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Double Entendre, or Something Similar: Unpacking the Notion of “Holier Than Thou!”

What do you think of Cornel West’s book title: Race Matters?

How about Michael Eric Dyson’s book title: Race Rules

Language is so intriguing. When Cornel West named his book “Race Matters” was he stating that his book was about matters of race, or that race is important? When Michael Eric Dyson named his book “Race Rules” was he stating that his book was about the rules of race, or that race dominates? Seriously, which type of person are you? How did you interpret these two titles? What might your seeing only one of the possible two meanings that I see in these titles indicate about how different we may be seeing the world?

Does the phrase “holier than thou” mean I am more holy than you and therefore can afford to be judgmental of you? Or does holier than though mean I have even more holes in my clothes than you, so I should be less judgmental? These questions I ask may seem a bit ridiculous because most of us would point immediately to the obvious answer in each case, right? Yeah, right! Isn’t that what makes the world go round? We get all of these different interpretations of things that we think are “so obvious,” until we realize that perhaps they really aren’t that obvious after all. When you consider how often we adopt a condescending posture towards people who do certain things that we think they shouldn’t, only to discover that we ourselves exhibited the very same or similar behavior, we never stop to think that it may be predicated on where we start from. If I start a conversation with you about West’s book “Race Matters” that takes you down a road of how it emphasizes “the importance of race” and you have a conversation with someone who believes West’s book emphasizes racial matters (occurrences), it is conceivable that you and that person I spoke with may not be anywhere near on the same page when the two of you attempt to discuss the essence of West’s book. Everything either one of you could potentially describe about the book could be flavored by your very different initial interpretations, and what you process from someone else’s take could also be seen through a filtered lens you developed from your knowledge.

Is it possible that the double entendre of language possibly influences some of our actions? I recall the scene from American Beauty when the military father tells his son how disgusting it is that gays flaunt their relationships (in response to a gay couple who recently moved into the neighborhood and subsequently attempted to introduce themselves to their neighbors). Later the military father witnesses what he thinks is homosexuality in his son and tells his son he would rather see him dead than gay. It turns out that the military father may have oppressed his homosexuality his entire life (hence his wife’s unrelenting vacant stare). Ultimately the military father kills his neighbor after he makes a pass at that neighbor and the neighbor reveals that he isn’t gay. Apparently the military father couldn’t live with the fact that he had outed himself to someone (his neighbor) who might tell others, or was just furious that he had been rejected. The larger point is many people cast aspersions at others for acts they have judged improper or immoral, and don’t take the time to discretely look at themselves. More so, when people hate, prejudge, demonstrate an ism, level of intolerance, inconsideration, or insensitivity, how many of us take the time to avoid reacting to the injustice before we give the seeming perpetrator the benefit of the doubt for simply having succumbed to being human? I know it sounds easy and is a great deal harder to do at times, but don't you think it can be done?

Many of us have extended congratulatory or celebratory pregnancy comments to the woman in the hallway or elevator only to find out she wasn’t pregnant. Though definitely not trying to make her feel uncomfortable about her weight, in the case where the woman doesn’t know the complimenter, how insincere might those comments sound to her? Is she wrong if she sees the so-called perpetrator as mean or evil? Have you ever done this, or something similar?

Many of us have asked a friend of ours when we were younger if they were going to attend this or that function or event, not even thinking that our friend (or when we were younger, their parents) may not have the financial resources to attend (no money, or perhaps no car). I work with students who range from being able to travel anywhere in the world (just by asking their parents for money) to students who have to save to get back to New York City when school ends in Plattsburgh. The range in their various realities and the accompanying assumptions that visit both disparate groups are as broad as they are daunting. Nevertheless, have you ever prematurely or immaturely assumed something about someone that you are ashamed of?

