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"Her using that word shows you that she doesn't care about black people..."
July 15, 2001 11:27 AM   Subscribe

"Her using that word shows you that she doesn't care about black people..." In a remix of "I'm Real," J.Lo sings lyrics written for her by Ja Rule that include the N-word. Boycotts and petitions are being organized, and some former fans are calling her racist. Says the WP: "The tempest over Lopez is clearly an illustration of how public reaction to the word continues to depend very much on who utters it." (more inside)
posted by jennak (114 comments total)

 
October, a 25-year-old graphic artist who brought a J-Lo T-shirt doctored to read "J-No," confessed that the issue confuses him. "I'm Colombian, and I was born in Brooklyn. My son is black. His mother's from St. Thomas. I'll call my son 'my little n---a.' I'm using the meaning of the word as it has evolved. But I'm going to try not to use it anymore."

I think J. Lo was incredibly stupid and/or naive to think that she could get away with using the N-word....but isn't the bigger problem that it shouldn't be used at all? If the word is disrespectful, aren't those that use it as a term of affection disrespecting themselves?
posted by jennak at 11:30 AM on July 15, 2001


You can't trust those spicks
posted by Postroad at 11:39 AM on July 15, 2001


double standards.

"She has no right to use it. "

Apparently its a word you have to earn the right to use. Whats a guy have to do?
posted by howa2396 at 11:50 AM on July 15, 2001


Postroad, knock it off. That wasn't funny.
posted by jennak at 11:57 AM on July 15, 2001


This is just silly.

Sure it's stupid, sure it's insensitive...I have no doubt her pr people and agent are giving her hell now.

However, who gives a fuck? A moderately talented actress and no talent singer is racially insensitive...oh my, a sign of the Apocalypse!

I'll still keep my Anaconda stills as wallpaper.
posted by cedar at 11:57 AM on July 15, 2001


This is just silly.

But isn't it more silly that some of the people who were so offended by this word upheld its use as an ethnic term of endearment?
posted by jennak at 12:00 PM on July 15, 2001


But isn't it more silly that some of the people who were so offended by this word upheld its use as an ethnic term of endearment?

Sure it is. I'm of mixed descent and visibly cringe with every pop tv use of 'my nigga'. Like any other charged word it requires context to be used properly, surely you don't speak the same way in front of your parents or boss that you do when your with your friends?

Just because she has a killer butt and boffed the artist formerly known as Puff Daddy, does not mean that she should be held to a higher standard than anyone else. Some of her most vocal critics in the hiphop communtity are guilty of writing some of the most homophobic, misogynist and racist lyrics ever commited to paper. It also needs to be noted that the *black* lyricist, Ja Rule, does not have a problem with this.
posted by cedar at 12:12 PM on July 15, 2001


Yes.
posted by Cavatica at 12:12 PM on July 15, 2001


Does anyone else see this as just a publicity stunt to sell more records?
posted by keithl at 12:23 PM on July 15, 2001


I hear Chris Rock in my head :
"Keepn' it reeeeeeal!
Yeah.
real STUPID."

This same thing happened to Quentin Tarantino a few years ago.
Nothing puts a paleface right back in the plantation hat so fast as getting a little too comfortable with the evil N word. Never fails to amuse me.

"I love you man!"
"I love you, man!"
"When I get married, you're gonna be my best man, right?"
"I'm there man! Who else is it gonna be?"
"We're still gonna hang out like always, man, every night!"
"You know it!"
"`cause you my nigga, man!"

*crickets*

"Get the fuck away from me."
posted by dong_resin at 1:04 PM on July 15, 2001


...says Stephanie Eccles, 22, a Queens college student who is black..."She has no right to use it. Children look up to her. She's saying it's okay to use it. It's not okay and it will never be okay. Eminem is the top rapper in the world, and he has never used that word. He has respect for black people."

Yeah. Now if he could just start respecting women, his mother, his wife (ex?), gays and others, you'd actually have a decent example, Stephanie. Such a respecting guy, that Eminem.
posted by gramcracker at 1:14 PM on July 15, 2001


What a complete and utter non-issue... Lopez is an idiot for including "nigga" in the release version of a song her black producer wrote for her. The DJs are idiots for taking this and turning it into a full-bore media frenzy. The woman quoted in the article is an idiot for confusing Lopez with someone anyone other than idiots would "look up to." And we are all idiots for continuing to expend this much energy every time some other idiot says "Nigger." When did a person's Constitutionally guaranteed right to express themselves become secondary to everybody else's non-Constitutional desire to not hear anything bad said about themselves? Grow up. Set a better example. Get on with your life...
posted by m.polo at 1:34 PM on July 15, 2001


bwahaha.

rules for 'artists' in the 'urban entertainment industry'.

1) don't say nigger if you aren't black.

1a) but it's ok to say 'faggot', 'bitches', and 'cracker' as much as you want.

***

p.s. it's 'spics', not 'spicks'. and it *was* funny, dammit. jennak needs to represent!
posted by jcterminal at 1:40 PM on July 15, 2001


"The DJs are idiots for taking this and turning it into a full-bore media frenzy."

I'm not so sure the DJ's are the ones to blame.
posted by howa2396 at 1:42 PM on July 15, 2001


Parents, don't stop your children from listening to ANY hip hop song because it uses racially sensitive language. Stop them from listening to hip hop music because it really sucks.
posted by Hildago at 1:53 PM on July 15, 2001


Frankly, I'm still not comfortable with ANYONE saying that word, even if perceived as a victory over its initial meaning. To me, it rings of the same hypocrisy present when women fight for equal rights, yet continue to objectify themselves and other women. Or vegans that wear leather jackets...
posted by machaus at 1:59 PM on July 15, 2001


Parents, don't stop your children from listening to ANY hip hop song because it uses racially sensitive language. Stop them from listening to hip hop music because it really sucks.

The voice of reason...I guess that's why it's so hard for me to take this seriously. The chances of my *ever* hearing this song are essentially nil. Hip pop and J. Lo are not exactly on the top of my playlist.

On a related note, I just rented a property to some kids. I'm an old geezer and had serious reservations about a summer rental to a couple of 19 year olds. The first blast of Pink Floyd, Talking Heads and Iggy Pop convinced me there was hope for them (and my house).

They don't even know who J. Lo is, I like that in a kid.
posted by cedar at 2:06 PM on July 15, 2001


i don't recall anyone ever getting on big pun or fat joe (also non-black artists) for using the word... i think there's also a son where dr. dre refers to eminem as "my n*gga." oh well.. the remix seems to sound a lot better than the original at least.
posted by lotsofno at 2:09 PM on July 15, 2001


What a complete and utter non-issue.....When did a person's Constitutionally guaranteed right to express themselves become secondary to everybody else's non-Constitutional desire to not hear anything bad said about themselves? Grow up.

M.Polo, let me help you off of your high horse.

I don't think anyone is advocating censorship. We have a right to free speech too. There's nothing wrong with trying to educate society and better race relations.
posted by jennak at 2:13 PM on July 15, 2001


Pretty obvious she doesn't mean anything by it. If she had such sentiments, she could express them by any word at all. It's the intention behind the word that makes it powerful. A word is just an expression of a certain feeling. It's all about semiotics. If I say nigga it means one thing to one person, another to another. Those damn signs and signifiers haunt us.

And I agree it is a bit of a non-issue for me, as I have no idea what her music sounds like. I am, however, willing to bet that it sucks a mountain of ass.
posted by Kafkaesque at 2:20 PM on July 15, 2001


Can we just sue Miss Jennifer for misrepresentation?

"I'm Real"?

Like fuck you are.
posted by holgate at 2:21 PM on July 15, 2001


Big Pun Lyrics from "It's So Hard", his latest, and last release:

Never that, SKEE-YU! Where my niggaz at?

