What's in your invisible fanny pack?
October 22, 2013 10:32 AM   Subscribe

What's in your invisible fanny pack? [via mefi projects]

This project has lots of good links. My favorite is adultism.
posted by aniola (154 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
from the projects page: "This is a blog about privilege and how to spend it."
posted by zamboni at 10:34 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wallet, keys, spare change, race card, sun glasses, iPod and breath mints.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:36 AM on October 22, 2013 [20 favorites]


This is pretty insufferable.

Is “bitch” the first word you reach for when you want to insult a woman? Just go with “asshole.”

Well, no shit. However: "I used to be a total misogynist, but then I read some sanctimonious aphorisms on a tumblr."

It's written to solicit amens, not educate.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:37 AM on October 22, 2013 [24 favorites]


Oh, it makes me so happy to see this described as an expression of privilege:
Ways to Spend Your Privilege #25

If your income and job are secure, don’t try to get out of jury service. People of conscience who willingly serve on juries are very, very important, especially because juries are usually making judgments about the fates of people with a lot less power and privilege than the jurors themselves have.
For real, especially if it's paid time from your employer.
posted by likeatoaster at 10:40 AM on October 22, 2013 [16 favorites]


There are many ways to educate and many ways that people choose to become so. Not everything has to be kind, gentle, and snark- or sanctimony-free.
posted by rtha at 10:40 AM on October 22, 2013 [9 favorites]


Science!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:43 AM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's written to solicit amens, not educate.

You know, I'm a pretty dedicated member of the congregation on this stuff, and I still show up to hear the sermon for a reason.

There's definitely specific points here that I need to be reminded about from time to time, even though philosophically and intellectually I'm already committed to the big goals that this blog is supporting.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 10:43 AM on October 22, 2013 [16 favorites]


It's kind of a tortured metaphor, though. Recognizing privilege doesn't "spend" it.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:47 AM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


See, I took "spending privilege" as a metaphor for "using your own social power to promote good shit," not just "being aware of your own social power."

Back when I was IDing as a guy, I did sometimes have a sense that I was spending some of my Masculinity Points on the (sadly rare) occasion when I managed to stand up against some bit of sexism or homophobia. Like, yes, okay, people listened to me because I was part of the dude club. But at a certain point people would also start being like "No, actually, we're not sure you are really part of this club anymore."

(Though some stuff on the list here is run-of-the-mill "recognize your privilege" stuff rather than "use your privilege for something good," so maybe I'm being over-generous in my interpretation? I do think there's a useful way to think about privilege as something you spend, even if this particular blog may not have completely nailed it.)
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 10:54 AM on October 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


Well, there is some stuff to think about. I think of fanny-packs as having a sort of class marker, though, so maybe it's not the best title " What's wrong with "Ways to Spend Your Privilege?" That's a really good title.

I realize that tumblr is not the place for this sort of thing, but I wish these were longer blog posts with more developed ideas. That's my other criticism.

But, overall, the ones I know, I know. The ones I don't know, I am happy to hear. Not much damage, all in all.

And #24? ("Adopt the (grammatically correct) singular “they” as your third-person pronoun of choice.") Can we just do this already?
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:05 AM on October 22, 2013


This is really amazing and powerful, and I plan to spend more time going through the links. Thank you!

I was also confused about the phrase, "invisible fanny pack" until I read the side link. I'm not sure I would have made the connection otherwise.
posted by blurker at 11:16 AM on October 22, 2013


I like it! It's continuing the metaphor of social capital... why not spend it?
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 11:17 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


If your income and job are secure, don’t try to get out of jury service.

My secure job is of the type that 99% of lawyers aren't going to allow me on the jury anyway. Double secret privileged!
posted by Hoopo at 11:17 AM on October 22, 2013 [12 favorites]


Same here, Hoopo. I sat on a jury pool where the judge told us, as she let us go, that when she had been a prosecutor, she would NEVER have allowed an engineer on her jury. She did it once and it was a huge mistake (she was married to an engineer as well, so I can't imagine she held some hatred for the field). Other lawyers have told me the same thing. It's a shame, because I'd really like to serve, but I'm batting 0 for 3 so far in my attempts.
posted by blurker at 11:21 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


oh man there is something for everyone* to feel annoyed by in this list

*if **that's not everyone-ist
if using the word 'that' is not spending too much pronoun capital all at once ffs

posted by lalochezia at 11:21 AM on October 22, 2013


I always try to get on a jury but always get excused. Fucking privilege is broken or something.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:22 AM on October 22, 2013


I'm also 0 for 3 at jury duty. I've never even made it past the first round. I wonder what it is about technical people that raises red flags for prosecutors?
posted by KGMoney at 11:24 AM on October 22, 2013


I wonder what it is about technical people that raises red flags for prosecutors?

Both prosecutors and defense attorneys get nervous about jurors who might bring in information not explicitly discussed in court.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:27 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is pretty insufferable.

He said, five minutes after a 40-entry blog was posted.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:27 AM on October 22, 2013 [13 favorites]


Acknowledge the extent of the resources available to you and stop describing yourself as “middle-class.”

I don't understand that. If my household earns between $33,378 and $53,162, which the provided link defines as "Middle fifth" does that not make my household the very definition of middle class?

(Or is this addressed to a specific group I'm not understanding?)
posted by DarlingBri at 11:27 AM on October 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wallet, keys, spare change, race card, sun glasses, iPod and breath mints

Every day carry the white man's burden?
posted by zamboni at 11:30 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't understand that. If my household earns between $33,378 and $53,162, which the provided link defines as "Middle fifth" does that not make my household the very definition of middle class?

I also thought it was weird to presume that no one was middle class. I also think that there's something of a conversation to be had about what exactly middle class means. I don't think it's just that middle fifth, because it's a social, not just economic class. For me, it means that you're not struggling to get by, but you also couldn't miss more than a paycheck or two before things got dicey. I understand the reaction against affluent people calling themselves middle class, but, in my opinion, most people who call themselves middle class are, at least in the US.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:30 AM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not sure how they tally the most recent post telling us to accept what people tell us about their identities with the earlier one about people describing themselves as middle class.
The link on the class post goes to some figures for income, from which I see I'd be comfortably in the lowest fifth if I was American, but I can assure you if I got a 40 grand a year job tomorrow I wouldn't suddenly stop being working class. There's more to class than that.
On preview, I see some other people have caught that too.
posted by Abiezer at 11:31 AM on October 22, 2013 [9 favorites]


He said, five minutes after a 40-entry blog was posted.

To be fair, his response was utterly predictable.
posted by kmz at 11:32 AM on October 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


I was an alternate on a 5-week murder trial here in San Francisco a few years ago. Concern about outside knowledge being brought into the deliberation room is not limited to just engineers, but also to anyone who thinks they know all about forensics because of CSI and Bones and etc. On the jury were students and retirees and stay-at-home parents (of school-age children) and people whose first language was not English and people with full-time jobs.

One guy who was excused (and who really wanted to be on a jury some day) was excused because he had been a public defender, a prosecutor, and was at the time in private practice as a criminal defense lawyer.
posted by rtha at 11:35 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


The voice of the site is weird. It comes from a blank void to upbraid me for my sins; but it is not a human voice, located in a specific being with all the biases and blinkers of one pair of eyes, but rather a perfect authority, a nameless knower here to tell me how to move myself closer to perfection. But why should trust it? Who are you that I must obey your "you shoulds", o Oz?
posted by Diablevert at 11:37 AM on October 22, 2013 [17 favorites]


> This is pretty insufferable.

He said, five minutes after a 40-entry blog was posted.


How long do you think it takes to read stuff like that? Rest assured that I read every single entry.

Funny thing about my response being "utterly predictable"-- so were the responses to my response!

What we have here, folks, is Soft Left Groundhog Day: "... be excellent to each other." "What good is it just to say that?" "You're questioning me? Why can't we just be excellent to each other?"
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:41 AM on October 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


Not sure how they tally the most recent post telling us to accept what people tell us about their identities with the earlier one about people describing themselves as middle class.

I was a little put off by that, too -- there is way more to class than income, as you say, and that chart doesn't take into account cost of living, which has a pretty big effect on the class status markers you can deploy. Although Class Matters looks like an interesting website that I didn't know about, so I want to look around and see what else is there.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:46 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not sure how they tally the most recent post telling us to accept what people tell us about their identities with the earlier one about people describing themselves as middle class.

In general, stuff like this is best read as "personal heuristics you might want to adopt" rather than "universal authoritarian rules that should be enforced on everyone everywhere on pain of eternal damnation" or whatever.

It is perfectly consistent for me, in my own head to say both "I'm gonna interrogate my own self-description and make sure it's accurate" and "I'm gonna work harder on taking other people's self-descriptions at face value." In a way, that's just following an interpersonal version of Postel's law: resolving to be cautious with the messages you produce, and generous with the messages you accept.

It's even consistent for me to approach someone else and be like "Hey, look, these are two heuristics that I've found useful and I think they've made me a better person. Consider adopting them yourself! They might be useful to you too!" (In a way, that's like being an advocate for Postel's law, which is also a totally consistent thing to do.)

It would of course be necessarily hypocritical if I presented those heuristics as Inviolable Rules and tried to enforce them on the rest of the world under pain of some sort of punishment. But that sort of ideological zealotry is fucked-up and undesirable in any sort of movement. (This is like how Postel's law couldn't actually be strictly enforced by some sort of punitive technological vigilantism. It's never going to be anything more than a guiding principle, because trying to make it more than that would lead to inconsistency and madness: if a system deliberately rejects all messages from other systems which violate Postel's law, it is itself thereby violating Postel's law. Oops.)
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 11:46 AM on October 22, 2013 [9 favorites]


In writing and speaking, consciously choose to refer to every single person whose physical appearance you describe by their race. Especially white people. When you meet cisgendered people, or enter exclusively cisgendered spaces, tell folks which gender pronoun you prefer when you introduce yourself.

I find this one a bit troublesome. If someone white and hetero made a point of introducing themselves in that way, I would feel like they were being ironic/mocking people who are neither of those things. It wouldn't feel inclusive or sensitive or any of the other things this blog is urging people to be. I can't really speak to the cis aspect of it, but that also seems a little more "look at me!" than "intersectionality matters".

I have some issues with people who constantly refer to themselves as "allies" and seem to always want recognition of that status, though, and that is probably where this feeling comes from.
posted by elizardbits at 11:51 AM on October 22, 2013 [20 favorites]


Soft Left

Sorry I'm not hardcore enough, bro.
posted by kmz at 11:53 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


it is not a human voice, located in a specific being with all the biases and blinkers of one pair of eyes, but rather a perfect authority

Not true. The author talks about themselves making mistakes as well.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:55 AM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


And yeah, I have quibbles with the list too. (Chinese is most definitely a language, it's just not a specific spoken language. Though there's also some Han privilege involved there.) But dismissing the whole thing as "insufferable" is, well, I guess ridiculous would be a nice way of putting it.
posted by kmz at 12:01 PM on October 22, 2013


Is Number 11 basically saying that white people should go to protests by people of color, say nothing, but be there as a deterrent to police violence? That just seems weird. If I was running a protest I'd be excited to see people show up and then confused that they were just quietly being white at the police. That seems very paternalistic, like "my white skin will protect you!"
How bout you go protest something that needs to be protested, and do it loudly, whatever color you are?
posted by Biblio at 12:01 PM on October 22, 2013 [9 favorites]


The phrase "oh brother" comes to mind...
posted by Fists O'Fury at 12:02 PM on October 22, 2013


How long do you think it takes to read stuff like that? Rest assured that I read every single entry.