Many if not most people have forwarded on a joke laden email or passed on a rumor to a very close friend, lover, partner, or colleague that had something improper in it. We forwarded the correspondence or advanced the gossip because it definitely didn’t reflect on us and it didn’t necessarily reflect on anyone we actually knew, or anyone we “really knew” or consciously focused on. Most of us have done this at some point in our lives and should be thankful that we didn’t or haven’t yet really embarrassed ourselves by this type of behavior. While people need to understand the impact such behavior has on both the individuals negatively represented as well as their communities, few of us consider the motivation behind much of our behavior. Nevertheless, have you done the gossiping, forwarded the email, or anything similar?

Many of us have told a lie that we would like to get back the moment we said it. It probably came out of our mouths due to some unknown insecurity we have not addressed until we recognize how truly unconvincing the lie actually is if put to any type of scrutiny. Nonetheless, we told that lie. Yet, we are appalled when we hear that someone we held in high regard may have spoken an untruth! Have you ever done this, or something similar?

I challenge people all the time that their use of the words “straight,” “weird,” phrases like “that’s retarded,” or “that’s gay,” or attempts at convincing oneself that referring to a grown woman as “girl” are extremely problematic and are more often than not used by those of us that have no connection to the stereotypical members of these stereotypical communities often misrepresented through the use of these dysfunctional terms and phrases, or are truly ignorant of the role they play in exacerbating social injustices. So why do we continue to do all of these things? Is it because somehow we are “holier than thou,” whatever that means to you?

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Comments

I do my best to watch what words I use--for I recognize that language is powerful. The film Max, about a young Hitler and a Jewish art dealer named Max, has a pair of lines I'll never forget.
"Words are magic. Sometimes I think the whole world is made up of words." and
"I used to think we rode into the war on horseback. But now I realize that in fact, we rode into the war on words. Yes, my friend, words. If the high command had used nails to hammer our feet to the mud, I think we would have found a pair of pliers, passed them down the line, and made a break for it. But the words... the words kept us rooted to the ground. "

Yet certain words, I cannot really conceive of as harmful--among the words you listed "weird" is one of them, for many things and people are in fact weird, and I don't feel the need to be so PC as to not call something as it is. I'm a wierd guy, and I've known many weird girls--for good and for ill.

Likewise, using "straight" to mean "hetrosexual" isn't something I can feel bad about. I use such language, and my mind harbors no ill will towards homosexuals or their lifestyle. I defend them, in fact, against any so foolish as to think it is their place to tell others how/who to love.

Far be it from me, to say you are mistaken, but I think you may be over-sensitive about certain words. I agree that words matter, as does the emphasis you put on those words (in the case of race matters/race rules, the emphasis is of the utmost importance to the interpretation--as is also true for "girl" and other words too) and that some might use the words you listed negatively, others might use them in the most postive sense possible. And that there are bigger fish to fry, when it comes to challenging people about their beliefs.

For the past few days, I've been engaged in an online forum discussion about homosexuality and its moral status. It's a online forum that discusses religion, primarily, but many other things, and the only argument anybody has presented for homosexuality as immoral is the religious argument, where they cite Leviticus. They adhere to biblical authority, even when all reason and logical arguments go against it. I offered up a link to the Corvino article on Nature and Harm--but the response from the religious right is that Gods authority/morality does not come from nature or harm, but from His status as Creator. (if you're interested: http://community.livejournal.com/convert_me/991337.html#comments is the link to the forum and the particular discussion)

I'm more concerned with people submitting reason and logic to authoritarian dogma, than with people using "girl" or "weird" in their speech. Religion is the key to culture, and it may be religious values that lead people to say, "that's gay" negatively, or to instill a value of male-patriarchy. So perhaps to challenge their speech, one must challenge their religion. But that's just my two cents.

Namaste.