Uptown! Uptown! You know you feelin that

"Cash Rule," hardcore you can dance to

posted by Mark at 2:30 PM on July 15, 2001


jennak, let me help you off the soapbox you ascended in your original post and from which you are so graciously using to help me off my high horse... Perhaps no one's advocating direct censorship (which, by definition, requires action by the part of a government), but they are absolutely advocating that Jennifer Lopez not be allowed to say "nigger" in a rap lyric, which is well within the popular definition of the word censorship. In your own original posting, you can't even bring yourself to write it, preferring the smarmy "N-word" construct that is supposed to strike fear into the hearts of anyone who'd dare to utter "nigger" without the benefit of actually being Chris Rock. If every time the word nigger is used it's going to continue to cause this kind of public free-for-all, people will continue to use that word in order to get generate attention.
posted by m.polo at 2:35 PM on July 15, 2001


Damn right I won't write it; as I said earlier, I don't believe in using such ignorant and offensive words. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this belief.

So what is wrong with people asking music artists (term used very loosely) not to use hateful language? I just wish they'd use the same energy and direct it to musicians of all races. (Enough of the gay, woman, race bashing already. What happened to music?)
posted by jennak at 2:46 PM on July 15, 2001


Isn't the issue really about how it's "ok" for some people (non-black) to use the term, but it's not for others? The argument seems to be that if you're black, you have a right to use it if you want, either as an insult or a term of endearment. That can cause a lot of problems, because take my buddy (white) who was doing karaoke to a Nelly song when it got to a part where he used the term, and we all sorta cringed as he awkwardly stumbled over it.

Is it ok to use it even in the casual quoting sense as this? He's not expressing his own opinions, just like JLo was just reciting some words put in her mouth by someone else. How do you draw the line of what's permissible and what's not?
posted by padjet1 at 2:53 PM on July 15, 2001


Whatever racial slurs strike your fancy, Never Be Rude to an Arab. No matter what you do.
posted by john at 3:34 PM on July 15, 2001


Precisely, padjet1... you can't draw the line and you shouldn't draw the line and you shouldn't begin a debate about a word you can't even bring yourself to write, let alone say, if you expect to have any kind of intelligent discussion.

You know, this could be looked at as hypocrisy on a (somewhat) grand scale: there's this magic word and we're gonna scream bloody murder if we hear you say it but we can say it, but then again, we might get our diapers in a wad no matter what color you are, but bottom line is we get to do as we please and call you names when we feel like it...

As long as we continue to invest this word - and others like it, jenna; go ahead, I'm actually giving you permission to say "fag" in my presence without fear of the usual retribution, like putting peroxide in your perm solution or hanging your drapes upside down - with the power to reduce us to stereotypes, these words will continue to have power over us.
posted by m.polo at 3:42 PM on July 15, 2001


See, m.polo, I don't use such words not out of fear...but because I don't want to perpetuate hateful, prejudice language. It's about having respect for myself and my fellow man.

Seriously, m.polo -- I don't get why you want people to use the word. You keep pointing to people who refuse to utter it (me and padjet) and yet we have very sound reasons for doing so -- we don't believe the word is ever okay. (With the exception of quoting.)

So what's your deal? Why do you get off on saying the word? You haven't eloquently stated yet why you're so in favor of the word.
posted by jennak at 3:58 PM on July 15, 2001


The only person who really has any right to be bothered by this is the one who wrote the song, and as cedar pointed out, he doesn't seem to mind. Granted, it wasn't smart of Jennifer Lopez to use the word in a song, since it's still sensitive territory, but no one ever said she was a smart thing.

What it comes down to is the fact that when you attempt to take the sting out of negative language by redifining it, you have to be prepared for other people to use it.

Bob Dylan used the word "nigger" in a song years ago, and no one seems to have gotten mad at him:

And to the black folks he was just a crazy nigger.
No one doubted that he pulled the trigger.

-- "Hurricane"posted by fidelity at 3:59 PM on July 15, 2001


Why do you get off on saying the word?
I love this assumption that when a white person talks about 'hate words', he's only doing it so he (all oppressors are men, of course) can get away with saying normally forbidden words in public.
I'm not fond of saying the word myself, but it's unreasonable to expect everyone to dance around avoiding it when the discussion is about it. Although I suppose that's rational thinking, and some words are just so politically loaded that they bypass rationality when mentioned.
Which, of course, raises the question why we have N-word threads here anymore, since discussion beyond the level of 'OMG THAT'S SO WRONG' is actively discouraged.
posted by darukaru at 4:40 PM on July 15, 2001


Hidalgo I find your position on hip-hop highly offensive. Hip Hop is the most intelligent, interesting, and dynamic music that exists in the world today.
posted by chaz at 4:46 PM on July 15, 2001


Every morning on the subway, I hear black kids calling each other nigger. I hear white kids call each other nigger. I hear Asian kids call each other nigger. Not all in the same morning, but you get the idea....
We've gotta come to the realization that nigger is used in the...I dunno, "hip hop" community as a term of comradery. I'm sure Jennifer Lopez isn't racist. I'm sure she's around people all the time who use the word nigger, and not once is it used in the derogatory way it once was.
And come on, Jennak, we all realize we shouldn't call people nigger, but you can write it out, or say it aloud. It's not magical.
posted by Doug at 5:08 PM on July 15, 2001


Doug : That's the point that I was wanting to make as I read the thread - that the words in and of themselves are not magical, are not what we should focus the laser-beam gaze of our righteous indignation upon. It's the intention behind the use of the words that is key.

This being my first (but by the sounds of it, not my last) thread of this ilk since I've been actively commenting on MeFi, I thought I might post this story, which is wonderfully ironic in and of itself, but may also be germane to the discussion.

This story may be apocryphal - I pieced it together during the course of living in South Korea for about 3 years.

Everyone knows the pejorative work 'gook' that gets thrown about by racist types to refer to Asian people in general. People tend to assume that it came out of the Vietnam war, but in fact it's use is older. In Korean 'han-guk' is an adjective meaning 'Korean' in Korean itself, but in fact the particle 'guk' is one of the ones that means 'person'.

The Korean word 'mi-guk' actually means 'beautiful person', literally, and is the word used by Koreans to this day to refer to Americans. During the Korean war, American soldiers, particularly the blonde ones, were chased around by groups of Korean children shouting 'mi-guk! mi-guk!', meaning literally 'beautiful person! beautiful person!'.

Of course, what the soldiers heard was 'Me..gook' - i.e. 'I am a gook' - and so they started using the sound 'gook' to refer to Koreans, and later all Asians, in an insulting and derogatory way.

How's that for irony?

My point being, to reiterate, is that it's not the words, it's the intention behind them - the words can be twisted to mean anything, deliberately or otherwise.

(BTW if any MeFi'ers have a better knowledge of Korean than I and reckon that I'm wrong here, let me know!)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:38 PM on July 15, 2001


"Her using that word shows you that she doesn't care about black people..."

She was in love with a black man, but doesn't care about black people? I think what happened was that she cared enough that she felt like it was OK for her to use "nigga" in its positive, familiar sense, especially since a black lyricist wrote it. Just my $0.02.
posted by RylandDotNet at 5:39 PM on July 15, 2001


some of my best friends rap.
posted by clavdivs at 6:21 PM on July 15, 2001


chaz: Hip Hop is the most intelligent, interesting, and dynamic music that exists in the world today.

Ha ha ha ha, hee hee hee, ho ho ho! Great joke, chaz!

Seriously, how can anyone take ANY of this seriously? Lopez & her ilk are such no-talent lame-ohs that it is hard for me to believe that anyone over the age of 14 listens to this stuff. People, based on the snippets that I catch while flipping the dial on the radio, this is NOT music. Bleh.
posted by davidmsc at 6:22 PM on July 15, 2001


darukaru has already said most of it for me. I wasn't planning on using the word nigger any time in the near future; I absolutely will not, however, tolerate your telling me I am forbidden to say a word - nigger or any other - regardless of your personal reasoning.

"I don't want to perpetuate hateful, prejudice language"

And you're just the girl to decide what fits that description, huh? As darukaru also pointed out, based on how this topic has been beaten to death - and how it's been made clear no dissension from the HappySpeak Party Line is allowed - your posting this thread is starting to smell suspciously familiar...
posted by m.polo at 6:25 PM on July 15, 2001


"My point being, to reiterate, is that it's not the words, it's the intention behind them - the words can be twisted to mean anything, deliberately or otherwise."