Then you might try to offer substantive criticism instead of threadshitty "this sucks" type comments. Or, alternately, if this is not the sort of writing you like, just avoid this sort of thread.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:06 PM on October 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


Don't miss the link to Move the Fuck Over, Bro.
posted by straight at 12:09 PM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


the humble brony, friend
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 12:16 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sorry I'm not hardcore enough, bro.

Well, I'm including myself in that assessment. I'm fighting the power through being glib at a desk, too. The point is that doing just that is not a tool for social change; it's a tool for patting ourselves on the back for having the proper sympathies.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:17 PM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Don't miss the link to Move the Fuck Over, Bro."

Interestingly enough, at least to me, (a guy, if that matters) I've had my airplane and bus seat space invaded by very large women, but not very large men, or men using more space then they need. Just a data point....
posted by cccorlew at 12:18 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


What makes the site "insufferable" is the earnestness , which is one of those things it's easy to mock; frex this brony post. For me it reads as written by somebody figuring out privilege on her own without as yet having a coherent framework to investigate it in, hence it's somewhat scattershot and incoherent in places.

In general, I also think privilege, while an useful concept in many ways, is not strong enough to be what the author is trying to make it into, an ideological lens to look at racism, sexism, et all in. Privilege levels distinctions between types of oppression, forms of bigotry and a site like this encourages the idea that fighting inequality is little more than crossing off a checklist of various privileges one has.

What's more, the idea of privilege is in essence rooted in the dominant neoliberal view of society as a collection of individuals, each only responsible for tackling their own privileges with no need or desire to the structural inequalities in society.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:18 PM on October 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Interestingly enough, at least to me, (a guy, if that matters) I've had my airplane and bus seat space invaded by very large women, but not very large men, or men using more space then they need. Just a data point....

Airplane culture and bus/train/subway culture are really different. I've never had my space invaded by errant legs on planes, where the evil reclining seat is a much greater menace.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:20 PM on October 22, 2013


Interestingly enough, at least to me, (a guy, if that matters) I've had my airplane and bus seat space invaded by very large women, but not very large men, or men using more space then they need. Just a data point....

Airplane culture and bus/train/subway culture are really different. I've never had my space invaded by errant legs on planes, where the evil reclining seat is a much greater menace.


There was a long thread on "lavaballing" a few months ago. I'd kinda like to not derail and rehash all that again.
posted by DynamiteToast at 12:22 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Then you might try to offer substantive criticism instead of threadshitty "this sucks" type comments. Or, alternately, if this is not the sort of writing you like, just avoid this sort of thread.

Pointing out that it's sanctimonious, self-elevating preaching goes beyond "this sucks."

What you're really saying is "say 'amen' or get the fuck out. I came here to have my positions reaffirmed, not listen to someone else's position that runs counter to mine. You're wrecking the echo in here."
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:22 PM on October 22, 2013 [11 favorites]


Not true. The author talks about themselves making mistakes as well.

The example that you point does not appear to me to be regarded by the author as a mistake; instead she employs the "I" as a pre-emptive defense of an action that could other wise be critiqued as an expression of privilege (invoking a white American as an authority on Buddhist teachings).

Of the rest of the postings --- I read back the last few months before Tumblr crashed on my phone --- there were a handful of "I"s in parenthetical asides ("I speak now of the brony" "I could go on") one note of gratitude, and a couple imperatives "join me". There was one usage that was grounded in personal experience "my mother used to say" (#2).

The rest of the entries were second person imperative, if I recall my sixth-grade grammer correctly.

She says in the about page that she considers the idea she's expressing to be suggestions, not dictats, which is fair enough. But as far as the rhetorical form, she orders, not asks. Imperative, not interrogative.
posted by Diablevert at 12:30 PM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's written to solicit amens, not educate.

I think by "educate" you mean "convert." Complaining that someone is "preaching to the choir" is a stupid idiom because in real churches, the choir needs sermons just like the rest of the congregation.

Not every sermon is a call to conversion. Most are more like this stuff: advice addressed to people who share the preacher's values but haven't thought though all the ways those values might get worked out in real day-to-day living.

Even people of goodwill who try to love and respect their neighbors can still say and do things that are rude or harmful because it's not easy to think about things from the perspective of other people who are different. I think lists like this are helpful and a good idea.
posted by straight at 12:31 PM on October 22, 2013 [13 favorites]


The point is that doing just that is not a tool for social change; it's a tool for patting ourselves on the back for having the proper sympathies.

Even supposing the modern fiction that words aren't powerful (fucking sticks and stones, blah blah blah), you realize that a good chunk of the blog talks about tangible physical things?
posted by kmz at 12:33 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


From #6, which MartinWisse linked:

*It’s a sign of my own whiteness and my own privilege, for example, that I consider a white woman an important teacher for me in a tradition that is not actually white. I use a white person’s wisdom to understand and participate in a nonwhite tradition, though what I am learning is ideas that have come from her teacher, Chogyam Trungpa, a non-American person of color. It is something I work on and struggle with.


This one of the things that seriously annoys me about the use of "person of color." It's easy enough to say who Chogyam Trungpa was, a Tibetan, not just "non American" and "person of color."

"Person of color" doesn't delineate one specific set of experiences, and why avoid using specific terms of nationality/ethnicity when it's fairly straightforward to use them?
posted by sweetkid at 12:33 PM on October 22, 2013 [13 favorites]


Biblio: "Is Number 11 basically saying that white people should go to protests by people of color, say nothing, but be there as a deterrent to police violence?"

It's saying privileged people should go to protests by less-privileged people and while they can and should participate, they shouldn't attempt to dominate or speak for the less-privileged group. But the presence of privileged people does, in fact, deter a lot of bad behavior.

Sometimes your simple presence can force people to engage respectfully with a group they might not otherwise offer respect. Now that I'm a mom, I notice a big-time mom effect where people cut off bad behavior in my presence that a few years ago they would have gone on with -- like, I've been to a lot of union strikes in the past few years, and people who are TOTALLY willing to shout obscenities at a group of adults typically stop when they see a stroller. I'm actually on a list of local attorneys who are willing to go hang out at protests and political rallies and similar. Every now and then someone calls me and says, "group X is protesting, would you be able to go?" And then my job is to go hang out at the protest, slightly overdressed, and just watch and, yeah, hang out with my (professional) privilege showing in case the protestors are hassled by authorities (or sometimes counterprotestors). In that case you specifically stay on the non-participating periphery, and if a cop starts getting up in someone's face, you walk over and say, "Hi, I'm so-and-so, is there a problem here?" Bad behavior by police is, in fact, deterred if they know that someone is watching whose complaints will be taken seriously.

(We were sort-of talking about this in the pre-suffragette thread the other day.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:34 PM on October 22, 2013 [15 favorites]


the idea of privilege is in essence rooted in the dominant neoliberal view of society as a collection of individuals, each only responsible for tackling their own privileges with no need or desire to the structural inequalities in society

Hmm. Seems the opposite, to me. The essence of privilege is that one is forever identified as a member of certain groups and the privileges associated with those groups, whether one's individual circumstances or behavior obviously reflect those privileges or not. Hence the "invisible" backpack. In this regard, only tackling structural inequalities in society can ever begin to "spend" privilege, because privilege is owned by the group, not the individual. In my opinion.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:36 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Which isn't to say that individuals have no responsibility, obviously, as structural inequalities can't ever get fixed without individual actions. Just pointing out that that I don't see the focus of privilege as a concept being primarily on individual change.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:50 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm so privileged my invisible backpack is from L. L Bean
posted by The Whelk at 12:55 PM on October 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


What's more, the idea of privilege is in essence rooted in the dominant neoliberal view of society as a collection of individuals, each only responsible for tackling their own privileges with no need or desire to the structural inequalities in society.
Funnily enough, as I understand it, the terminology emerged from a communist critique, drawing on WEB Du Bois, of the historical failings of the US left as regards race.
posted by Abiezer at 1:00 PM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nope, Curley is right for once, this is pretty much insufferable.

I mean adultism? Really? You go right ahead with that crusade you dreamer you.
posted by aspo at 1:01 PM on October 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


No, some of them are great and not things I see everywhere, like:

Stop mocking names you can’t spell or pronounce or have decided sound ludicrous. Insist that others do the same. Unless a physical or neurological impairment prevents it, make a point of learning to correctly say and pronounce the names of the people you meet.


For. Real. The amount of times I've been referred to as "Sweetkid IdontevenwannaTRYthis" instead of even an attempt at my last name. Or, as I heard recently, "This is Sweetkid. Her last name is a bunch of random letters, so just type it in the address bar and the work database will pick it up."

"Random letters." It's fucking Sanskrit, jerks.
posted by sweetkid at 1:06 PM on October 22, 2013 [26 favorites]


haha hi! this is kind of embarrassing! uhh, a couple things, i guess?

if you like it and find it affirming or useful, i am really glad! if you don't like it, that's also ok!

i know there are limits to the conceit and to the tone. (i don't always put enough time into tone construction.) and i'm not super-bothered by that. you may or may not be interested to know that i started this after the verdict came down in the trayvon martin case. i was writing about some of these ideas on facebook and my friends seemed to find them helpful, and while privilege is indeed structural (and i do try to think of individual actions that have some sort of structural effect, however small), the paralysis of well-meaning white folks was frustrating to me, so i thought, "here are some practical ideas!" it is absolutely preaching to the choir--the inactive, deer-in-headlights choir. you don't have to agree.

I mean adultism? Really? You go right ahead with that crusade you dreamer you.

i am an extremely earnest person. (and older than you think i am.) it's fine if that annoys you! it often annoys me!

this is also why this project is anonymous(ish) and why i don't tag stuff and why i don't pay much attention to the traffic and why it has a more distant tone, because engaging with stuff like this thread more than i do would wreck me. shrug.

Which isn't to say that individuals have no responsibility, obviously, as structural inequalities can't ever get fixed without individual actions. Just pointing out that that I don't see the focus of privilege as a concept being primarily on individual change.

i agree with this. i don't have any misconceptions about what this can and can't do. it's a tumblr.

i am happy to engage privately if you want to email me (invisiblefannypack at gmail), but am probably peacing outta here for now!
posted by knock my smock and i'll clean your clock at 1:08 PM on October 22, 2013 [12 favorites]


"Person of color" doesn't delineate one specific set of experiences, and why avoid using specific terms of nationality/ethnicity when it's fairly straightforward to use them?

that is fair and i will happily amend it and also probably write something for the project about how white people use the phrase in a problematic way! (if you want a particular kinda hat tip or none at all, let me know.)
posted by knock my smock and i'll clean your clock at 1:10 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ways to Spend Your Privilege #25

If your income and job are secure, don’t try to get out of jury service. People of conscience who willingly serve on juries are very, very important, especially because juries are usually making judgments about the fates of people with a lot less power and privilege than the jurors themselves have.


