attackers. White, straight, Christian men have not been systematically disadvantaged and marginalized. I love an awful lot of people who fit in one, multiple, or all of these categories, but that doesn't mean I don't think they are born to privileges that some others do not have and may never attain.

The idea that allowing place and privilege to those who are *not* white, straight, Christian, or male is not an attempt to demean or diminish those people who fit in these categories. To stand up for oneself isn't necessarily a stand against others. There is no attack.

A desire for equality - for visibility - is not the same as a desire to enslave. It is not tyranny.

DLM said...

There are always strident voices - politically, socially, culturally. Not everyone who believes in any given thing should necessarily be consigned to a bucket where they are said to believe only in the most strident vectors of any given cause or community.

Just as I know for a fact that many of the people I care for are avowedly opposite my own point of view in many things politically, I also know they aren't rabid racists just because someone else who shares a label with them IS. I know that no label honestly contains nor describes even one of its wearers, really.

I also know that I've never really, truly been trodden upon, oppressed, repressed, or abused for who and what I am. Not really. I've suffered sexism and harassment and even some level of molestation, but I've never been irrevocably forced into any disadvantage I could not escape.

Some people have.

Why is it that recognizing the disadvantages of others brings out such fear in those who have not endured them?

Ryan Neely said...

Great discussion everyone. DLM hit my sentomens almost dead on, then I continued reading and decided I should take a different stance, and maybe bring this back to writing.

I recently finished a short story about a your woman growing up in the urban south during prohibition. It's a first person piece, and the character references an incident of several black men raping several white girls hoboing in Arkansas. The character uses The Word That Shall Not be Used to describe these men. It was a correct choice for her character--she's a racist in a time of great struggle for our country in the cultural sensitivity realm.

The first person to read this story told me that, because if the use of that one word, she would never read anything I wrote again. She suggested that, no matter how appropriate the language is for the character and the story, as a 2016 author, I should be more sensitive and (at the very least) have a second character explain how said language is wrong.

Sherry mentioned above that she hopes she never offends anyone in her writing. I'mean not quite the opposite. I don't go out of my way to offend people, but I'm not going to curtail my writing in an attempt to not offend everyone.

And there's my point. No one can know who is going to be offended by what (and honestly, so many PC Warriors out there today are offended, not for themselves, but for others--with whom they share no cultural background--just for the sake of being "culturally sensitive), who can tell what is going to offend someone and what isn't?

The take away is this: be yourself. Communicate the way you've been taught, whether that means how you were raised, or through an awareness brought about by interactions with others. It is okay for people to be offended. Being offended should make us think and examine the reasons for our viewpoint, but being offended does not automatically make us right.

Each of us views the world through a prism of personal experience. Just as maybe we should take that into consideration when speaking to someone from another culture so as not to offend that person, so, too, should that person consider the same when interacting with us so as not to be offended by our ignorance of a certain "insensitivity."

Unknown said...

North Koreans were recently warned against 'hostile' speech, which included ironic or cloaked, sarcastic remarks implying that life was not entirely rosy under their Dear Leader.
Of course, most of the people in this country don't want to make offense and want to get along voluntarily. Always, there will be some senseless jerks who we can identify and dismiss pretty quickly.
Yet more recently it seems as if the goalposts of acceptable speech shift randomly and with little warning. Whether the dictate comes from the State or from Academia, is it really different?
In case you think that the difference is that the State will enforce with law and order punishment and that Academia can merely shame, witness the mesh of these entities in our public schools where the next generation is forming. Words that we have taught our kids are wrong, hurtful and/or inappropriate--and that they would never say--are okay for others to say. One kid would get suspended, and another would get a pass. I've done my best to explain the nuances and history, but kids have an inherent and rigid sense of fairness.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I think Trigger Warnings have been...mis-spun? My understanding is the point of trigger warnings is not to coddle or shelter, but rather to give people who have issues (using "issues" not to denigrate, but to be as broad as possible, because "triggers" can be related to depression, anxiety, PTSD, a range of things) with certain things the heads up and thus the space to process whatever content follows with the tools they have in place, or if absolutely necessary, to avoid said content. Same with safe spaces. There are people who feel unable to exist safely in the world at large as they really are, and have their guard up an excruciatingly long time, so they don't lose their jobs, their homes, their families...why would I want to deprive that person of a place where they can relax, and unwind, and just exist? I'm thankful that, for the most part, I can take "just existing" for granted.

Julie: not playing WoW lately? You're missing out on the latest expansion furor...that's what my household (other than the dog and I) have been occupying themselves with. One of our housemates just renewed his subscription, the other I hadn't seen for 3 days. I stopped playing years ago, but I only ever played it as a single player game, zero interest in raid culture (Though in Final Fantasy XI, years prior to that, I was part of a regular leveling group. My fiancé still says, wistfully, that I was the best tank he'd ever seen.)

Craig F said...

One man's ceiling is another man's floor. Remember that. You can make all of the politically correct statements you want on the top floor but what are they when they reach the ground floor. Not much.

Thinking people have always been a serious minority. It is worse now. Even if you try not to offend people you will find some joker who will say that you disrespected them. Sometimes the harder you try the deeper the hole you dig. Do what you can to make things better and hope the world cycles around to being better in its own right soon.

When I was younger I met several people who could not respect me until I told them to fuck off.People like that have not gone away. In fact they seem to be resurging. Try to be unoffending in a Walmart sometime.

Still though it is the job of we who might be able to shape the world to try. It is a hard row to hoe because there are trolls under every bridge. Remember that you will always offend someone.

Can we do politics tomorrow, please? It is safer than this subject.

JulieWeathers said...

This is the same vet who was told by a professor, "If there are any vets in this class, you can leave right now. I won't have myself or any of my students put in danger by you people."

We've got colleges who protest against Condi Rice speaking at their college so she graciously backs out of the speech and gives in to them. She shouldn't have because it only encourages them. While it's perfectly acceptable to have a cop killer to give a commencement address. What a great role model.

The pendulum has swung so far trying to be nice to certain factions now that it's perfectly acceptable to be blatantly anti-Semite on campus and elsewhere.

Thank God for the University of Chicago which may be the only sane university left in America.

The NFL won't allow football players to wear shoes with "Never forget 9-11" on them or sticker on their helmets supporting the Dallas police after the massacre there because it's political, but it's perfectly fine for a football player to wear socks depicting cops as pigs and for football players to refuse to honor the national anthem.

A few weeks ago someone ranted about if you're not Native American you can't have spirit animals. Stop stealing other people's cultures.

I, foolishly, said, "Other people and cultures have spirit animals."

I know this because I have some friends who are pagan, I followed with interest when the military approved the hammer of Thor symbol being allowed in military cemeteries, and we did a lot of research on Norse mythology and religions for Raincrow games. One of the things we did in the game was add the spirit animals as part of a power boost as it went with that particular line of lore.

Well, as you can imagine, the fight was on. "No they don't! Natives are the only ones who have spirit animals. Stop lying."

"Vikings do."

"I suppose you know vikings. hahaha."

"Actually, yes. Here's the link to the military approving the symbol for Odinism."

I despise the word n*****. I don't care who uses it and I think it's the height of hypocrisy to get offended if someone else uses it when you use it yourself all the time.

That being said, I used the word in Rain Crow recently and I was surprised when I did. Lorena is talking to a young woman who is a former slave from Rosemount. They grew up together.

Lorena asks her if she still spits like a cobra.

I was sure they could hear her laugh all the way downstairs. “Not very often, ma’am. I swan. Why my daddy taught me that. I did spit one man in the eye the other day who thought he was going to lay hand on my person down at the market. Called me a uppity n*****. Might be, I said, but I ain’t your uppity n***** and you’ll keep your hands off me.”

I'm not even sure why that rolled out, but it did.

In Sarah Morgan's diary, she's talking about them escaping from Baton Rouge I think. They were constantly on the run for a year. They're walking along the road, just a bunch of young women and her mother. She says they see an older negro man approaching. (I was surprised that she always referred to blacks as negroes.) Anyway, he gets closer and they're afraid as there are wandering outlaws. She calls out, "Hello, Uncle, where are you going?" (Another surprise to me and this was from more than one source, they usually referred to older black people as auntie or uncle.)

"No need to be afraid, miss. I'm a sesech n*****." He goes on to explain where he's going and where the Union troops are to avoid.

Anyway, I guess my dislike of the word is mine to deal with. As much as possible, I won't use it in Rain Crow, but the fact is, it was a word of the time. I can't avoid it completely.