I think you're right about that, a person's intention behind using the word has a lot to do with how it's perceived by others, particularly with racially sensitive terms. A black person using the word "nigga" to another black person is accepted in that context. Culturally they've had to deal with that word being used against them, so over time, they've begun to use it for themselves. But if a white person uses that term to refer to a black person, it conjures up a whole mess of things, simply because of history.

Someone quoted in the article said, " 'The n-word is the atomic bomb of racial epithets in the American language,' he said. 'It's an interesting word. It can be a hateful word; it can be a term of affection. It has a lot of range.' " And to me, a lot of that range has to do with who uses the word and how they use it.

Stavros...you mentioned the word "gook" being used to refer negatively to asians. I remember in elementary school my asian friends referring playfully (or in jest) to each other that way and it was okay. Being asian, I was fine with that...they were asian and it didn't bother me.
posted by soundslikequiet at 6:25 PM on July 15, 2001


chaz: Hip Hop is the most intelligent, interesting, and dynamic music that exists in the world today.

Ha ha ha ha, hee hee hee, ho ho ho! Great joke, chaz!

Seriously, how can anyone take ANY of this seriously? Lopez & her ilk are such no-talent lame-ohs that it is hard for me to believe that anyone over the age of 14 listens to this stuff. People, based on the snippets that I catch while flipping the dial on the radio, this is NOT music. Bleh


J-Lo may not be great hip-hop, but there are definately intelligent, interesting, and dynamic versions of the genre out.

Examples including Jurassic 5, Mos Def, Beastie Boys, Black Eyed Peas, and De La Soul.
posted by soundslikequiet at 6:30 PM on July 15, 2001


is it offensive for two white guys to (endearingly) greet each other in this manner?:

"wassup, honkey?"
"not much, cracker."
"what you been doing with your white-bread self?"
"not a whole lot, whitey."

personally, i think it is hilarious because it it mocks the hypocracy of racial words.

while i would never call an african-american a "nigger" (because i lack the necessary skin-coloring), i wouldn't be too offended if anybody called me "honkey."

is it offensive to blacks when whites call each other things like "honkey" and "cracker?" i don't mean to offend. i only mean to laugh at hypocracy.
posted by kzam at 7:32 PM on July 15, 2001


RylandDotNet: She was in love with a black man, but doesn't care about black people?

This should not be surprising; it's quite common for people to date and marry across such boundaries without ever understanding their situation in the broader context of society, history, economics, power, and so on.

m.polo (love ya!): When someone says to you, "I don't want you to say 'nigger' to me or in my presence" they're not censoring you, they're telling you the terms on which they are willing to relate to you. If you would rather feel free to fling slurs indiscriminately than to maintain a respectful relationship with a person, that's a choice you're making. Your 'popular' definition of censorship could certainly be applied to your penchant for demanding that no one ask anyone else to use language respectfully. Why do you feel it's ok to demand that no one express such sentiments?

cedar: It also needs to be noted that the *black* lyricist, Ja Rule, does not have a problem with this.

I hope you're not trying to suggest that Ja Rule, *one* Black person, is speaking for anyone but himself.


The negative tone towards hip hop and the white fascination with the "nigger" taboo have conspired to make this a singularly uninsightful thread. I've heard lots of interesting perspectives on the use of "nigger" in black communities and in hip hop, any one of them a better starting point than the manufactured J.Lo controversy:
Sucka Nigga by A Tribe Called Quest
Mr. Nigga by Mos Def
Nigga or Nigger by Davey D
Why We Should Delete "Nigger" From Our Vocabulary

And none of this is an invitation to discuss the merits of hip hop. Ignorance of Black artistry is nothing to be proud of.
posted by sudama at 7:37 PM on July 15, 2001


...a singularly uninsightful thread

And people are meant to respond to this....how?

"But sudama, I'm insightful, really I am! Uhhh...sudama? hello?"
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:58 PM on July 15, 2001


As long as we continue to invest this word with the power to reduce us to stereotypes, these words will continue to have power over us.

m.polo, I totally agree. Another case in point:
One of QN's most radical gestures is their appropriation of "queer." Like "nigger," "queer" is a taunt sometimes taken by its targets as a badge of resistance. The push to add lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and other causes to the Gay Rights banner has also made "Queer" a useful, "playfully non-essentialist" catchall for the movement.
I also think that people waste too much energy fighting the wrong things, many of which are so superficial and useless to correcting the real problem, but YMMV...
posted by fooljay at 8:27 PM on July 15, 2001


. . . I remember in elementary school my asian friends referring playfully (or in jest) to each other that way and it was okay. Being asian, I was fine with that...they were asian and it didn't bother me.

. . . while i would never call an african-american a "nigger" (because i lack the necessary skin-coloring), i wouldn't be too offended if anybody called me "honkey."

This is the crux of what I posted before. soundslikequiet, you mention how you weren't offended by your asian friends calling using the epithet, but would you have felt the same had it come from a white/black person?

And to kzam, I also admit that I'm not personally offended if someone calls me "cracker" or something of the sort, but for the sake of fairness, I think we can agree that it doesn't have the same horrible history.

Something's wrong with a word if its acceptability depends solely on the skin color of the person using it.
posted by padjet1 at 8:35 PM on July 15, 2001


'Nigger' is out, but 'rice-and-bean-eating *expletive*' is OK. Maybe J-Lo should've prefaced 'nigger' with 'watermelon-eatin'.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:37 PM on July 15, 2001


If the entire black/asian/gay community could agree that the terms in question are perfectly fine, and we all should use them without abandon, then it's another matter. But the point is that some people have no problem with "nigger," while others are deeply hurt. Which type of person are you going to assume you're passing on the street?
posted by padjet1 at 8:38 PM on July 15, 2001


cedar: "It also needs to be noted that the *black* lyricist, Ja Rule, does not have a problem with this."

I hope you're not trying to suggest that Ja Rule, *one* Black person, is speaking for anyone but himself.

Not at all. What I am suggesting is that he is the artist who wrote the song and can say whatever he damn well pleases.

This isn't about the merits of 'black' artistry. I can ride around in a hot rod, swilling bourbon and cheap beer and playing Merle Haggard riffs on a creaky old Strat. That makes me no more a representative of white artistry than Mos Def represents black artistry.

This song was included in the release after being vetted by the record company, the publisher, the songwriter, the singer and the flock of lawyers following them all. With a star of Ms. Lopez's stature these things do not happen by accident. It's not like nobody noticed.

This is *not* a cultural or racial issue, this a bunch of foolish folks falling into a pit spawned by money mongering harpies and swine. This whole thread and all the similar ones floating about on various boards can only have one result...bigger album sales.

It's nice to stand up for artistry, and be socially conscious about bad words. It's even nicer to cash the check resulting from these discussions.
posted by cedar at 8:39 PM on July 15, 2001


i think the artist fish said it best in his song the perception of johnny punter, off his 1997 album sunsets on empire:

Just another nigger, a spooky piece of white trash,
Just another jewboy, spic, mick, yid, raghead motherfu**er
living on the planet.
Just before it kicks in just like a silver bullet,
Take a good look at yourself in the mirror and tell me that it’s worth it,
said it’ll never happen, you said you’d never get caught out,
you settled in a habit, so now you’re Mr Fixit,
just another alien, living on the planet,
living on the planet, living on the planet.
It’s just one of those days when you know that something’s gonna happen.

Just another betrayal, lose another friend,
you know you never need them, on your own until the bitter end.
Just another pick up just another kill, someone else’s daughter,
someone else’s girl, living on the planet.
We are in another world, Living on the planet we are, we are,
and you know there’s somedays when you feel that something’s gonna happen,
This is one of those days which you know that something’s gonna happen,
and something’s gonna happen.

Somedays you just wake up and you don’t have any real sense of direction,
you just can’t find the will to get up and go through with it all,
your next allotted 24 hour slice of destiny.
There’s just a bad vibe and rather than a world of opportunities,
it’s full of threats and just too many negative variables.