Well, I would, except having a mental illness makes me ineligible for jury service, and I'll be fined £1000 - or imprisoned - if I pretend not to. Despite having a job that is based around evaluation and judgement,where I have to make decisions that potentially have a large financial or organisational impact on others.

But I have a secure income and job, so does the govt classing me as mentally invalid make me privileged or no?
posted by mippy at 1:19 PM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think of fanny-packs as having a sort of class marker, though, so maybe it's not the best title

Given what 'fanny' means on this side of the pond, I can't help but see that phrase as slang for a tampon.
posted by mippy at 1:20 PM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Do you guys call them "bum bags" or did I just make that up?
posted by elizardbits at 1:21 PM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I work in a middle school, and though I understand part of what "adultism" is going for, I find some of it's conclusions to be unworkable. When we create an educational environments for the young (and by extension a place of curtailed behavior), it's a power dynamic. That's unavoidable. You will have adults with responsibility and authority over children. As long as it's rooted in the respect for each individual, this is acceptable. Children don't always make great decisions. Neither do adults, but rarely will I be responsibly for them in the same way I'm responsible for children (just today, I had a child break some glass and almost injure himself). The educational environment must be appropriate in it's means of authority, and that looks differently to different ages and different abilities.

And yes, I take the work of fellow teachers differently than students. Fellow teachers not only build up a direct ethos with me over many years, but they are professionally certified colleagues that have legal responsibilities, while students don't. Surveying classes to detect problems is fine, but students (at least in middle school) cannot grade teachers in the same way a teacher grades a student. Once again, one has training, experience, and responsibility for one job facet while the other doesn't. However, it is much easier for a teacher to be removed from their job than for a student to be expelled, so responsibility is a two-way street.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 1:21 PM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't think anybody is saying you should lie to get yourself selected for a jury, just don't go out of your way/lie to get out of jury duty.
posted by kmz at 1:22 PM on October 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


But I have a secure income and job, so does the govt classing me as mentally invalid make me privileged or no?

that's sort of up to you! probably sometimes you are and sometimes you aren't! intersectionality is real! ok ahh bye.
posted by knock my smock and i'll clean your clock at 1:22 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, 'bum bags'. They briefly became fashionable again a few years ago, but otherwise are rarely seen in the wild except on tourists. Kind of like those fawn-coloured pants popular with middle-aged American men.
posted by mippy at 1:24 PM on October 22, 2013


Privilege is not actually about the individual.

True! BTW don't be upset knock my smock that people are being critical here. I think as long as it's substantive it can be a good thing.
posted by sweetkid at 1:26 PM on October 22, 2013


(Weirdly, I've never ever been summoned for jury duty. Makes me sad.)
posted by kmz at 1:27 PM on October 22, 2013


True! BTW don't be upset knock my smock that people are being critical here. I think as long as it's substantive it can be a good thing.

i'm not upset! i'm v. a tender person and some kinds of critique just hook me in in a way that is not very good for me, is all.
posted by knock my smock and i'll clean your clock at 1:30 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


but your username makes you sound so tough...
posted by sweetkid at 1:32 PM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't think anybody is saying you should lie to get yourself selected for a jury, just don't go out of your way/lie to get out of jury duty.

But I WANT to do jury duty! It's just they class mental illness as an exemption, just as they exempt former offenders or those with a 'known bias' (such as being a massive racist). So getting out of jury duty in my case - as I would have to send back the same excusion (?) form as someone who wanted to wriggle out of it - is NOT a privilege.
posted by mippy at 1:34 PM on October 22, 2013


Which isn't to say that individuals have no responsibility, obviously, as structural inequalities can't ever get fixed without individual actions. Just pointing out that that I don't see the focus of privilege as a concept being primarily on individual change.

Definitely.

In fact, I see this as the #1 biggest cause of confusion and outrage over the concept of privilege.

We're accustomed to ethical discussion being all about personal ethics. So if someone talks about, say, white privilege as a moral problem, a lot of people hearing that will assume that it's being pinned on each individual white person as a personal ethical failing. And so you get objections like "You want me to feel guilty for being white" or "You think I'm a bad person just because I'm white." Which is missing the point entirely, but if you're focused on personal ethics it's an easy enough mistake to make.

(For that matter, there are people on the far left who make the same mistake, and accuse individual people of "privilege" the way you'd accuse someone of personal sin or heresy. But that's honestly pretty rare in my experience. For every time someone actually pulls that sort of bullshit, you hear dozens of anti-political-correctness crusaders worrying that someone might pull it.)

Basically, talk about privilege only makes sense if you're evaluating whole social systems as "just" or "unjust," rather than trying to sort individual people into "sinners" and "saints." And so if you don't realize that the conversation is going on at a systemic level, a lot of talk about privilege seems either nonsensical or horrifying or both.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 1:35 PM on October 22, 2013 [20 favorites]


Also, has 'intersectionality' now replaced 'kyriarchy' as a way of describing multiple oppressions? I'm out of the academic loop on this one.
posted by mippy at 1:37 PM on October 22, 2013


"Kyriarchy" is what you call a multiply oppressive system.

"Intersectional" is what you call a social justice movement that tries to acknowledge multiple kinds of systemic oppression.

(Oversimplifying drastically but I think that covers the difference well enough.)
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 1:43 PM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


We're accustomed to ethical discussion being all about personal ethics...
This was an amzingly helpful framing. Thank you!
posted by pointystick at 1:59 PM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, that's exactly what I think isn't emphasized enough when talking about privilege. I do think using privilege as an individual metric is a mistake made more often than NTAT does but her point is spot on.

I also think we too often treat privilege as a binary state. You're either privileged or you aren't. But that's not the way it mostly works. Is a white woman "privileged"? Well, it depends on context, doesn't it. Are you talking about race? Gender? Disability or lack thereof? Socioeconomic status? And so on.
posted by Justinian at 2:17 PM on October 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


Perhaps it's me, but one quick aside stuck in my craw.

The author wrote (emphasis mine) The American Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron (and yes, western Buddhism is appropriative, and I understand very clearly the irony of then quoting her*) calls this emptiness “groundlessness"...

On a technical level, this is true, because Buddhism is not Western. On a rhetorical level, it's confused. In current cultural rhetoric, "appropriation" carries a negative connotation. It's not a value-neutral term. It's loaded. Also, notice how the author uses the term, essentially apologizing for quoting an American Buddhist.

At the end of the post comes this explanation of the asterisk: *It’s a sign of my own whiteness and my own privilege, for example, that I consider a white woman an important teacher for me in a tradition that is not actually white. I use a white person’s wisdom to understand and participate in a nonwhite tradition, though what I am learning is ideas that have come from her Tibetan teacher, Chogyam Trungpa.(I edited the descriptor from “person of color” thanks to a friendly suggestion. I will write more about this later! 10/22/13.) It is something I work on and struggle with.

Defining Buddhism as "a tradition that is not actually white" requires ignoring Buddhism's history of moving from culture to culture and adapting as it goes. The piece assumes that Buddhism is A Thing That Is Defined, which, as it is a still-practiced religion/philosophy/whatever, it is not and cannot be.

More importantly, the piece falls into the Authenticity Trap. American Buddhism is appropriative? Says who? It's not as real or authentic because it's new here? Or because many of the practitioners came to it as adults rather than children? Or because the people who formed its traditional followers aren't white?

What's the line between "appropriating" someone else's culture and "appreciating and participating" in it? Granted, if money's involved, that's easy to answer. (Hello, American popular music!) But what about when it's not? What makes American Buddhism "appropriative" rather than an adaptation? Is Korean Christianity an appropriation?

Labeling something as "appropriation" is a value judgment, and I disagree that it belongs here. It feels like the author used the term as a reflexive apology for learning about Buddhism from a white American. But there's nothing wrong with that. Yet the reflex remained to label it with the quietly negative term. Hm.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 2:22 PM on October 22, 2013 [26 favorites]


What makes American Buddhism "appropriative" rather than an adaptation? Is Korean Christianity an appropriation?

The spread of Christianity, like the spread of the English language (and Spanish, for that matter), is due to imperialism, so I don't think that's an ideal example.

admittedly i do not have a better one to offer.
posted by elizardbits at 2:38 PM on October 22, 2013


The spread of Christianity, like the spread of the English language (and Spanish, for that matter), is due to imperialism,

I do not believe this is true in Korea. Korea has had Christianity for a long time, and was not conquered by Europeans during the imperialist periods.

Wikipedia gives a little overview.

It was spread through trade and contact, Korea was never part of any Western imperial powers or subject to their rule (unless my Korean history is grossly mistaken). Now, after WWII it has had increased, sustained contact with the West and in particular America, and I guess some would describe that as "imperialism" but I don't think Koreans generally see it that way (they see the Japanese as imperialist rulers, of course).
posted by wildcrdj at 2:53 PM on October 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah, most Korean Christians have told me that the appeal of the religion in Korea is as a way of distinguishing themselves from the hated Japanese imperialists. Meanwhile, if American Buddhism is "appropriative", then so's Buddhism anywhere outside of Nepal. That's the problem with the rhetoric of appropriation: It chooses one moment in time as authentic, and everything after it as false, buying into the very myths of purity it claims to subvert.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 3:42 PM on October 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


You know, the risk I feel with this is that people are going to see all of this stuff that they have to do to be "good", and there's so much of it, and so invasive (eg. language policing, bronies, sitting on buses the morally correct way) that they're going to go like, "Fuck it, I'll just be evil instead".
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 3:49 PM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


they're going to go like, "Fuck it, I'll just be evil instead".

Everyone makes choices. Saying "Those other people made me act this bad way" once you are an adult is rarely the Get Out of Jail Free card that some people hope it will be. Make an effort, hope that most people will appreciate it, make your peace with those who don't. Even the Dalai Lama eats a little yak now and then.
posted by jessamyn at 3:54 PM on October 22, 2013 [10 favorites]


I think a major part of appropriation is that it intends to erase other versions of what's being appropriated. Westernized yoga, for example, is appropriative both because it takes another culture's practice and teaches it differently and because it pretends to authenticity in a cultural context where more authentic representations aren't available. The Kama Sutra is another major example of this; you can find a million rewrites by white people that only cover some of the sex parts and misses all the cultural context as well as most of the original text; it's like releasing a Bible that consists only of erotic illustrations of the Song of Songs.
posted by NoraReed at 3:55 PM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


(That might be a really bad metaphor because the Kama Sutra doesn't hold the same cultural value as the Bible and isn't held religiously in the same way-- I just mean in terms of erasing and decontextualizing context.)
posted by NoraReed at 3:57 PM on October 22, 2013


Even the Dalai Lama eats a little yak now and then.