JulieWeathers said...


Yes, this is the best expansion wow has come out with in my opinion. The mechanics are mind boggling and the writing is decent for a change.

I hadn't planned on playing it any more. I played it when it released, but figured I had other things to do and let my time run out. My darling son bought me a time card for my birthday. I said, "I appreciate it sweetheart, but I hadn't really planned on playing any more. I can be doing more productive things."

"Just don't play ten hours a day. Put on your parental timer."

He's such a good son. heh

Stacy said...

As someone partially and noticeably deaf, I have a full interest in this discussion. Most days I meet people who mean well and who only need to be told, "Hey, I depend on lip-reading to hear what you're saying. And I depend on arm-waving for you to get my attention." After that, most people figure out what to do pretty quickly and my hearing loss is no big deal.

Every once in a while, though, I meet someone who acts like deafness is contagious, or is literally afraid to talk to me because of it. Or they will ask a bunch of rude questions. ("How did you lose it?" As if it's any of their business.) My favorite people are the ones who assume I know sign language. (I don't--if someone could send Nyle Dimarco my way for a few lessons, I'd appreciate it.)

From a rational perspective, I know not to be bothered by any of this. But from an emotional perspective--when I meet someone who clearly wasn't raised right--it still hurts. I don't think there will ever come a time when I don't feel that something is wrong with me in those moments, no matter how quickly that feeling passes. (And it does pass quickly.) I don't think that's being overly sensitive. I give people the benefit of the doubt until they prove me wrong, and I would guess that's true of most people of color. That's been my experience, anyway.

I think a lot of these "rules" come from exhaustion. You get tired of "educating"--as if you could do such a thing in a passing experience on a train or in a coffee shop. You get tired of pointing out what should be obvious to anyone with a brain and a heart. So you put it out there as a guideline. (And really, I do think all this PC stuff is like the "rules" in Pirates of the Caribbean--they're more like guidelines, anyway.) I know it's frustrating for everyone. But trust me when I say it often goes beyond that for those who have to continually endure the little indignities that go with being an other.

RosannaM said...

I am going to have to start getting up earlier!

I was just delving into the 52 comments that were already posted, when our duck, Eclair, started quacking insistently. She has been sitting on a nest of eggs, barely coming off to eat and drink, that I felt it necessary to interrupt what I was doing and go get her some food. She is coming to the same conclusion that we have, that her eggs will not hatch (no drake in sight) and been kicking one egg out at a time, now down to one, that my heart cannot bear to cause her extra pain by making her wait for breakfast.

The key thing should be that we approach being in this world empathetically. We will not always get this right. Either because of ignorance, or laziness, or thoughtlessness. Once I used the phrase 'cotton-picking' about something and was called out on it. This was a case of using a phrase without understanding its origin or how it could be construed to be offensive. I haven't used it since.

But there is a ridiculous push now to find or take offense in so many things. How sad. It serves to only distance us from each other even further, instead of allowing us to talk it out.

'You guys' is offensive? Puhleeze! I use this all the time and not just in a mixed gender setting. I have said it to my 3 sisters. "Where do you guys want to eat?" If I was Southern it would be y'all, which is exactly how I use it if I am speaking to more than one other person.

And don't get me started on not being able to say 'Ladies and Gentlemen' or 'boys and girls.'

Susan said...

I'm watching this thread closely but refraining from joining because I don't have much to add and can't quite formulate my thoughts coherently enough today, anyway. But thank you to everyone for offering your thoughts and voices. The only way through, the only way to be better, is by learning.

Julie: It's so interesting to me that you brought up the Vikings just now because a few minutes ago I saw Neil Gaiman announce on his FB page that he'll be publishing a book on Norse mythology. In the comments section, one commenter went ballistic because, from what I can gather, everyone will now be flocking to his religion with erroneous ideas that they glean from Hollywood and books (regardless of the fact that it's books through which we, ya know, learn). People were quick to defend the fact that it's Neil Gaiman--someone who has alluded to Norse mythology in most of his writing and has clearly meticulously researched the stories--as well as the religion itself. Many people commenting were, in fact, direct descendants of Vikings and followers of the Heathen religion and have no problem with--and were actually celebrating--this book. I felt like it was the perfect case study for what we're discussing today. I don't know anything about the Vikings or Heathenry aside from what I was taught in elementary school. But I'm glad to say I learned something today.

Lucie Witt said...

I know a woman in my local RWA chapter who will put down a book immediately if the hero smokes cigarettes.

I know another who will not read books that use the n-word.

It's interesting that only one of those personal choices bothers people.

I thoroughly encourage my college students to protest things they don't like. It's one of the most American things you can do. As is showing up and speaking your mind despite protests. I love the first amendment.

Unknown said...

It appears to me that, if you ban one group from using a particular word, but not another, then you are advocating the very thing you claim to be fighting against, aren't you? If you form the very biased opinion that my use of the N--word is always angry,prejudiced, or ignorant (without knowing the context in which it is spoken), is that a proper criticism, and worthy of censure? Either the word is so offensive it must be banned from our language, or we need to teach empathy and common courtesy on a regular basis - with respect and kindness - to ensure there is no malice of intent, without purging a particular word from a select vocabulary.

Honestly, I could use the word purple in such a way as to have someone construe it as pejorative.

CynthiaMc said...

How times have changed. My black girlfriends at school touched my long blonde hair and let me touch theirs. No big deal. They were curious. So was I. We both learned something. No one was traumatized for life.

As far as the N word, I disagree that some people should be able to use it and others not. It's either offensive or it's not. Every one or no one.

When I was in college the common wisdom was if you were offended about anything you needed to get over it. The world didn't revolve around you.

When I was in the Air Force I was one of the first women in my career field. Not only was I not catered to, I had to be twice as good. So I was.

My husband, despite the consensus being on more than one occasion that he was the best one for the job was passed over more than once because he was a white male and HR said they had to hire a black female or whatever minority they were lacking. The HR director told him his disadvantage was being a straight white male. He eventually quit trying.

My daughter was told by her high school counselor if she was black she would qualify for many scholarships but because she was white she was out of luck. To her credit, she worked part time and went to school part time.

I don't want to hear about white privilege from some quarterback who makes more in one season than I'll ever see in my lifetime (unless I write that best seller), especially when I'm working more than one job.

Beth Carpenter said...

My son was in a class working toward his Masters in Teaching. One student mentioned a nasty incident a few years before where someone shot paintballs at two Alaska Native men. Another student was shocked. "Someone did that in Anchorage? I'd expect something like that in the Valley. Or in Texas ..." and most of the class nodded.

Now why they felt, in a class devoted to cultural sensitivity no less, that it was fine to categorize people from the MatSu Valley and Texans as violent racists, I have no idea. Presumably because they didn't think.

Elissa M said...

I've debated chiming in because there's much I've wanted to say on this topic, but I'm sure I'll offend someone. And that is the exact problem. Being afraid to join a conversation because another person may take offense.

People who genuinely intend to offend don't care what others think. They'll jump right in, spew whatever filth bubbles out of their fetid brains, and claim victory if anyone finds them offensive.

Certainly people should be corrected if they've caused even unintentional offense. But these days one is apt to be pilloried as though the harm was committed with malice aforethought. The slightest fumble becomes proof that you're racist, sexist, homophobic, bigoted, jingoistic, any or all of the above, and that you should crawl back under the rock from which you emerged.

As others have said, censorship is the real danger of "political correctness". The bullied become bullies and the cycle continues.

I'm not saying people should never be offended or that they're overly sensitive if they are. But we should all be careful of the power we give to others when we allow their words to offend us.

Janice Grinyer said...

Empathy and the Golden Rule crosses all barriers, can heal relationships and is what civilization should be about. It has nothing to do with speech or literature and has everything to do with action.

We need to exercise them daily.

DLM said...

Ack, I can't read the article from here. Durnit.

One of the things I love about this community is OUR diversity. Julie and I are clearly unalike in our points of view on some things, but I don't feel dismissed by her outlook nor the lady herself, and I would not imagine I bruise her dainty sensibilities to speak of. :) I *like* her and love to hear that voice with which she's blessed. I cannot wait till she's the next NYTBSA in our group, and will be nothing but gratified in her inevitable eventual success. I took umbrage to the dismissal she received recently, not because we are alike but because she has inarguable integrity and reason, and the way she and I came to different conclusions about certain things is a point of fascination to me, not a point of contention. I learn from Julie, and Dena, and everyone here. If I were drinking to excess, be sure there would be an I LOVE YOU GUYZ (or guys) moment to follow.

