Join 3,521 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)

Tags:

Just because you didn't say "go fuck yourself" doesn't mean you were civil
November 14, 2012 12:29 PM   Subscribe

The Zwarte Pieten thread is grotesque.

A thread in which a small number of posters argue over and over that dressing up as a fucking golliwog isn't racist and that those who disagree are troublemaking outsiders is not a productive nor civil thread; the only thing that distinguishes it from a Stormfront thread is that people here are actually allowed to argue with LucVdB and nemspyda. It doesn't help that they're basically just rephrasing "I don't see a problem with it and you're not qualified to object to it" over and over. It's actively insulting to other users, it's disgusting, and it accomplishes nothing but giving racists a platform from which to spew racism.
posted by Pope Guilty to Etiquette/Policy at 12:29 PM (234 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

Are you here to actually discuss things or to be right?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:33 PM on November 14, 2012 [24 favorites]


I'm here to say "that is a bad thread full of bad nastiness" in a way that isn't shitting directly in the thread.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:33 PM on November 14, 2012


...the only thing that distinguishes it from a Stormfront thread...

This is neither true nor helping.
posted by griphus at 12:35 PM on November 14, 2012 [25 favorites]


I agree.

What should we do about it?
posted by dunkadunc at 12:35 PM on November 14, 2012


I'm serious, by the way. There have been no end of threads here where people have been saying pointedly dumb things over and over, even when confronted with evidence to the contrary.
They're basing their opinions on matters of faith (It's an old tradition and a non-USian culture, therefore not racist!) as opposed to logic (Dressing up in what is obviously a golliwog costume is racist.)

What should be done about it? If people don't change their minds when you refute their statements in-thread, how would a MeTa change their minds? Should the mods issue a stern warning? Should the mods ban them? Or should people who like to use logic and reason close their accounts and find a venue other than Metafilter where intelligent conversations can be had?
posted by dunkadunc at 12:45 PM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


?
posted by dfriedman at 12:55 PM on November 14, 2012


I appreciate this post, because:

1)I had no idea what a golliwog, Zwarte Pieten, or Stormfront was until a few minutes ago.

2)I think this is the thread where I can complain about the factual inaccuracies of there being an African Santa and a caucasian Jesus.
posted by Debaser626 at 12:58 PM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Stormfront? I think that accusation undermines the MeTa.

And just to be clear, are you sayin LucVdB and nemspyda are racists?
posted by edgeways at 1:01 PM on November 14, 2012


Caucasian Jesus I'll grant you, but Santa is capable of being any shade, as he is built by the community that believes (in his marketing message).

...trying to resist reading the Zwarte Pieten thread. This might not work.
posted by batmonkey at 1:02 PM on November 14, 2012


giving racists a platform from which to spew racism

I feel like if you want to talk about this as something you see going on, you need to be a lot more specific and talk about where you're seeing it and why that's your read. Because I think the topic is sort of fraught and likely agree with you generally on where the sensible vs. problematic position on that whole tradition is, but the thread's actually been pretty even-keeled for the most part even as people have done a pretty good job of disagreeing in clear terms with the arguments made in there.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:05 PM on November 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


It has gone about 99 percent better than most threads I see of this nature.
posted by josher71 at 1:06 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Zwarte Pieten thread is grotesque.

The Zwarte Pieten thread is quite nice, actually. A lot of people sharing interesting and nuanced views, a couple people making arguments that you -- and I -- don't agree with, and a bunch of people disagreeing with them in smart and heartfelt ways. Seems like a credit to MetaFilter to me.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 1:07 PM on November 14, 2012 [21 favorites]


Well, so long as it's even-keeled racism!
posted by enn at 1:08 PM on November 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


Are you here to actually discuss things or to be right?

I'm here to be right, you can fill me in on the other details later.
posted by sgt.serenity at 1:09 PM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


This thread has been very hard on me. I am not racist in the least, though now apparently, a LOT of people think I have some latent, unexamined racism inside me. As if I've never considered these issues before in my 40 years.

Somebody linked to a few pages of different definitions of racism, and that was interesting, because some definitions were much more broad than what I would use. I have really stretched my mind to imagine how people who have grown up in different contexts (under very real repression), but also black people immigrated here or born here, see this and are insulted by it. And I think I get it, as much as I can.

But I also think the same exercise should apply to you all. And perhaps I reached a few people, but most seem to not want to bridge the divide. For ideological reasons, or perhaps they're totally repulsed by the idea, or whatever.

Anyway, I'm sad that my attempts at explaining haven't been successful, by and large.

(By the way, I have no idea what a golliwog costume is. And Stormfront is some neo-nazi's, I guess? I'm not even sure.)
posted by LucVdB at 1:19 PM on November 14, 2012 [11 favorites]


Pope Guilty: " A thread in which a small number of posters argue over and over that dressing up as a fucking golliwog isn't racist and that those who disagree are troublemaking outsiders is not a productive nor civil thread; the only thing that distinguishes it from a Stormfront thread is that people here are actually allowed to argue with LucVdB and nemspyda. It doesn't help that they're basically just rephrasing "I don't see a problem with it and you're not qualified to object to it" over and over. It's actively insulting to other users, it's disgusting, and it accomplishes nothing but giving racists a platform from which to spew racism. "

You know, one of the reasons why casual racism is so prevalent and hard to fight is the people perpetuating the stereotypes often honestly do not understand why or how what they are doing is considered racist. What appears obviously racist to you and I may not be to people immersed in a culture which is invested in defending them as inoffensive and harmless. Consider that such attitudes may have been inculcated for decades. The people you're referring to don't seem to be deliberately trying to cause offense or insult by defending the practice. I think the thread is going reasonably well, and cooler heads are prevailing -- mostly because the rest of the commenters are injecting concrete, logical counterarguments into the conversation.

We go through something similar every time sexism threads are raised. Those threads don't always go smoothly, either.
posted by zarq at 1:21 PM on November 14, 2012 [12 favorites]


Well, so long as it's even-keeled racism!

I'd say it more like "unintentional and unconscious" racism, which deserves to be pointed out but also debated with rationally, which is happening in there it seems. I had to take a break from it cuz I started using curses, but I think other cooler folks have handled it well.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:21 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Zwarte Pieten thread is grotesque.

But Zwarte Pieten breads are fantastic. Taai taai, pepernoten -- OM NOM NOM.
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:22 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


The golliwog contributed enormously to the spread of 'darky' iconography in Europe.
posted by argonauta at 1:31 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I skimmed through it this morning, and quit when I got to the comment about how Europe doesn't have racist tensions like in the U.S. Fuck that.
posted by rtha at 1:31 PM on November 14, 2012 [19 favorites]


I'm finding it very strange to see European people disavowing any shameful history with regard to African people and/or "blackness" in general.

Very strange and very offputting.

It's like they don't know their own history or something.
posted by batmonkey at 1:33 PM on November 14, 2012 [12 favorites]


I didn't really get pissed until I was asked to have some empathy for the hurt feelings of white people who wanted to cling to their racist traditions free from judgment by overreacting minorities.
posted by elizardbits at 1:34 PM on November 14, 2012 [34 favorites]


I support Quinsy Gario and Kno'Ledge and other black Netherlanders who oppose the Zwarte Pieten tradition.

And honor their bravery in protesting it, even in the face of police assault.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:35 PM on November 14, 2012 [21 favorites]


Sometimes when people are wrong about a thing, and I want to convince them that they are wrong about a thing, I try to explain, kindly, why I think they are wrong and why they might want to reconsider their position.

Sometimes when people are wrong about a thing, and I want to whip myself up into a cathartic self-righteous rage, I refuse to engage with them and tell them to their faces that I think they are horrible people with horrible opinions who ought to vanish off the face of the earth forever.

The older I get, the more I do the first thing instead of the second thing. Coincidentally nobody describes me as a frothing asshole anymore but I doubt it's related
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:40 PM on November 14, 2012 [27 favorites]


What do you do when the first thing doesn't work?
posted by elsietheeel at 1:53 PM on November 14, 2012


benzos
posted by elizardbits at 1:53 PM on November 14, 2012 [24 favorites]


The older I get, the more I do the first thing instead of the second thing. Coincidentally nobody describes me as a frothing asshole anymore but I doubt it's related

And yet you don't seem to be doing it here. Should we call you a frothing asshole, or are you too self-righteous for that right now?
posted by OmieWise at 1:56 PM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Of course it doesn't help that the thread was started about the Dutch Sinterklaas holiday and LucVdB is Belgian and hence coming from a somewhat different background to this discussion....

Calling him racist or equating him to Stormfront is over the top even if he doesn't agree that Zwarte Piet is racist.

I do have the feeling that for some readers this thread was a "oh god, here we go again" moment on the seemingly endless threadmill of MeFi racism/sexism discussions and bringing their annoyances with such into the thread, whereas I don't think I've seen LucVdB much participating in those.

So you have people coming into this thread with different expectations and assumptions and it all went a bit pearshaped.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:02 PM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Omiewise: what the devil?
posted by batmonkey at 2:02 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that came out a touch more aggressive than I meant it to! I was just pointing out that the measured strategy in the comment was not being applied in this case, and that the strategy that seemed to glorify the user at the expense of her interlocutors, seems to be. Which I find both ironic and a bit annoying, but I was aiming for something more lighthearted than what came out in that iPhone comment.
posted by OmieWise at 2:17 PM on November 14, 2012


Zwarte Pieten certainly has racist connotations now, and probably did at inception, as well, but I think it must also, as part of the Sinterklaas holiday, get a nod as a possible allusion to the soot-covered state of chimney sweeps, who were mostly small children because only they could get up and down many chimneys.

Somebody in the thread mentioned being startled by a bunch of them rappelling down from roofs, and I find it satisfying to have a reason that Santa might have needed a bunch of specifically little helpers, because that always puzzled me.