He calls it, "Yak-ing on a bone." Funny guy, the Lama.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:58 PM on October 22, 2013


I think a major part of appropriation is that it intends to erase other versions of what's being appropriated.

Here, the concerns about appropriation were voiced in the context of someone who are far as I can tell is part of Tibetan Buddhism. She's not practicing some appropriated version of Tibetan Buddhism; she's practicing Tibetan Buddhism. She happens to be white. I agree with what I think is the point of the comment on the blog, which is that it's a problem if white teachers and practitioners of non-Western traditions are given more attention or authority than non-whites (which almost certainly happens), but I don't think the whole enterprise of white people being Buddhists is a problem. To see a problem there seems to essentialize race in a way that I don't think is productive.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 4:32 PM on October 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I think people can take up a religion with an honest heart, and I think a religion and/or philosophy can (and will) change to fit the needs of new cultures. American (and other Western) Buddhism has, often, very different approaches to the lay member's role in teaching, for example (although Western Buddhism is by no means monolithic).

On the other hand, there seem to be a lot of mildly creepy Western Buddhists out there, and there's also that "I will use Buddhist images as a decorative motif" and "my personal spirituality is a mix of Buddhism, Kabbalism, and Santería, which... well.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:33 PM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


@ Now there are two. There are two _______

Okay, but even discussions about society must, in the end, cash out to some personal imperative, right? Say there's an asteroid that's going to hit the Earth, and I'm an activist from the Earth Defense Council. I approach you in a parking lot and start asking you how much you know about the asteroid, and do you think it's an important issue. Clearly I'm not blaming you for anything, because thanks to our knowledge of astrophysics we are all perfectly agreed that the approaching disaster is in no way due to any action by any human being who ever lived.

However, you would probably become slightly nervous, because even though you are aware that I don't blame you for the problem, I am still about to attempt to make your life worse in the course of solving the problem, and the difference between that and blame proper is entirely academic.

There is no point in me talking about the asteroid that's coming to destroy humankind unless I'm trying to convince people to help me build a spaceship to go divert it, or start an awareness-raising campaign so that lots of people will lobby the government to build a spaceship, or in some way put some of their own resources into the task of diverting the asteroid. If I'm approaching you, it means I want you specifically to do something you probably don't want to do, like give money, volunteer, or learn vector calculus and Python so you can help program the guidance computer. And in the actual effect it will have on your life, this is exactly the same, for you, as being punished, with a fine or with hard labor or whatever, for sending the asteroid.

And I think this discussion is like the silly asteroid example. Privilege is very nice to have, as its name suggests. Wanting to take privilege away from those who have it cashes out to exactly the same thing as punishing those with privilege for having it. Either let's do it, or let's not do it, but I don't think it actually does very much to assure privileged people that we don't blame them personally, as we knock them off their pedestals. The effects are personal to them.
posted by officer_fred at 4:55 PM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


> they're going to go like, "Fuck it, I'll just be evil instead".

That does allude to me! Damn, you are good.
posted by officer_fred at 4:59 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's Pat!
posted by Mental Wimp at 5:21 PM on October 22, 2013


it's like releasing a Bible that consists only of erotic illustrations of the Song of Songs.

You would probably get more people to read the whole thing if you did this.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 5:23 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


it's like releasing a Bible that consists only of erotic illustrations of the Song of Songs.

Well, picking and choosing which parts of the Bible to believe is what pretty much every Christian and Jew does.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 5:57 PM on October 22, 2013


It's humbling to see that you guys folks are debating the spread and evolution of religious tradition, and the hill I'm prepared to die on is to keep 'dude' in the inclusive lexicon. 'Dude' and 'buddy' and 'you guys' are gender-neutral in my life-experience, and that usage seems to be becoming more common. For that matter 'dude' is a verbal signifier of inclusion, that you're a-ok. I will only call you that because we've hit it off, and for what it's worth I am a cis-broad. To decree (and with respect, the presentation does feel like an edict, no matter how much I agree with the content) that 'dude' is on the nix list kinda invalidates my experience, and then what, is it a game of war where we pit my gender vs. your heritage vs. my socioeconomic class of origin vs. which of us has been sexually harassed more times, to see who wins the privilege of offense? I don't mean this to come across like one of those women who says "I LIKE being cat-called!" I guess it's a little bit defensive and a little bit devil's advocate. Maybe I'll be embarrassed a couple years from now to have written it, we'll see. But right now, dude is close to my heart in kind of a funny way in this context. It's a scrap of a word that is fond and cozy, but not a girly feminine lady-like word, because that's not who I ever was, and I didn't always feel okay about that. Dude in my vocabulary is a reflection of being okay with that. So to use it, is it a privilege? Or is it a privilege for you to nullify the personal meaning it has for my concept of gender conformity?

I'm willing to listen, but like a dog with a bone, I bristle at the notion of something being taken away, without a suitable substitution suggested. This applies in a general sense to the 'doing it wrong' genre, if you'll forgive me calling it that. It's tough for benevolent, innocuous folks to hear a litany of ways they're unwittingly trampling roughshod on the liberty of others. (yes, I know, 'this is not about menz' tender fee-fees' and we don't have to bubble wrap the patriarchy etc. But keeping people listening is helpful, and assuming a listeners' best intentions is a decent default setting.) If we want to change behaviors, telling folks they're Doing It Wrong isn't enormously useful unless we give them alternate examples of how to Do It Right: Scripts. Comics with word balloons and happy outcomes. Unnoticed privilege coming into view is enlightening for a moment as the scales fall from your eyes, but then it's a wave of hot overwhelming embarrassment for a lifetime of blithely being a patronizing asshole. A lot of the time, the 'doing it wrong' essays end at that point, with the call-out. And I get the satisfaction in that, because it's enlightening, but its work is not done. If people recognize themselves in the What Not To Do role, what comes after the mortification of recognition is the 'afraid to say anything ever again' stage. I think a lot of people despair and shut down at that point, because options have been taken away, but no safe alternatives are offered to take their place. Not just for phrases to parrot, but for examples of how one phrase may be presumptive or problematic, but this other one is benign because xyz, can we compare them and see the difference now. The person has been confronted with the accusation of having failed miserably at being inoffensive, and is completely functionally derailed for fear of making another misstep. It's pretty much Austin Powers with the mole. Plus a sort of stage fright. Maybe that's just me.

So yeah, don't take something away (habits, words, behaviors) unless you can offer a replacement of higher value (habits, words, behaviors that communicate the meaning and intent equally or better than the first, nuance included, as well as doing so in a way that doesn't marginalize anyone.) I totally appropriated this concept from dog training, I'm not ashamed to admit. And I'm pretty sure we haven't yet got a better equivalent to dude, but I hope that when I say it in person, it's apparent that it's an arm around the shoulder, not a cudgel of sexism.
posted by Lou Stuells at 6:14 PM on October 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


Can't we just give people a little more benefit of the doubt and not have so many rules about this stuff? Otherwise I'm just going to start avoiding people for fear of insulting them inadvertently.
posted by cman at 6:25 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or can we just make one rule?

DON'T TRY TO HURT SOMEONE WHO ISN'T TRYING TO HURT ANYONE.

All that other stuff just kinda falls into place.
posted by cman at 6:28 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


No, we can't make just that one rule. Per my example up thread, what does it "take away" from people with privilege (easy, Anglo name privilege or whatever) to learn how to properly pronounce my last name?
posted by sweetkid at 6:30 PM on October 22, 2013 [10 favorites]


Lou Stuells: "And I'm pretty sure we haven't yet got a better equivalent to dude, but I hope that when I say it in person, it's apparent that it's an arm around the shoulder, not a cudgel of sexism."

Here's some research on it, which is interesting despite suffering from the common flaw of having as its study subjects North American college students:
Indeed, the data presented here confirm that dude is an address term that is used mostly by young men to address other young men; however, its use has expanded so that it is now used as a general address term for a group (same or mixed gender), and by and to women. Dude is developing into a discourse marker that need not identify an addressee, but more generally encodes the speaker’s stance to his or her current addressee(s). The term is used mainly in situations in which a speaker takes a stance of solidarity or camaraderie, but crucially in a nonchalant, not-too-enthusiastic manner. Dude indexes a stance of effortlessness (or laziness, depending on the perspective of the hearer), largely because of its origins in the “surfer” and “druggie” subcultures in which such stances are valued. The reason young men use this term is precisely that dude indexes this stance of cool solidarity. Such a stance is especially valuable for young men as they navigate cultural Discourses of young masculinity, which simultaneously demand masculine solidarity, strict heterosexuality, and non-conformity.
As a woman who uses "dude" regularly, I found this part, and the examples that follow it, particularly interesting:
In addition to the overwhelming predominance of male-male uses of
dude in these data, it is important to note that the second most common speaker-addressee gender type is female-female, while in mixed-gender interactions there were relatively fewer uses of dude. This correlational result suggests that dude indexes a solidary stance separate from its probable indexing of masculinity, unless for some reason women are are apt to be more masculine (and men, less masculine) when speaking to women.

More clues to the solidarity component of dude’s indexicality can be found in the actual tokens used by women speakers to women addressees, however. The all-women tokens were not used in simple greetings, but mostly in situations where camaraderie was salient: only 1 of the 82 woman-woman tokens (1.2%) was a simple greeting (Hey dude or What’s up, dude), as opposed to 7.6% (25/329) of the men’s tokens. The women tended to use dude (1) when they were commiserating about something bad or being in an unfortunate position, (2) when they were in confrontational situations, or (3) when they were issuing a directive to their addressee. In these last two uses by women, dude seems to function to ameliorate the confrontational and/
or hierarchical stance of the rest of the utterance.
posted by Lexica at 6:59 PM on October 22, 2013 [19 favorites]


You know, the risk I feel with this is that people are going to see all of this stuff that they have to do to be "good", and there's so much of it, and so invasive (eg. language policing, bronies, sitting on buses the morally correct way) that they're going to go like, "Fuck it, I'll just be evil instead".

Yep. So much of the current faddish, cultish orthodoxy of the Tumblr left simply doesn't make any sense that it will, inevitably generate a backlash. It's largely a kind of left-wing analog of the right-wing fundamentalist puritanism I had to endure as a kid--we're all sinners...some of us, of course, much more than others...we must all be plagued with guilt about our sinfulness and imperfectibility, we must accept the orthodoxy without question, etc., etc. Compared to that stuff, being bad can seem positively good...