There are a lot of folks at my end of the socio-political spectrum who can't be friends with conservatives because they are angry at feeling marginalized for one reason or another. That this is precisely the bigotry they find untenable in others seems entirely to escape them.

Before I met Mr. X, of whom I've spoken from time to time around here and on my blog, I dated a guy who was 'perfect for me on paper.' He was liberal and sensitive, a writer, sociable, emotionally open - all the check boxes you could ask for ( Oh my Maud, it was just awful.

Then along comes Mr. X. Registered republican, white, Christian, raised in a very conservative world, firm in his convictions. He's ruined me for any other man. Talking with him is never a drag, and neither of us has ever dismissed the points of view of the other. When we ever have had conflict, it's never been about politics nor social issues.

Two of my best friends, a married couple the wife of whom has been in my life for 36 years, people with heart and soul and the greatest loyalty and steadfastness I have ever known, are almost certainly going to vote for Donald Trump. I have argued on occasion with the husband about remarks he's made which are racist, but I've never schooled him nor presumed myself superior. I know his faith and his heart, and I know he's one of those "except for my friends" people whose prejudices are reserved for the unknown, not for PEOPLE.

My statements here, or on my blog, or anywhere else, about privilege or classism or sexism or racism, are hard for me. I consider it a part of MY Christian faith to question myself and to question judgmentalism. I also consider it my duty to consider the responses to what I have to say, because the fact is I can always be wrong. Despite what it may seem (I am fully aware I own a pungent personality), presumption of my own fallibility is my default setting.

I love the people here not only because they make me feel like I am not wrong, but also because they do it without necessarily agreeing with me.

Y'all have changed me, and I am grateful. I wish I could persuade y'all all to come to a JRW conference and we could hang out. My suspicion is there'd be hardly any black eyes in the bunch.

JulieWeathers said...


This is one reason I want to write the book with Gage and the Wonder grandsons. Gage is my deaf dog. I didn't know he was deaf when I adopted him, but he's deaf as a box of rocks.

I want to write a book with pictures showing the boys teaching him obedience and the signs for "sit", "come", etc. I have a twofold reason for wanting to do this. To show that deafness is a natural thing and to encourage children to get involved in sign language hopefully. Also, most importantly, to make deaf children think, "Look at that cool dog! He's deaf too just like me."

Secondly, to bring attention to less than perfect shelter pets that still make great companions.

My son used to rodeo with a boy who rode bulls and was deaf. It's amazing what people can do when they set their mind to it.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Thank you, Stacy. I am also hearing impaired and I appreciate the way you have dealt with your circumstances. And thank you for stating it all so well about the emotional perspective.

One of my adaptations, with some people, is to guess at words I have missed so I don't have to ask them to repeat the sentence again. Yes, a dangerous habit. This happens I see that they are exasperated that they have already repeated themselves once.

A former boyfriend, when my answers were weird because I had not heard every word in a question, would then loudly tell me 'that's not what I said' and loudly repeat the question again. Needless to say, he's former.

And then I have normal hearing adult children and good friends, who understand my hesitation, my guarded "oh," and repeat the sentence with so much empathy.

Noel (tell me now) said...

I don't think it's a problem in itself that people don't want to be hurt. It's a sign that people are standing up for themselves and at least hope others will listen. Regardless of how precious you might find the complaint, the fact that our society is at the point where we have these discussions is a good thing. (Remember living in the good old days when people didn't protest such trivial matters? Like when we were interning tnr Japanese, or napalming Vietnam, or...)

It's easier, for me, to let people have their say and then ignore it if "their say" seems ridiculous. People let their feelings out, the media wastes no opportunity to blow up a minor issue into something outrageous, and we the public are manipulated into clicking and commenting.

John Davis Frain said...

I try to teach my kids a simple concept: You don't get to decide what offends other people. You only get to respect their choice. And they should do the same for you.

It's different for me, however, I'm your father and this house isn't a democracy. You'll get democracy when you graduate to the real world.

I loved this from DLM:
When someone says "I am hurt", to do anything but consider their pain is, simply, selfishness. If someone feels the question "What are you" is invasive and blunt, MY DESIRE TO KNOW is automatically irrelevant.

I need to remember that advice, because MY DESIRE TO KNOW guides me too far sometimes, and instead of listening to an answer and observing body language, I'm gearing up for my next question.

Thank you, everyone, for your thoughts here. My guess is there are some thoughts being held back because this is such a mammoth topic.

Stacy said...

One of my adaptations, with some people, is to guess at words I have missed so I don't have to ask them to repeat the sentence again. Yes, a dangerous habit. This happens I see that they are exasperated that they have already repeated themselves once.

Lisa, I do exactly the same thing. Or, when I'm with someone I know well, I get them to "translate" by repeating it and reading their lips. It's odd, but sometimes I can be looking straight at someone and I still can't understand them if I'm feeling distracted. (Meditating daily helps me enormously with this.) I don't keep people in my life who make it clear my hearing loss bothers them, either.

JulieWeathers said...


"Someone did that in Anchorage? I'd expect something like that in the Valley. Or in Texas ..."

Yes, I just sighed when I read that. Having said that, there are. LBJ, though he is loved by liberals and blacks was as racist as they come. He may have apologized to the black minister for being offended, but he used the word N***** constantly and had no respect for them. "I'll have those n*****s voting Democrat for the next 200 years."

Anyone who thinks the great society program was because he cared, doesn't know him.

There are racists everywhere and every color.

JulieWeathers said...


That is a great article and spot on.

"Words—even provocative or repugnant ones—are not violence. The answer to speech we do not like is more speech.”

He's absolutely correct.

Even better, I learned two new words: Traducing and Fedayeen. I should have known the second.

JulieWeathers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Stubbs said...

Here is an alterative point of view for you: The politically correctness movement is a part of the liberal mindset and was invented in part as a battleground between left and right. That is why Donald Trump is the self-appointed potentate of political incorrectness.

I am neither a liberal nor a conservative but a Utilitarian. That is a seldom heard of position invented by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.

As a Utilitarian I favor some socialist ideas such as free public education K-12, which Republicans hate. I also appreciate the desire of Bernie Sanders to make all the bottom feeders in this country rich. But I am skeptical that legislating an increase in the minimum wage without regard to market realities makes any sense. I am also skeptical about his idea of giving everybody a free English degree at public expense. The yearning of conservatives to produce a permanent entrenched hereditary aristocracy is directly opposed to Utilitarian thinking. Yet Utilitarian is not conservative and is not liberal and it is not socialist. The objective is the greatest good for the greatest number.

That said, I think political correctness is about the silliest thing I have ever heard. If people want to improve their own lot by serving the general good, that is Utilitarian. If they want to waste their time obsessing over whether the word “guys” can appropriately be used to refer to women, or who does or does not use the “N-word,” that looks suspiciously like a distraction. If it serves the greatest good for the greatest number, it is Utilitarian. If it is a mere distraction and waste of time, it is liberal.

Brigid said...

Diane, I also greatly appreciated your 9:13am comment. Particularly, "We are authors. It's our job to reside in others' heads. Not theirs to come live in ours and accept that."

Beth Carpenter said...

DLM, I’ve been thinking about your statement, “People do not get offended to offend others.” I think that's mostly true, but I see people act offended in order to offend all the time. I live with an ESPN junkie, and see this scenario repeated often.

College athlete is caught on tape saying something. Person is offended. Athlete apologizes. Offended person accepts apology. Then the talking heads start their outrage inflation.

“He should be suspended for that.”
“No, he should be off the team.”
“His coach should be fired.”
“And the athletic director.”
“The whole athletic program should be suspended at that school.”

Which predictably raises controversy from fans of the school, which leads to more twitter traffic, yada, yada, yada.

There’s a lot to be said for thoughtfulness. Thoughtful people not only try to avoid hurting others, they think of ways to help. Thoughtless people don’t. That’s the difference.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Yowza, read some of the most recent comments, at work, can't read all yet. But, (God help me), I want to jump in.

Suffering does not make someone more worthy anymore than privilege disavows your needs.

I am flawed, I try to be nice, respectful and a bitch when bitch is called for. Right now I'm amazed this post hasnt run off the rails. But like I said, I haven't read all of you yet.

DLM thanks for the sub header nom.

LynnRodz said...

Janet, I don't see anything wrong with people asking other people where they're from. Why would someone assume it's a negative question when asked? The way you stated it makes it sound that way.