I’d noticed these houses way up in the hills and I tried to imagine what it would have been like living up there isolated from the world,
everynight watching the fires crawl slowly down the valley,
and knowing that one night it was gonna be your turn for the visit.
I tried to imagine what it would have been like hiding in a cellar with your family and the fear hoping that when they do come, when the dogs don’t bark,
and the silence is around you, you hope that they burn the whole house around your ears and they don’t discover you hiding in the cellar because you’ve got nowhere to go,
and you know that one day that something’s gonna happen,
There’s one day, just one day.

Just another village burning in the hills,
I saw it on the tv, just another thrill,
Someone else’s problems, someone else’s grief,
Someone else’s children living on the planet,

We are in another world living on the planet,
We are in another world living on the planet, we are, we are.

It’s just one of those places that never exist till you’ve been there,
It’s just one of those things that you never will see till you wake up,

And you know that somewhere there’s somebody that’s out there who thinks like you do.
And you hope that today is the day that it’s all gonna happen for you.
And you know there’s somedays when you feel that something’s gonna happen.
This is one of those days which you know that something’s gonna happen.

posted by bwg at 8:39 PM on July 15, 2001


People who have absolutely no connection to the use of the word nigger in a familiar way have nothing to say about it. It is what it is. It's something I can't have and don't want.

padjet1: It's not acceptability, but meaning that depends largely on skin color. Words always need to be understood in context. In this case, skin color is a crucial context. How could it be otherwise?
posted by sudama at 8:41 PM on July 15, 2001


oh, and in case anyone accuses me of being racist, i beg to differ.
posted by bwg at 8:43 PM on July 15, 2001


Hey, bwg. That was some profound shit.

Can we have a show of hands...how many of you read it through?
posted by cedar at 9:02 PM on July 15, 2001


Oh, dear, bwg. I don't want to go after you personally here, but your link to that old comment ... well let me rattle on a bit here.

What I mean is, I'm sure you're not a racist person, and have nothing but the best of intentions in saying 'forget the labels and treat people as people', but if you're part of the 'visible majority' in Canada, Caucasian European-descended folks, then it's an 'easy for you to say' situation, I'm afraid. The fact that your Grandfather threw away his cultural heritage when he came to Canada is a little sad, I think, but is netiher good nor bad, and not germane as a supporting argument.

Full-disclosure : I'm a European-descended Canadian, too, but having an Asian partner, my hope is that my children if any will benefit from being able to understand, embrace, and feel as if they can participate in more than one cultural milieu.

Focussing on clumsy and painful appellations like African-American or Asian-American (or their even clumsier equivalents in Canada) misses the point, I think, and misses part of what I at least take from this discussion - focussing on the words misses the point.

Humans are tribal, always will be. When you live on a cultural or ethnic island in a sea of otherness (as I've done, mostly in Asia and Mexico, and as most immigrants to North America or Australia do), you try to find, consciously or unconsciously, ways to identify yourself with your tribe, whether or not you believe in your heart, as I do, that we are All One People. It's a matter of survival.

Those clumsy compound words, IMO anyway, are part of the process people use to help identify themselves with the most obvious of their tribal affiliations - the ones of race and ethnicity. The fact that the media flogs us with PC usages of the terms is a distraction from the main game here, as attention to media usually is.

Man I hope that makes sense. I gotta run.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:20 PM on July 15, 2001


in the poetic words of Flava Flav:

N.I.G.G.E.R.
Niga
Everybody sayin' it
Everybody playin' it
rolling on the scales
'Cause everybody's weighin' it
Toby say "yo I be good niga
Let me get a shovel make a good digger"
I don't care how small or bigger
I don't want to be called yo niga
Yo niga...
posted by hotdoughnutsnow at 9:28 PM on July 15, 2001


stavrosthewonderchicken - my wife is chinese.

and it was my father, not my grandfather. and he didn't throw away his heritage - i making the point that he embraced his new country. we had lots of dutch influence in the house growing up. but that still doesn't mean i know what it's like to be dutch.

whatever. my intention was not to take away from this thread.

as for the N-word, it's not a word i've ever used. i find it distasteful. in point of fact, i was rather shocked the first time i ever heard a black person use it as a term of endearment.

my first reaction was that it's a hideous double-standard:

be white and say it, you get your ass kicked.
be black and say it, and everything's cool.

funny, the words damn and hell at one time were considered nasty cuss words. these days no one cares. maybe one day, the N-word will become that way, but i'd rather it just disappeared.
posted by bwg at 9:55 PM on July 15, 2001


sudama: When someone says to you, "I don't want you to say 'nigger' to me or in my presence" they're not censoring you, they're telling you the terms on which they are willing to relate to you. If you would rather feel free to fling slurs indiscriminately than to maintain a respectful relationship with a person, that's a choice you're making.

(Oh, I knew things were going to good to last...)

C'mon, you're smarter than that, and I'm pretty sure you know that's not what I meant. If you or someone else said, "Don't call me 'nigger'," I simply wouldn't do it. Nor would I, in general, go about town randomly including it in conversation, so it's not even very likely this situation would ever arise in real life. All I said was that I refuse to allow a self-appointed group of speech police to pre-determine what I can say and I can not say, based on their perception of the effect those words might have on someone so weak the very sound of the word would somehow wound them.

And while I would certainly appreciate it if the people who feel compelled to so stridently make these arguments over and over and over could more productively direct their energies to addressing the actual problems - instead of quibbling over words, which only have the power those people assign them - I have never said they're not free to express those opinions to their hearts' content. What I do demand is the right to disagree, a courtesy not usually extended by those espousing those views, and the right to speak as I choose.
posted by m.polo at 10:05 PM on July 15, 2001


bwg : It's all good, man. Peace. You added to the thread, absolutely.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:17 PM on July 15, 2001


It does not approach censorship for a person or group to publicly register offense when the need arises. I don't understand where you see people trying to determine what you can and can not say.

Of course you wouldn't say it. I guess I'm not making sense because I don't understand where you're coming from. This has always been about should and should not, and if we agree we should not, what is the issue?
posted by sudama at 10:27 PM on July 15, 2001


Just sitting about hitting refresh and sorting through the chaos of my mp3's.

As long as we're posting lyrics, this might be worth a read. Old Patti Smith song, "Rock 'n' Roll Nigger".

"Baby was a black sheep
Baby was a whore...," etc.

Wasn't there also a John and Yoko thing about woman being the nigger of the world?

It's not like there isn't a precedent for this stuff, you don't get much whiter than John Lennon and Patti Smith.
posted by cedar at 10:31 PM on July 15, 2001


"soundslikequiet, you mention how you weren't offended by your asian friends calling using the epithet, but would you have felt the same had it come from a white/black person?"

padjet1, no I wouldn't have felt the same way. If any of my white friends used the word "gook" or any other epithet about asians around me or referring to me, even if it was jokingly, I would be taken aback and probably slightly offended.
posted by soundslikequiet at 10:36 PM on July 15, 2001


So de white man throw down de load and tell de nigger man tuh pick it up. He pick it up because he have to, but he don't tote it. He hand it to his womenfolks. De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see.

There was a Zora Neale Hurston thing called Their Eyes Were Watching God.
posted by sudama at 10:41 PM on July 15, 2001


come to think of it, i *am* a rock n' roll nigger.
posted by jcterminal at 11:52 PM on July 15, 2001


Here's another song. Hey, don't blame me - it wasn't my idea to bring 70s music into this...I'm only the messenger. Groovy tune, though, no (for those of you who remember it)?
posted by davidmsc at 12:16 AM on July 16, 2001


"The Perception of Johnny Foreigner" by Fish:

Just another nigger
A spooky piece of white trash
Just another jew-boy, spic, yid, red-neck motherfucker
Living on the planet...
posted by salmacis at 3:08 AM on July 16, 2001


Sudama:
Ignorance of Black artistry is nothing to be proud of.

Mind if I ask, why you capitalized the word black? Anyone here who did the same with the word "white" in the same context, would be fed to the pack of liberal, pc dogs (dawgs, doggs) that inhabit Mefi. Me being one who's in da house.
posted by crasspastor at 3:22 AM on July 16, 2001


Davidmsc People, based on the snippets that I catch while flipping the dial on the radio, this is NOT music. Bleh.