Sadly, it's likely to produce a backlash that sends a lot of people not back to standard-issue liberalism, but, rather, far to the right, as the PC movement did in the '90's.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 7:44 PM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


It took a couple decades for left-leaning boomers to transform from youthful iconoclastic idealists into corporate suburban consumers. Is there any reason to think their children, who've been inculcated with identical values, will make that transition more quickly, Fists o' Fury? This feels a lot more like a slow experience-based self-over-corrective pendulum swing than a Weimar Republic-to-National Socialist backlash redux.
posted by perhapsolutely at 8:09 PM on October 22, 2013


I will be doing jury duty for EVERYBODY here, thank you very much.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:14 PM on October 22, 2013


Sweetkid, I am so sorry because if we were acquainted, I would be that person, and this is how it is in my imagination. Despite growing up amongst Polish and Italian families with names that have more syllables than the Pledge of Allegiance, and being able to verbally navigate them like an auctioneer on speed, I still don't know how to pronounce your name. You see, I am a grownup now and my learning-stuff memory is crap. If I ever change my phone number again, I'll need to write it on a card and pin it to my jacket. As for your name, guessing humiliates us both, and I can't look you in the face without feeling like an asshole because of not being able to remember. I know you've said it a bunch of times, but honestly I also don't know for sure how old my nieces and nephews are this year, because of reasons above combined with the fact that I'm self-absorbed and probably a horrible person. I want to be a kind and awesome person, but instead I am the person who can only remember the names of people's dogs, not the people themselves. And it's embarrassing to put you on the spot, to call attention to the fact that I'm provincial and ignorant, and your name Ain't From 'Round These Parts (squint eyes, tobacco spit.) Let me level with you, I'm not gonna remember it this time either. I can practically guarantee that. If I had no sense of shame whatsoever, I'd be candid and admit that I'll need to ask again at least three more times between now and Halloween. I hate to ask you directly. I'd have to write it down for it to stick, because visual learning is the only learning that works for me. But the act of doing that feels like I'm Othering you even harder, like a performance art extravaganza on the subject of me being a jerk to you because I have to make a big production of making out a cheat sheet for your name. When I do ask directly, it feels like I'm passive-aggressively calling attention to you for being Strange and Foreign, and I'm totally not feeling that, beyond a vague curiosity about recommendations for interesting snacks. I also can't say 'indefatigable' without committing an inadvertent hate crime, and anything French with an R in it is just not possible. But oh shit the more I think about this the worse it gets, I'm the homecoming queen of asshole apologists and I totally deserve the bucket of righteous pig blood. Jeez I hope I can defuse the tension by making a joke about having accidentally dropped scrabble tiles into a bowl of alphabet soup, hahaha that'll demonstrate that I'm simply an absent-minded oaf and mean no harm, right? Ah shit, yeah I've just made it worse and now you actively know I'm a complete ass instead of just suspecting it. I'm flailing, and in doing so I've smacked you in the face.

...so yeah, it's pretty much like that. Not a diss. Not thoughtless - on the contrary, frantic overthinking. I could probably do better. But there are about forty thousand things I should be doing better in my day to day routine, ranging from diet 'n' exercise to learning CPR to supporting local organic carbon footprint reducing whatevers and making homemade gifts instead of shopping. I've got an entire Encyclopedia Britannica of venial fails, and believe me, if we interact regularly and I can't pronounce your name, you can be sure you've got a personal entry. It's not your fault and you don't deserve it.

You shouldn't have to make extra effort. However, if you had a personal calling-card made up with your name and a simple pronunciation on it? Internally, I'd be bursting into tears and throwing my arms around you sobbing in gratitude.
posted by Lou Stuells at 8:16 PM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's humbling to see that you guys folks are debating the spread and evolution of religious tradition, and the hill I'm prepared to die on is to keep 'dude' in the inclusive lexicon.

Here is what I just don't get. There's no hill. No one's dying. No one is taking a goddamned thing away from anyone. The fact that this kind of reaction comes up over and over again--this insane scarcity mentality, this personal sense of insult because someone maybe thinks trying something different might POSSIBLY be meaningful, as though the suggestion takes away some real power in an immediate sense--is what tells me that this project is worth doing.

If you die on that hill, it's on you, dude.
posted by knock my smock and i'll clean your clock at 8:26 PM on October 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


How much traction and influence does the "Tumblr left" have outside of Tumblr? Probably not much, especially when one considers that the majority of Tumblr-ites seem to use the site for art or photo-manips. I wouldn't give the Tumblr left that much power to influence people, let alone push a sizable number right-ward in disgust of "political correctness." If it weren't for someone on MeFi noticing, I wonder how many non-Tumblrites would be discussing this article.

(And no, I don't tumbl; I had an account but gave up in frustration at how user-unfriendly the site is. I have enough on my social-media plate already.)

Jury duty - only once have I gotten as far as the selection process, and then I was rejected. Too bad, as I thought it would be an interesting experience. The other times I've gotten a notice I either called to find out I wasn't needed, or showed up, sat in a cattle-call in the courthouse, only to be sent home. (Then again, I live in a low-crime area, so not a lot of trials in the first place.)
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:29 PM on October 22, 2013


I find the comment about Buddhism odd. Buddhism is essentially a set of principles and practices. When these have been applied within a culture, they have been framed in a way that reflects that culture - whether it's Zen in Japan, or Forest Sangha in Thailand or Lamaism in Tibet - but authenticity in Buddhism is not the way that something reflect those cultural framings, but the way it relates to those essential principles and practices. In that way it resembles science, which is similarly a set of paradigms and practices, but no one would suggest that science is in anyway "authentically Western" or that an Indian physicist was appropriating something alien.

I listen to talks by western teachers more often than non-western, because I find it easier to understand what they are saying. For example, in the case of Ajahn Amaro, currently abbot of Amaravati monastery in England, the fact that he and I are both middle-class Englishmen of a certain vintage means that I find it very easy to understand what he's saying, and because he's a fully-ordained abbot, and what he says is always directly related to those essential principles and practices, his teachings are completely authentic, in no way less so than a teacher of Thai or other oriental origin.

To think otherwise is a kind of Orientalism.

As I understand it, the Dalai Lama has spoken in favour of the full ordination of women and moving towards equality between the genders in Buddhist traditions, in no small part due to the efforts of Western-born nuns to bring the issue to his attention. Would this frankly enormous change in the tradition be considered a kind of appropriation by those nuns, or a corruption of a non-western culture by western interests?

In fact if there's a high-profile teacher who has made me slightly suspicious, it's the recently deceased S.N. Goenka, who seemed to be putting his own name above the title.
posted by Grangousier at 11:09 PM on October 22, 2013 [9 favorites]


it's likely to produce a backlash that sends a lot of people not back to standard-issue liberalism, but, rather, far to the right, as the PC movement did in the '90's.

So what you're saying is starting buying stock in the New York Press? What *is* Taki up to these days?
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:23 PM on October 22, 2013


Did anyone else click on the link White Supremacy Culture? I can see how a lot of those ways of behaving would be obnoxious, but I don't see the connection between those ways of mismanaging an org and "white supremacy thinking" -- does anybody else? I feel like I'm missing something.

That's the problem with the rhetoric of appropriation: It chooses one moment in time as authentic, and everything after it as false, buying into the very myths of purity it claims to subvert.

I don't understand appropriation and maybe I do it all the time. Culture isn't scarce -- why are some people appropriating and some people not (or when are people appropriating and when not) by learning about or even participating in some culturally relevant thing? I'm not saying appropriation doesn't happen or isn't a problem, I'm saying I don't know how to recognize it let alone define it.

How can I tell if I'm appropriating something? By making money off it (I wish)? By pretending I'm the one who finally got it "right" (and erasing the people who created/are experts at it)? What is the harm created when someone appropriates -- maybe I avoid appropriating by avoiding that? I think it's a little disingenuous to call it a "minefield" because honestly, I'm not the one suffering by appropriating other people's stuff. But sometimes "appropriation" seems to cover such a broad swath of behavior that it becomes meaningless.

You shouldn't have to make extra effort. However, if you had a personal calling-card made up with your name and a simple pronunciation on it? Internally, I'd be bursting into tears and throwing my arms around you sobbing in gratitude.

For me personally, you being able to say my last name is not important enough to me that I'm going to print out calling cards and coach everyone through. That's being super respectful of my name at the cost of being disrespectful of my time.

Besides, it's a lovely courtesy to try and call people by name and to pronounce those names correctly. But it's nearly impossible to figure out a name you've never heard before that follows linguistic rules you don't know in the time it takes to keep the interaction going smoothly, let alone to remember that name for all time. So I think it's a little harsh to hold people to that standard.
posted by rue72 at 1:50 AM on October 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wanting to take privilege away from those who have it cashes out to exactly the same thing as punishing those with privilege for having it.

Then there are the logistics of transporting that privilege from eg. Florida and rural America to Park Slope, where it belongs
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 2:49 AM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


The fact that this kind of reaction comes up over and over again--this insane scarcity mentality, this personal sense of insult because someone maybe thinks trying something different might POSSIBLY be meaningful, as though the suggestion takes away some real power in an immediate sense--is what tells me that this project is worth doing.

It's a good project in good faith, but maybe if the same reaction comes up repeatedly, you've got to do something about the delivery. Based on your entries, my impression is that you see your readers as basically ignorant buffoons in serious need of sensitivity training. Your format boils the reader down to a single identity: someone who is in error, has committed all manner of faux pas, and needs direction. And I mean... your response basically reinforces this point, by choosing to focus on the notion that I'm totally reading your stuff the wrong way because I'm an obstinate jerk who hates new ideas. You could easily retitle it Ways You're Probably An Asshole. I don't warm to your writing because there's no humility, no empathy, no context or narrative of ignorance giving way to wisdom. There's just a series of 'You should...' and maybe I agree with everything you say. But to elect oneself the arbiter of the You Shoulds, you've got to bring something to the table, at the very least some relatable humanity. Do you have a story? Are you trustworthy, do you empathize with readers on all stages of their journey? Or are you just right and that should be enough? Because I can't tell. Adultism might be a thing that I agree with, or maybe it means you think kindergartners should vote. I have no idea, because you didn't put meat on those bones. All I know is that you think that I, and every reader, is probably doing stuff wrong, and you know how to do it better. Lemme tell ya, I've got plenty of people eager to dish that up already, the line is around the block. And thanks for the reminder, I do have to call mom.

Thing is, I agree with you on most of the stuff, but I don't think the brief, short format serves the message. You're not writing life hacks, you're addressing deep stuff about identity, moral responsibility, and the ways we interact with others. We hang our sense of self on those hooks. Becoming aware of something we need to change in ourselves takes some processing and adjustment, and I'm not sure a paragraph provides enough room to get comfy enough to help unpack all that. Can you frame entries in a way that demonstrates you relate to the the reader as a peer? Can you foster a sense of empathy, a sense that yeah, we all have flaws, here's something someone said to me recently that really made me think... Because that would show the reader that you're writing as someone on the journey beside us, not some anonymous voice of judgment. And the reader would have room to digest the message, and context to examine it from multiple sides, and the knowledge that there's more to your project than just the righteous thrill of calling people out.

And dude I can't believe you used 'insane' in that context, that's hilarious, considering. Hand to God, it warmed my heart to you enormously, because human imperfection? Yeah, those are my people.
posted by Lou Stuells at 3:10 AM on October 23, 2013 [7 favorites]


I like the format and think that anyone who reads this and takes it as some kind of insult to their person needs to ask themself why. Just because they're Big Issues doesn't mean there's only one way to talk about them or that one can't be succinct in doing so. Sometimes the lifehack format can be good for looking at issues of privilege because you're looking for ways to change your thinking and behavioral patterns. It's cognitive, social justice lifehacking, I guess.