I've lived in a number of different countries and I've been asked that question my entire life. I've always looked at it as something positive...I'm different, they're intrigued. Here in Europe people ask me all the time. Could this be a no-no in the US? I don't think so because once again I get that question all the time when I'm visiting the States.

Years ago, I was waiting for a bus in downtown Pittsburgh one day (that's where I was born but hadn't lived there in decades) and a woman asked me where I was from. I said, "here." She told me, "you don't look like you're from here." I was curious by what she meant so I asked. Apparently I was dressed too European.

Again when I was in Mexico, I thought, surely no one is going to ask me where I'm from (my ethnicity is Mexican) but people kept coming up to me and asking, "where are you from?" I was in China and Thailand last year and people kept asking me. I'll be in Peru next month, I'll be curious to see if I'm asked there.

DLM said...
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Casey Karp said...

A particularly appropriate post for me, as my current novel-in-progress is set in 1946 and deals heavily with race relations.

Is there any way I could write this book without using the N word? Heck no. And a bunch of synonyms for it that are also (deservedly) no longer part of the approved vernacular.

I use 'em with restraint and consideration, but in a work that makes every effort to be historically accurate, arbitrarily ruling out those words--or any others--would make the book pointless.

Those words were used to be hurtful. To avoid them would make it impossible for the reader to properly empathize with--and understand the actions of--the characters who hear those words.

Will some readers be offended and stop reading the book? I'm sure they will. But I can't, and wouldn't want to, control them. It's my responsibility as an author to tell the story in the most effective fashion. If that means using "forbidden words," so be it.

DLM said...

So much brilliant writing here today. Which: duh.

Outrage inflation. Good Maud, that is gorgeous, Beth. And a dead-on observation.

Adele said...

Seems to me there are two different things here. There are antagonizers, those who discover a trigger word and then repeatedly use it in sadistic delight at creating anger or fear. These poor souls feel powerful because they've hurt someone or smeared poop on something! How tiny they must feel. Their behaviour is rightly censured but I can't help feeling sorry for them.

Then there are people who imagine the possibility of words creating fear or hurt, and want rules put in place to prevent it. I can't see that working; words change meaning and if you suppress that one another will rise to fill its place. I'd rather see human energy used in a positive way. If you're hurt by Janet's use of "you guyz" I'd rather support you in your quest for more stable mental health than support a rule that says Janet shouldn't use the term.

PS: Personally, I wouldn't say "you guyz". It's not the meaning. It's the "z".

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Julie Weather's 10:23,

Point taken.

I wonder if the high school kid would have done the same if he had to face to face his vitriol.

DeadSpiderEye said...

I've occasionally pondered the possibility that unequivocal is bandied so freely in such contexts to deliberately devalue the meaning of equivocation, so I had my cockles nicely toasted when you put it in quotes here.

Um yeah, it's a thorny issue isn't it really, you have to weigh the possibility of causing a genuinely profound offense concomitant with the risk of vindicating attitudes that are, let's face it, reprehensible in the extreme, with the danger of acquiescing to and the facilitation of, language policing.

Of course we know these concerns, not just over language but imaginary and symbolism too, are purely culturally derived and that rationally considered, we'd better off without such negative focus. Unfortunately it's not as simple as raising rational objections because the consequences that follow here are all too concrete and not just restricted to esoteric considerations over which particular words or images and ideologically sound.

Frankly, a single word empowered with such significance, is a too febrile condition for a culture to easily tolerate. The damage in this regard was achieved largely through the actions of moral entrepreneurs, initially misguided but lately most objections raised are inspired by increasingly trivial motivations. How many times have you witnessed slanging matches between public figures, with the kind of objections pertinent here, for sole the purpose of scoring points over a rival? What would you deem more reprehensible, some obscure inadvertent offence or a person deliberately raising the spectre of racism, with all its associated horrors, purely for the purpose of contesting a personal rivalry?

Some honesty is called for when in the face of such circumstances and honesty in the face of moral outrage, is rarely going to be to your own advantage I'm afraid.

D Writer said...

I don't agree with any non-Black person using the n-word except for very specific, often academic reasons. But let's be honest here. How much sense does it make to police anyone in their own home? So while I may not agree with your use of the n-word, I completely agree with your rationale. Everybody needs to be cognizant of the words they use, why they use them, and how they affect other people.

One possibly controversial notion related to this that people often overlook is that everything should not always be up for debate or discussion.Sometimes, just asking a question, even with the most innocent of intentions, is offensive. I do believe that the electronic age has made it more difficult for some people to understand the nuances of human interaction, but one of the biggest advantages of the electronic age is that a wealth of information is readily available to nearly anyone. If you aren't sure if you should be conducting yourself in a certain way RESEARCH IT .

Donnaeve said...

Jennifer, my comments about "safe space," and "trigger warnings," are about people who use it because, just to give an example, because someone asked them where they were from.

Everyone is so hyper-sensitive these days. (i.e. use of guyz)

Then there's the topic of micro-aggressions, and let's face it, that TOO, squashes the bejeezus out of the First Amendment.

There are two distinct arguments (discussions) here. The truly hurtful words we know we shouldn't use, and the simple language of the everyday world that is suddenly lumped in as being just as offensive.

Here's a great example of what I mean. I read somewhere on a college campus during Latino Heritage month, a talk was scheduled the same night as an intramural soccer game. A Latino student was incensed when her white/male counterpart emailed about the Latino talk and stated it sounded great, but that if the team wanted to play "futbol" they could still do that. She was enraged, and thanked him for his "white male validation," regarding the talk, but also went on to say, among several other things, that he didn't get to call soccer "futbol," i.e., he didn't get to use "their language."

He went on to explain about his own background, Latino Godparents, father from Costa Rica, and on and on, but she said "we need to talk about tokenizing brown friends/family..." And on and on it went.

This sort of thing is what makes me want to yank my hair out.

You can read about it here if you want.

Rise of Victimhood Culture

Colin Smith said...

Okay, I'm genuinely curious. And this is aimed particularly at any non-white people in the audience, though everyone feel free to chime in. What is a non-offensive way to inquire into someone's ethnicity? Not all black people are African American, and Asian Americans could be ethnically Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese... As I'm getting to know someone, that's something that piques my curiosity. Particularly with Asians, because my SecondBorn is such an Asiaphile she has sensitized us to, and raised our awareness of, Asian culture and its diversity.

My wife is actually 1/16th Cherokee, which, IIRC, is "enough" to claim federal benefits. She never does, and she always lists her ethnicity as "white." Regardless of what she *could* claim, that money was supposed to be for Native Americans who have real hardship needs. It would be disingenuous to take the money just because she could. She's by no means ashamed of that cultural heritage, and has talked about it with the kids. Our SecondBorn is quite proud of the fact she has some Cherokee blood in her veins, along with the Scots-Irish and Welsh...! :)

Julia Ergane said...

Personally, I cannot deal with the Super-Duper-PC Crowd because they are actually "racists". I was born in 1950 in NYC (Staten Is.) and have lived most of my life up here in New England. However, I have lived in the South both as a child and as an adult. I first met people who had other shades of skin in North Carolina. I was also SHOCKED that MY dentist had to use a different water fountain than I did and had to sit in the balcony of the theatre. I saw the first non-violent demonstrations. I NEVER thought these people were different than I was. Now, these so-called PCers are trying to make me feel guilty. Guilty for what I say? I happen to have light ivory skin -- that's why -- and I refuse to be guilty. That I say people have to be responsible for themselves and their own actions -- that they have to study in school in order to get ahead instead of having the bar dropped lower and lower year by year. This they call racism. I call this bushwah. They are so stupid they make my head hurt.

Colin Smith said...

Oh, and let me caveat my question: I fully accept that my desire to know is not more important than someone's desire to not say. I totally agree with those that said it is selfish to demand someone share personal information just because *I* want to know--even if my desire is well-intentioned.

Lucie Witt said...


I'm in favor of affirmative action. It actually greatly benefits white women, not just black people.

I may be stupid, but I dont think that's why.

I have heard I can cause a helluva headache, so tell some of my ex-boyfriends.

Noel (tell me now) said...

Re: "Where are you from?"

This one may be an American thing. America has a tradition of being a melting pot, a place where people come to seek life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, you know all that.

Trouble is, there are (and probably have always been) people who don't want "foreigners" to come over and seek those things. I believe we have one running for president right now, in fact.