Using a child as a chimney sweep was a severe form of child abuse, of course, and the plight of such children was little better than slavery, not least because of the high toxicity of the creosote-impregnated soot, and the Zwarte Pieten strike me as a means for the people who originated the tradition to remain in denial about the horrific crime they were collectively perpetrating by permitting and benefiting from abusing children in such a way.
posted by jamjam at 2:52 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


About 50 comments into that thread I wished I could forget how to read.
posted by mullacc at 3:01 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I skimmed through it this morning, and quit when I got to the comment about how Europe doesn't have racist tensions like in the U.S.

I guess the thing about racial tension is that if you have a large enough majority, the tension tends not to distribute itself evenly.
posted by ignignokt at 3:11 PM on November 14, 2012 [10 favorites]


I think it's a good thread about a weird and repugnant subject. I'm glad the thread is up for people to argue about it.
posted by Greg Nog at 3:12 PM on November 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


Yeah, it's not pleasant, but at the least, I learned that there's a not-uncommon idea among Europeans that, because they are so generally progressive, they are also above racism.

Kind of shocking, considering the European protests and riots that happen there as a result of ethnic discrimination, the civil wars caused by ethnic tension, and their huge history of colonialism. Particularly surprising to me, as I had not long ago heard a Pakistani coworker's firsthand account of a summer he had there in which he was blatantly treated as an inferior all the time. Dude said he never wanted to go back there again.

There's an interesting disconnect there, perhaps not unlike the US Romney supporters' belief that they were in good shape for the US election.
posted by ignignokt at 3:23 PM on November 14, 2012 [13 favorites]


For those stressed out by that thread, why not drink a cup of pure xmas joy: Santa Claus is a Black Man
posted by Atom Eyes at 3:24 PM on November 14, 2012


Thanks for the heads-up. There's currently a debate going on over here in Iceland about a television commercial wherein an Icelander has donned "yellow face" and is playing up a lot of ugly stereotypes about Asian people. As to be expected, there's a great many white people lecturing minorities on how they're supposed to react to racism, as well as a great many Icelanders disavowing any history of racism. It's been incredibly frustrating and stupid to see Icelanders telling Asian people living in Iceland that they are not allowed to be offended by an Icelander in yellowface on national television.

On the other hand, there are also a great many Icelanders who are frankly flabbergasted that anyone gave the greenlight to the yellowface act in the first place. What's been fruitful, in some cases, has been explaining what casual racism does, and to kindly ask these guys to try and put themselves in the position of an Asian immigrant in Iceland; more "imagine being me" rather than "listen to me". Might seem dumb, but it's been working. At least, working on the folks who are not obvious "anti-PC" crusaders.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:28 PM on November 14, 2012 [10 favorites]


Well the annual Zwarte Pieten fight seems to be particularly vehement this year...

Part of the problem is, of course, that trying to (rather hostilely) tell people who as young children nervously stayed up to hear Zwarte Piet leave gifts and candy in their shoes and feed the required carrot to the horse, that Zwarte Piet is rather racist, is telling them that they should feel ashamed for their joyful childhood memories.
posted by HFSH at 3:33 PM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


is telling them that they should feel ashamed for their joyful childhood memories.

No it isn't, and this hyperbole doesn't help. Children are innocent. There is absolutely no reason why a person can't look back fondly on these childhood memories while simultaneously agreeing that the actual Zwarte Pieten character is casual racism.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:38 PM on November 14, 2012 [24 favorites]


Wow, this doesn't seem particularly vehement at all in terms I've some things I've seen go down in these MeFi halls.
posted by josher71 at 3:38 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, there's not much hope for a feelgood post about King Baltasar on January 6 or about the Moros y Cristianos festival in June, I guess...
posted by elgilito at 3:43 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

josher71: Wow, this doesn't seem particularly vehement at all in terms I've some things I've seen go down in these MeFi halls.
I would like to say that, although I disagree with his position, this is largely thanks to Luc keeping his cool even though he is the main voice on the other side of this argument. Props to him for that.
posted by gilrain at 3:43 PM on November 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing: No it isn't, and this hyperbole doesn't help. Children are innocent. There is absolutely no reason why a person can't look back fondly on these childhood memories while simultaneously agreeing that the actual Zwarte Pieten character is casual racism"

Except that they will be looking back fondly on blatant racism, which they kind of want their own children to share in. Cognitive dissonance is not particularly helped by poking at it with sharp hostile sticks.
posted by HFSH at 3:44 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


josher71: "Wow, this doesn't seem particularly vehement at all in terms I've some things I've seen go down in these MeFi halls"

This years thread seems a lot more viscous than those of the last few years, but maybe that's just my interpretation.
posted by HFSH at 3:46 PM on November 14, 2012


I don't know. My family did the whole Indians and Pilgrims thing back when I was a kid, and now we don't and actually strongly disagree with that framing of Thanksgiving. Yet, I maintain my fond memories of those Thanksgivings, and if I ever have kids I would like them to celebrate Thanksgiving too... sans racist framing.
posted by gilrain at 3:46 PM on November 14, 2012 [14 favorites]


Except that they will be looking back fondly on blatant racism, which they kind of want their own children to share in. Cognitive dissonance is not particularly helped by poking at it with sharp hostile sticks.

Hostile? I'm failing to see the hostility in pointing out what the Zwarte Pieten character means here in the 21st century. Some traditions do become antiquated and downright offensive over time. Things change.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:47 PM on November 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


I would like to say that, although I disagree with his position, this is largely thanks to Luc keeping his cool even though he is the main voice on the other side of this argument. Props to him for that.

Thanks, and thanks for your comments.

I'll now be deleting this profile though. I don't want to be known as that Zwarte Piet guy, I don't even care that much for it!
posted by LucVdB at 3:51 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


This years thread seems a lot more viscous than those of the last few years

it doesn't seem non-newtonian at all actually
posted by elizardbits at 3:52 PM on November 14, 2012 [19 favorites]


I don't know. My family did the whole Indians and Pilgrims thing back when I was a kid, and now we don't and actually strongly disagree with that framing of Thanksgiving. Yet, I maintain my fond memories of those Thanksgivings, and if I ever have kids I would like them to celebrate Thanksgiving too... sans racist framing.

I guess that's harder to avoid for us. The arrival of Sinterklaas and co is televized, it's everywhere. It needs to be a group decision to stop using Zwarte Pieten.
posted by LucVdB at 3:53 PM on November 14, 2012


I will add, though, that it is uncanny to see the exact same language being used in defense of casual racism in this instance (i.e., the language of a group feeling threatened and under attack) while seemingly maintaining a blind spot to the actual hostility ethnic minorities experience from casual racism, as I've seen in the yellowface debate over here.

Also, Luc, you're a good egg and a fine example of what I mean about people engaging honestly and actually considering other points of view. (Although trust me, I know of what gilrain speaks regarding Thanksgiving, and that shit was everywhere - televised parades, even the goddamn Peanuts gang did the Indian and Pilgrim thing).
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:54 PM on November 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


Yeah, I think you won't come out of this with a bad stigma, Luc, but it's understandable if you wind up with a new account. Also, realize that a lot of us here know what it's like to argue their position against a crowd. It's not fun, and you've handled it better than most.
posted by gilrain at 3:58 PM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


yeah dude you are prolly the most reasonable person with whom i have argued about racism.
posted by elizardbits at 4:03 PM on November 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


As my parents did, I clean my chimney with cats. Outdoor cats whose owners don't love them. Much less controversial.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 4:05 PM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


yeah dude you are prolly the most reasonable person with whom i have argued about racism.

Lest that seem like damning with faint praise, you have consistently been even-toned and clear in presenting your viewpoint, without hostility or mocking. I don't agree with your viewpoint, but it helps me to understand it.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:07 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


It needs to be a group decision to stop using Zwarte Pieten.

It doesn't need to be a group decision to admit that it's racist, or teach your kids why you think it's racist, or admit that Europe has a problem with racism and racial and xenophobic tension.

I'll now be deleting this profile though. I don't want to be known as that Zwarte Piet guy

I don't really understand this, though. If you think it isn't racist, why would you delete your account? If you think that it is, why not say so and not delete your account? The third way, deleting because you don't want to own your own positions, seems a bit of a cop out, particularly since we're talking about a social justice issue.
posted by OmieWise at 4:09 PM on November 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


Let's just say that tradition an religion are hard to change and abolish without nasty arguments. But eventually all things change :)

Luc, dit is altijd wel een waardevolle discussie om te hebben, wel erg jammer als het hier ten koste van jouw account gaat.
posted by HFSH at 4:10 PM on November 14, 2012


My greatest hope is that the Dutch tradition of Knuffeltje Knuffel comics never ends.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:14 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I thought it was interesting when I was in Nicaragua, hearing a very intelligent, progressive, college educated woman talk about how terrible American racism against blacks and Hispanics was, and then later in the same conversation, casually say "Of course the Jews and Freemasons control America, so I don't blame you for the Iraq war", as if it were just a thing that everyone knew, and nobody else at the table blinked an eye. Later, I got a lecture from another woman because I said that I thought that Nicaraguans seemed to be natural entrepreneurs, when she explained that they work so hard only because they need to to eat. In Guatemala, the Spanish population can be incredibly racist against mayans-- I don't think most Americans would even recognize a difference between them.

I guess what I'm saying is that trying to project American cultural values onto another culture doesn't always work, and you might focus on racism that isn't particularly problematic or miss racism that is there if you aren't careful.

Would you guys say the same thing in every single thread about the Washington Redskins or Cleveland Indians? I think they are pretty similar in terms of stigmatization in their local cultures.
posted by empath at 4:14 PM on November 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Would you guys say the same thing in every single thread about the Washington Redskins or Cleveland Indians?