Well I can see you've done some hardcore analysis and really know what you're talking about!
posted by chaz at 4:16 AM on July 16, 2001


It does not approach censorship for a person or group to publicly register offense when the need arises. I don't understand where you see people trying to determine what you can and can not say.

But in this case, they're not "registering offense" - they are flat out saying that Jennifer Lopez has "no right to say" the word nigger, in a song lyric or at any other time. They are telling her - and warning everyone else - "Shut the f* up." They are calling for boycotts of her products and they are, for all intents and purposes, censoring her artistic expression (c'mon, let's go with benefit of the doubt here and leave "artistic" in there...). This thread isn't about what I would do or what you do - it's about Jennifer Lopez' right to say a word that some group of self-appointed verbal police have decided she can't say. You don't need to be told, one presumes, where that can lead when taken to it's logical extreme. There is no political idea I personally hold to be more important than Free Speech, even when it ostensibly "hurts the feelings" of a second party or parties. Short of the Supremely proverbial "Fire!" in the Loews Cineplex 14, I am unwilling to accept any limit to that right.
posted by m.polo at 4:54 AM on July 16, 2001


how it's been made clear no dissension from the HappySpeak Party Line is allowed - your posting this thread is starting to smell suspciously familiar...

HAHAH! I laughed heartily this morning. M.polo, you're the one who's not letting me dissent from your party line! I hold a certain view about the use of prejudice language -- it's a reflection of what I value, and it doesn't mean that I'm weak or a conformist. Furthermore, I never forbade you (how could I do that?) to use the word. I have only stated in this thread how I personally feel -- I never stated how other people must think or act.

HAHAH! A troll! I disagree with your view, therefore I must be a troll!

it's about Jennifer Lopez' right to say a word that some group of self-appointed verbal police have decided she can't say.

Nobody's limiting her right or yours. Go buy her CD's. I'm sure she'll still be in the business despite this incident.
I don't see yet how any of this has yet interfered with "Free Speech," as she's not been censored. Her public is merely stating the terms on which they'll continue to purchase her items. Seems sensible.
posted by jennak at 7:00 AM on July 16, 2001


as jack nicholson said in mars attacks...

"can't we all just get along?"
posted by bwg at 7:02 AM on July 16, 2001


I think the intentional use of such words have as many good intentions as they have bad reactions when used in this context. The rationale being, that over time, the words will be associated to something different than feelings of hate, fear, and alienation. Nonetheless, it's hard to pinpoint the correct use of a controversial word such as this one, which is used in so many contexts. The one we should be most aware of, and obviously most offended by, is the one associated with confused hatred.

People in general are not obligated to like other people, and find many reasons not to. But to respect other individuals, takes a considerable amount of forethought and maturity. Either Jennifer Lopez has not thought this through, and has written/used lyrics that offends many people....or maybe she has thought this out in the rationale of using the word to help dilute the derogatory nature of it. With either intention, it's bound to get misinterpreted by those that deal with the derogatory nature of the word on a day to day basis...I hope that one day it will lose that meaning...but I don't agree that this is the way to do it.
posted by samsara at 7:26 AM on July 16, 2001


if nothing else, this could get people talking about J.Lo's album and, in turn, buying it. maybe that was the point all along.
posted by moz at 7:43 AM on July 16, 2001


moz -- i'm sure it was. remember the dress?
posted by jennak at 7:47 AM on July 16, 2001


Allow me clarify -- before I'm accused of being a troll...

I think it's ridiculous that J.Lo uttered a word an was immediately branded a racist. I think it was wrong of her to use it -- I personally think the word shouldn't be used -- but I can understand her confusion. There's such a double standard; some people can use it, some can't. It's racist coming from one mouth; a term of endearment coming from another.

The word still deeply wounds many people. I think it would be ignorant of us to ignore that fact. And because of that -- I think the word shouldn't be used by people, regardless of race. I don't think people should use prejudice language period.

Now what can I do if you choose to use the word? I can tell you how I feel. I can refrain from buying your product. I can choose to not associate with you. But I would never want to limit one's free speech; I am not advocating censorship.
posted by jennak at 7:56 AM on July 16, 2001


So since I am white I shouldn't use the word nigger, and since I am of normal intelligence I shouldn't use the word retard either?
posted by DBAPaul at 8:00 AM on July 16, 2001


from "the Keel" (a yearbook you get when you finish boot) United States Naval Training Center, Great Lakes, Ill. (co.102) 1953. Chapter after 'Physical Training' is called 'Hip-Hop'. AHhem: " Hip-Hop is not defined in any dictionary, but to recruits at Great Lakes, the term means marching to classes, drilling on the "grinder", marching in review...through this medium he develops precision and habits of alertness, improves his posture and military appearance, and learn to function effectively as a member of a group...but to the recruit it all adds up to Hip Hop."

wanna dance?
posted by clavdivs at 8:22 AM on July 16, 2001 [1 favorite]


m.polo:quibbling over words, which only have the power those people assign them


And the power that words can have is indirectly proportional to how often they are used. In a human sexuality course I took we were told to go to the bathroom and look at ourselves in the mirror and say the words that we were uncomfortable with over and over to get over the shock of hearing and saying them. And then, once we were no longer caught up in the words themselves, we could have discussions about sexuality without them being loaded.
The Vagina Monologues were written and performed to lessen the social stigma towards the word 'vagina.' Maybe what we need now are the Nigger Monologues.
posted by eoligarry at 8:26 AM on July 16, 2001


Anyone here who did the same with the word "white" in the same context, would be fed to the pack of liberal, pc dogs

I'm sure I've seen people use it both ways many times. It's quite common to capitalize both white and Black when referring to races.
posted by sudama at 8:28 AM on July 16, 2001




John, I almost find your comment funny; almost.
posted by Sarine at 9:22 AM on July 16, 2001


Disclosure: White folks don't get no whiter than me. Shine a bright light behind me in the wintertime, you can see my organs working.

JLo is an artist, and has a right to say/sing whatever she damn well pleases. However, the listening public has a right to criticize what she says in any way they damn well please. I agree she's likely not anti-black, seeing as she was dating Puffy there for a while. I also agree some people see racism where there isn't any. But freedom of speech is exactly that - the freedom to say things that other people don't necessarily like.

I don't typically go around popping off the n-word -- primarily because I know what the ramifications of my saying that word are (i.e. I'm likely to get the shit kicked out of me, and at the very least the black people whom I consider friends and consider me a friend will certainly revise that opinion); on the other hand, I presume that others understand what the ramifications of, say, calling my wife a cracker bitch might be (i.e, I'm likely to at least try and feed you some of your own teeth).

Say what you want, but understand that there are consequences. JLo should probably have known better.
posted by UncleFes at 9:24 AM on July 16, 2001


If I may digress a bit from the topic at hand... It bothers me that several individuals feel free to slag off Hip-Hop and J-Lo so quickly.

While neither J-Lo nor Hip-Hop are my favourite types of music I find it rather disheartening that in a post concerning thoughtless lyrics (on J-Lo's part) some of us MeFi-ers are just as thoughtless with our posts.

To write off an entire genre as something that "really sucks" is thoughtless to say the least. As for J-Lo, I'm not about to put her on the same level as Mozart but to write her off as merely a "no talent singer" seems a bit rash.


UncleFes: "JLo should probably have known better"

I agree completely UncleFes. This was probably a bad call on her part though it seems strange to me that she is being, so harshly, slammed as a racist after being involved with Sean Combs.
posted by darainwa at 9:46 AM on July 16, 2001


what fes said.
posted by clavdivs at 9:51 AM on July 16, 2001


"It's quite common to capitalize both white and Black when referring to races."

bwhahahah.
posted by jcterminal at 11:13 AM on July 16, 2001


I have no interest in this specific subject, but I just want to point to some good hiphop for those ignorant: 75ark is Dan the Automator's label, I highly recommend people who haven't heard any hiphop they like to check out deltron 3030.
Everyone I know who's heard it likes it.