The question "Where are you from" implies that "you" are not a true American and might deserve to get deported.

Do most people who ask this question ask it because they're racist? Obviously not. But some people do.

So it's not the question itself that's offensive; it's the context. How well do you know the person you're asking? If they prefer not to answer, are you going to keep pushing? Stuff like that.

Noel (tell me now) said...

Personally, I like "What is your ethnic background?", assuming the person asking is someone I actually know and not a stranger.

To me it's not a matter of offense so much as a matter of how accurate my answer will be. I am "from" Ohio. My ethnic background is completely different. And of course, asking flat-out "Are you Chinese? Japanese? Korean?" leads to an awkward series of "no, no, no" as the other person tries every country they can think of, all wrong.

Dena Pawling said...

DLM - there are a lot of good perspectives here. I found all of them very interesting and worthwhile to read. I am typing on an iPhone in a parking lot so I will just briefly reply to what I understand is your question/comment.

I can only speak for myself, a straight, white, Christian female. I know all about marginalized people and oppression and privilege, so please don't take this response to mean I don't acknowledge those concepts.

In my experience as a Christian, if I love the sinner but hate the sin, or still think he needs Jesus, I'm called phobic, intolerant, bigoted. My beliefs are belittled, scorned, or worse. It doesn't matter that I believe people who are different than I am still deserve to be treated as people and respected. I'm just seen as "one of those kind".

I was in line to enter a courthouse one day. A black/negro/African-American/Jamaican-American/maybe not even American/pick the least offensive term, woman approached me, spit on the ground at my feet, and said "that's for what your people did to my people". What did I personally do to her personally? Answer: I was standing in line while white. So yes, to specifically answer what I understand to be your question/comment, I'm somehow "wrong" for being a straight, white, Christian female, and I'm shot down frequently for my existence and/or beliefs.

Exactly what we are trying to correct (stereotypes, groups rather than individuals) is being thrown back at us. I'm white, so I'm like all other whites. I'm straight, so I'm like all other straights. I'm Christian, so I'm like all other Christians. I'm female, so I'm like all other females. Or at least, I must embody what other people think are the worst traits of those groups.

We all deserve to be treated and respected as individuals. I can acknowledge the evil that has been done to people in the past, without believing that people today must be individually and personally punished for it.

When other people say things I don't agree with, I choose NOT to be offended. I am in control of my life, I don't let others control me.

There are real victims, and then there is victim mentality.

I hope that answered your question.

Barbara Etlin said...

In the late 70s I applied for a job at a large company and the interviewer asked me, "Etlin. What kind of name is that?" I'm sure she was looking for my ethnicity and/or religion. I answered, "Canadian." At the time it was legal to ask that question. I didn't get the job, but I decided that I wouldn't want to work there anyway, with its covert prejudice.

DLM said...

Often times, the question comes as "where are you from" (indicating presumed foreignness, which - yeah, bit of a kettle of fish, in the US) or "what are you" which is a presumptuous non-conversation. Getting to KNOW someone, and showing interest in them culturally, takes longer than that one question. So it's not so much that the question of someone's background is inherently problematic, it is that so frequently it is a blunt thing. And too frequently experienced as an "othering" rather than friendliness or warmth.

The right to touch a stranger, as in sliding fingers into a woman's hair to feel for track marks (and I have seen this happen, it is an eye-opening moment no matter what goes down), is beyond the pale, I don't care who it is. Between friends, curiosity is GREAT. But women of color, especially in America, have historically been treated as if their bodies are public domain, and so to be touched in this way is a horrendous invasion. I cannot imagine it, and I can't even stand the whole "SMILE" thing from strange men. Who do not touch me.

These experiences are common enough that, yes, those who experience it will speak about it. Too many people clearly do not understand.

Another thing about ethnicity: there is sometimes the chance that people may not know, and that that may be a painful thing for them. Someone I have known for years is adopted (quite a few people in my life are), and while we always entertained the idea that they are most likely Native American, the answer was unknown. This particular person has never taken offense to the "what are you" question, but - I mean, there's no answer. Maybe Asian. Maybe Native American. Maybe Hottentot. Possibly Scotch-Irish-German. They know who their parents are, they know their values. Nothing else really is a concern.

What if you're asking someone who is the child of rape, or whose parentage is murky for any other reason? It may matter to them "what they are" genetically, it may not. It may be painful or merely exhausting always to have to present yourself based on these things. What if it's irrelevant to you, but every day of your life the question comes up more than one time?

I was once asked by a man whether I was married. It's an absolutely innocuous question, mostly. But in this case, it was utterly clear that my NOT being married meant that I was 100% fair game for him to try to capture. It was horrifying.

The phrase, "You don't know me like that" is a good one. It's not a law against liberty, it's just an exhortation to hold off a minute before you jump into certain areas. I mean, what's wrong with discussing the weather, right?

JulieWeathers said...


I'm very familiar with affirmative action. You're right, it does favor women as well as minorities. When Don was driving long haul the company lawyers informed HR they had to hire more minority and female drivers, qualified or not because they could be sued for discrimination if they didn't they hired some women and minorities who were NOT qualified just to get them on the books.

The women couldn't load, couldn't keep up, couldn't tie down loads or throw chains. The men couldn't leave them behind. This meant me and my small boys who got to see him for about four or five days at best every six weeks got it cut down to two or maybe three days if we were lucky because he had to babysit a woman who couldn't do the job. Ask me if I really cared that she was woman hear her roar.

A black driver the other drivers kept warning the company about because he was just flat out dangerous ran over a family of five people in Houston, killing them all.

Yes, affirmative action is great, isn't it?

Elissa M said...

The "where are you from" question has me thinking. I've been asked this all my life, and not because of any ethnic diversity in my phenotype. (I happen to be mostly of Scot/Welsh/Irish decent.) No, the question was asked because my father was career military. It nearly always meant, "Where were you last stationed?" though sometimes it meant, "Where were you born?"

My husband (also career military) and I are retired and living in New Mexico, and I'm still constantly asked this question. Now it nearly always means, "I know you're not from here, but I want to understand and know you better."

Context is everything.

Lucie Witt said...


Well, it's hard for me to throw all the good something has done because of two instances it was the wrong choice. By that metric every law on our books would have to be thrown out because innocent people are sometimes convicted.

Which I think leads to a larger point.

There are individual harms like people mention here (someone spitting on the ground because you're white). There are also structural and wide scale harms (I am sure at this point in history more women/minorities are qualified to be CEOs yet the numbers are what they are).

Everyone's story matters. Individual harms are wrong. Yet we cannot overlook wide scale realities because of that.

White people experience individual prejudices. We don't experience systematic discrimination.

Talking about both is good. Equating both, not so much.

Lucie Witt said...

I'm also curious why a company in a city the size of Houston couldn't find a qualified, non-muderous black male driver.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Whew, read some more on my break.

As a white matron, far less intelligent, and more naive than many of you, I am glad to wall-flower the party/conflagration today. I'm qualified, but weary of having to be on alert.
Janet, this is a humdinger of a post.

Lucie Witt said...
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Colin Smith said...

It seems to me, Julie's issue with AA is not so much that it gives women and minorities preference, but it appears to put businesses in the position of having to hire people who are unqualified in order to meet quotas because there aren't sufficient qualified women or minorities in the local workforce. Sometimes unqualified people can be trained. Other times, they are a liability. How does AA work in medicine? Don't female or minority surgeons still have to be qualified? I hope so!

What do y'all/yous guys think about that? Yes, I know we're over 100 comments in, but this is such a cool and enlightening discussion. :)

Lucie Witt said...

Am I the only one who wishes we could be hanging out somewhere pretty and having this convo over your drink of choice?

(Mine - Blantons with two cubes of ice)

abnormalalien said...

Oof, this topic is a heavy one. My opinion: if we all treat each other like human beings, communicate about our sensitivities, and apologize when we hurt each other, then a lot of these conflicts could be minimized. Obviously not including blatant bad behavior like harassment or non-equal pay for employees.

I have noticed a tendency towards self-victimization in the department where I study. As a member of our workplace inclusion committee, I find it especially irksome when people come in and say that my opinion is not valid because I'm "white." They assume that based on a picture on the web. They're right in that I was raised white, but the assumption they used to get there is wrong. My DNA is mixed Native and White. What if, like my mom, I could tan darker than my half-Puerto Rican husband? Would they assume I'm Hispanic? Would that make my opinions valid?