*** Namaste, perhaps it is a level of comfort/privilege that prevents you from seeing how you may be exacerbating the situation for people that are different when you don't refrain from calling them weird or when you are comfortable calling a mature woman a "girl." You dismiss it as not that serious, but don't even take the time to consider the logical inconsistency in the action. Do you call grown men "boys" in the middle of a general story you may be telling? If the answer is no, then what would make you think it is okay to do it to grown women? I hope you will answer this conundrum. I am sure that many of the readers would like to hear the rationale behind how the misuse of this term might contribute to the infantilizing of women but you somehow rationalize it as okay in your mind.

You say " Yet certain words, I cannot really conceive of as harmful--among the words you listed "weird" is one of them, for many things and people are in fact weird, and I don't feel the need to be so PC as to not call something as it is." It dismantles my sensibilities that you actually don't see how labeling a person by a negative term simply based on your interpretation of them is not problematic. Anais Nin once said "we don't see things as they are, we see them as we are." You see "weird" as an okay term because you have used it and had it used against you all your life and somehow you justify that usage as appropriate in some contexts. I doubt if you would let that rationale work for me calling myself the N-word, or a person with differing abilities referring to herself as a gimp! While I do agree that too much political correctness may make everyone fake, nonetheless a certain amount of political correctness is a sign of respect. I am one of those people that believes you and others who don't want to change their ways now because it disrupts their privilege will sing a different tune the moment it is your daughter that is being called weird because of whatever differences she represents. And I have no doubt that it would turn your stomach at some point in your daughter's (or sister's, or mother's) adult life if men continued to casually reference her as a girl, which often subconsciously suggests she isn't equal to the male equivalent you somehow never refer to as boy.

Your last point, that there are bigger fish to fry when it comes to challenging people's beliefs is probably what a great deal of people might be saying. However, if it is true that the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, how does consciousness raising about the way we communicate with one another not represent that first step? I would make the argument that if you want to improve life for all the fish in the sea, you don't just focus on the whales! *** -- J.W.

J.W.
First things first, since we're being very careful about our language today - whales aren't fish, they're mamals. And, how about all the fish in lakes? "The sea" implies salt water. Your comments could disenfranchise that marine and amphibious life which relies on fresh water for its (their?) domain. (I kid because I care)

Language is the most powerful force on earth. Differences in language or interpretations can start wars. When world leaders who speak several languages want to be absolutely clear and precise about their meaning and intentions, they always give speeches in their native tounge no matter the nationality of the audience. The importance of language in the matters of the human race cannot be over stated.

I am fascinated by the differences in language and how it relates to concepts. Some languages have no words for concepts like time, the future tense, war, or anger. Some languages have six or seven different words for concepts for which we only have one word.

I love words. Carefully chosen phrases are beautiful, not just in their meaning and connotation, but, in the way they roll off the tounge. The act of speaking well-written passages is as much a mechanical pleasure as a mental one. I don't pretend to be particularly talented in this regard, but, I can certainly appreciate the talent in others. The titles you describe, J.W., were not picked by accident as I'm sure you know. They were chosen specifically because the authors knew they would incite exactly the kind of discussion we're having. Incidently, the phrase "Holier than thou" isn't quite as elegant because the words "Holy" and "whole" are spelled differently.

When language is misused for political purposes it breaks my heart. When one person's words are intentionally twisted by another person for selfish ends it infuriates me. We see this all the time in politics and I'm affraid the lengthy (and finally over?) Democratic Primary season is ripe with examples.

But when people are more concerned that their sensibilities not be offended than they are with understanding the true intentions of another, that's just plain frustrating. If you feel offended, have I necessarily offended you? Does mis-speaking or clumsy language necessarily come with intent to do harm?

In other discussions, J.W., I wonder if it might be possible to substitute the word "experience" for the word "privledge." "Privledge", I think, connotes ease, un-earned status and a sheltered life. "Experience" is more general and, I think, more accurate. One's world view may be limited by one's experience without that person necessarily being what society would generally view as privledged. And, those who you might describe as "privledged" in American society (white-anglo-saxon-protestant males) certainly would not be so "privledged" if they were living in, say, Asia or Africa. Nevertheless, their world-view would still be limited by their "experience."