I used to listen exclusively to rock, but a couple of years ago, rock radio started sucking so badly I was forced to broaden my horizons.
There is some excellent hiphop out there. Kool Keith was one of the best acts at Warped Tour this year (but then, I'm in love w/ Kool Keith.)
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:35 AM on July 16, 2001


This was probably a bad call on her part though it seems strange to me that she is being, so harshly, slammed as a racist after being involved with Sean Combs.

Romantically involved. And professionally involved with Keenan Ivory Wayans (as a Fly Girl on "In Living Color" - her first major showbiz gig) Janet Jackson, Fat Joe, Ja Rule, Da Brat, etc. etc. How many alignments can one seek out and still be slammed as a racist because of poor judgment or misplaced trust?
posted by Dreama at 12:13 PM on July 16, 2001


misplaced trust?

I think you may have something there. I think she thought that her credibility with the black community was enough that she could get away with it.

When is it OK for a non-black to say it? How close to the black comunity do you have to be before it's OK? My older brother is married to a black woman, and I've never heard him say it. He has about a bazillion more black friends than he does white friends, three mulatto kids, and I can't recall a single time that I've heard him say it. My little brother, however, is a racist piglet, and he says it all the time. He says it precisely because it gets a certain (and guaranteed) reaction from people he's especially trying to provoke.

On the side, it certainly makes Christmas dinner at the 'rents a hoot, let me tell you :)
posted by UncleFes at 1:24 PM on July 16, 2001


Side note to UncleFes - mulatto went out with "colored." Try biracial. That is all.
posted by Dreama at 3:16 PM on July 16, 2001


I have no interest in this specific subject, but I just want to point to some good hiphop for those ignorant: 75ark is Dan the Automator's label, I highly recommend people who haven't heard any hiphop they like to check out deltron 3030.

yeah, deltron is some good stuff. i also suggest Aceyalone ("The Guidelines," "Accepted Eclectic") and if you're willing to invest the mind's energy, Dose One.
posted by lotsofno at 4:58 PM on July 16, 2001


mulatto went out with "colored." Try biracial. That is all.

Gosh, I didn't know that. I suppose my version of the OEFWD (Oxford English Forbidden Word dictionary) is out of date. I never knew that mulatto was banned...

You say a word "went out". Who let the words out? How did they "go out"? Were they voted out by everyone or did a small group representing all affected people's pass a resolution? Did someone do a focus group and decide to phase the word out of common usage? If so, I didn't get a memo.

For your reference, Dreama, compare the definitions of mulatto and nigger. I think you'll see a big difference. Look up colored as well while you're at it.

What's more, I can bet you that you know of ABSOLUTELY no one who is uniracial or biracial. We've been on the earth too long. Perhaps multiracial is a better term.
posted by fooljay at 8:42 PM on July 16, 2001


What the fuck is wrong with you?
posted by sudama at 9:56 PM on July 16, 2001


Mzungu.
posted by davehat at 10:48 PM on July 16, 2001


Sudama, to whom are you speaking?
posted by fooljay at 12:59 AM on July 17, 2001


I never knew that mulatto was banned...

Well, you've now been told that people feel it's as offensive as colored. Isn't that enough? Why fight to use a word that's just going to piss people off?
posted by cCranium at 5:31 AM on July 17, 2001


How about octaroon? Is it still allowed? Speaking of which, has anyone read the play of the same name? Set on a plantation, I believe it is one of the earliest works of American theatre.
posted by chaz at 6:10 AM on July 17, 2001


Thanks, cCranium, for getting it. It's not a matter of being banned or offensive as much as being an out of date term, like colored. No one I know of who could be labelled as such (which includes the vast majority of my family, myself included) allows themself to be. I personally use the term multiracial because it is most accurate in my circumstance, but I would suggest that most with one African-American parent and one White parent consider themselves bi-racial.
posted by Dreama at 7:38 AM on July 17, 2001


To you, fooljay. Dreama was very generous in mentioning that mulatto is a term to avoid. I would not be so generous if you called my son a little mule; you may as well say "half-breed". What does your dictionary say about that?
posted by sudama at 8:52 AM on July 17, 2001


Well, you've now been told that people feel it's as offensive as colored. Isn't that enough? Why fight to use a word that's just going to piss people off?

Actually, I can't say I've used the word 'mulatto' in at least 10-15 years (and, outside of a conversation like this, have never used the word nigger). When I have used the word, it was done with absolutely zero malice or discrimination. To me, it was a descriptive term and one that the "bi-racial" person himself used first. It's where I learned the term.

See that's the problem I have with this whole thing. If we took everyone in the whole wide world and crossed off all the words that people were offended by, we might find that we have nothing but 'kitten' and 'pancakes' on the list of universally acceptable words.

That's ridiculous, of course, so we add most of the words back in, but make sure, that we don't use any of the words that are offensive to the person we're speaking to. But that brings up another interesting point that was raised in another thread: If you find the word foo offensive, and I refrain from using the word foo in front of you but use it tot communicate with people who don't find foo offensive, am I suddenly being disingenuous?

Furthermore, if the guy who described himself as mulatto didn't find it to be offensive, then presumably there are others that feel the same way. So why did this term become "out-of-date" (as you call it) then??

Dreama: It's not a matter of being banned or offensive as much as being an out of date term, like colored. No one I know of who could be labelled as such (which includes the vast majority of my family, myself included) allows themself to be.

Dreama, that's doublespeak. What is an out-of-date term? It's still part of our language and not Myddle Englysh. You say it's not banned or offensive language, but that you (et al) don't allow someone to call you that? Sounds like banned and offensive to me. Can't have your cake and eat it too. Which is it?

So let me ask you a question. Why is mulatto any different than creole or, for that matter, any other term which defines race?? (Oops! Did I just alert you to a new word to be offended by?)

Shouldn't African & Swedish be offensive? English? White? Black? They all speak of race or color. Let's ban them all, should we not?

I'm not racist in the least, but I do believe in the First Amendment and I do believe that the PC movement and the thought police mentality has gone too far and is damaging the cause more than it's helping.
posted by fooljay at 9:26 AM on July 17, 2001


What the fuck is wrong with you?

Ah, the RightThinking Police in full court press... You just won't give up until no one will utter a single word or entertain a single thought that hasn't been filtered through your personal MoralMangler, will you? And you were impersonating a reasonable person so well earlier in the discussion...

(Note to fooljay: Resistance is futile. No amount of common sense or claim of personal freedom while avail you in the slightest. They will be invading your email inbox, if they have not already. You will be assimilated welcomed into the fold of mindless, right thinking droids.)
posted by m.polo at 9:32 AM on July 17, 2001


To you, fooljay. Dreama was very generous in mentioning that mulatto is a term to avoid. I would not be so generous if you called my son a little mule; you may as well say "half-breed". What does your dictionary say about that?

Sudama, read what I wrote again, and tell me what is wrong with it. Try to respond to the issues I actualy bring up, and not some that you fabricate in your mind.

I'm not calling anyone "mulatto", but I was previously unaware that this had any offensive meaning. My position is well stated above so I won't repeat myself.

What the fuck is wrong with you?

How did I deserve such a violent and vitriolic response? I think you need to rethink your social and discussion skills. This is not a elementary school playground.

To answer your question, absolutely nothing. And you?
posted by fooljay at 9:39 AM on July 17, 2001


If you find the word foo offensive, and I refrain from using the word foo in front of you but use it tot communicate with people who don't find foo offensive, am I suddenly being disingenuous?

No, Fooljay, you're suddenly being polite. Dreama pointed out quite clearly that the word was offensive to her, why is it a problem to not use it?

Are you going to wander off into the middle of a playground and start swearing? No, because it's just not polite.

It isn't a matter of thought control or censorship, and the cries of Orwellian conpiracy get very tired very quick. It's a matter of figuring out a way in which we can talk to each other without having to worry about getting angry because of bullshit caused through different forms of communication.

It's about finding a protocol under which we can stop with the stupid email bombing and personal attacks. You didn't know that mulatto is an offensive word, that's fine, that's cool, no one will fault you for that.