The way I see it, I'm a women in a man's field, I'm a Christian in an atheist dominated field, and I'm a poor kid in a school full of rich kids. Who cares what color I am, I'm likely to have opinions that are different from the prevailing ideas.

Lucie Witt said...


The premise of AA is that it can be a means of selecting **from a qualified pool of candidates**. Key word being qualified. That's not to say issues don't arise but that's not how it was designed nor how it works in most circumstances.

Lucie Witt said...

Side note: in law school I published a peer reviewed journal article on AA. It required me to read every SCOTUS case on AA, multiple other legal cases, review data of every elementary school in my county, and read countless articles on the topic. It's a very interesting and very misunderstood area of the law.

Colin Smith said...

Thanks for that clarification, Lucie. Of course, it would be nice if AA wasn't necessary because job applications were treated solely on merit, not by gender or color. Or colour. :) But like I said before, most of the time rules exist because people fail to do the right thing.

Lucie Witt said...
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Lucie Witt said...

I'm going to stop before I get permanently banished, but if anyone ever wants to chat about this stuff (particularly as it relates to our writing), I'm always around!

Colin Smith said...

Lucie: Whenever we're talking about perceptions and experiences beyond our own, it's relevant to writers. Otherwise our characters would all look and sound like us!

Mine's a Newkie Brown. Or a Blue Moon. :)

Lisa Bodenheim said...

I am sooo appreciative of all of the discussion and the diversity going on here. What a great community to be a part of.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Thank you, Janet, for allowing this explosive discussion on your blog today.

I'll say it. I wish that Janet would have said negro or nigger just to bring more black authors into this conversation. I said the word here. I never say the N word in my daily life but I did write it here a few months ago.

I, sort of, apologize for being the anus who said it. But I am courageous and maybe a real asshat. I'm sorry if I have written this word that exists in the English language and should be conserved for historical purposes. I apologize for offending anyone with this word. But it does exist. And there is an equivalent in every language across the globe.

Read more black authors. Read something from another country. The majority of fiction I've consumed this year is black authors( should I say PoC authors or just plain authors.) They talk about characters in their novels from the USA, Haiti, Jamaica, La Reunion, Brasil, France you name it. Not all of them use the N word.

And not all gay queen's use the word bitch. Most drag queens do. Diverse authors are authors despite their appearance.

The big problem on the tiny planet earth, in the year 2016, is that we are heating up to a global conflict over bullshit. Clothing. Unclothing women. Words to go by, words to ban, wikileaks, and on and on. The hashtag game, referendums that blow up an entire nation. And a five year war that killed 350,000 people, but somehow is so fucking taboo that no one mentions it. Like what is Aleppo?

We are living revolutionary times. We are living times of repression. And extreme freedom. But it depends on who you are and your nation or your microcosm.

We are exploring Jupitor. Is the international space station real or is it made in some Bollywood movie studio?

Today I listened to the European State of the Union address. #SOTEU I understood, the English, French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. I got a gist of most of the German. Nothing from the other languages except for the word solidarity. The free thinkers all spoke of embracing diversity because it is our force. They said this is why nationalism and populism is growing in each of their countries.

It might be the time to close all your real-name accounts on social media and create a pseudo. Do we have to live in a world of fear? Maybe. Should we choose to be meek and stepped on? Maybe. It's a personal choice for everyone.

I'd ban some words. Trump would be the first one. Lettuce the second. But we can't joke about anything anymore. Even Salmon Rushdie says it in an interview. Sorry, it is in French. Here is the link:

Way back when I was in Art School, I participated in protests in a square right across from the White House. Some friends and I modelled a giant Reagan head, pulled several copies in paper maché and protested something I can't remember. Today that might be a bad idea, tomorrow it might be a very bad idea. The day after tomorrow it might be illegal.

My professor warned me to be carefu. There were some radical people, real free thinkers, dangerous thinkers who latched on to our naivety. He didn't tell me what to do. But I decided to choose art over politics. I'm glad I did.

Writers are artists. We have every means at our fingertips. Artists are free thinkers. We must believe in our art above all. We must believe in the freedom of expression enough to... Well Flaubert said it better than I.

Here are a few of his quotes.

"Art requires neither complaisance nor politeness; nothing but faith, faith and freedom."

My favorite:

"Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work."

This word banning is social atavism. Writers NEED to be fearless or we might all end up in a Turkish-like prison. Freedom of expression is why the Charlie Hebdo journalists never stopped making their very ugly cartoons until death. They knew they would be assassinated.

JulieWeathers said...


"It seems to me, Julie's issue with AA is not so much that it gives women and minorities preference, but it appears to put businesses in the position of having to hire people who are unqualified in order to meet quotas because there aren't sufficient qualified women or minorities in the local workforce." --Bingo.


"I'm also curious why a company in a city the size of Houston couldn't find a qualified, non-muderous black male driver."

You're making assumptions. I said this was a long haul trucking company. They were based in Odessa, Texas in the early 70's when all this affirmative action bs was making lawyers crap their pants because activists were sifting through company records for quotas and suing if they didn't meet them.

To that end the lawyers said hire ex women and ex minorities. Period.

Now, I know that's great for you because it doesn't adversely affect you and that's always the lens people look through. When it affects your paycheck because your husband can't haul as much because he has to babysit an unqualified woman and your kids barely get to see their father, then maybe you would feel differently.

I had a parent teacher conference with a principal once because my middle son had started acting up in school. He said, "Mrs. Weathers, I know how difficult it can be in a single parent household."

I got very offended. "I am not divorced! My children have a father."

He looked at me with the greatest amount of pity. "Mrs. Weathers. I visit with your boys. Most divorce kids see their dads more than yours do."

He was probably correct and now they were seeing him less so some woman could prove she was equal only she wasn't.

As for the black driver, he wouldn't have been hired with his lousy record if not for the "Hire minorities before we get sued!!!!"

He would have been fired after accidents and tickets. Other drivers were. The lawyers wouldn't let them. No, not unless they could find a replacement. While they were looking for a replacement, he runs over a family and kills them all.

Now, I know a family of five is a small price to pay in the name of all the good that affirmative action does. Yay for giving unqualified people jobs they shouldn't have!!!! But, if it were your family of five, would you feel differently?

Now we have the military social engineering their way to equality. More affirmative action. Sorry folks. Men and women are not the same. They've already proven that integrated combat units don't do as well but don't let that stop anyone. Ignore those facts and put in some new "studies" that prove women are just as strong as men. rawr. They're willing to take a chance of people dying in combat so everyone can feel special. No big deal. Well, except to the families of the dead soldiers, but who ever thinks about them?

I'm not saying women aren't a valuable part of the military, they are. God knows I have the utmost respect for them. I wanted to join the military and wish I had. Sometimes, though, there are things a man is better at.

When Will was in Iraq he was boggled at the number of women who deliberately got pregnant so they could get sent home and they weren't even out in the field. "How does a person make a decision that's going to affect the rest of their life when all they have to do is stick it out for a few months?"

CynthiaMc said...

If I didn't have to leave for choir practice in a few minutes I'd say more about affirmative action, being a Southern kid in a New York school and a perceived to be northern family back home in a car with New York license plates, and what this Republican thinks (I can't speak for all of us because we're all different). It always amazes me when people tell me what Republicans think because it never seems to match what I think or what any other Republican I know thinks.

But for that, someone has to buy me a hurricane, preferably at Pat O'Brien's over a bowl of gumbo.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...
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CynthiaMc said...

Okay just this one thing. I totally got my job in the Air Force because they didn't have enough women in my specialty. I wanted to be a journalist. That was all fine and dandy until I scored high on jounalism, crypto and electonics. As a woman I could name my ticket (except journalism - apparently all of us could write.) I picked electronics because there was a lab at every base and I didn't want to sit in a basement at the Pentagon decoding stuff. My field just required intelligence, logical thinking, the ability to read schematics, and troubleshoot the hell out of stuff down to the component level before replacing circuit boards took all the fun out of it. Julie is right. Some women do end up in jobs they are not qualified for and that isn't right. In the military it's downright dangerous. My instructors were all male, from all branches of the services. Some of them told me I'd never pass their class. I'd smile and say "Is that so?" which is Southern for "get the f outta here." It was an international school. Middle Eastern soldiers spit on me and told the instructors they refused to be in my class. To their credit even the instructors who tried their best to fail me told them to suck it up buttercup, I was in that class. I had to be twice as good as the guys just to pass. And I was. I finished a 1-year school in 9 months. When I got to my duty station they were not thrilled that I was there. They gave me the tough jobs nobody else wanted, the nitpicky equipment no one else wanted to work on. The first to realize I knew what I was doing were the pilots. I didn't calibrate stuff to be within tolerance. I calibrated them exactly where they should be so if things got funky that pilot could still get home. We put our K stamp on all our equipment. They started asking for me by my stamp. They were surprised to see I was a girl. Then it became "We'll wait for the chick." Same with the hospital equipment. If someone died it was not going to be because I signed off on a crap piece of equipment. When the new guys came in behind me, the old guys told the new guys I knew what I was doing. They said "We know. She's the reason we passed." I tutored them.

