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comment by mk
mk  ·  1560 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: A personal account of how call out culture has harmed teaching

I don't understand how this has come to pass.

Where did the idea that discomforting material should be avoided arise? Is it ok to speak of painful material if no one that can easily sympathize with the wronged group is present? Can a group of whites, blacks, and latinos, learn and speak about the Rape of Nanking, but only in an educational setting where no students of Japanese or Chinese are present? Or only Chinese students? Can we not speak of the Holocaust if a Jewish student wishes to avoid the topic? What about the great-grandchild of a Nazi?

Can someone of college age explain this phenomenon to me? What is the motivation behind it?

lil, can you read the word 'nigger' aloud from Huckleberry Finn in your classes?




Meriadoc  ·  1559 days ago  ·  link  ·  

There was a debate when I was in high school over whether students should avoid reading that word when reading Huck Finn. Someone even released editions sanitized of it. Our school, thankfully, had a massive push back against that. Removing that part of history, and removing the struggle of black men in the story, and removing Mark Twain's harsh criticism of racism and that word not only completely misses the point, it's racist itself. It's harmful. I consider it akin to trying to hide the atrocities we committed against the Native Americans.

Yes, it's horrific. Yes, it's a heavy word that should not be used without purpose, but it's still unfortunately a word. It's a word deeply intertwined with our nation's horrible history.

The terrible thing is this polemic I'm writing is exactly the kind of thing that gets warped by internet white boys as a justification for using the word, and that we shouldn't have any restrictions on what we say in the form of judgement or consequences of choices of words, and they'll go on to say that judging them or calling their usage out as problematic is an offense on free speech. Which is not at all what I'm saying. Call out culture is extremely useful in educating, and is an active strategy in deconstructing the issues in our culture and society, many of which are unseen by the ruling class many times, and especially ending the silence on these things. And it doesn't have to be from a place of anger! Here's how this should go, first in the context of using the word in historical context like Huck Finn, and then in the larger:

"Reading Huck Finn includes many passages of hatred of people based on their skin color, including a vile word used to dehumanize and demean POC for centuries now. This is a very important word in our country, and should not be used lightly, but in respect for the people who went through these atrocities, we have to respect that it was there, it happened, and requires acknowledgement. Erasing the blood erases the conflict and the people who suffered."

Now in a casual setting with a friend:

"Hey sorry, you just used the word 'gypsy'. I know that's the term you've probably learned, but it's unfortunately a slur that's been used for a long time, including in genocides against Roma people. Generally the preferred term in Roma or Romani." and that can be more detailed or less. It can be as simple as "oh gypsy is a slur, by the way.", and you can continue education from there if they like. The problems arise when you say, "oh hey that's a slur" and they return with "what? No it's not. I've always used it. I'm not racist. What the fuck is wrong with you?" or "i don't give a fuck, that's the term I'm going to continue to use." and it becomes understandable why they things become escalated. Of course it's an issue when the starting point is "fuck you, you're a racist, I'm calling for your head" because our country is woefully terrible at teaching about the struggles of minority peoples the world over, but even of our own country. Education when you have it is great, and calling things out directly to people is a fantastic way of letting them know.

But it seems there's a rabid section of people completely opposed to the idea of confronting that they've been wrong, taught wrong, or know something wrong. Saying something racist unknowingly doesn't make you a racist, it just makes you ignorant of the history of a word. Knowing that it's wrong and being able to correct yourself is how you become a better person. We're going to say racist, or sexist, or transphobic things until we die because so much of it is ingrained in our society. Actively attempting to remove these things from your own vocabulary is important. Saying "I don't want them calling me out" or "I'm going to continue saying these things because free speech" is like saying "I know I'm saying the wrong thing, and I don't care that it's used for dehumanization", and that is a fucking problem.

mk  ·  1559 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Thanks.

    Saying "I don't want them calling me out" or "I'm going to continue saying these things because free speech" is like saying "I know I'm saying the wrong thing, and I don't care that it's used for dehumanization", and that is a fucking problem.

Personally, I think it can be a problem, but that the reality is often very complicated. Context and perception always matter.

I have heard white people use the word nigger in ways that I found offensive and in ways that I did not. I have also heard black people use the word nigger in ways that I found offensive, and in ways that I did not. The crux of the matter lies in that there is a difference in how I am offended by the use of the word based upon who is saying it, and why they are saying it. Black people are able to use the word nigger in a way that I cannot, simply because part of the meaning that any word carries comes from the speaker. For that reason, black people using the word nigger does not imply acquiescence of white teenage boys to using it in any manner they see fit; it is not the word alone that carries the meaning. Therein lies the intellectual dishonesty about avoiding the word nigger in an educational setting that makes us uncomfortable. The word nigger in a class reading of Mark Twain is not the word nigger at a frat party, nor is it the word nigger in this comment.