Not everyone needs to be coddled. Some of us like getting ideas straight.
posted by NoraReed at 4:25 AM on October 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


However, if you had a personal calling-card made up with your name and a simple pronunciation on it? Internally, I'd be bursting into tears and throwing my arms around you sobbing in gratitude.

No, absolutely not. All I ask is a reasonable attempt and I can correct, or asking "how do I pronounce your last name," also fine. If you forget repeatedly that's on you! I am not making calling cards with descriptions on how to pronounce my last name, because that normalizes the behavior of people who throw their hands up at 'foreign' names and think "whatchamacallit" and "random letters" is OK. For the most part, my last name follows phonetic American pronunciation, but it has some letters that are a bit tricky because they're Sanskrit sounds, but easily worked out with a little practice.

If you (general you) got through basic K-12 education, or even K-8, you should be able to pronounce my last name, especially if I have just demonstrated for you. I mean.
posted by sweetkid at 7:15 AM on October 23, 2013 [12 favorites]


As a middle-aged white male who has enjoyed countless privileges based on that identity, I appreciate blogs like this enormously. Thank you for posting it. I remember when the term "politically correct" as a pejorative was first getting tossed around by Rush Limbaugh, and thinking "hey, what he's criticizing is just people speaking decently to and about each other." It was areal awakening to me. I hadn't realized how asinine a lot of my own behavior had been until I had considered it through this type of lens. This blog isn't just preaching to the choir. It's reaching out to some new converts as well. This, along with the "trans-101" posts I've seen here, and other examinations of privilege I've seen posted here, is a helpful thing. Sometimes I need it spelled out for me. I'm still learning this stuff. I can always learn how to be more decent to people.
posted by Cookiebastard at 7:47 AM on October 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


You know, the risk I feel with this is that people are going to see all of this stuff that they have to do to be "good", and there's so much of it, and so invasive (eg. language policing, bronies, sitting on buses the morally correct way) that they're going to go like, "Fuck it, I'll just be evil instead".

Yeah, and some aspiring composers are going to listen to Bach and think, "Screw it, I'll never be that good" and give up composing. But I think that's a completely stupid reason not to listen to Bach.
posted by straight at 9:06 AM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not everyone needs to be coddled. Some of us like getting ideas straight.

I was thinking the same thing. My initial reaction to Lou Stells was "Really? You have to have someone hold your hand and reassure you of their goodwill and that they bear no animosity toward you to read these ideas? You can't just look and say either, 'Yeah that's a dumb thing some people do.' or, 'Oh crap, I never thought about that, maybe I should be more considerate about kind of thing'?"

But his earlier comment about the difficulty of remembering hard names does make me realize that there is a glibness to some of these suggestions that makes it sound like the author thinks all these changes should be easy and that self-centeredness is the only reason anyone would do the things that are called out here. I can see where that could be more discouraging than helpful.
posted by straight at 9:30 AM on October 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Count me as another member of the choir who still wants to hear some preaching - I found the link to this essay particularly valuable.
posted by naoko at 9:46 AM on October 23, 2013


I am not making calling cards with descriptions on how to pronounce my last name, because that normalizes the behavior of people who throw their hands up at 'foreign' names and think "whatchamacallit" and "random letters" is OK.

Eventually, you will be asked for a PowerPoint rebus or vertigo-inducing Prezi on how to pronounce your name. Or possibly you could make it into a ringtone!
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:58 AM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Eventually, you will be asked for a PowerPoint rebus or vertigo-inducing Prezi on how to pronounce your name. Or possibly you could make it into a ringtone!

I personally make fun of anyone who can't pronounce my name. "Mint-Tall Whip" indeed. Feh.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:00 AM on October 23, 2013


It makes it easy to hang up on telemarketers.
posted by sweetkid at 11:31 AM on October 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


I worked for a guy who really did not want to talk to cold callers. I mostly filtered them by how they said his name. It was surpringly effective considering that his name was pretty short and Anglo, but it seemingly confused many.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:46 AM on October 23, 2013


The funny part is I only use a very "Americanized" pronunciation, as I can't even properly pronounce it with Indian pronunciation because I have a very American accent, and there's no way people would be able to remember it that way. So it's the AMERICAN version they can't get.
posted by sweetkid at 11:53 AM on October 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


As a telemarketer I once mangled the pronunciation of "Gillespie" so badly that I got hung up on. To be far, I was tired and hated my job so I wasn't trying hard at all.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:08 PM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


To add on to what others have already said above about the assumption that Western Buddhism is appropriation- I feel like calling Western Buddhism "appropriative" is something that actually ends up playing into the same racist tropes it's trying to fight against. To elaborate on this- there are religions that are deeply intertwined with a culture, which can not really be practiced without being part of that culture. This has, if anything, been more the norm in the history of religion than the idea of a religion being universally appropriate for all people. So when it comes to that type of religion, it makes sense to speak of cultural appropriation when those outside of those cultures attempt to adopt those religious practices on without becoming a part of that culture- as I understand it, one cannot really practice Lakota traditional religion, for example, without being Lakota (how that's defined is another discussion, but it's certainly not something one can be by just deciding that one is), and the idea of a missionary of traditional Lakota religion makes no sense. I fully agree it's grossly disrespectful and racist when white Westerners disregard that and practice some poorly defined "Native American spirituality" anyway, and I do think that appropriation is the right word to describe that.

Buddhism, though (at least every form of it I know of), is universalist. Like Christianity, it is explicitly meant for all humanity, not just one specific people- the Buddha encouraged his followers to go forth and share his teachings. The fact that it exists as far outside India as it does, in as many different cultures as it does, is pretty much the proof of this. There were Buddhist missionaries, and there still are, though it's true that most sects of Buddhism are much less active on this front than they once were. I do not know of any sects of Buddhism that take the line that they are only for those of a certain cultural and/or ethnic background- the closest thing I can think of are certain far-right Sinhala nationalist interpretations of Buddhism, and I don't think anyone concerned with social justice would want them to be the ones who set the standard for what the religion is. One can speak of misrepresenting or distorting a teaching that is freely given, but it makes little sense to speak of appropriating it, unless one assumes that it isn't actually freely given- but when it comes to Buddhism as a whole, this is not the case.

This is where I think that defining Buddhism as simply a "nonwhite tradition" and referring to Western Buddhism as "appropriation", as if it were a closed practice reserved only for those of a specific ethnic and cultural background, equivalent to something like the Sun Dance, is essentially a racist, Orientalist idea itself- if something as explicitly universalist as Buddhism is assumed to be a closed ethnic folkway, the logical conclusion (which seems to be the one a number of people on Tumblr have arrived at) is that every belief, practice and tradition which originated with non-white/Western culture is also that way, and that even if the people of those cultures explicitly view it as being for all people, are happy to teach outsiders about it, send out missionaries, etc.- it remains and must remain "a nonwhite tradition", closed to those outside the cultures it came from. This essentially (if inadvertently) makes the statement that non-white/non-Western people cannot create any tradition that is intended for all humanity, that anything they create must be restricted to them alone, even if they do not view it that way themselves- and so, it ends up speaking for people of color, denying their agency, lumping a huge diversity of cultures into one big undifferentiated Other, and essentially embracing an ideal of cultural purity normally associated with the far-right, all in the name of fighting racism.

All of this is not to say that there's nothing wrong with some of the ways Buddhism gets interpreted or practiced in the West- I do think a lot of what gets called Buddhism in the West is a pretty severe distortion of the original teachings (I have seen the Kalama Sutta get butchered to make it more fully compatible with secular sensibilities more times than I can count), and I think there's a usually a fair amount of Western arrogance and/or ethnocentrism motivating that sort of thing- I have no problem with that being pointed out, or with criticisms of the forms Western Buddhism often takes (I have plenty of my own), but, for all the reasons I went into above, I think "appropriation" is not usually the right word to describe it, and certainly not as a descriptor of all Buddhism practiced by Westerners.
posted by a louis wain cat at 10:49 PM on October 23, 2013 [8 favorites]


What's in your invisible fanny pack?

An invisible fanny?
posted by Grangousier at 10:54 PM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


But it's nearly impossible to figure out a name you've never heard before that follows linguistic rules you don't know in the time it takes to keep the interaction going smoothly, let alone to remember that name for all time. So I think it's a little harsh to hold people to that standard.

I have a name that's native to the country in which I live (for want of a better description) yet it gets mispronounced often. It's a little irksome, but I generally see it as unintentional - it's often by people who aren't native English speakers and struggle a bit with the English-specific sounds. I might feel differently if I were not white, and my name was seen by others as somehow putting them out by forcing them to pronounce it. The names I tend to come across in day to day life that I struggle with are traditional Irish names and I try to get a pronunciation steer from someone before I try to speak to them on the phone.

What does wind me the fuck up, though, is people I've barely met deciding to call me by the diminutive of my name. By which I am never known, not even by my mum. I do wonder if people with Funny Foreign Names end up with nicknames imposed upon them because people just can't be arsed to try.
posted by mippy at 8:24 AM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I do wonder if people with Funny Foreign Names end up with nicknames imposed upon them because people just can't be arsed to try.

Yes, my parents have gone by nicknames for most of their professional lives - sort of a diminutive for our last name that sounds like an "American" first name - think Dr. Bobb for my mom, a doctor, and Mr. Bobb, or sometimes just Bobb, for my dad.

I understand and respect that as a choice they made for themselves, but I don't want to make it for myself. As I said earlier, even I use an "Americanized" pronunciation of my last name, well, because I'm an American, but it still includes all (nine) letters of my last name.

I mean, my doctor has a long Hispanic last name that I find difficult to pronounce and goes by "Dr. J" with a lot of people, and that's fine, that's his choice - but if I seriously just CAN'T pronounce it? That's on me and frankly ridiculous.
posted by sweetkid at 9:31 AM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's a little irksome, but I generally see it as unintentional - it's often by people who aren't native English speakers and struggle a bit with the English-specific sounds. I might feel differently if I were not white, and my name was seen by others as somehow putting them out by forcing them to pronounce it.

Yeah, I think it is telling that the assumption is that white people are doing this--mispronouncing a name--on purpose, while everyone else is probably really making an effort and just can't get it right. I had a hard-to-pronounce last name before I got married, and I didn't assume people just couldn't be bothered to pronounce it because Privilege. Is person making an effort? Thanks, person! Not making an effort? You're an asshat, person!

There is a difference between making an effort not to offend others, which I think is a worthwhile goal for everyone, and simply turning the rhetoric around so that the so-called privileged class becomes the new butt of the joke.

That "White Supremacy Culture" rue72 linked above is an example of this. There is nothing inherently white about anything in that link at all.

In it, the author talks about problems he feels exists in certain corporate climates, lumps them all together and gives them an offensive name--"White Supremacy Culture". Ugh.

I have other issues with that snippet, because even the critiques the author lumps together in the first place consist of unfounded, uncited assumptions of how corporations work, and the simplistic recommendations for change are largely unworkable in the real workplace. But the biggest problem with that piece is the author using race as an easy scapegoat when it has nothing to do with the actual issues being discussed.