Pretty much yeah.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:16 PM on November 14, 2012 [21 favorites]


I actually would like to see Zwarte Piet reverted back to his cousin, Krampus. Now that would make the whole blah commercial period around sinterklaas (read: anything past september nowdays) more interesting!
posted by HFSH at 4:17 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Zwarte Piet and Cultural Aphasia in the Netherlands is an article exploring and critiquing the Zwarte Piet tradition by Dutch ethnologist John Helsloot. Here's the abstract:
In recent articles American historian Ann Laura Stoler has introduced the concept of ‘aphasia’ for describing metaphorically the cultural ‘inability to recognize things in the world and assign proper names to them’, especially in matters relating to the colonial past in Western societies. Taking this concept as a lead, the author analyzes an incident in the Netherlands in November 2011, when two young black Dutchmen were arrested for wearing a T-shirt on which the phrase ‘Zwarte Piet is racism’ was printed. Zwarte Piet [Black Peter] is the imaginary character in blackface acting as the helper of Sinterklaas, the central figure in the Dutch ritual of gift-giving thas has its apex on 5 December. For some decades now, there has been a debate in the Netherlands as to the precise nature of this blackface. By and large the Dutch deny, as was again the case in the aftermath of this arrest, any relation to a portrayal in caricature of a black person, producing instead associations that are difficult to grasp. After presenting the arguments of opponents of Zwarte Piet that there is such a connection, termed racist, the author focuses on the performance context of Zwarte Piet’s presence, in order to try to understand why Dutchmen generally fail to make this connection. In an epilogue the author makes a plea for going beyond the mere conclusion that Zwarte Piet is contested. Sharing himself the protesters’ perception of Zwarte Piet being racist, in his view the metaphor of cultural aphasia obliges professional ethnologists to re-associate this connection as well, and to make this known to the general public.
posted by Kattullus at 4:17 PM on November 14, 2012 [23 favorites]


Well, I don't mean having the argument, but telling people that merely defending the team name puts you on the same level as stormfront?
posted by empath at 4:18 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


By the way, of you ever get a chance to see Cameron Jamie's documentary about the Kramuses, called Kranky Klaus, do.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:19 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Kattullus, that would be more valuable in the actual thread than here, wouldn't it? Great link.
posted by gilrain at 4:20 PM on November 14, 2012


Would you guys say the same thing in every single thread about the Washington Redskins or Cleveland Indians?

Both those names make me cringe every time I hear them, so yeah. And the tomahawk chop.
posted by octothorpe at 4:23 PM on November 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


Would you guys say the same thing in every single thread about the Washington Redskins or Cleveland Indians?

Yes. Fuck.

I just googled both of their mascots to refresh my memory, and now I feel kind of dirty.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 4:27 PM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Would you guys say the same thing in every single thread about the Washington Redskins or Cleveland Indians?

With lots more swearing.
posted by elizardbits at 4:28 PM on November 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Would you guys say the same thing in every single thread about the Washington Redskins or Cleveland Indians?

Don't forget the Atlanta Braves!
posted by kendrak at 4:31 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


gilrain: Kattullus, that would be more valuable in the actual thread than here, wouldn't it?

Good point. I've crossposted it.

I've stayed out of that thread. Living in Northern Europe presents you with too many real-life opportunities to argue with people about racism. The Zwarte Piet thing is one of those things that gets brought up a lot and I'm honestly kind of unable by now to argue with any kind of calmness about it.
posted by Kattullus at 4:33 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


And what about Pepé Le Pew, that adorable, stereotypical stinking French skunk?
posted by elgilito at 4:35 PM on November 14, 2012


And what about Pepé Le Pew, that adorable, stereotypical stinking French skunk?

Don't forget his compulsion for sexual harrassment.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:37 PM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


telling people that merely defending the team name puts you on the same level as stormfront?

I feel that comparison was pretty over the line and I'm not super thrilled that someone who was reasonably discussing this topic, even if they had an opinion that people disagreed with, was hounded off the site. I guess we can discuss whether that's an acceptable outcome for these sorts of discussions but generally I feel that it's not.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:37 PM on November 14, 2012 [26 favorites]


"racism that isn't particularly problematic"

It is problematic for a number of Netherlanders---the link I and Katullus posted talks about protests by black people in the Netherlands of the tradition.

As for the "chimney sweep" thesis, that doesn't explain why Zwarte Piet dresses in the livery of a 17th century "Moorish page". Or the golliwog wigs.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:38 PM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I feel that comparison was pretty over the line

Agreed.

I'm not super thrilled that someone who was reasonably discussing this topic, even if they had an opinion that people disagreed with, was hounded off the site.

Was he? Can we dispute your framing before moving onto the debate that accepts it (whether or not hounding people off the site is an acceptable outcome)? I admit I've stayed out of the other thread because its premise kind of stank to me, but was the guy hounded off the site? How might we vehemently disagree with someone, while pointing out the odious associations and extensions of their arguments, without hounding them? I guess I'm asking you to define your terms a bit better if you really want to have a discussion about it. Nothing I saw in this thread, although it was not how I would have chosen to frame it, seemed like it was hounding to me.
posted by OmieWise at 4:47 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


All he said was that he was going to retire that username and make a new one, though. That's not exactly a ragequit tableflip.
posted by elizardbits at 4:50 PM on November 14, 2012


I don't think he left because of the discussion in the other thread, I think he left because his part in that discussion was likened here to Stormfront and his participation there was characterized as "spewing racism." I could be wrong about that.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:50 PM on November 14, 2012 [12 favorites]


elgilito: And what about Pepé Le Pew, that adorable, stereotypical stinking French skunk?

In France, Pepé Le Pew is Italian. It's sort of like syphilis is always named after the next country over.
posted by Kattullus at 4:53 PM on November 14, 2012 [19 favorites]


In France, Pepé Le Pew is Italian. It's sort of like syphilis is always named after the next country over.

Whoah, seriously? How do they account for all the berets, baguettes and mime shirts in those cartoons? Does the whole cartoon supposedly take place in Italy or is he a transplant?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:57 PM on November 14, 2012


Well, he speaks French with strong Italian accent and uses Italian words from time to time. I don't think there's much more backstory to him. For extra weirdness, Pepé is a Spanish name. For double extra weirdness, his French name, Pepé le Putois, means Pepé the Polecat.
posted by Kattullus at 5:04 PM on November 14, 2012 [16 favorites]


I always thought Pepé was an honorific - it's what my sister and I used to call our Québecois great-grandfather.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:07 PM on November 14, 2012


... and apparently I was wrong. Thus spake Wikipedia:
Pepé's voice, provided by Mel Blanc, was based on Charles Boyer's Pépé le Moko from Algiers (1938), a remake of the 1937 French film Pépé le Moko.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:10 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's sort of like syphilis is always named after the next country over.

"The Canadian Affliction", we call it here.
posted by Greg Nog at 5:16 PM on November 14, 2012 [31 favorites]


The Redskins name is racist as hell. It was created by a guy who would fit in very nicely at Stormfront. It's really way past time for it to go away. They were aggressively marketed as the team of the South and they were the last team to integrate and only then because of intense government pressure.

“Jim Brown, born ineligible to play for the Redskins, integrated their end zone three times yesterday.”

posted by Drinky Die at 5:17 PM on November 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


showbiz_liz: “Sometimes when people are wrong about a thing, and I want to convince them that they are wrong about a thing, I try to explain, kindly, why I think they are wrong and why they might want to reconsider their position... Sometimes when people are wrong about a thing, and I want to whip myself up into a cathartic self-righteous rage, I refuse to engage with them and tell them to their faces that I think they are horrible people with horrible opinions who ought to vanish off the face of the earth forever... The older I get, the more I do the first thing instead of the second thing. Coincidentally nobody describes me as a frothing asshole anymore but I doubt it's related”

Just as a by-the-by, it's pretty condescending to resort to this kind of "I've learned as I've gotten older" circumlocution when making an attack on somebody. If you want to call someone in this thread a frothing asshole, please just go ahead and do it. Managing to avoid saying it explicitly whilst implying it heavily doesn't really win you civility points.
posted by koeselitz at 5:21 PM on November 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


How do they account for all the berets, baguettes and mime shirts in those cartoons?
Well, berets are as common in Italy as they are in France, Italians eat bread and the mime shirt stereotype is unknown to the French, so the translators used the Latin lover angle. The stink stereotype - also blissfully unknown to the French... - did not apply to Italians: that got lost in translation. Technically it's one really offending ethnic character, it's just that nobody cares.
posted by elgilito at 5:29 PM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


"The Canadian Affliction", we call it here.
That's kind of funny, because we call it "The United States of Burning and Itching."
posted by chococat at 5:34 PM on November 14, 2012 [20 favorites]


Maybe I'll just leave DIE ANTWOORD - FATTY BOOM - The Making Of here so we all can see how horribly hurtful and offensive blackface is no matter where or how it occurs.
posted by zengargoyle at 5:59 PM on November 14, 2012


Yeah, it's not pleasant, but at the least, I learned that there's a not-uncommon idea among Europeans that, because they are so generally progressive, they are also above racism.

Kind of shocking, considering the European protests and riots that happen there as a result of ethnic discrimination, the civil wars caused by ethnic tension, and their huge history of colonialism. Particularly surprising to me, as I had not long ago heard a Pakistani coworker's firsthand account of a summer he had there in which he was blatantly treated as an inferior all the time. Dude said he never wanted to go back there again.


Not that I disagree with the point you're making, but dude, Europe is not a country. There are a lot of pretty distinct cultures and histories over here. Sorry to pick on this one instance, but it seems particularly sweeping in its generalisations, and I've been getting annoyed more and more frequently by it of late...
posted by Dysk at 6:02 PM on November 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


Maybe I'll just leave DIE ANTWOORD - FATTY BOOM - The Making Of here so we all can see how horribly hurtful and offensive blackface is no matter where or how it occurs.

Or maybe we'll keep the discussion of Die Antwoord in the existing, open thread about them where that video was already posted, and where the "is it/is it not blackface?" discussion was hashed out pretty exhaustively.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:07 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I too thought that thread went over reasonably well, and I must admit that I too am a little too jaded to jump in with any kind of enthusiasm every time this discussion rolls around, as much as I’d like to. I mean, of course Zwarte Piet is a racist character from a racist past, and guess what, in many ways the past is a deeply racist place.

Yet it’s not a simple debate for me: being Dutch, the Sinterklaas tradition, however festive and frivolous, is deeply entrenched in our culture. Perversely, I feel my nation’s purported inclination towards tolerance makes it more difficult to challenge such remnants of an oppressive history: if today’s Dutch were, for the sake of argument, seen as a mostly racist people, then Zwarte Piet could be raised as an example of a wider racist culture and not be as easily dismissed as a harmless exception to which the usual imperative of “Don’t be racist, and avoid giving off the impression of racism” does not seem to apply.