I have a friend that has a clothing store. In describing the style of her clothing, I have used the term 'gypsy punk'. You know what that means, and you know how I used it, much like Stevie Nicks. No doubt there are contexts where the word might carry other meanings, but as I use it in that context, as myself who grew up hearing Fleetwood Mac's song on the radio and hearing the word and using it in similar ways, the term gypsy is not a slur. To say that my use of the term gypsy is dehumanizing is similar to saying that the literature professor's use of the word nigger in readings and discussion of Huckleberry Finn is dehumanizing. But that isn’t to say that the word gypsy cannot be dehumanizing, or that some words have very narrow contexts in which they are not. We need to be comfortable with such nuance, because that nuance is intrinsic to communication. It is also what makes language powerful.

As much as the speaker must be conscientious of the context and the meaning the word carries as it is spoken, the listener must be conscientious of the same. The listener has responsibility in their own interpretation. Words are not words alone, and the same sound does not always provoke the same meaning. We must be honest about this, because it is a truth of language that we cannot escape. My use of the term gypsy is not implicit approval of use of the word in a dehumanizing manner. A black person’s use of the word nigger is not an implicit approval of my use of the word in a similar way; although I can make the same sound, I cannot project the same meaning with that sound.

Meriadoc  ·  1559 days ago  ·  link  ·  

You're right on all points, context is extremely important. What we have to be aware of, us as mostly white males aged 18-45, is that the oppressed groups get to dictate the usage of the words and their direction in our society. That's why black people can decide to reclaim that word if they want to, and that's why Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello is able to use the term 'gypsy punk' as he pleases. If these groups want to transform the word as they see fit, make it every day usage, that's their prerogative. And I think that's the direction the term gypsy is taking overall. However, it's very different than white people making light of the word. If a white group of people decide to open a store and say they're selling "gypsy clothing" and they live "in the gypsy mindset", it's very different than a Roma person selling clothing inspired by their experiences and culture for a multitude of reasons.

I personally used the term gypsy for years, because of Fleetwood Mac. I had no idea the term had racist connotations attached to it, because that was simply the term that was used my whole life. And realistically, that's exactly how all racist terms enter the popular lexicon. Now when my Hungarian Roma friends moved here, they were appalled at how everyone asked them if they were gypsies. It was an absolute slap in the face, and for a while they were hesitant to talk about their heritage because they thought maybe America also wasn't receptive to Roma people. Their parents lived in fear of what that meant until realizing that Americans simply don't have that exposure to the word, the culture, the history. My friend explaining it to people was one where the user of the word usually blushed, apologized, learned something, and maybe walked away humbled and happy to know something., and made their parents feel more at ease over time. This is the power of call out culture.

On the other side of that, when my step mother's family moved here from Romania, her hearing the usage of gypsy made her also believe that Americans were in opposition to Roma culture, which led her to spew racist vitriol about them to everyone around her, convincing many people that Roma were criminals and dirty and deserved to be kicked out of countries. Now there are people, including my horrible father, who've never had any experience with Roma people, who believe these things, because there's no voice in their lives calling out these things as racist or complicit in dehumanization. Stevie Nicks is a wonderful person by all accounts, and I wouldn't doubt if when writing that song, someone were to come up to her and say "hey, the usage of the word gypsy is fairly offensive. Many governments use it as a buzzword to incite hatred against our people", I believe she would have gladly revised the song, and something like that can shift public usage and understanding very well.

Framing it purely as "it's violating free speech, it's a danger to society" is looking at it from the wrong perspective, seeing calling out as from a place of hate. And sadly a lot of it can be from hate and pitchforks. Ideally, I'd live in the world where calling out can be understood and purely educational; realistically, I'd prefer living in the world where calling out is around, if feared, because it causes people to watch their statements better, and we can work on collectively bringing people to understand a racist tweet someone made when they were 19 shouldn't spell their end of their careers.

Also speaking realistically, I feel that the problem is being confounded with that of accessibility of dirt of people due to the internet age. I don't think there would be much of a difference in reaction of the people if a public figure in the 80's were found to have made racist tweets 8 years earlier if the technology existed back then. We can all collectively accept that people said stupid things in the past when they were young, but this is the first time in our history where we're forced to confront exactly what they said when they said it and physically seeing it with the name attached. It's just a matter of re-learning and re-evaluating forgiveness and privacy.

mk  ·  1559 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I agree with all of that.