Being concious of the limits of our own experience, or trying to expand our experience, may lead toward a more proper use of language. But we cannot be so affraid to offend that we cease communicating. If one is constantly berated because honest attempts at mutual understanding, or even every-day speech, "offend" someone all the time, one may simply stop trying.

We all live in glass houses, J.W. with a big pile of rocks right next to us. Wanna play catch?

*** CB, man, the next time I get finger loose and fancy free with my keyboard and thoughts I will put myself in check and "google" the subject matter first to make sure I am not mixing my metaphors. Seriously though, I liked how you affectionately chastised me on not knowing a whale is a mammal and not a fish. That is what the blog is about my brother, teaching. Now I am prepared to frame any future analogy that in which I may want to include a whale or a mammal, properly.

Your question "Does mis-speaking or clumsy language necessarily come with intent to do harm" is a great question. I argue that it doesn't, necessarily, but can in the context of a person's responsibility to respect others. If we have a responsibility to adhere to the first law of nature, self preservation, what better way to self preserve than to promote a world of respect, starting with our own actions. Since we communicate through our actions and words, being inconsiderate of the subtleties of language just because we choose to ignore certain taboos that are out there is not promoting respect. It promotes disrespect if anything because we aren't demonstrating concern enough for another to take the time to measure our comments in a way that won't be miscommunicated.

Some might argue in return that what I am saying could occur when we are considerate of one another requires too much work. They might be right! But at the risk of sounding somewhat philosophical, as Aristotle once argued, good habits come about through practice. It takes practice to be virtuous. Respect, or the ability and desire to respect someone is a virtuous act. After we respect someone a few times by the words we carefully choose to celebrate their differences and demonstrate the time we have taken to sincerely relate to them, it becomes second nature to do it, or at least third nature, not to mention how much they appreciate us.

In the case of the pregnant woman I articulated above, I argue that a caring person who doesn't know the woman at all, could recognize that the large woman before her/him may not just be pregnant, but may be overweight (pregnant or not). So, assuming pregnancy towards an overweight woman might be akin to assuming a ghetto affiliation with a black man, or a lack of rhythm to a white man, or a natural lack of moral decency predicated mostly on a stereotypical notion of sexual appetite to a gay person. I guess I am just from the old school of not being comfortable with the possibility of my words offending someone.

Now, I do recognize that the very nature of my work in diversity and social justice positions me in a reality where my words may actually make many people uncomfortable. I care about that as well. However, if the person I have offended expresses to me how my words were offensive, I will take every logical step I must to not linguistically misstep again. However, I also know that people will leverage language in ways that allow them to use it as a tool of oppression. So, at all times I attempt to error on the side of caring instead of further scarring. To do that it means I have to look outside of my comfort zone to be in touch with the ways of people that look, act, think, and are kind-of or quite different from me. It really isn't a daunting task, as evidenced by one of the ways you do it yourself, wandering with me! *** -- J.W.

At the risk of looking foolish....

I just realized that, in the context I described, I used an improper spelling of the word "hole." In fact, "Holier" than Thou, would be spelled the same way in both contexts J.W. describes. However, I'm not altogether sure that "holier" in the context of having more holes is actually a word in our language.

Ooops!

Maybe I'm just digging myself a whole here, but I feel as I do, and will explain as best I can.

I agree with the quote of Anias Nin--and you and I are very different people JW, and that explains why I see "wierd" as no big deal, and you disagree. This is fine and well. But from my POV, some females are "women" and some females are "girls" and the distinction is not one that I always am *trying* to make when I use "girl" in my speech. Sometimes, I delibrately use girl to indicate that the female in question is not very mature--you on the other hand, use "girl" for a female under 18, and woman for a female over 18, but that is an arbitrary line in the sand. Yes, at 18 a female becomes an adult in the eyes of the law--but in no way does that actually make her an adult female! We could just as easily have put the line in the sand at 19 years of age, and then 18 y/o females would be girls.