HFSH’s point attributing people’s hesitance to renounce a racist tradition to a whitewashing sort of nostalgia rings true to me, because at the risk of sounding flippant, when you grow up with the idea of Zwarte Piet as the racial stereotype that quite literally shows up annually to bring you candy, that does not do much to help ingrain the notion that maybe time is due for us to retire this character.

To many Dutch adults, I suspect, criticism of Zwarte Piet feels at some level like an attempt to retcon their childhood, and I can understand if it takes some navigating the cognitive dissonance involved there before you come to the conclusion — the only rational one in my opinion — that Zwarte Piet, however jolly and generous the character, is an outrageously insensitive remnant of a colonial tradition rooted in privilege and othering, and that at best it’s incompatible with contemporary values.

However, I can only speak for myself, and this tradition is the one grew up with. If you go back far enough I’m sure you’ll find comments where I defended the practice, or at least dismissed the debate as being mostly a non-issue on our shores. Which, frustratingly, it really sort of is, notable counterexamples notwithstanding.

So I sympathise with LucVdB, who I agree has been nothing short of gracious here, and I’m sort of sad to see him close his account over this, although he is of course free to do so. I’m sure I’ve said some things over the years that are far more deserving of retroactive embarrassment on my part, and it is in no small part through my continued discussion on this site that I have come to re-examine some of my attitudes and hopefully take others’ into account before spewing forth my naive, ill-informed convictions.

So thank you all for that, and chocolatey letters for everyone!
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 6:24 PM on November 14, 2012 [42 favorites]


I'm not super thrilled that someone who was reasonably discussing this topic, even if they had an opinion that people disagreed with, was hounded off the site.

It's not surprising. The comparison to Stormfront may have been a new twist, but what happened is essentially the same dynamic that arises in gender-relations threads. There is a vocal and sizable contingent on this website who firmly believe they know what racism and sexism look like, and that these things must be stamped out of conversation. They are never wrong about either, if you ask them.

I would add that I think this exact same dynamic is what makes Israel/Palestine threads unworkable on MetaFilter. The difference is that in that case, you have a much wider split of opinion among MeFites. So I/P threads become totally impractical, whereas on other issues the attitude tends to align more on one side of a line. Instead of large numbers of people battling with each other, you get a pack bickering with one or two people. But it's the same dynamic.
posted by cribcage at 6:35 PM on November 14, 2012 [20 favorites]


goodnewsfortheinsane: if today’s Dutch were, for the sake of argument, seen as a mostly racist people, then Zwarte Piet could be raised as an example of a wider racist culture

In my boho & progressive Northern European social circles, Zwarte Piet is seen as an example of exactly that. People worry that the Netherlands have become a xenophobic and racist culture, instead of the tolerant, open society that Europe used to know. It's not something that anyone is happy with and people generally got very excited when the Freedom Party received less than a million votes in the last election and saw it as a sign of hope.

Of course, the Netherlands are not the only country with a racism problem. The rest of the Nordic countries have pretty much given up hope on Denmark (it was even reprimanded by the Nordic Council of Ministers for their treatment of inter-Nordic immigrants) and a host of other European countries, including Sweden, Norway and Finland, have sizable racist parties in parliament. Personally, I think the high tide of political racism in Northern and Western Europe is probably behind us. I hope so anyway.

The issue is somewhat that only rarely does Northern and Western cultures expect people to picture their own society through the eyes of non-white people. As an Icelander I can certainly understand what it's like growing up in a culture which never asks you to put yourself into a non-white mind-space, and it's pretty hard to break out of it. It's possible, though, and once broken out of, it's impossible to get back into that mindset.
posted by Kattullus at 7:02 PM on November 14, 2012 [10 favorites]


The stink stereotype - also blissfully unknown to the French...

whoa what? I am unfamiliar with this stereotype.
posted by jacalata at 7:10 PM on November 14, 2012


Frenchies smell bad because they're not obsessed with daily showering and deodorants like USicans. Or something to that effect.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:21 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Actually, I'm not sure I entirely agree that the thread went well and involved a reasonable discussion. While it was certainly good that abusive language was avoided, the thread devolved into basically everyone arguing against one person (almost never a good sign), who:

(i) repeated variants of the same message (yeah, I can see where some people might hypothetically get offended, but most Dutch people don't mean it in an offensive way, which should be more important than the effect; and you don't know our culture so you're not qualified to comment; and you do bad things yourselves), without addressing other commenter's critiques in any substantive way; and

(ii) did not use terrible and obvious ad hominem attacks, but one of whose main arguing points was using assumed background of the other commenters to devalue the validity of their critiques, which is ad hominem by any other form (yeah, Metafilter skews toward white Americans, but it I were not in that group, I'd probably be mildly annoyed at this small contribution to making my presence on Metafilter more invisible).

Maybe we are letting the genteel language used sway our standards? (Langston Hughes has a couple poems on that general topic; see also: tone arguments, gaslightling.)


I think that the language used kept the thread on a far more productive footing than many alternatives I can think of, so there's that. In particular, LucVdB's comments were in keeping with what I've witnessed as reactions from other generally well-meaning people confronting ingrained prejudices that they've grown up with for the first time. It's a hard thing to change in oneself, and I wouldn't necessarily expect an immediate "oh my gosh, I see it all now and how wrong I was; I'm so sorry!" It sounds like we may have swayed at least one person to rethink some ingrained, unintentional racism via the thread, which would be a good outcome (would be unfortunate if LucVdB did ditch that username and "start fresh", since then we wouldn't be able to track if such discussions do in fact have that positive effect). There's a balance between that and preventing the harm of people affected by racism being overwhelmed by having to have that fight every. single. time. However, personally, I go to other web communities if I want eg. discussions where we can assume a baseline understanding of feminism, and the forum is explicitly not for that basic educational role. Metafilter seems to be more the place for such discussions.


On the other other hand, there's an association between gentility of language used in debates such as this and education levels, which correlates somewhat with socio-economic class. If we say that tone does matter: that you can get away with more other stuff if you use polite, genteel words; does that implicitly bring some classism into our discussions and moderation? I'm not sure how strong this correlation is among people who are sufficiently educated to find Metafilter online, and I certainly prefer being talked to using polite words even if the same underlying message is being delivered. But I worry about these sort of things.
posted by eviemath at 7:44 PM on November 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


There's a certain classism that is endemic and currently unavoidable in having these discussions online, what with material and service barrier to entry, required computer education for participation, etc. I think that's a completely reasonable concern and worth addressing, but I don't think that "civility of tone", for lack of a better phrase, introduces more of a classism issue than those already present by virtue of the medium.

Plus, Metafilter doesn't exactly frown on coarser language anyway. There's a, to my mind, well-crafted and on-point comment in that thread that says fairly explicitly, "fuck all this racism, fuck trying to tell people what 'really' hurts, seriously, just fuck this shit." I don't think anyone's going to argue that that's especially civil, but I would absolutely argue that that's a worthwhile comment.
posted by Errant at 8:02 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I feel that comparison was pretty over the line and I'm not super thrilled that someone who was reasonably discussing this topic, even if they had an opinion that people disagreed with, was hounded off the site. I guess we can discuss whether that's an acceptable outcome for these sorts of discussions but generally I feel that it's not.

So... why is this thread still up? It seems pretty consequence free for Pope Guilty to liken fellow members to Stormfront at this point.
posted by spaltavian at 8:16 PM on November 14, 2012 [12 favorites]


This thread actually made me more sympathetic to Zwarte Pieten traditions purely because of the tone of some commenters here. I wonder if PG considers the only real consequence here (a disabled account) some kind of victory.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 8:34 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


The stink stereotype - also blissfully unknown to the French... - did not apply to Italians: that got lost in translation.
You sure about that? Polecats are pretty famed for their musk, and, in the US, one of the lesser slurs I've heard used about my bunch (Italian-Americans) is "garlic-eater". (Not that French cuisine shorts the garlic.)
posted by gingerest at 9:07 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


> On the other other hand, there's an association between gentility of language used in debates such as this and education levels, which correlates somewhat with socio-economic class. If we say that tone does matter: that you can get away with more other stuff if you use polite, genteel words; does that implicitly bring some classism into our discussions and moderation?

MetaFilter has a problem with overt classism. I don't think MetaFilter has problem with people being overly polite. MeFites have no problem with saying "Fuck you, you goddamn inbred reckneck trash" to people they consider lower class.

People who aren't very well educated can be very polite, and kind and respectful of other people, I think it's a bit of a stereotype to assume that this comes with education. My experience doesn't bear this out.
posted by nangar at 9:50 PM on November 14, 2012 [12 favorites]


I always thought Pepé was an honorific - it's what my sister and I used to call our Québecois great-grandfather.

That sense of pépé is probably a contraction of pépère.
posted by XMLicious at 9:50 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


spaltavian: “So... why is this thread still up? It seems pretty consequence free for Pope Guilty to liken fellow members to Stormfront at this point.”

If we're going to discipline people for engaging in unnecessary and insulting hyperbole, closing threads doesn't seem like much of a 'consequence.'
posted by koeselitz at 10:38 PM on November 14, 2012


On the other other hand, there's an association between gentility of language used in debates such as this and education levels, which correlates somewhat with socio-economic class.

Genteelly patting someone on the head, as you've done, can also sometimes be taken as condescension.

I'm not Dutch, but I have spent Sinterklaas in Amsterdam, and saw the cultural aphasia pretty starkly. The ZP is as uneasy territory as golliwogs on the marmalade jar; but the Sinterklaas tradition, in its entirety, is now up against the incursion of Coca-Cola Santa and his American-accented reindeer, which creates additional resistance.