I don't like affirmative action because the only people who should be doing jobs are those who are qualified to do them, period. And that needs to be earned.

Colin Smith said...

Mmm... okay, so quotas are the problem with AA? Why do people make AA a matter of quotas? To ensure that hiring managers don't just employ white males when there are equally qualified women and ethnic minorities available. In other words, the intention is to make sure people do the right thing. But clearly quotas are far from ideal. And this is true not just with AA, as a certain large bank recently learned. There's nothing wrong with a bank cross-selling products to its customers. But when it's made a matter of sales quotas... eeek! There must be a better way to encourage good behavior...?

Kaphri said...

I was born in Gary, IN, and used "you guys" in my early youth. I quickly discovered it was a hot-button term when my family moved to the Kentucky. My southern friends always bristled, pointing out that they were not "guys". Now, we all graciously say "ya'll" down here. I wonder who can find political incorrectness in that term. Perhaps they will turn up their noses and declare it's unacceptable because it's not a proper word.

Meanwhile, I think we should teach our children to hear what is being said, then consider it with regard to what they know and what they might discover with research, and come to their own conclusion. Even the best or most well-meaning teacher or parent can be wrong.

Anonymous said...

This has been a very interesting discussion. Too many topics for me to address and not enough space to do so anyway. It says a lot about Janet's expectations and this community that we've managed to be civil with topics that clearly push quite a few buttons.

An aside about being asked, "Where are you from?" -- Someone asked me that just last week, only she added the word "originally" at the end of it. I said I grew up in Minnesota (we were having this conversation in NC, where I live). She said, "Oh, that explains it. You don't sound at all Southern." Which totally cracked me up, seeing as how she's Canadian.

Of course, there's another side to being identified as from another place. The one where people say, "You're not from here. You don't understand how they are." Where *here* means the South and *they* means black people.

In my experience, the problem is not *necessarily* (or not always) the words we use and whether they cause offense, either intentionally or inadvertently. It's more that racism and sexism -- too many -isms to list -- and all sorts of phobic attitudes are very much alive and well. Changing our word usage might be a place to start, I don't know. But sometimes it seems like putting a cute little comic-character band-aid on a gaping bloody septic wound and trying to convince ourselves it's a good fix.

Discussions like this one, where people actually listen to differing opinions and experiences, are good for us.

Unknown said...
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Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Today I am honored, more than know, to be a Reider.

Unknown said...

I have been looking forward to this.

First of all, the term African American is bogus. You're not African American; you're American. I will not hesitate to say black instead of African American. Secondly, it's insulting to believe that black folk lack enough sense to note when their race is being used in a negative light and live in fear of being crass by saying "black".

As far as the "N word" and not signing along with it- rubbish. Absolute rubbish. The original word "nigre" literally meant "black slave". Through etymology, the world evolved in spelling and meaning, eventually so that it indicated anyone who wasn't white. In 1907, a southern white journalist, pissy at the creation of the NAACP, was offended they were calling themselves "colored". He felt it gave them too much dignity, and he reverted to using the original word for black slave with a spelling variation- the modern N word. That's why it is insulting to use that word, because it wasn't originally oppressive, but evolved to that to fly in the face of a movement by referencing slavery.

Now, the modern variant, nigga, is NOT the same. It is a term of endearment, typically among black people, and a way to reclaim the word. As I have said in this matter, English isn't proprietary; you cannot simply "take back a word". You have to evolve words, and segregating a words usage to take away the power of it is the most ridiculous thing. You are giving it more power to harm!

Lastly, I'll tell you what, I will say that word singing in the car to a song or among a close black friend. You know why? Because it is MY culture! I grew up with every black person equal to me, and we share a culture. This is our culture, this is our word, and be damned what it used to be. That's how you evolve words and meaning- by owning it.

Craig F said...

Does anyone have the number of this Political Correctness Czar? I personally think that being called DUDE is deeply offensive. I want that added to the list of things that can no longer be said.

Colin Smith said...

Thank you to everyone that chimed in on my "where are you from?" question. Your answers were both helpful and enlightening. :) Same goes for all of you who haven't responded to it yet, but plan to. ;)

Anonymous said...

I just listened to that linked interview with Sherman Alexie and Jess Walter where they talk, in part, about Daniel Handler's "joke" at that award ceremony and about how there are some jokes where you're just not "inside the joke" and some things can't/shouldn't be appropriated. Really interesting. As was the latter part of the talk about translation of books into other languages.

Anyway, it reminded me of my dad's approach to telling jokes. I grew up hearing a lot, and I mean A LOT, of jokes about Norwegians and Swedes (my ancestry). Ole and Lena, or Sven and Ole. It wasn't until I was much older, maybe college age, that I began to hear some of those exact same jokes, only they were about "polaks" or Jews or black people. It was a stunning realization. So I asked my dad about it. He said if you could take a joke about some other ethnicity/culture and tell it about your own, and it was still funny, then it was truly a funny joke. Otherwise, it was not and you should think about why you were telling it.

When we lived in south FL, one day my son came home from school (he was probably in 2nd grade) and told me a joke he'd heard about Cubans (which I won't repeat). And I could see how, to a kid that age, it was funny without necessarily being intentionally mean. So I told him about my dad's theory of joke telling. He thought about it and got very serious. He said, "It's not funny anymore if it's not about Cubans." And I said, "Yes, exactly. That's the point."

I think that kind of empathy, or understanding if you will, is an important distinction for writers as well. There are some "diverse" characters I'd feel comfortable writing about, and some I suspect I never will. Because I just won't ever have the experience or perspective to do them justice. That doesn't mean, however, that I don't want to read stories that include them. I hope that's something writers and especially publishers will come to understand. We do need those stories.

Colin, I think what isn't being said here, re asking about someone's ethnic background, is that it's particularly rude/gauche to ask that of a black person, perhaps especially of one living in the South. A (white, northern) co-worker once asked that question of a black co-worker when I lived in Atlanta. It wasn't so much "where are you from" but specifically "what is your ancestry, who are your people." I hope you can see, in that context, how hideous a question it was.

Beth Carpenter said...

Is being offended for someone else offensive? If, say, I post something and someone attacks my post, I might appreciate someone coming to my defense.

On the other hand, say someone made a joke that could be construed as sexist, and I'm not offended, but someone says they're offended on my behalf, doesn't that imply I don't have sense enough to know when I've been insulted? Or that I'm not capable of speaking for myself?

Just thinking out loud here.

BJ Muntain said...

"You guys"???

My grandpa used to call my sisters and me "youse guys". I never considered it to be a gender-specific term. He also called us his 'Suzies'. My grandfather grew up in the 19-teens and twenties. He used a lot of quaint terms, and I loved him.

The sad thing about 'political correctness' is that many 'politically correct' people seem to think it's okay to insult the majority, simply because they are the majority. For instance, it's okay for them to deride Christians. I'm Catholic, and proud of it. I'm also a pretty nice person, if you believe the people who know me. But it seems to be just fine to call people like me idiots and oppressors. If I mention this among friends (and most of my friends are progressive) they'll either ignore me or they'll say, "Well, of course, we don't mean you."

I agree with Janet: people need to learn to think about what they're saying, and who they're saying it to.

There are certainly many kinds of Christians out there. Some of them are not very nice. Maybe some aren't very smart. There are many kinds of people out there - some not very nice, some not very smart.

Me, I have a degree in anthropology. I did my research, and decided that Catholicism is my truth. I didn't blindly follow it. I chose it, even if I did grow up Catholic.

Others here have mentioned treating people as individuals. I'm all for that. Are there some not-so-nice people out there? Treat them like not-so-nice people. Me, I always try to treat people as though they're good people, right from the beginning. I'm rarely wrong. We don't always become friends, but that doesn't mean they're not good people. Disagreements do not make people necessarily 'bad', either. I often disagree with my friends, but none of them are 'bad people'.