For example, I don't think that I would use "girl" to describe Deb Light--partially due to the fact that she was a teacher, and partially due to her age, and greatly due to her maturity. I know 21 y/o females who are still girls--very tall, relatively old girls, but girls none the less. Same goes for other words of questionable content.

Didn't Richard Pryor once say, "There are niggers and there are black people. And the niggers got to go."? More recently, I was watching a D.L. Hughely comedy special where he made the same distinction. "If I'm having dinner, I wanna have it with black people. But if shit goes down in the night--I'm calling me a nigger." So, while I myself would not feel right using that particular phrase to describe somebody, clearly it has a meaning beyond "person of black skin color" likewise "girl" has meaning beyond "female". So on one level, yes, "girl" can be problematic, but on another level, it's entirely fitting. Sadly, most females I've met in college, are still girls--so I'm still in the habit of using such language.

Also, I am wierd, and you say I embrace that because I've been called it so often, I've internalized the negativity, the way others have done so before me. I cannot say for certain that I have not done just that, but it certainly doesn't feel like it. I feel like I am weird, abnormal and seperated from my peers--and I have felt that for years and years. I'm weird, and I'm looking for a weird girl to come into my life.

I'm looking for a girl meets boy (that would be me--I'm still a boy sometimes too) kinda fairy tale story. Life doesn't provide many of those, however.

I'm interested by the fact that you really think I deeply care what some stranger might say about my sister/brother/step-mother. I've often considered that should somebody say something mean and nasty (say, call her a bitch or the like) I would chaulk it up to them being fools! I try my very best not to listen to people who do not know what they are talking about.

For example: the time in Examining Diversity where a fellow student was pissed at me, and exclaimed I was usually an asshole in class. I did not let him get to me. I blocked him out. I'll admit, for a brief time afterwords it stuck, but then, without much time or effort, I realized he was a fool not worth listening to.

Why would I listen to fools? (and I find it curious that you presume me to one day have children. I'm weird, remember? I dunno if I'll ever be that "normal" to have wife and kids)

To summarize: I don't think it's comfort that permits me to use the speech I do--I think it is the intent behind my speech and the meaning *I* put behind my words. I mean, one could just as easily, with the proper (or improper, depending on POV) inflection in one's voice turn "woman" into as demeaning a term as "girl". So it's not purely the words, its what is behind the words.

*** Brennan, While the age of when to use girl vs. woman is an arbitrary line in the sand, like the one for statutory rape, it is one that needs to be adhered to or the consequences can be dire! What are those consequences? For statutory rape it is involving someone that society has deemed may not be mature enough to determine whether they should be involved in sexual activity. For women who are referred to as girls, we run the risk of contributing to the ongoing infantilizing of women. If I am a proponent of social justice and logical consistency I am not interested in consciously (or even unconsciously) perpetrating a social injustice upon anyone. Oh, and it is logically inconsistent of me to want respect extended towards me relative to anyway I may be different if I am not prepared to give it. Grown women deserve to be addressed as grown women, not girls! Any man that takes it upon himself to consciously address them otherwise makes a statement about his not wanting to relinquish the ill-appropriated privilege that allows him to do it. You’re saying that “I'm still in the habit of using such language,” brings to mind a John Corvino quote: Condemning people out of habit is easy, Overcoming deep seated prejudice takes courage!" I’m not trying to imply that you are prejudiced, at least not beyond the prejudgments you make that you don’t have to change your behavior or relinquish your privilege before you have seriously considered the ramifications of your actions, including continuing to model such behavior. Oh, and calling yourself weird doesn’t justify such behavior!