Some groups may have some privileges over others, sure. That does not mean that every person in that group is an oppressor, or even a wannabe oppressor. It does not make it okay to mock that group and make it an easy scapegoat for everything you find problematic in the world.

We see this on Metafilter, where hipsters, religious people, conservatives, baby boomers, and most recently MRA types (or just guys in fedoras) have become the go-to goats of the day.

Because of course the idea that any one group has privilege at all is problematic, too. Who identifies with just one group? We are not part of a simple hierarchy or patriarchy or whatever. The world is more like a Venn Diagram, full of over-lapping social circles, with race, class, culture, and sexual orientation just making up the more obvious overlaps.

The best you can do is try not to intentionally hurt others, really. And, on the receiving end, maybe try not to assume intent that isn't there.

TL;DR: Don't pat yourself on the back too hard for being inclusive if all you've really done is substitute one offensive assumption for another.

posted by misha at 11:27 AM on October 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


Yeah, I think it is telling that the assumption is that white people are doing this--mispronouncing a name--on purpose, while everyone else is probably really making an effort and just can't get it right. I had a hard-to-pronounce last name before I got married, and I didn't assume people just couldn't be bothered to pronounce it because Privilege. Is person making an effort? Thanks, person! Not making an effort? You're an asshat, person!

That's not the assumption I make, and it's not how I think privilege operates, for what it's worth. I don't think it has a lot to do with individual effort, but more to do with what the source of the "problem" is and how we're socially rewarded (or not) for our individual efforts. I, individually, am not "an oppressor," but I am socially licensed to behave in ways that sometimes are.

So (a) what makes a name "hard to pronounce"? It's more than just "native English speakers don't know how to parse names that are derived from other languages" or that "there are sounds the mouths of English speakers cannot phonetically make." I mean, there really are plenty of people who see a name that "looks complicated" and don't bother to try to pronounce it and, when they make this determination, err on the side of giving up on names that "sound ethnic" in a particular way. There are also plenty of people who say that they shouldn't have to try. And there are plenty of people who repeatedly encounter people whose names they mispronounce, because (b) there's no social penalty for not getting it right. And a lot of this happens along lines of power, if not routinely predictable ones.

Not dissimilar is white folks' penchant for making fun of names that "sound black."
posted by knock my smock and i'll clean your clock at 1:51 PM on October 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


Most names most people encounter in their daily lives require no effort to reproduce--certainly no coaching and practicing. If you insist they submit to a daunting orthography exercise with a closely managed foreign word equivalent pronunciation quiz at the end, before they've even really met/invested in you, let alone understand your standards, or history of failure and subsequent frustrated impatience...I can see how that might meet with some measure of resistance or a preemptive sense of defeat.

I like that kind of challenge (I have friends whose family name is Rasolofomasoandro, and I take great pleasure in saying it properly) but expecting everyone to, and judging them as racist, or taking their reluctance to risk failure in front of a stranger as floccinaucinihilipilification...that just seems a little ungenerous. People can be very linguistically insecure--they may pass it off in a way that you can take as belittling, but most often lexical intimidation is what it really amounts to.

Some people can't be troubled to learn to pronounce Sanskrit properly and so they Americanize it. Others can't be troubled to learn comparatively complicated foreign-looking words at all, unless you really super-simplify the Americanized version. My friends don't mind 'Raso' in place of their full last name and understand that in context that's a compromise most English speakers are happy to make. Lowering your standards of another culture's conforming to your expectations can go a long way to smoothing relations. Not everyone in the world has simultaneously the time, energy, skill, and desire to pass a somewhat arbitrary-seeming polysyllabic pop-quiz. I'm sad about that, but there's not much that can be done about it.
posted by perhapsolutely at 3:05 PM on October 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


OK? I guess I just think one can "smooth relations" and still acknowledge having to do so as a real and meaningful loss. But what do I know, am anti-oppression oppressor.
posted by knock my smock and i'll clean your clock at 4:32 PM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have never so acutely felt like Metafilter is a place I don't understand and do not belong. Thanks to those of you who have been kind, patient, and supportive, even when being critical.
posted by knock my smock and i'll clean your clock at 4:35 PM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Some people can't be troubled to learn to pronounce Sanskrit properly and so they Americanize it. Others can't be troubled to learn comparatively complicated foreign-looking words at all, unless you really super-simplify the Americanized version. My friends don't mind 'Raso' in place of their full last name and understand that in context that's a compromise most English speakers are happy to make. Lowering your standards of another culture's conforming to your expectations can go a long way to smoothing relations. Not everyone in the world has simultaneously the time, energy, skill, and desire to pass a somewhat arbitrary-seeming polysyllabic pop-quiz. I'm sad about that, but there's not much that can be done about it.

I brought up that my last name comes from "fucking Sanskrit" sort of as a joke, because in the context of my comment, someone described my last name as "random letters" where my last name comes from an ancient language that is part of the Indo European language family and has informed modern English more than you and "random letters" chick could probably ever realize. also it's not "pronouncing Sanskrit properly" or a "pop quiz" it's just not openly insulting someone's heritage by saying their last name is "whatchamacallit" or "random letters." I find if people try to pronounce my last name, like actually try, they get really close to the pronunciation I use myself. Like if they just read all the letters in order and pronounce them like you would in American English. Bt often people transpose letters, add letters that aren't there, or more often than not just use my first initial and say " sorry, it's just too hard." No. It's not.

Great that your friend doesn't mind a shortened version of their name. My choice as a second generation Indian American is to have people pronounce my (again, Americanized) full name. If people can easily learn to say "namaste" in yoga class, they can learn my last name. Neither is a "pop quiz."
posted by sweetkid at 6:37 PM on October 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


Not everyone in the world has simultaneously the time, energy, skill, and desire to pass a somewhat arbitrary-seeming polysyllabic pop-quiz

This attitude is the very definition of privilege. I don't wanta, I don't hafta, I'm not gonna.
posted by sweetkid at 6:38 PM on October 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's more than just "native English speakers don't know how to parse names that are derived from other languages" or that "there are sounds the mouths of English speakers cannot phonetically make."

My name has a soft G and a double-LL sound which tends to trip non-English speakers up as they don't sound right to them, and sometimes people just end up calling me by the male version of my name. If I moved to a country where both sounds are very unusual like Spain, I'd be tempted to adopt a nickname just to avoid the constant tedium of having to correct people. My old GP used to mispronounce my name all the time - she was from India originally - and I wasn't sure if I'd cause embarrassment, or at least feel like a dick, if I were to stop her and correct her.
posted by mippy at 4:16 AM on October 25, 2013


The purest definition of privilege is expecting everyone to accommodate you--regardless of their ability--and for those with less ability to just try harder. Give it a break. If you're not among native speakers of your family name's source language there's a chance people may not me able or willing to meet your exacting standards. This is not an English vs The World issue. It's universal. And it's not a tragedy. It's called diversity, and sometimes diversity means minor linguistic incompatibility. Your ego can take a breather--think of it as allowing someone with a different culture to express it, even if you disapprove and think their culture is rude or self-centered. Many can seem that way. Thankfully it's not your burden to enlighten the primitive natives among whom you've made your home.
posted by perhapsolutely at 10:28 AM on October 25, 2013


Thankfully it's not your burden to enlighten the primitive natives among whom you've made your home.

I was born in America. This is my culture.
posted by sweetkid at 10:41 AM on October 25, 2013


Speaking as a white American with an unusual but fairly easy to pronounce last name: I've hardly ever gotten pushback from anyone when I make a sincere effort to pronounce their name correctly, even if I don't get everything exactly right. (And the few times I have, it's been because the person in question was just looking for an excuse to be angry with me. If I had pronounced their name perfectly, I'd have been in hot water with some other issue.)

Most people are smart enough to distinguish between a bumbling but good-faith effort and "tee hee, your name is so weird I won't even bother!" It's amazing how not being an asshole makes people give you the benefit of the doubt.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:50 AM on October 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's not that you're asking a lot (who gets to decide what a lot is is another matter), it's that you're asking for more than people with familiar names. Sometimes when you ask for a favor that requires extra effort from complete strangers they tell you no. I imagine that's a more familiar experience on the East Coast than the West for all kinds of complicated cultural reasons, but I might be wrong.

In any case, if this is your culture, then you realize how unlikely it is most people will jump at the chance to sound out an unfamiliar word in front of a stranger, which makes them feel stupid, so they throw some of the blame for that back on the difficult/unfamiliar word itself. That word isn't you, though, so there are no hard feelings. Thankfully.
posted by perhapsolutely at 10:58 AM on October 25, 2013


Most people are smart enough to distinguish between a bumbling but good-faith effort and "tee hee, your name is so weird I won't even bother!" It's amazing how not being an asshole makes people give you the benefit of the doubt.

Yes, this. There is a MASSIVE difference between a bumbling good faith effort and tee hee your name is weird.

I remember reading about how Leonardo DiCaprio was told to change his name because no one was going to want to pronounce all that and he wouldn't be famous. He refused. I feel like few people would say "Leonardo DiCaprio" is so very hard to say that they should just say "Leo Donovan" or something when talking about that actor from Titanic. A generation ago, many Italian and Jewish actors changed their names, but Leonardo DiCaprio wouldn't, and that's a choice that a lot of people with "foreign names" make, white or not. It just still seems like it's supposedly OK for people to make jokes about nonwhite origin last names as "so weird."

It's not OK.
posted by sweetkid at 11:25 AM on October 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


Italians and Jews are, for the most part, not non-white. It's strange to cast non-English names in terms of skin color. I'm sure there are plenty of Poles, Finns, or Turks with this problem. Trying to make this about race comes off as kinda, um...
posted by perhapsolutely at 1:25 PM on October 25, 2013


Some people can't be troubled to learn to pronounce Sanskrit properly and so they Americanize it. Others can't be troubled to learn comparatively complicated foreign-looking words at all, unless you really super-simplify the Americanized version. My friends don't mind 'Raso' in place of their full last name and understand that in context that's a compromise most English speakers are happy to make. Lowering your standards of another culture's conforming to your expectations can go a long way to smoothing relations. Not everyone in the world has simultaneously the time, energy, skill, and desire to pass a somewhat arbitrary-seeming polysyllabic pop-quiz. I'm sad about that, but there's not much that can be done about it.