It's a better thread than many previous ones that stuck with WTF-oh-just-listen-to-Sedaris stuff, because it pointed out how the Zwarte Piete Is Racism campaign it engages with those mental blinders; even the defenders of the tradition in that thread were clearly far from ignorant of how it's perceived elsewhere.
posted by holgate at 11:01 PM on November 14, 2012


Seriously, when will people realize that if you have to write a long explanation of why your tradition is not racist, it's pretty much guaranteed to be racist as fuck?
posted by medusa at 11:07 PM on November 14, 2012 [10 favorites]


> The stink stereotype - also blissfully unknown to the French... - did not apply to Italians: that got lost in translation. You sure about that? Polecats are pretty famed for their musk, and, in the US, one of the lesser slurs I've heard used about my bunch (Italian-Americans) is "garlic-eater". (Not that French cuisine shorts the garlic.)

Different things. The French stereotype is sweat/BO from a more laissez-faire attitude toward frequency of showering and use of deodorant. Personally, I always suspected that "French" was a stand-in for "European." With the purpose of giving Americans a hedge against insecurity as to the US's validity as a Important Country despite being a baby in comparison.

The garlic-stink thing is more a classist, peasant vs high society thing, with southern Italians stereotyped as the arch-typical example of an immigrant who is a coarse commoner.
posted by desuetude at 11:58 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Dutch people huh - They don't even know the meaning of the word apartheid.

From the looks of the thread, it's not so much about racism as it is about which countries are the most racist.

This is distinctly unhelpful in terms of cultural exchange, and it flies against the whole ethos of looking inward at your own prejudices. It's also pretty stupid. If you don't live in country (or state, or county or province) {x}, then you're probably not going to have as nuanced a grasp on that area's problems.

Saying that, and in the spirit of contentious bile, I suppose this is all in keeping with the general air of Holier-Than-Thou thought policing we're increasingly saturated with on metafilter and in the larger world.

Also 1818 motherfuckers. That's like 140 years less slavery than the USA.
posted by zoo at 12:45 AM on November 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


Re: French stink stereotype. It was probably brought home by US soldiers returning from France after WW2. See for instance the US Army booklet 112 gripes about the French from 1945 (Gripes 43 to 48). The stereotype mostly lives in FreeRepublic these days.
posted by elgilito at 1:18 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


People who aren't very well educated can be very polite, and kind and respectful of other people, I think it's a bit of a stereotype to assume that this comes with education. My experience doesn't bear this out.

Sorry, didn't mean to equate education with politeness (and definitely not with kindness or being respectful of others!). I'm (attempting to) using genteel/gentility in a different sense. Let me see if I can explain this in any halfway decent sort of way. There are, from what I've read and experienced, some ways in which people tend to use speech differently that are somewhat correlated with education/socio-economic class. It's a correlation with fairly high variance, and more related to exposure to upper middle class educational standards or something than economic class per se, but I'm told by those who study this stuff that there is a correlation. Being direct, for example, versus masking your point behind a lot of words or indirect allusions. I think that generally being direct is more polite, but that has a lot to do with how I was raised. After years in the academic setting, I can, if need be, deliver a harsh rebuke in the form of a backhanded compliment so masked that the recipient will at first just feel a vague unease until they figure out exactly what it was that I said. I don't ever see the need for this, however, because I think it's a pretty condescending, asshole thing to do.

I was trying to bring up the idea that there's a potentially class-based component to the type of "tone of discussion" (in the way of using language sense) that people feel comfortable with, or indeed what they interpret the "tone" (in a value judgement - is this rude or kind - sense) of a particular comment to be. The point I was trying to make in the third paragraph of my comment was more related to the perspective in the first paragraph than in the second paragraph, basically.
posted by eviemath at 1:35 AM on November 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


As an ex-poor (sorry) who has been through some classism every now and again, I don't see that as a particularly classist issue. I do think it's lame that "calm and reasoned" racism (or sexism or whatever) are sort of specifically back-patted for good behavior, since I think the effects of racism (sexism, &c.) are insidious and hurtful and not dependent on tone of discussion, i.e., calm and even-keeled sexism still frustrates and hurts me on a personal level. But I don't want to actually drive people off the site who are trying to have a real discussion, even if we disagree. (At least when it comes to sexism & class-- racism I do not have to deal with in a daily way so I can make no personal claims about that.)

I think it's more an attitude very specific to Metafilter and similar online communities (reddit-- ok, don't get mad) to be congratulatory and nurturing of "calm and reasoned" disagreements because of the terrible kinds of flamewars that people get up to on the internet, and the general skew of the demographic toward people who are 1) often majority white/male/straight and 2) of "alternative" opinions and ways of thinking, as opposed to say, academia, or other mainstream intellectual establishments. There are a lot of commonly accepted attitudes on Metafilter that are not as commonly agreed on in other spaces. The rules and conventions and expectations and goals are different. For instance, academic discourse can be quite catty, but it's also written in a certain register (that often people on internet messageboards avoid), and it's aimed toward a different purpose, hierarchies are involved, and whatever. People on Metafilter are specifically trying to encourage an atmosphere of discussion among lay-people (consciously/unconsciously tailored to certain demographics) and thus arguments that are not necessarily wonderful to each and every person but contribute to calm, wide-ranging discussion are broadly thought of as positive and encouraged. The sheer novelty of arguing with someone on the topic of racism/sexism/homophobia on the internet who isn't trying to accuse you of bad faith or undermine your personal integrity entirely does have a way of making you feel grateful. But that's on the terms of "arguing on the internet"; in the real world, I'm still not psyched about the opinions/attitudes I think are problematic, and in an academic discourse, I'd want to actually have a productive back-and-forth, not just general good feeling and community building.

Kind of tangential but yeah, I don't see it as necessarily classist-- obviously lower-class people are capable of self-educating and becoming quite loquacious in online arguments, and learning to do that is really not so linked to class or even formal education. In fact, online spaces like this are kind of a godsend when you don't have many formal intellectual outlets available to you due to money or location (or age). Education and class are linked, but more at the level of "basic literacy and critical thinking skills are being neglected, children are going hungry" than "the skill of producing subtle and rhetorically well-tuned arguments is not being taught in our public schools." I think that strident attitudes about slang, grammar, capitalization, using "@," etc. are more harmful when it comes to forcing people out of a very white/middle-class online discourse.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:19 AM on November 15, 2012 [14 favorites]


(Also sorry for being like "academia is like this!!!!!" when you specifically used academia as an example, and for also being a bit sloppy about it. I think when it comes to the ability to produce subtle and backhanded arguments, academia's cup runneth over, but most people can be kind of wormy and underhanded in a discussion without needing a fancy institution to teach them how-- intelligent high school students are usually at the perfect balance of self-taught flourish and ignorance to make this their main intellectual gadget.)
posted by stoneandstar at 2:28 AM on November 15, 2012


It's not surprising. The comparison to Stormfront may have been a new twist, but what happened is essentially the same dynamic that arises in gender-relations threads. There is a vocal and sizable contingent on this website who firmly believe they know what racism and sexism look like, and that these things must be stamped out of conversation. They are never wrong about either, if you ask them.

I would add that I think this exact same dynamic is what makes Israel/Palestine threads unworkable on MetaFilter. The difference is that in that case, you have a much wider split of opinion among MeFites. So I/P threads become totally impractical, whereas on other issues the attitude tends to align more on one side of a line. Instead of large numbers of people battling with each other, you get a pack bickering with one or two people. But it's the same dynamic.


It's funny you should write your comment this way, as it's framed as if the victims in your scenario are the folks being called out for being racist or sexist. Another way to note the same dynamic would be that there is a vocal group of (mostly) men on Metafilter who challenge (mostly) women when they comment about the sexism, sexual harassment, and overall sexually fueled shittiness they frequently experience. These folks, the sexism-deniers, show up in threads where they need not participate at all, to lecture women and feminists about how they are destroying the good thing that we've all had going. The same thing happens with race, and sometimes it happens that there is a more blatant defender of sexism or racism who wants to explain over and over why the thing that most other people can generally see as being retrograde and reactionary is neither.

In your characterization, the people harming the social fabric are those calling out that behavior. In mine, the people harming the social fabric are those perpetuating historical and extant systems of oppression and privilege. You haven't provided any reason why your characterization should be preferred. I know you've characterized this as a problem of self-assurance, but self-assurance is prevalent on both of these sides. You only have to look at the favorites on your comment to see some pretty self-assured proponents of the idea that men being called out for sexist behavior are just misunderstood victims of nasty feminist majorities, here and elsewhere.

It's interesting too that you compare this dynamic to what happens in I/P threads, because they are not in the least similar. Yes, the self-assurance is there on both sides. In I/P discussions, though, the intransigence is because both sides have legitimate claim to histories (and presents) of oppression and geopolitical victimhood. There is no such legitimate claim for racists and sexists, and that you don't seem to see the difference might contribute to your rather dubious framing here.

All of which also contributes to my discomfort with saying that Luc was "hounded" off the site (which I guess really means hounded to change his username, since that's what he said he would do). It seems to imply that he's the victim here, which is a kind of strict definition of victim. It also seems to imply that he didn't really have choice in the matter, that his fate was handed to him, when what seems more likely is that he defended a position that he doesn't now want to be associated with. But we've just had a thread about why persistent usernames are important to the site, so I kind of feel like that's his own lookout. I do think there's a conversation to be had here about what's appropriate to say and not to say in situations where social justice and oppressions are under discussion (something I've had my own problems drawing appropriate lines with), but starting that discussion from the position that Luc was done wrong here seems to me to presuppose an awful lot about how the conversation should go.
posted by OmieWise at 3:38 AM on November 15, 2012 [27 favorites]


Imho, this conversation will be obsolete in about a decade, maybe a little more but not less than that. speaking as a non caucasian working mostly in Europe, and specifically in The Netherlands this autumn.
posted by infini at 4:06 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm finding it very strange to see European people disavowing any shameful history with regard to African people and/or "blackness" in general.

They killed a few white people last century and have now transcended race.
posted by yonega at 4:41 AM on November 15, 2012


yonega, that is so true and so very rarely discussed.
posted by h00py at 5:11 AM on November 15, 2012


Now's probably not the time or the place but wow, you just made my heels skid in the dirt.
posted by h00py at 5:13 AM on November 15, 2012


There's going to be a difference between how people express their opinions based on their education and how fluent they are with English. Metafilter isn't at all tolerant of this if the person speaking is saying something that is against the dominant position.