Your reference to the black people – nigger dichotomy is intriguing. First it was Chris Rock that made the point not Richard Pryor, and his point while intriguing was a reflection of his class status. It is easy to say “I love black people, and I hate niggers” to get a laugh from an audience that is lightly responding to, and not critically engaging his delivery. The behavior though of the so-called “niggers” that Rock ridicules is often (not always) situated in the opportunities some of the so-called niggers had to obtain the more glorified status of Black people. And as you yourself imply, in the case of the racial dichotomy of once-called Negroes, that discussion is a black thing. If that is the case, then as you say “So, while I myself would not feel right using that particular phrase to describe somebody,“ how is it that you think you can justifiably call women girls? If you shy away from engaging blackness, what makes you think you can engage femininity in such a way? Perhaps it is true that we as men are so comfortable oppressing women that we truly don’t see when we do it, and are so comfortable in how we do it that we are prepared to wage war over our right to continue to do it. Oh, and just because some women don’t care doesn’t mean it doesn’t contribute to the lessening of women’s status in society (similar to some Black folks rationalization of their use of the word “nigger”).

Whether you have children or not, whether you see yourself as weird, are all self imposed assessments or limitations you put on yourself that you will have to unpack one day, or not. But as an ex-professor of yours and hopefully still a mentor, I want to recommend that you proceed cautiously with affixing labels on people. Your statement that “I try my very best not to listen to people who do not know what they are talking about,” may speak voluminously about some things you haven’t truly engaged. Many people that we encounter may give us the impression that they don’t know what they are talking about, only for us to ultimately discover that what they were saying was so “cutting edge” that it was difficult for us to receive it simply because we had never heard anything like it. 100 years ago an argument that women are equal to men may have been countered with a statement by many men that probably could be summarized by your earlier statement “I try my very best not to listen to people who do not know what they are talking about.”
I agree with your summary though, that it isn’t purely “the words, it’s what is behind the words.” Perhaps it is time that we all start to really unpack some of the things we are saying and juxtapose their intended meaning with what they may actually be saying about others, and us! *** -- J.W.

Wow. Excellent idea for discussion. I honestly had never really put much thought into how problematic double entrendres could be and how it is a great example of how miscommunication can be a huge problem if differences in viewpoints are not considered and taken into account. Consideration for alternative views is necessary if people are going to successfully respect “the other.”

The comments regarding “obvious answers” to questions posed by JW are on-point as there cannot be an assumption that everyone will interpret a concept or statement the same way. Differences in every regard must be tolerated and considered (including language interpretation). Not taking the thoughts and/or thought processes of others into consideration is a form of ableism because some people may not even have the ability or mental capacity to see the so-called “obvious” answers to questions. One particular example could be someone who is born with an autism spectrum disorder such as Asperger Syndrome. These disorders make it difficult to stray away from literal interpretations of comments and there is difficulty with language and cognitive development.

Certainly this is only an example, but it shows how there are people who may not see “obvious” answers. To not take this into consideration is to not understand or accept the diversity of others. There should also be an awareness that there is no such thing as an obvious thought because others probably think differently and maybe you are the one who sees things differently sometimes. In fact, the important and world/life changing thoughts are often not “obvious.”

In terms of discussing Cornel West’s Race Matters and being on a different page due to language interpretation, I think that this is a good example of how miscommunication can lead to a very different conversation than expected or intended. However, in this case, I would have to say that any communication or dialogue regarding the works of Dr. West is positive. Conversations may not go where intended, but a conversation about such a powerful topic is important regardless of the circumstances. During my experience at Plattsburgh, there were only really two responses by students when they heard that Dr. West had actually been to the campus in the past. Some would be amazed while too many simply would reply by asking, “who the hell is that?” Therefore, as a result of this troubling revelation, I would contend that a discussion about his works in general would be greatly positive, regardless of language interpretation.

By the way, speaking of the American Beauty example, the original script did not have the military father hiding his homosexuality for his entire life (he had a gay lover in Vietnam who died) so there was originally a little more time spent delving into the sexual orientation and the mind frame associated with the character of Frank Fitts. Then again, perhaps this story revelation indicates that he had been suppressing his sexual orientation only in the society of our country. Conceivably, this is a testament to the intolerance of differences in American society – in this case regarding sexual orientation.