It's probably also worth considering that language is often more symptom than disease. Where language is hurtful, we are likely to find ignorance. Ultimately, we aren't after reducing hurtful language as an end to itself, we are after reducing the ignorance from which it manifests. The truth is, sometimes the greater ignorance exists on the part of the listener.

IMHO this is why there is often a disconnect between older and younger generations on this issue. Often younger people see hurtful language as evidence of powerful ignorance, and while this is often the case, it isn't always so. It is a difficult and complicated matter that previous generations navigated a different culture, not only with different norms, but with different manifestations of language, even from those that actively sought to minimize their own ignorance (and that exercise wasn't even the same as it is today). Culture can have the same effect as time. Culture changes the context, the definitions of ignorance, and the meaning of words.

It's an aspect of language that almost any word can be hurtful in context. In the end, we are interested in whether or not individuals are hurtful, and whether or not they are interested in being less so. However, the onus does not only fall upon the speaker to consider all contexts and the associated potential for harm. It is also the listener's responsibility to understand the context of the speaker, and to consider the meaning of the words within that context.

To take the words that someone said and to obfuscate or modify the context so that it becomes harmful, or more harmful, is a hurtful thing to do.

Grendel  ·  1555 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    that the oppressed groups get to dictate the usage of the words and their direction in our society

Nope.

dingus  ·  1512 days ago  ·  link  ·  
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cgod  ·  1559 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Reading nigger in Hick Finn is one thing, reading it in the works of the greatest Black American authors is another. As you progress up the cannon the use of negro, nigger an and colored all denote different levels of social standing and context in the works (they were fine reading negro and colored aloud btw). The words were carefully applied by gifted writers who were making keen observations on the experience of black Americans in their time. Which term a person was addressed by or self identified as could carry loads of subtext in the story.

Meriadoc  ·  1559 days ago  ·  link  ·  

And that's one of the best values of literature and teaching and assigning these uncomfortable books in classes at a young age. Literature has a power to teach that few other things do. It is a way to provide an experience for people that can't experience it. That suburban white boy is never going to understand living as a black man in a poor neighborhood, even if he lived there, in a way that a book written from that perspective can. It's extraordinary and one of the most incredible things human speech and language has achieved. I couldn't justify removing words that are vital to understanding what's happening. If someone can make the claim "this has the value of teaching these kids about racism and its horrors" how can they make the claim "but showing the language they face doesn't have value"?

zeroFail  ·  1557 days ago  ·  link  ·  

In the same vain, you have to understand the extreme differences in culture. In America, people just honestly don't know what connotations come with the word "gypsy", which is why it's so culturally ignored as a type of racial slur. In such a way, is America perpetuating racism? Or are they merely living by their own cultural norms that should in no way implant any type of racist tendencies into the people that speak the word? And when they hear that "gypsy" is actually a racist term, but continue to use it, are they furthering the dehumanization, or merely co-opting the word to mean something totally different? It's a fine line, and I don't think it's so black and white.

It's like the difference between "oriental" and "Asian". In America, at least, one of those terms is considered indecent. But why? Oriental merely means "of the east". And certainly one can say you're lumping in many different races of people into the term "eastern", but what of "Asian"? It's just a different name for the same thing. You're still ignoring the fact that the Japanese and the Chinese have a troubled, bloody history between one another and lumping them in together. Russia is a part of Asia, and yet we don't call Russians "Asians". Why? Because they don't look the part.

user-inactivated  ·  1559 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    I don't understand how this has come to pass.

    Where did the idea that discomforting material should be avoided arise? Is it ok to speak of painful material if no one that can easily sympathize with the wronged group is present? Can a group of whites, blacks, and latinos, learn and speak about the Rape of Nanking, but only in an educational setting where no students of Japanese or Chinese are present? Or only Chinese students? Can we not speak of the Holocaust if a Jewish student wishes to avoid the topic? What about the great-grandchild of a Nazi?

    Can someone of college age explain this phenomenon to me? What is the motivation behind it?

People these days have grown up coddled and protected by their parents. Physically, emotionally, intellectually. It has created everything from ignorance, to laziness, to entitlement. It's crazy to say this, but sometimes I think a lot of these people want to feel victimized because not only does it bring them attention, but it also brings them a sense of comfort when their perceived victimization eventually becomes validated.

steve  ·  1559 days ago  ·  link  ·  

If we hide from uncomfortable words and topics (in appropriate settings like a classroom), we give those words undue mystique. We give them power in the wrong way. We make them the things kids say in huddled corners because they are "forbidden".

briandmyers  ·  1559 days ago  ·  link  ·  

This song is all about exactly this idea - Taboo