That's not a good thing, but it's also a difficult thing for anyone to avoid doing themselves. It's far too easy to always assume that you're arguing from a disadvantaged position. There's always an excuse why people have to be so aggressive in these situations, and it's rare I see anyone getting any kind of a pass based on how well they can express themselves.

Sidenote: You can get away with shit though. If you're on the right side of the argument. It was pretty shocking recently to see someone on metafilter getting away with a veiled threat of sexual violence. Not only that, but the comment the threat was a part of was happily favourited by people who would normally be apoplectic about less serious comments. "Well, if {subject of post} ever came round my place, we'd be happy to {veiled metaphor for rape} her."

I'd love to see people given more latitude to make mistakes in threads, and I'd love to see less of an emphasis on sentence fragments and more on best possible interpretations. If only to improve the ability for us to parse comments from the people who we feel have a different position to ourselves.

There's this awesome thing in Islam where it's frowned upon to use your superior knowledge of the Qur'an to beat other people up in arguments. I think we need to get somewhere nearer that kind of policy.
posted by zoo at 6:22 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Did you flag and/or contact us about that comment? I'm trying to find it based on the sentence fragments, but don't see it.
posted by taz (staff) at 6:28 AM on November 15, 2012


I didn't taz. I think the wider comment was hugely important to the thread, it wasn't in a thread about women's issues, it wasn't aimed at anyone taking part in the thread and it was from someone without much of a posting history. If it happens again from the same person, I'm gonna flag the hell out of it.

I think what I'm trying to say is that it's not good to ignore a wider comment and then kick off against what is essentially a poorly judged addendum. Tasteless and offensive as that addendum may be.
posted by zoo at 6:43 AM on November 15, 2012


I didn't taz.

The site is run by the community and we depend on the community to bring those things to our attention because it's too big for us to read the entire site. People can make their comments without tagging threats on to the end of them, or re-make them if they didn't get it right the first time.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:45 AM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's funny you should write your comment this way, as it's framed as if the victims in your scenario are the folks being called out for being racist or sexist.

For me, the heart of this issue (and other issues where a group that not only cares a lot about something, knows a lot about it and reacts quickly to language that is used by its ideological opponents) is that people can mean no harm and yet still find themselves being accused of sexism, racism or some other position they hadn't consciously intended to take. These are broad, and quite damaging, terms that quickly escalate. I mean, the thread was compared to Stormfront.

People like Luc can be a victim* because they quickly find themselves tarred with all sorts of brushes, and subject to the "SO WHAT YOU'RE SAYING IS THAT IT'S OK TO" type arguments. It's MeFi's version of godwinning a thread quickly and it drags people's reputations to the bottom with it. Perhaps that is the price to pay for MeFi to remain the progressive place we all love. But I'm personally leery of the idea that these pileons are to the benefit of the community, and that the expectations that all members from should be au fait with the "correct" point of view on complex issues like racism and sexism, or should be get there quickly, a high bar.

I understand that is frustrating for people who go in and fight the good battle time and time again, and that demanding or expecting some leeway is itself a form of privilege. But all of us have cultural and social minefields in front us that we can't see. A little recognition that diversity also means some tolerance to others' education, culture and blindspots and that people are hitting the learning curve at different speeds would go a long way. The people we argue with today aren't responsible for the sins of the people we choose to box them up with.

* And no, I'm not suggesting that this is some white man's massive burden, or that all victims are created alike.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:48 AM on November 15, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'll now be deleting this profile though

Losing a user number that low like this is like seeing the oldest tree in the forest cut down to make Ikea shelves.
posted by nathancaswell at 6:53 AM on November 15, 2012 [7 favorites]

They killed a few white people last century and have now transcended race.
You know there were people writing in earnest that because the US had elected Obama it is now post-racial? I mean, talk about a fucking joke.
posted by Jehan at 6:54 AM on November 15, 2012


Even threads that aren't about women's issues are full of women. It seems like that sort of thing brings the general tenor of the site down and makes it a more hostile place - something that metafilter has seriously improved on even in the relatively short time I've been here. It's totally worth flagging.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:59 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


For me, the heart of this issue (and other issues where a group that not only cares a lot about something, knows a lot about it and reacts quickly to language that is used by its ideological opponents) is that people can mean no harm and yet still find themselves being accused of sexism, racism or some other position they hadn't consciously intended to take. These are broad, and quite damaging, terms that quickly escalate. I mean, the thread was compared to Stormfront.

You know, I agree with everything you said, even if I might place the bar for our expectations in a different place. I also think what you said is a far cry from locating the problem in an unruly mob of "politically correct" scolds, as seems to me to be the spirit of some of the other comments (in this thread and others) on this issue.

Losing a user number that low like this is like seeing the oldest tree in the forest cut down to make Ikea shelves.

Luc made a total of 43 comments in his time on Metafilter. 26 of them were defending Zwarte Pieten. He obviously felt pretty strongly about it, so the shelves were probably more of the handmade variety.
posted by OmieWise at 7:03 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Even threads that aren't about women's issues are full of women. It seems like that sort of thing brings the general tenor of the site down

First thought: that's a bit sexist, then I realised you were actually talking about that unflagged alleged rape threat...
posted by MartinWisse at 7:03 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just as a by-the-by, it's pretty condescending to resort to this kind of "I've learned as I've gotten older" circumlocution when making an attack on somebody. If you want to call someone in this thread a frothing asshole, please just go ahead and do it. Managing to avoid saying it explicitly whilst implying it heavily doesn't really win you civility points.

You misunderstand me. The point I was trying to make is that people used to THINK I was a dick because of the way I presented my opinions. Once I learned to change the framing I used, I was able to present the exact same opinions and people actually started to LISTEN to me. I'm not calling anyone an asshole. I'm saying that it's not productive to attack people who disagree with you.

And, you know, I'm TIRED of it. I'm tired of seeing people I agree with go on tirades that only serve to drive wedges between them and the people who might be convinced by an actual, reasoned argument. All it does is make you feel better at the expense of everyone around you. It's selfish, it doesn't do anybody any good, and it's poison to actual reasoned debate.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:31 AM on November 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


If we're going to discipline people

I wasn't talkinga bout discipline; I mean having a thread like this still stading, with the leading paragraph going into crazy-town hyperbole. It's not a exactly a meaningful statement of "don't do that" if the thread is standing to encourage more speculation on who is like Stormfront and how much.
posted by spaltavian at 7:38 AM on November 15, 2012


I'm tired of seeing people I agree with go on tirades that only serve to drive wedges between them and the people who might be convinced by an actual, reasoned argument.

I agree with your sentiment, but I can count the number of people on Metafilter I've seen actually change their position because of a reasoned (or unreasoned) argument on the fingers of no hands.

Metafilter: All it does is make you feel better at the expense of everyone around you.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 7:42 AM on November 15, 2012


MetaFilter: people I agree with go on tirades
posted by nathancaswell at 7:42 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know, one of the reasons why casual racism is so prevalent and hard to fight is the people perpetuating the stereotypes often honestly do not understand why or how what they are doing is considered racist. What appears obviously racist to you and I may not be to people immersed in a culture which is invested in defending them as inoffensive and harmless. Consider that such attitudes may have been inculcated for decades. The people you're referring to don't seem to be deliberately trying to cause offense or insult by defending the practice. I think the thread is going reasonably well, and cooler heads are prevailing -- mostly because the rest of the commenters are injecting concrete, logical counterarguments into the conversation.

Indeed, perhaps one of the more interesting things for me in the thread was that when the topic of thanksgiving as a potential US corollary to ZP was introduced, the responses tended to focus on the fact that Americans no longer dress up as native americans and pilgrims, when the issue that was raised was whether the whole thing related to the whitewashing of genocide. Thanksgiving was defended as now being currently associated with family togetherness rather than as being a historical remnant relating to a dark colonial history, but there was little attempt to engage with the idea that the meaning of the Dutch celebration might be different from its percieved meaning from the US perspective. It seems clear that there are people within the Netherlands who experience ZP as racist (and that how it looks to me) but the same seems likely to be true of some people in the US as regards Thanksgiving, but because this is accepted as a national event within the US, and its celebration is within the norm for many Americans, then the same standards were not applied.

Bascially I guess what I'm saying is that the most interesting thing about this thread is that much of it was argued from an American cultural perspective and there seemed to be a struggle to appreciate what was being said about different cultural perspectives and their potential validity.
posted by biffa at 7:47 AM on November 15, 2012 [10 favorites]


And the standard response has always been that this is heavily a US centric site. Its a clear case of the values gap and attempting to communicate across the divide by stating and restating rather than attempting to understand the intent of the message and then interpreting it accordingly.

My clearest example of this is when a mobile banking service was launched for the hitherto unbanked in South African townships - primarily due to the formal bank regulations requiring payslips, home addresses, utility bills etc for an account, something the great majority did not have access to or were unable to provide. The ad agency's messaging was "Now you can bank on the go with your mobile" because in their context that was what was so cool about the service, not the fact that all it required to open an account was your ID and a phone number, thus able to reach all those who were ineligible for traditional accounts. Never having been banked, the campaign flopped as did the service.

What if it had simply said you can get an account with just your number and an ID? That would have required an understanding of the context of the target audience's life and worldview and perspective. Same end result, simply articulated in a way that resonates.

Metafilter is getting too old and too global for us not be able to collectively figure out how to more effectively communicate our intent across differing cultural viewpoints and perspectives.
posted by infini at 7:59 AM on November 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


I agree with your sentiment, but I can count the number of people on Metafilter I've seen actually change their position because of a reasoned (or unreasoned) argument on the fingers of no hands.

I've changed my position on the death penalty because of Metafilter. I mean, I never had a huge "coming out" ceremony when I posted a Meta saying "Hey, I no longer believe in capital punishment", but my views definitely changed because of some of the well-reasoned arguments.