Finally, in regards to JW’s question about “why do we continue to do all of these things?” (referring to problematic uses of language despite his efforts to challenge others); I don’t know if there is a clear-cut answer. First of all, the greatest problem is that many people are not even made aware of the problems that arise with language and the disrespect of differences because they don’t have someone like JW to challenge them or point out the social injustice that arises from dysfunctional terms. If someone is not challenged or made aware of their dysfunctional language, how will they learn to change? Unfortunately, people need to be shown why some things that they do are ignorant or dysfunctional because they may not have someone in their lives to teach them. Therefore, it is up to those who have been challenged and have learned about the power of language to, in turn, challenge and teach others what they have learned. However, what about those who have been challenged but continue to stick with their past of dysfunctional and offensive language? Well, I guess that goes back to socialization and the privilege that some people are just too comfortable with. If someone has a certain amount of privilege, they may not see the advantages of completely changing their ways if it will not have a profound impact on their own life. Then again, who knows, I’m sure that in some ways, I too continue to do my share of dysfunctional things despite all that I’ve learned…

First, as to book titles, I'd never consider assuming anything until after reading a book, such as Race Matters. And even after reading it, I wouldn't assume until after I spoke with West, because unless I'm confident I know every possible way in which words and phrases can be used, I run the risk of making a fool of myself.

JW, in my opinion, is correct that something not offensive to one person may be extremely so to another. But I agree intent is important. I agree with Card Buddy about people who are more concerned their sensibilities not be offended than with intent. I think someone who doesn't offer benefit of the doubt and listen to what the person has to say before pointing out error likely does so because he or she has an axe to grind and possibly should self reflect before acting, "Holier than Thou!!!"
There is much to consider when trying to determine intent, such as education, socio-economic status and more. And even using those areas to determine intent relies on generalizations of say poor people or high-school dropouts when we all know there are exceptions to the rule and genius's among dropouts.

An elderly, French canadian man with little education whom I know once said his vehicle was stuck and a "nigger" helped him out. I was briefly offended on a philosophical level because of what I know of the word and on a personal level becasue my daughter's mother is black. But, besides those other descriptors of this man, he also grew up in a rural, white area during a time when it was normal to describe someone with darker skin that way, which of course doesn't make it right, but enabled me to give this gentleman the benefit of the doubt. And indeed, there was no malice in his intent. Of course, one still has the responsilbity to point out the harmful usage of such a word, at the very least to prevent that person from being misinterpreted as a racist.
On the other hand, I once heard a friend who is traveled and educated say, "Well, you know how black women are," when referring to a black woman acting in a way the media often portrays black women as acting. I was isntantly more offended than when the elderly person used "nigger."

I heard an argument, I think from JW, about adhering to self preservation. That's nonsense. I personally want to adhere to self preservation, but if one day I decide to walk backwards, speak in giberish and urinate in public, so be it. I have yet to hear an argument that convinces me those actions are less proper than the person who respects society's laws and conditioned morality. One might argue that is basicaly self suicide. So what. I am a strong believer in Individual Freedom. One might counter with, "What if some dude rapes and murders your daughter? You'ld still support individual freedom?" That is often a ploy used in debate when intellectual is absebt, and it is unfair considering our physiological and psychological make-up. I'm against the death penalty, but I'd beat to death someone who raped my daughter, and that is because in humans emotions at times knock reason over the head. The world is not black and white. It is so damned gray.