But after someone says "that word is offensive" is it really necessary to continue on, trumpeting free speech rights when you could just say "oh, okay, no problem." and actually talk to people?

It's about respect and facilitating conversation, that's all.
posted by cCranium at 9:46 AM on July 17, 2001


Please note that my previous comment does not attempt to defend Sudama's vitriol.
posted by cCranium at 9:58 AM on July 17, 2001


cCranium, first off, I appreciate your response.

No, Fooljay, you're suddenly being polite.

Well, others have said (in another thread) that one is just as insensitive saying it when no one present is offended as when someone is.

Dreama pointed out quite clearly that the word was offensive to her, why is it a problem to not use it?

As I said before, outside of discussions like these, I haven't said the word mulatto in about 10-15 years, and have never said nigger. I have no problem with not saying them.

I have no problem being sensitive. Pretty much anyone who knows me can vouch for that. If someone is offended by something, I'm certainly not going to do it in front of them. If that were the only issue here, there would be none.

The issue here that bothers me is the idea that one/some/many people have decided that a word or phrase is so offensive that it must not be used, is "out-of-date", offensive to all, and that no one has a right to say it. In fact, something is wrong with anyone who says it or questions that rule.

Somehow, they've taken it upon themselves to educate others of what is true, not only for them, but for all of society.

It's the "holier than thou" extending-your-own-world-to-apply-to-everyone-else's attitude that so offensive to me :-) These discussions would be so much more productive and easier if people were to avoid language which generalizes their own experiences and throw in a few "but that's just my $0.02"'s along the way...

But after someone says "that word is offensive" is it really necessary to continue on, trumpeting free speech rights when you could just say "oh, okay, no problem." and actually talk to people?

Gee, that's funny. I thought I WAS talking. In fact, what I was talking about is directly on topic in this thread.

It's about respect and facilitating conversation, that's all.

So, errr, are you saying that I am lacking respect? For discussing something that's on topic, I'm lacking respect?

I can respect you saying that you find something offensive.
I cannot respect you saying that something is inherently offensive.

Speak for yourselves and not for humanity.

Capiche?
posted by fooljay at 10:33 AM on July 17, 2001


i'm offended by all the offensiveness that is offending offenders. *cough*
posted by bwg at 11:15 AM on July 17, 2001


Well, others have said (in another thread) that one is just as insensitive saying it when no one present is offended as when someone is.

Well yeah, it probably is, and it's probably worthwhile being aware of the connotations of what we say all the time, but if no one is offended, then no one is going to raise issue, so it's really not a problem.

Besides, when you're in conversation elsewhere it's increasingly likely that the other people you're in conversation with are going to know you well enough not to take offense when you say offensive things.

For instance, a gay man I consider a friend insists on continually pointing out what a breeder I am. That could be taken negatively, but then I point out what a non-breeder he is. It's friendly banter that, were anyone who didn't know us to overhear, could very easily be thought of as offensive.

Here, at MetaFilter, we don't know all know each other. As such, it is necessary for us to try to keep things non-offensive, because otherwise we get our conversations drowned out in crap like I've been doing in this thread, arguing about what's essentially meaningless semantics.

So, errr, are you saying that I am lacking respect? For discussing something that's on topic, I'm lacking respect?

Well, yeah, I am. I'm sorry if it's not the case, but it doesn't sound like you respect Dreama.

Read your response to Dreama. Seriously, go back and pretend that you aren't the one that wrote it and read it. I don't know if it was an intentional tone or not, but the words come across as awfully smarmy, and derisive.

You certainly aren't the only one, and by that point in my post I wasn't speaking directly to you. However, I didn't indicate as such in my post. I'm sorry I gave the appearance that I was scolding you; I meant to scold everyone. :-)

Maybe I'm confused here, it's certainly not an unusual state of existence for me. I may very well have completely misread your response to Dreama in which you checked the OEFWD, and you may have been honestly been asking how to tell if a word has fallen out of usage.

I don't know for certain, and it's a good question, but here's the yardstick I use:

When using a word that has potentially insensitive connotations - and that's any word that excludes, be it something as generic as "multiracial" or as insulting as "mulatto" apparently is - I imagine I am just meeting someone to whom that word would apply.

If I were to ask someone "Are you mulatto?" I would honestly fear for my precious, precious jaw. If I were to ask someone "Are you multiracial?" I'd be worried about being laughed at for being overly sensitive. Does that make sense?
posted by cCranium at 11:32 AM on July 17, 2001


What is wrong with what you wrote, fooljay, is that dictionary.com ought not be the arbiter of what is and is not acceptable language in polite company, and you ought not defend your right to intentionally offend me unless you know exactly what you're doing, and don't give a shit about me. What is wrong is that you either assumed there were no biracial people reading this thread or else you don't give a shit about any of them, either. It's about respect. I appreciate that you were ignorant of the problem before Dreama's post, but your response to Dreama was absurdly disrespectful.

In any case, I still don't see the perceived threat to free speech that you and m.polo are talking about. Listen to me. Don't say "mulatto" to me or mine, here, now, anywhere, or ever. For the last time, you would do well not to address anyone anywhere by that term, but you may prefer to take your chances.
posted by sudama at 11:32 AM on July 17, 2001


Remember: You can't spell m*l*tt* w/out "MAUL TOT"
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:02 PM on July 17, 2001


Wow, this got long fast. Please read it through if you're Dreama, cCranium, sudama, or if you're just interested. Sorry I rambled a bit.

cCranium wrote:
Well yeah, it probably is, and it's probably worthwhile being aware of the connotations of what we say all the time, but if no one is offended, then no one is going to raise issue, so it's really not a problem.

One comment and then I won't argue this point any further. Here's the scenario, I say the word foo in a conversation, where no one would be or is offended by the word, or even thinks twice about it. One of the parties to that conversation later casually relates the conversation to another party who was not present. When that third party hears that I said foo, he/she becomes highly offended and forever labels me as an offender.

If I or the second-party had no way of knowing that the word would offend the third party, what responsibility do we have to "watch what we say"??

Does that make sense? Please try to put aside any anger you may have and look upon this next part with as much objectivity as possible:

The issue of insensitivity goes far beyond the act of using language in the presence of someone else who may be offended. If it were limited to this, I would agree that it's insensitive and hurtful, and thus wrong, not in a legal way, but in a "love thy brother" way.

If the speaker could have no way of knowing that the term would be offensive, then it's wise to approach it from an informative "Just to let you know, I'd rather you use the word ____", which Dreama almost did, except that, he/she generalized it. The word "went out". This is what elicited my response, which I'll get to in a second.

Anyway, back to the point about the boundaries of "insensitivity". If "insensitivity goes beyond the use of languange in the presence of someone and we need to be wholly-aware of anything that might in anyway be offensive to anyone, present or not, then we are effectively banning (deprecating, dissuading use, or whatever is the most appropriate term) words from EVER being spoken. This is not "terms on which I relate to (generic) you", but what I am allowed to say without being decried as a discriminator/racist/sexist/etc. It is a very slippery slope to stand on...

God, I wish I could explain this better...

Well, yeah, I am. I'm sorry if it's not the case, but it doesn't sound like you respect Dreama.

I respect Dreama just as much as I repsect anyone I don't know. I am also the type of person who respects people until they show that they don't deserve it. Too many people operate the other way around, which is another problem with our society.

As far as my tone in my repsonse, you're right, it was harsh and seemed to be directed straight at Dreama which it was not (it was a more general argument addressed to everyone who doesn't understand what I've been saying (in this thread and others). And I apparently left a smiley off. :-)

STILL, I wrote the content for a reson. Exaggeration and taking something to an extreme often shows it's limitations. It's my own sarcasm that bled in and apparently made it "ugly". I'm sorry for that, Dreama, and I hope that you (and everyone else here) can get past the style of my response and understand the substance, which I've tried to elucidate several times now...

When using a word that has potentially insensitive connotations - and that's any word that excludes, be it something as generic as "multiracial" or as insulting as "mulatto" apparently is - I imagine I am just meeting someone to whom that word would apply.