I've also had my opinions changed by poorly-reasoned arguments. For example, when I see a pile-on where the majority does sarcastic comments to attack a commenter instead of engaging with their actual arguments, it makes me feel contrary and I gradually find myself shifting political positions just out of spite.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:04 AM on November 15, 2012


...it makes me feel contrary and I gradually find myself shifting political positions just out of spite.

I understand the temptation but why would you admit that?
posted by griphus at 8:05 AM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's not surprising. The comparison to Stormfront may have been a new twist, but what happened is essentially the same dynamic that arises in gender-relations threads. There is a vocal and sizable contingent on this website who firmly believe they know what racism and sexism look like, and that these things must be stamped out of conversation. They are never wrong about either, if you ask them.

I would add that I think this exact same dynamic is what makes Israel/Palestine threads unworkable on MetaFilter. The difference is that in that case, you have a much wider split of opinion among MeFites. So I/P threads become totally impractical, whereas on other issues the attitude tends to align more on one side of a line. Instead of large numbers of people battling with each other, you get a pack bickering with one or two people. But it's the same dynamic.


I think this is true, but it's not just the actual fact that people believe they know what the Right Answer is. It's the kind of discourse that is allowed to flourish, as long as the person involved is on the Wrong Side. So we can have people saying incredibly awful things directed at each other and that is considered just "conversation."

There is a difference between generalized "I think X about Y" that some people find offensive on a societal level, and "You, specifically, are an asshole/jerk/racist/sexist/idiot/moron/what have you."

I think Metafilter is not always good, despite claims that people aren't supposed to be attacking each other personally, at eliminating the latter - whether through deleting comments, or through saying HEY THAT IS NOT COOL.

And people do leave over it, periodically.
posted by corb at 8:11 AM on November 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


I understand the temptation but why would you admit that?

I don't want to derail this thread, so I'll respond to you on MeMail.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:36 AM on November 15, 2012


I wish we could all stop pretending that online discussions of any racist/classist/sexist privilege are about anything other than being right and winning. It'd be nice if it were otherwise, but it isn't, and it's why these discussions are almost always better held over drinks than over the web. Humankind is prone to racist attitudes and beliefs and just because you've recognized this tendency and are vigilant about it in your own life does not mean you are better than anyone else.

I mean, seriously. A seemingly-nice, well meaning person has some fond and complicated memories of a genteelly-racist holiday character and he's likened to a Stormfront member????
posted by downing street memo at 8:46 AM on November 15, 2012 [13 favorites]


when a mobile banking service was launched for the hitherto unbanked in South African townships

Never heard of this, but it sounds interesting! Do you know what the name of this company was?
posted by Greg Nog at 8:49 AM on November 15, 2012


I wish we could all stop pretending that online discussions of any racist/classist/sexist privilege are about anything other than being right and winning.

And I wish people would stop projecting their motivations onto everyone around them, but I guess we can't have everything.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:11 AM on November 15, 2012 [12 favorites]


Comparing the mostly casual, unintentional, historic racism of Zwarte Pieten to the intentional, hateful, confrontational racism of Stormfront is blatantly unfair & unproductive to boot. If we want to convince people who don't intend it that their actions can be hurtful anyway, that's simply not the way to go about it.

The same is probably true of the badgering albeit polite tenor of the thread in question. When you've made your point but someone still disagrees with you, repeating yourself more forcefully & at higher volume is unlikely to win them over. Trust in their good nature as a fellow member of a community that prizes reason, give them time to absorb it & hopefully the truth will convict them on its own.
posted by scalefree at 9:12 AM on November 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


Trust in their good nature as a fellow member of a community that prizes reason, give them time to absorb it & hopefully the truth will convict them on its own.

This is very true, and I try to remind myself of this every time I'm tempted to come back and just re-word what I already said.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:19 AM on November 15, 2012


In your characterization, the people harming the social fabric are those calling out that behavior. In mine, the people harming the social fabric are those perpetuating historical and extant systems of oppression and privilege.

And I would respectfully submit that the moderation of this website (if not the mods themselves) agrees with me and not you. We've discussed this before. MetaFilter bans more people holding opinion X than opinion Y not because opinion Y is nauseating and the mods want to stamp it out, but because it's a minority opinion on this website and therefore being strident about it will turn a thread into a flamewar. By contrast, being strident about the MeFi-majority opinion will garner friendly cheers and solidarity, which are not a problem to moderate.

Put a different way, MetaFilter's goal is not to make the world better. Its goal is to be an interesting, pleasant place to share things. When you narrow that to, "Sure, it should be pleasant...for people who are committed to making the world better" (eg, "in threads where they need not participate at all") then I think you are in the weeds.

I think it's worth taking a breath and remembering that however odious we may find a particular comment, its author isn't really perpetuating anything just by writing it than we are "solving" anything by writing back. These are comments on the Internet. If you serve coffee at Starbucks, you are probably affecting the world more in a morning's shift than you ever will by participating in an Internet thread. And that isn't just eye-rolling. That's an attitude that can seriously make MetaFilter a better place.
posted by cribcage at 9:22 AM on November 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


>I wish we could all stop pretending that online discussions of any racist/classist/sexist privilege are about anything other than
> being right and winning.

> I wish people would stop projecting their motivations onto everyone around them

And in the end it is the same as if none of us had spoken at all.
posted by jfuller at 9:26 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do you know what the name of this company was?

Si, Wizzit. And if you discover they're active, please let me know (I have a case study lying about if you're interested, from 2006-7)
posted by infini at 9:35 AM on November 15, 2012


And in the end it is the same as if none of us had spoken at all.

My point is that I disagree with the characterization that anyone engaging in a discussion about race, gender or politics is out to "win". There's definitely a lot of that going on, no doubt, but that ignores the efforts I see a lot of people make to engage, communicate and understand.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:38 AM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


cribcage, I'm pretty confused by the first paragraph of your last comment. I'm not being cute, I just can't parse it. But I think you miss it when what you write suggests that having non-racist, non-sexist comment on Metafilter is about "changing the world." Calling a Metafilter where people are welcome to shit all over the repeatedly detailed experiences of women, for example, "an interesting, pleasant place to share things," assumes a lot about who should feel interested and pleasant. Discussing the use of sexist and racist language and practice here is a way to make Metafilter a better place. That's why there's an "Offensive/sexism/racism" tag. Not to head off modding problems, but because the prevalence of sexist language was recognized as bad for the community insofar as women felt uncomfortable participating. (Or at least that is my recollection of the discussion leading to its creation, and the subsequent mod pronouncements on what is permitted language on Metafilter.) The repeated casting of those who would like this place to contain less sexist and racist language as somehow failed "real world" activists neglects the real world consequences for members of this community if we support that kind of language here.
posted by OmieWise at 9:44 AM on November 15, 2012 [8 favorites]


There is indeed a flag for "offensive/sexism/racism," and for the record I would never discourage anybody from flagging whatever, however they deem appropriate. That's between you and the moderators, as it should be.
posted by cribcage at 9:54 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, I don't want to leave you hanging if you think you replied to my comment, but your comment about the flag seems totally orthogonal to what I wrote. If it was meant to address something that I raised as an issue, then I think we aren't understanding each other.
posted by OmieWise at 10:35 AM on November 15, 2012


I wish we would stop pretending that the only mefites who close their accounts or stop participating in any discussion about [contentious thing] are mefites who are bravely expressing politically unpopular opinions (unpopular to The Rest Of MetaFilter, iykwim).

And I don't understand the "it's just the Internet, let it go already" attitude. I mean, when it comes to stupid things people say in general? Well, that's one thing. When it comes to stupid/uninformed/offensive/threatening/fillintheblank things that are said to someone personally, on a site (this one!) that is geared exactly for posting links and discussing them, well, that seems like a funny tack to take.

And what makes the Internet so different? We don't generally say "Oh, it's just a book/magazine/newspaper, who cares what that guy says," as if the medium is the only thing that matters when evaluating whether or not something merits discussion or correction.
posted by rtha at 10:42 AM on November 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


And what makes the Internet so different? We don't generally say "Oh, it's just a book/magazine/newspaper, who cares what that guy says," as if the medium is the only thing that matters when evaluating whether or not something merits discussion or correction.

I won't speak for cribcage, but usually when I see this notion raised it's with the general attitude that nothing on the internet should be taken seriously; that everything here is without consequence. Which I do think is pretty odd, considering what we have here are actual people talking to other actual people, incidental to the medium that allows that communication.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:45 AM on November 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


We don't generally say "Oh, it's just a book/magazine/newspaper, who cares what that guy says,"

If it's a letter to the editor, we do. And I'm sure you see the difference between your (our) five-dollar hobby and being a published author.

That said, I think the goalposts shifted. If we're talking about threats and personal attacks, then I'm pretty sure that if you flag those things and/or report them via the contact form, they will be deleted. They don't need to be called-out, and it was my understanding that calling them out makes in-thread cleanup more difficult.
posted by cribcage at 11:11 AM on November 15, 2012


what we have here are actual people talking to other actual people, incidental to the medium that allows that communication

This is an interesting wrinkle. The Construct plays a mind game with the Constructor. Thank you, imagination, for such a tempting thought!
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 11:19 AM on November 15, 2012


That said, I think the goalposts shifted. If we're talking about threats and personal attacks,

Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that and only that (this is what I get for typing while I'm on a conference call that doesn't really need my input but for some reason I have to be on it anyway).

I meant exactly what you and I are doing: talking to each other, as one person replying to points that another person has made, in more or less real time. You didn't write a comment to the editor and fling it into the open air: you addressed a specific group of people, and also a particular person, as I am doing now. That's where the "oh it's just the internet who cares" thing completely fails for me.
posted by rtha at 11:26 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am late to this thread, but I think it's a shame if LucVdB felt hounded as a result of the other thread. And I think it's wildly inaccurate to compare his thoughtful participation there - in which he never defended racism per se, only discussed whether the Zwart Pieten are racist symbols and tried to explain what he saw as the mainstream Dutch perspective on them - to Stormfront. This kind of outrage is out of proportion to pretty mild comments talking about a problematic tradition.