I don't even know where to start. A person's name is pretty much the main marker of their identity, and making an effort to pronounce it correctly is basic civility, not some huge effort. Sweetkid does not sound like she is asking people to master some arcane consonant pronunciation but that people use her whole name. That is not asking too much. That's the equivalent of using a short form of someone's first name without permission -- it drives a ot of people crazy. I'm not going to call someone introduced as "Steven Wilson" "Steve" without making sure it's OK. heck, I'm likely to call him "Mr. Wilson." That's manners.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:37 PM on October 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Additionally there are Spanish-surnamed people of Asiatic (e.g. Mayan, Aztec, etc) or African (Dominican, etc) ethnic derivation who encounter relatively little in the way of difficulty on this head. It's not about race or language so much as familiarity. If your name is rare, or completely unfamiliar where you live, this pronunciation/orthography thing can be a problem, wherever you are in the world. It's one of the perks of being special, as snowflakes go. Insisting that people appease you at the risk of an embarrassing failure they'll be censured for (cf 'It's not OK' when they accidentally misspell it) is a lot of things, but manners isn't one of them.
posted by perhapsolutely at 1:49 PM on October 25, 2013


Italians and Jews are, for the most part, not non-white

As an Italian jew who considers himself "white" I've been very amused at how my obvious non-white peers disagree. And how my WASPier friends kind of agree with their disagreement once the subject has been breached. (Honestly, a lot of people think I'm Indian (from Asia) which confuses me greatly.) And outside of America I've seen a lot more confusion.

Is Persian "white"? Arab? Hispanic?
posted by aspo at 1:55 PM on October 25, 2013


That's manners.

Building on that, the funny thing about manners is that there are always occasions when you're allowed to bend the rules for various reasons. You can blow off a dinner party at the last minute if you're sick. You can not get out to open someone's door for them if you're in a bulky leg cast. That sort of thing. But people are asking, as I understand it, to get out of the general "You pronounce people's names correctly and call them what they wish to be called" manners thing by just saying "Oh it's too hard and besides it's weeeeeeird" as if that were an okay reason. I get that people are socially anxious and I get that these things are challenging and I'm a big fan of the good faith effort approach as sometimes substituting for being able to do the actual thing. That said, the goal state is to try, try as if the other people's feelings mattered and not beg off because you've decided that the inconvenience to you (of random people ridiculing you for trying? seriously?) is a bigger deal.

My name is slightly odd and I get people who can't pronounce it, who can't repeat it back to me when I say it to them, for whatever reason. If we're in a situation where they'll be using my name, my full name, more than never, I'll make sure they have it right. And I'm sorry if that's awkward, but I'll still do that and be friendly about it. I just got a check written out to me by someone who couldn't for some reason, spell my name correctly. This is either an indication of incompetence (it wasn't a typo it was a weird phonetic attempt at my name) or lack of caring which to me is a sign of disrespect. Not everyone needs to agree with my assessment, but for people for whom this is not just a one-time thing but rather a bunch of compounding microaggressions, my feeling is that it's appropriate to aim for getting it right, even if you might miss sometimes.
posted by jessamyn at 1:56 PM on October 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


'It's not OK' when they accidentally misspell it

That's not what I said. I said it's not OK to say it's "random letters" or "too weird" to say.

My point about Italian and Jewish names is that in large part, many of those names have become more "normal" to mainstream American ears over time, in large part because of people insisting on using their full names, like DiCaprio, for example. Indian names are not as well known, sure, but if I were to just abbreviate my name to make it "easier" for everyone, and if everyone with Indian names did that as well, no one would ever become acclimated to Indian names. Also, like GenjiandProust said names are important. I've often wished that my last name were something "easier." Every time I call up the pharmacy or something, when they ask last name, I say "I'll spell it for you," in part because I think it's understandable that people will not hear the name and understand how to spell it, because it is not as well known in mainstream America as "Smith." But it's still my name, and I need to use it when I call the pharmacy, even if that makes life harder for the person on the other end of the phone than if my name were "Smith."
posted by sweetkid at 2:11 PM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Are Chinese names, excluding those beginning with U-less Q, or X, treated with this defeatist attitude when it comes to pronunciation? Could it be that skin color or foreign language--thus racism and xenophobia--are less to blame than genuine novelty and intimidatingly unfamiliar orthography? Is that possibility racist to even consider because it doesn't have a white culprit? If I write my name Brzenczyszczykiewicz do you honestly think most people in the world will take my skin color into consideration and bravely forge ahead while balking at Chan? Harnessing your frustration to other people's sense of linguistic adventure usually guarantees an unsatisfying ride. Casting it in terms of skin color is a whole different level of axe grindery.
posted by perhapsolutely at 2:15 PM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is that possibility racist to even consider because it doesn't have a white culprit?

It's not just white people who say "your name is too weird."

I don't know at this point it's like you're having this conversation with yourself, and you're the one with the axe to grind.
posted by sweetkid at 2:21 PM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Insisting that people appease you at the risk of an embarrassing failure they'll be censured for (cf 'It's not OK' when they accidentally misspell it) is a lot of things, but manners isn't one of them.

Um, wow. Yeah, that's not manners, but that's not remotely the scenario we were discussing.

Manners demands that you make a good-faith effort to call people by their names (and titles, for that matter) as they indicate they wish to be called. Manners also requires you to not use diminutives or other modifications until you are invited to do so (or in very close relationships where manners (although not courtesy) breaks down a little).

Manners also requires the person whose name is being used to be gracious about errors. Correcting someone once per incident is probably the limit, although you are free to classify a constant transgressor as a social buffoon and avoid/ignore them as much as possible. Pitching a fit because you weren't called "Reverend X" or "Professor Y" is as rude as calling Professor Ranganathan "Rags" because you can't be bothered to try, it's just a lot more forgivable.

Obviously, people with speech difficulties and small children get a pass, but it's bizarre to assume that a functioning adult can't make a good-faith effort to pronounce someone's name.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:21 PM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't argue you don't have the prerogative to insist people get your name right--just as I wouldn't argue they don't have a right to decide how hard to try. But explaining that something so familiar to you isn't 'too hard' for them gets into name-splainy territory pretty fast (who are you to say, after all, where their linguistic abilities end?), and taking on the education of the incompetent and thus unwilling is Sisyphean work. If your race-oriented frustration is showing as much IRL as here, you're likely to meet with unsurprising lack of success, though.

If training strangers to accommodate you in ways other people do not require is your thing, and you can't get a gig as an imperialist overlord, tally ho!
posted by perhapsolutely at 2:28 PM on October 25, 2013


If training strangers to accommodate you in ways other people do not require is your thing, and you can't get a gig as an imperialist overlord, tally ho!

Considering the history of India, that's... pretty offensive.

And what's this "other people do not require?" I ask that people spell and pronounce my name correctly, it's just that I have a name that is pretty easy for people born in North America to pronounce. I'm more likely to get that "familiar shortening" of my first name, and, yeah, I correct people, and, after the first few mistakes, I write them off as people I don't need to know. Because they are disrespecting me. I'm not sure why sweetkid should put up with it.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:37 PM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


And I think it's kind of sad that this thread ended up here. knock my smock and i'll clean your clock , I'm sorry. I like your project, even though I had some quibbles.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:20 PM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes GenjiandProust it's potentially quite offensive when anyone expects someone of a different cultural background (and concomitantly language skill) to accommodate them by exerting themselves on that person's behalf. That was my point exactly. I'm not offended, but I can see how people might find that sort of entitled attitude an affront, in linguistic matters often especially.

I personally enjoy learning new and challenging words. Some people instinctively resist it. It's not really my place to insist they learn difficult to say/spell words, no matter my connection to or fondness for them, but I don't begrudge anyone the right to try to force new language(s) on others. Despite having a less-than-common name not everyone in the world is necessarily willing/able to pronounce, I think it'd be naïve and self-centered of me, halfway around the world from my name's ancestral lands, to lay down the linguistic law for the people I meet there. Those kind of arbiters are never in short enough supply. 'Well just try, you're lying, it's not too hard, you're just a lazy racist' is about as culturally chauvinistic as it gets.
posted by perhapsolutely at 3:26 PM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can see being angry that people shorten your unfamiliar name, or just don't try. But getting mad because they "transpose letters"? That's just unfamiliarity with the consonant clusters. How do you do with Bosnian or Polish names?
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 3:35 PM on October 25, 2013


I am from an area of the US (SF Bay area) which is extremely diverse. It's also, on the whole, very informal. So we're used to seeing unfamiliar surnames and saying "Could you say that for me, please?" or "Could you help me with the pronunciation?"

Adults also hardly ever call other adults Mr. or Ms. Lastname, even when introduced. If you call someone Mr. or Ms. Lastname it's because you are their service provider (like a waiter or customer service rep). People call their doctors Dr. Lastname, but in social or work situations, it's almost always first names.

I still think much of the article is aimed at other Tumblrites, and absolutely disagree with the idea that Pema Chodron isn't a real Buddhist teacher because she's white (!), and think that "check your adultism" is overly precious. Some of the links were good, though; the one to Barbara Smith telling white hippie kids to bathe, please, was right on the mark. ("I'm a good person, therefore I don't bathe" is one of those things that medieval saints did to prove their purity. Strange that the 60's would resurrect that in a leftie sense!) I also enjoyed the link to the Class Conscious article.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:03 PM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I get a lot of people shortening my hyphenated last name to one or the other, which I find really disrespectful. That's a feminism thing, though. People still make a good faith effort to pronounce it, even if they often get it wrong, and I'm guessing that's because it looks European.
posted by NoraReed at 2:23 AM on October 26, 2013


> Kind of like those fawn-coloured pants popular with middle-aged American men

You mean khakis? I was just looking at photos on a Danish friend's Facebook page, and saw plenty of khakis being worn by men and women of a certain age.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:10 PM on October 27, 2013


straight: "Yeah, and some aspiring composers are going to listen to Bach and think, "Screw it, I'll never be that good" and give up composing. But I think that's a completely stupid reason not to listen to Bach."

It may be a stupid reason to stop listening to Bach, but apparently it is exactly the reason modern composers don't write choral counterpoint. I remember going to a performance of new compositions at Chicago and asking why it was all weird atonal stuff. The answer, as near as I can remember it after three years, was, "Yeah, well, Bach used to improvise six-part counterpoint as a party trick, so...good luck doing anything new there."
posted by d. z. wang at 5:27 PM on October 28, 2013


perhapsolutely: "Yes GenjiandProust it's potentially quite offensive when anyone expects someone of a different cultural background (and concomitantly language skill) to accommodate them by exerting themselves on that person's behalf."

This seems really strange to me. Expecting somebody to get it perfect? Yeah, that's a bit out of line. Expecting them to make an effort? Completely reasonable, IMO.

For example, my name is one that cannot be rendered in Japanese. Some of the phonemes just don't exist. So when a Japanese-speaker addresses me or speaks about me, they turn my one-syllable name into a three-syllable name, in the process adding two vowels that (properly) exist nowhere in it.

And that's fine, because they're at least making an effort to represent my name as correctly as possible. They're not saying "That's too hard; I think I'll call you Akiko instead."

We expect people to exert themselves on behalf of others all the time. I expect you to exert yourself and not sprawl all over multiple bus seats when there are other people who want to sit down. I expect you to exert yourself and wait your turn at the corner coffee shop instead of walking past everybody else who's waiting in line. I expect you to exert yourself and refrain from picking the flowers in the public park to take home and make into a bouquet for your kitchen table.

And yes, I expect you to exert yourself and make at least an effort to pronounce my name, instead of deciding it's too much trouble so you get to rename me.
posted by Lexica at 6:38 PM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


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