See that's where I'm confused about the mulatto thing. It's an inclusive term and the definition (and connotation from my own previous experience) is not much different from Creole. Why is one so much more wrong than the other? (Please note, as I've stated before, I don't care to use the word and haven't. I'm just saying that I find it intellectually curious that one is a no-no and one is not.) We call people "mutts" all the time. It's a term of endearment.

If I were to ask someone "Are you mulatto?" I would honestly fear for my precious, precious jaw. If I were to ask someone "Are you multiracial?" I'd be worried about being laughed at for being overly sensitive. Does that make sense?

Sure. I can't speak for UncleFes, but I'm sure that he, like myself, in no way meant to offend ANYONE here. Intentionally or otherwise.

Anyway, cCranium, I appreciate your measured responses and engaging discourse.

sudama wrote:
dictionary.com ought not be the arbiter of what is and is not acceptable language in polite company

If one doesn't KNOW that a word isn't acceptable, how else might one attain the information? Experience? In my experience, the word was used by a biracial person to describe himself. So there's my precedent.

ought not defend your right to intentionally offend me unless you know exactly what you're doing, and don't give a shit about me.

Well, I will always defend my right to say whatever the hell I damn well please, but that doesn't mean that I'll say whatever the hell I damn well please. With the right comes responsibility. If I say something that offends you, I should be ready to take responsibility for that.

I hope that you realize that I've not said anything in this thread, or anywhere else, that I think will intentionally offend you or anyone. Maybe it's because I'm a Cancer, but I'm actually quite sensitive to other people's feelings. (My Libra ascendant is what makes me so argumentative. :-)

What is wrong is that you either assumed there were no biracial people reading this thread or else you don't give a shit about any of them, either. It's about respect. I appreciate that you were ignorant of the problem before Dreama's post, but your response to Dreama was absurdly disrespectful.

Hmmm, there seems to be a misunderstanding. I'm not saying that if you're offended by the word mulatto that you're stupid and you should get over it. Please understand that.

What I'm saying is that 1) sometimes good people have no idea that they might be offending you (be kind and informative), 2) that crying "insensitive!" anytime anyone says a particular word gives that word power, and 3) we should be on the lookout for any group or individual representing their own opinions as "common knowledge" or the opinion of society as a whole (I'm sure that many of you will appreciate the parallels to the "Moral Majority").

Don't say "mulatto" to me or mine, here, now, anywhere, or ever. For the last time, you would do well not to address anyone anywhere by that term, but you may prefer to take your chances.

sudama, outside of discussions like these, I rarely say the words black, white, hispanic, asian, jewish, catholic or anything else. They typically aren't important. I talk about people in terms of being people, not in terms of races/colors/creed. I don't really give a shit where your ancesters came from, what sex you are, what religion you subscribe to, or even what political party you may or may not belong to.

If you treat others with kindness and respect the people and place around you, you're alright in my book. Bonus points for being able to make a good margarita, an affinity for Jazz/Blues/computers, or you have a big dog.
posted by fooljay at 1:08 PM on July 17, 2001


Fooljay, I have no problem with you or your style, I know that you were being sarcastic. You asked how people are supposed to know things -- they listen when they are told, which is what I was trying to do.

My attempts at keeping my tone light (in my original post the "aside" to UncleFes) was to keep just this very argument from happening. But to clarify:

The word "went out". This is what elicited my response, which I'll get to in a second.

When I said that, I meant that the word "went out" of style, it is out of date; the course of time has rendered it inappropriate. As "colored" and "Oriental" are no longer acceptable to African-Americans and Asian-Americans, "mulatto" is no longer acceptable to people of mixed African/Caucasian heritage. That's all, no judgment, just an explanation. It's not what we (in my experience as a member of this community) want to be called anymore -- mainly because labels like mulatto, octoroon, quadroon and the like have their basis in the brutally divisive, racist policies of the antebellum South. (See the usage note in the dictionary.com definition.) I'm sure you will find exceptions, but I'd wager that they are rare.

I agree that all people should be treated with respect, and while needing to label people racially is an archaic concept in and of itself, it seems to me that so long as we must, respect demands that we not label people with words that have been rejected by those who were once forced to wear it.
posted by Dreama at 1:23 PM on July 17, 2001


I've eluded to why mulatto is a poor choice but I haven't made it plain. For one thing, it is derived from the Spanish for "little mule". Any association of people of color with animals, of course, connects to a history of scientific and cultural racism. For another, the word comes from a time (like "Negro" and "colored") when it was rarely uttered by white lips without some measure of contempt. It is easier to discard such a word than to try to divorce it from it's context. There are other words to use, identical in meaning and free of offensive connotation.
posted by sudama at 1:29 PM on July 17, 2001


(excellent definition of why 'mulatto' is offensive elided)
Now if only you'd said that in the first place instead of throwing a tantrum and lecturing fooljay about what words he can and can't use where you might hear them, you wouldn't look like such a crybaby. It's that kind of 'don't-say-anything-that-could-remotely-offend-somebody' policy which has already turned the modern media into a desert of vapidity, and is working its magic on higher learning and political discourse as well.
And if you can't see how that is a threat to the exercise of free speech, and more importantly the capacity to contemplate free speech, then quite honestly you need to take off the blindfold.
posted by darukaru at 2:15 PM on July 17, 2001


Oh shit. Here we go again... Darukaru, that probably wasn't necessary, but I'm sure you already know that...

Let's all just remember that there's an extremely high probability that none of us in this thread would ever intentionally hurt someone by saying something racially (or otherwise) insensitive.

Secondly, let's all remember that there is also a extremely high probability that we're all on the same page regarding free speech.

The problem in this thread is that neither side acknowledged the other's position until it was too late and emotionally-charged responses had been elicited. I'm making a note to myself to remember to start my posts of with an "I hear where you're coming from. Please also try to hear me".

The "two sides" here are not incompatible and we should always keep each in mind.

That is all, of course, my opinion. Take it or leave it...
posted by fooljay at 2:28 PM on July 17, 2001


HeyheyHEY! I'm the sayer in question here. I really had no idea that "mulatto" was a term that is considered derogatory. Old fashioned, maybe; offensive, no. If I did, I wouldn't have used it - not because I believe in censorship, but because I have no wish to be impolite to Dreama, or my nieces.

My apologies to Dreama (and Sudama) if I have offended you; that was not my intention.
posted by UncleFes at 3:26 PM on July 17, 2001


We guessed that, but thanks for clearing it up so nicely. So, what took you so long? :-)
posted by fooljay at 3:34 PM on July 17, 2001


It should be noted that UncleFes did clear that up via e-mail long before now. I haven't had a chance to respond, so I'll save myself some typing now -- I was not offended, I just saw a chance to shed a little light which was the only reason that I posted about the word at all. Thanks for being really gracious, UncleFes.
posted by Dreama at 4:25 PM on July 17, 2001


Fes, Fes, what have they done to you? :)
posted by rodii at 4:49 PM on July 17, 2001


what took you so long?

Sorry about that - I just moved to a new house, and my phone isn't going to be hooked up for a month, so no internet (no burglar alarm and no 911, for that matter - if something bad happens, my only recourse is a fast car, a loaded shotgun, a staticky cellphone, and Bactine), thereby reducing my Mefi-monitoring to work solely. And while my bosses are really good about net usage during bizhours, they insist on getting at least some work out of me each day. Hence my limited participation. Plus my assistant makes fun of me every time she catches me typing away in a mefi-thread when she know's I oughta be pushing papers or in a meeting somewhere nodding off - it's a hard life when your secretary shames you into turning off the internet and getting back to work :D

Fes, Fes, what have they done to you?

I've gone soft and weak, rodii. Next thing you know, I'll be a (gasp!) liberal! Auugh! :)

Nah, this was simple - I did a stupid and apologized for it. Everyday courtesy trumps political ideology. No thanks necessary, Dreama. Actually, I should be thanking you, because you did me the favor of tipping me to something I might have said unthinkingly and thereby caused a problem. Thanks.
posted by UncleFes at 9:01 AM on July 18, 2001


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