I have a friend who is a Trump supporter. Or I had a friend. He won't talk to me anymore, because I said something against Trump, and he took offense at that. He took it personally, and he personally attacked another friend who said something against Trump. He said he felt offended.

Feeling offended is a feeling, and as with all feelings, it is valid. However, sometimes we have to choose what to be offended by. It's no wonder there is such a huge dichotomy in American politics if everyone feels offended because someone doesn't like our chosen politician.

One thing I will not stand for, though, is shaming. No one should be shamed. Some people should be ashamed, but that's between their conscience and them. Shaming someone else is putting yourself above them, no matter what it's for: race, gender, body size, religion, beliefs, intelligence, even their behaviour. Shaming is a type of bullying, even when it's done for so-called 'politically correct' motives.

BJ Muntain said...

(continued - sorry for the length)

If I want to know where a person of colour (or any person, really) is from, I first listen to them. If their accent is completely local, I just assume they're born Canadian and don't bother asking them. Unless they sound like they grew up in an area like the areas I did, in which case, I might ask if they did. If they have a non-local accent, I may ask them where they're from, if we're speaking in a social context and I'm curious. Usually, though, they'll have mentioned something about their home country or about having come to Canada before I even think to ask them where that is.

Sorry for the rambling here. This conversation has just hit a couple of sensitive points with me, and I'm coming in late, due to a busy day and a headachy-nap afterwards.

Colin: Up here, most doctors are minorities. Here in Saskatchewan, we have a shortage of doctors (they seem to prefer the large cities, the most populous areas), and so we often recruit doctors from overseas. My doctor for over 20 years was a white male, and he was my doctor for that long because he listened and was very intelligent. He retired and my current doctor is from an Asian country. I'll keep seeing her because she listens and is very intelligent. There are enough doctors of all ethnicities that are neither of these things that I feel I've been blessed.

Lucie: Make mine a white hot chocolate (it's too close to bedtime for coffee, even decaf).

John Davis Frain said...

A way to look at AA. I won't be as eloquent as so many others here are, but I'm pretty good at simple.

You have one group of people who have been given an advantage for a long time. You have another group of people who have been disadvantaged for a long time.

One day you announce everyone's equal now.

Reality is, of course, that it's a bit of a farce. The advantaged group, for lots of reasons, will continue to have an advantage. UNLESS you take action (even affirmative action) and force things to change. Because things won't change for a long, Long, LONG time if you just let nature take its course.

Hence, the need for AA. Is it perfect? Of course not. But it's necessary for a civil society to make the attempt and get as good at it as you can.

BJ Muntain said...

Since I already said a lot, I wasn't going to say anything about AA, but I'm in it now, right?

I think the most important place for AA is getting minorities into schools and training. Yes, they then need to be hired, but it's hard to hire minorities if there are none that are qualified - or who want to work in that area.

I was talking to someone whose (large) corporation is trying to hire more Native American employees. That's a big push up here. Unfortunately, it's hard to hire Native American electricians or IT people because it seems they're not interested in those types of jobs. Most Native Americans who go to university prefer social jobs, like social work. So its become more about getting these people interested in the sciences than it is about hiring them.

Yes, it's important people hired through AA be qualified for their jobs. It's even better if they're the most qualified. And sometimes we need to make it more possible for minorities to become qualified.

(This may be a Saskatchewan problem or a Canadian problem more than a US problem,I don't know. That's just the way things have worked out here in Saskatchewan.

roadkills-r-us said...

This feels a little disjointed, but I'm late and it's tired.

To me, if it's an honest question, no one should get offended.
If you don't want to answer my question, I should not get offended.
If I do not want to answer your question, you should not get offended.

If everyone would play by these simple guidelines, life would be a lot easier for everyone.

Personally, I just choose not to get offended. (Yes, it took some adjusting. It was worth it.) I have black (their term) friends who choose not to get offended. Same for Hispanic, Asian, etc. I have others who get offended. We're not as close, because it's hard to get close to prickly people. I do the best I can.

But what if you don't know if it's an honest question? Treat it as one until proven otherwise. Racism/sexism/etcism will eventually show itself. But you can seriously hurt people with bad assumptions. You can miss out on great relationships, too.

Ignorance and misinformation are not racism/sexism/etcism. The first two are simply a matter of education. The latter is an attitude that at best requires a LOT of education, and typically requires more, to overcome. But being nasty back only reinforces it.

I have friends across most any spectrum I can think of. Sharon and I have "dopta kids" (children of the heart who call us Mom and Dad of most ethnicities, nationalities, religions, economic classes, sexes, gender identities, political stripes, etc. We've all done things the others could have taken offense at, but we either simply chose not to, or we talked it through.

If you just love people, it comes across, and you'll find ways through the issues and even barriers. Not everyone is ready or willing to do this. You can't make them. People I loved have walked away for a variety of reasons. I hate that, but I can't make them stay, and I wouldn't want to. I've walked away. Sometimes for good reasons, sometimes not. I think I've gotten better at if, when, and why.

A world in which one cannot ask to touch someone's hair or skin to understand whether and how it might be different or similar is, IMO, doomed to be a painful one. Now granted, a lot of people expect a certain level of acquaintance before they're comfortable with it, and that needs to be respected. But to just banish it as rude seems... rude. 8^)

Anonymous said...

My girlfriend mentioned thinking of a mutual friend as a sister, and I commented on how I'd guessed right that she'd been "adopted" into that family.

"Um," she said, "just so you know, we're a little touchy about the word 'adopted.' Because of the age gap--" My girlfriend is 20, the mutual friend she thinks of as a sister is now a grandmother. "--people have made some assumptions that there's a mother-daughter relationship even though we've never, ever acted like that to each other."

"Oh, okay. I meant in the sense you'd become part of the family, but I won't say it again."

"I didn't mean to make that sound so harsh. You can say it if you want! I just wanted you to be aware."

"Saying it just now was ignorance. If I keep using it, knowing the two of you don't like it, that makes me an asshole. I'll use other words instead."

I've never really understood the people upset about "the PC police" thinking that being a decent person and keeping the feelings of the people you're talking to in mind is such a terrible thing. Making mistakes doesn't make you a horrible person. Continuing to do things after you've been told they're assholery, on the other hand....

Adib Khorram said...

It seems I missed a great discussion while I was flying halfway across the world. Hello from Cyprus! I would have been here earlier but Air Force One had priority on the tarmac in Philadelphia.

With a name like mine, I have been on the receiving end of "Where are you from?" More times than I can count. For me the problem is not the asking, it's when the answer I choose (usually Kansas City) is not sufficient. My background is mine to disclose, not yours to demand, which is how it can come across.

Most people mean it innocently and I give them the benefit of the doubt most of the time. But if can get exhausting.

deborahwrites said...

I was shocked when I read the original Times article. It read more like an Onion spoof than something that could really be happening. Thank you so much for speaking out.

And also let's remember that many times when someone asks where someone else is from––it's to make conversation. Plus, you can shock and thrill someone if you, as an American, have even the vaguest idea where their home country in Africa is generally located within the continent.

JulieWeathers said...


"The original word "nigre" literally meant "black slave". "

I'm going to disagree here. Negro simply meant black and still does. We named one of our Aussies WW Oso Negro because he was pure black and looked like a little bear cub when he was a baby.

We took him to a vet once and a woman glared at me when I announced his name. You could see what she was thinking, "racist b*****!"

The vet, thankfully, spoke Spanish and laughed. "Oso Negro, black bear, what an appropriate name."


I very much wanted to ask my ER doctor about his racial background. I'm assuming Native. He was extraordinarily handsome in a very exotic way. Completely American. I didn't.

In Oklahoma my x-ray technician was wearing a peyote stitched lanyard you could tell was Native made. I complimented her on it. She was obviously Native, so I asked her if she made it. No, her Grandmother does beadwork. WE got into a discussion of pow wows and Hopi ritual. Another medical person laughed and said he would make up for her not dancing. He was Cherokee and danced every chance he got.

I'm sure some people would get offended by questions about their culture, but I'm genuinely interested and they loved telling me about their experiences.

Yesterday I went to get a hamburger and the man asked me where I'm from, Virginia? Tennessee?

No, I wish. I love both accents.

I don't mind people asking where I'm from until they go into a phony southern drawl to make fun of me.

Unknown said...

Julie, I'm not referring to the word "Negro". I am referring to the 1577 word that was first coined "nigre" or "nigor". I'm going ALL the way back to its origins. "Negro" wasn't popularized until the late 1960's.