*** Stephen, because we are friends I am comfortable coming at you in this discourse the way you often come at me, except when I am buying drinks. Just because you haven't heard an argument that convinces you that walking backwards, speaking gibberish, and urinating in public aren't apropo doesn't mean that if you do them you aren't situating yourself to be ostracized. If you are self sufficient to the point were being ostracized is okay with you, then walk backwards and speak gibberish. If you are going to urinate in public though, knowing that it is far outside of the norm and, to borrow your words, nonsensical, please let me know so I can join the general public in ostracizing you as well. After all, with all things there should be a method to our madness. When people do things just to do them that are outside of the norm, with no rhyme or reason, they are usually doing them to get attention or happen to be ignorant of societal conventions, or as you say, they are more inclined toward suicide than most. Which would be the case for you? I like how you paint someone who presents an argument (like a reaction to someone harming your daughter) as them lacking the ability to intellectualize or articulate their point. You don't address the fact that it would be an instance of hypocrisy. I guess you are comfortable declaring that individual freedom is so important to you that it trumps hypocrisy. I tell you what though, just like when people say they aren't racist, but have problems with their child dating outside of the race, let's see where you really stand. If you actually teach your children that their individual freedom is such that it is okay for your daughter to walk backwards, speak gibberish, and do other things (that I won't mention in detail in the context of your children) publicly, then you truly believe in individual freedom. However, if you don't teach your children that, and would take umbrage to her actually doing any of those things, then when it comes to your position on individual freedom you have been basically, to quote James Brown the godfather of soul, talking loud and saying nothing. *** -- J.W.

Just a quick response for now...

I, too, think the intent behind words is what is important. Language is imperfect. Couple that imperfection with cultural/social/whatever other differences we have with others, and our interactions with other people are bound to be fraught with antagonisms (purposeful and innocent).

In the end, my personal belief is that I do my best not to be offensive to others...to treat people equally, and with respect. If the framework of language impedes my ability to do so, I would hope the person I'm interacting with would judge me more on my intent than on the words I choose. [I know this may be an idealistic perspective, and arguably naive.]

However...despite our best intentions we do need to do our best to watch our words. They are important.

Here's a short little vignette to illustrate my point:

A 911 operator receives a call from a hunter. The hunter says, "I just came across a blood stained man in woods! I think he may be dead! What should I do?"

The operator says,"It's OK, just follow my instructions. First, put down the phone and make sure he's dead."

There's silence on the line, then the sound of a gunshot. The hunter returns and says, "OK. Now what do I do?"

*** What's up Whaler? It has been a while. I was about to put an APB out on you. Stephen just asked me the other night when we were exploring Pburgh when was the last time I had heard from you.

I like the fact that you acknowledge as idealistic or naive your hope that someone would give you the benefit of the doubt. While we often deserve the benefit of the doubt, we probably get it more from people that we know than we are apt to receive it from strangers, and it is our relationship with strangers that is more often than not problematic. So, as you said, it is very important to "watch our words." Your vignette accentuates how problematic language can be when misinterpreted to an extreme. While some would look at is as the exception to the rule (the rule being give people the benefit of the doubt), when communication or language is misunderstood between strangers, the exceptional response to miscommunication can actually become the rule. And we all know "race rules." [Did I just go full circle?] *** -- J.W.

Ok, I've pulled out my Jedi mind saber and ma ready to strike!!!!!!
Actually, I've no expectations for my daughter except for her to pursue her happiness, and yes, if she chose to do things outside the norm then good for her, or, if she decides otherwise, good for her.
As for me, Definitely don't do it for attention. I just do what I'm inspired to do, whether it be far from the norm or tucked neatly into societal conditioning.
And yes, I do think there can be isntances of hypocrisy, such as when I would probably beat to death someone who murdered or raped a child of mine, but not support the death penalty. Doesn't mean I think my daughter is better than someone else's, just means I don't have that emotional connection to someone else's child. I would give the other individual the same benfit of the doubt, knowing full well that human emotion and the response it sometimes brings can trump rationality. Don't know if that's bad or good. It just is what it is. It is allowed, as some court cases consider crimes of passion and temporary insanity, and should be considered, because, as you know, there is so much gray.
Hey, no one wants to be ostracized that I know of, though I do know I'd rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I am not. And know, that is not an original quote, just can't recall the author.

If West's name is attached to it,it must be more of the same:whiny,racist drivel that only further puts a wedge between the races.

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