I fully agree the tradition is problematic, and it sure looks to me like the Dutch should change it. But that is no reason to say things like, the Dutch in general are racist, you personally are racist, for even talking about why this tradition could be okay. Someone can be explicitly anti-racist, but still have blind spots, prejudices, childhood traditions they haven't examined from a distance, etc. It is bad to jump all over someone for that, when they are being a good conversational partner (rather than being super-aggressive or snide etc, as we've sometimes had people be).

Being able to talk about our blind spots is essential; it's a foundation of good useful discussions about hard topics.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:11 PM on November 15, 2012 [12 favorites]


I wish we could all stop pretending that online discussions of any racist/classist/sexist privilege are about anything other than being right and winning. It'd be nice if it were otherwise, but it isn't, and it's why these discussions are almost always better held over drinks than over the web. Humankind is prone to racist attitudes and beliefs and just because you've recognized this tendency and are vigilant about it in your own life does not mean you are better than anyone else.

I mean, seriously. A seemingly-nice, well meaning person has some fond and complicated memories of a genteelly-racist holiday character and he's likened to a Stormfront member????


They are of course about being right. Far be it from me to say I'm better than anyone else, but challenging racist/classist/sexist ideas and opinions on Metafilter isn't just about changing the minds of sexists/classists/racists (or "people who express opinions which are sexist/classist/racist") or even when you're really pissed off, about shaming people who you think are saying reprehensible things. It's also about demonstrating a different (more inclusive, is usually the aim) point of view so that other people who are hurt by those opinions don't feel as alienated by a community like Metafilter, and will hopefully stay and participate, as well.

I have no idea what Stormfront is though I assume it's very bad based on the reactions here, but saying that the spirit of this MeTa sums up the actions and motivations of everyone who challenges what they perceive to be racist/classist/sexist opinions on Metafilter is not true and people are just as capable of hounding off feminist or "activist" members of the site by condemning them harshly and mischaracterizing their motivations.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:58 PM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


And with reference to the "tag and move on" slogan when it comes to racist/sexist/classist/homophobic/whatever behavior, I usually do tag such posts. But there are plenty of posts which are less starkly discriminatory and clearly the mods think that discussing the implications of those kinds of posts and opinions is okay. Doing so over time has changed the tenor of the discussion on Metafilter. If Metafilter still operated the way it did ten or even five years ago, I wouldn't participate here. Whether you like me or know who I am or not, these discussions have an impact on who stays and who goes (or who even bothers to pay the $5), and it's not just about Luc and this one thread.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:01 PM on November 15, 2012


Being able to talk about our blind spots is essential; it's a foundation of good useful discussions about hard topics.

This is where I am at with this. We've had a few more account closures that seem related to this and that concerns and upsets me. We-as-mods absolutely don't want this to be a place where people get harassed for expressing their opinions in what seems to be a spirit of open inquiry. We also don't want to be a place where people feel like they can't interact with one another without having to wade through sexist/racist/homophobic crap every single day. However balancing those two things is actually challenging.

If people think that other commenters are not behaving within that general range of discussing ideas, we'd like them to be able to bring that up without being super-aggressive about it. And, if you can't do that, think about what your purpose in talking to people in a place where we've stated that we moderate based on behavior and not on the content of what people say (for the most part--absent trolling, concern trolling and other not-good-faith participation). We're available to talk to people about how they might suggest we do things differently but "ban the racists" isn't going to get you very far.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:04 PM on November 15, 2012


Oh, and yeah, by "being right and winning," of course I wish that there was less sexist and racist sentiment on Metafilter. If you mean that people are just starting these fights to win and feel self-righteous and look better than everyone else, I wonder if you have often dealt with sexism and racism on a personal level, on behalf of yourself or a loved one. It's extraordinarily stupid to characterize anti-sexist, -racist, -homophobic motivations as argumentative posturing if you've ever actually experienced the dread and anger of hearing an opinion that perpetuates a worldview that has real, quantifiable, historical, daily negative consequences for you and people like you.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:10 PM on November 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


people can mean no harm and yet still find themselves being accused of sexism, racism or some other position they hadn't consciously intended to take.

The thing is, people can mean no harm and yet still act racist. If we can find a way to express that clearly, it might make these things a lot easier.

I mean, there's a big difference between a claim that someone has racist thoughts or opinions or motivations, and a claim that someone is broadcasting a racist message. It's important to be able to point out, "whoa, that's a racist message" without having to fight over whether or not you are also a terrible person for saying it.

The main thread here was a good example. There was a clear disconnect when Luc was saying things like "I don't see the Zwarte Pieten as mocking black people. I see them as Zwarte Pieten" or "What, do you think, is going on in the mind of black actors playing Zwarte Piet?", and others were focusing on articles explaining how a bunch of viewers do see it as racist content. The question Luc was interested in was "if someone does this, are they a racist person, with racist thoughts or opinions or motivations?" The question other people were into was "does dressing up as a black caricature and behaving clownishly send a racist message?"

We need that distinction, because whether or not you are thinking racist thoughts while you do something is pretty much completely unimportant to whether or not you should do that thing in public.

I know this is all pretty standard stuff, but is there some specific thing we could have done to not have that thread go down the "this is a racist message" - "but I'm not a racist" - "but this is a racist message" - "but it can't be because I'm not a racist" path again?
posted by jhc at 1:16 PM on November 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


What struck me in this thread was LucVdB saying "I am not racist in the least". This is something that as a liberal American I would never ever say, despite trying as hard as I can every day not to be racist. It just seems to be assumed among my cohort that we are all fighting an uphill battle every day against our worse inclinations to judge people based on their race, sex, appearance, sexual orientation, etc., and we can all say that we're trying not to be racist, but to outright claim that we're 100% not racist is prima facie ludicrous. So to someone steeped in that culture like me, hearing someone say "I am not racist in the least" sounds like self-delusion at best. It was another interesting example of how cultures vary in their approach to racism.
posted by dfan at 1:34 PM on November 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think it's entirely possible to espouse an unconsciously racist belief/idea/whatevs without being an actual racist, though. This is where I think the huge disconnect happens when otherwise perfectly nice and normal people are confronted with accusations of having said or done or believed a racist thing, because racism is usually perceived as something done deliberately and out of malice, not something done accidentally and out of ignorance.

It is harder to define and/or excuse when people are presented with numerous reasons and examples of why their beliefs and/or actions are troubling from a racial standpoint, and yet they are still stubbornly determined to cling to them while refusing to acknowledge the racism, conscious or unconscious, deliberate or accidental, and while refusing to accept responsibility for their actions or words.
posted by elizardbits at 1:42 PM on November 15, 2012 [8 favorites]

I think it's entirely possible to espouse an unconsciously racist belief/idea/whatevs without being an actual racist, though.
Yeah, to me there's a big difference between "doing/thinking something that is racist in some way" and "being a racist". The latter is explicitly identifying you as a Bad Person, the former is just saying "we all fail sometimes to live up to our own high standards". Or that's how my personal connotations go, anyway.
posted by dfan at 1:47 PM on November 15, 2012


I think there is a strong cross-cultural element at play here: Blackface.

I'm not an American, so perhaps I've read this wrong, but in US culture blackface has become, for very good reasons, a very potent symbol of racism. It isn't just a racist act in and of itself, but it has come to signify so much more. Using blackface is like thumbing your nose at the whole concept of racism - it communicates more than just not caring about the history of minstrel shows, etc, but also not caring about the whole history of racism in the US.

On the other hand, I'm assuming this is not true in general in Europe. Even acknowledging the history of golliwogs, etc, we can also acknowledge that blackface is just not the potent symbol that it is in the US.

And so, as always, reactions differ depending on one's cultural context. An American's monstrous symbol is not taken the same way by others. That leads to strong accusations and denunciations, which then leads to dismissals ("you're not qualified to object"), and so on until we get this (very angry post, mostly positive discussion) MeTa.

On the positive side, I think MeFi is becoming less US-centric over time and I hope that we can come to understand a greater variety of perspectives over time as well.
posted by ssg at 2:31 PM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Both the original article and the discussion contained multiple statements from non-Americans that they were offended by/not comfortable with blackface. The constant disregard of that fact is quite depressing.
posted by bitterpants at 2:38 PM on November 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


First, I'd like to thank Bunny Ultramod for the way he engaged with LucVdB instead of talking at him. Changing one's mind is a slow process.

We-as-mods absolutely don't want this to be a place where people get harassed for expressing their opinions in what seems to be a spirit of open inquiry. We also don't want to be a place where people feel like they can't interact with one another without having to wade through sexist/racist/homophobic crap every single day. However balancing those two things is actually challenging.


The standards of MeTa are lax and it's part of the MeTa post, so I can see why it would be hard to delete this, but can we agree that comparing a thread on a contentious matter to Stormfront (and thus by association MeFites to neo-nazis) is beyond the pale?

PG, there's a neo-nazi party in my country polling with a tenth of the vote and its supporters beat immigrants in the streets; they don't debate in good faith if their christmas traditions are racist. That comparison is frankly insulting.
posted by ersatz at 2:38 PM on November 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


There has to be a distinction about being blind towards (borderline) racist/sexist culture in general and being blind towards (borderline) racist/sexist culture or behaviour on MetaFilter.

In the end, Zwarte Piet doesn't really impact the lives of most MeFites in any way other than "oh hey, another shitty racist idea packaged as a cultural tradition" to get angry/frustrated about, if only because most of all y'all don't live in the Netherlands or Belgium. LucVdB may have been wrong or ignorant to defend ZP from criticism, but you can you say that he was making MetaFilter a worse place for doing so?

Of course there have been quite a few long lived and high profile racism/sexism threads here recently so it's understandable if people come into what could a similar thread with their defenses raised hight already and been slightly less willing to suffer ignorance, which is what I think happened, where somebody genuinely puzzled about this was compared to Stormfront. I can understand him wanting to reboot himself so as to not suffer the stink from this...
posted by MartinWisse at 2:40 PM on November 15, 2012


Both the original article and the discussion contained multiple statements from non-Americans that they were offended by/not comfortable with blackface. The constant disregard of that fact is quite depressing.

True that, but that doesn't mean that blackface still is very much more offensive in the US than in Europe, that in fact Zwarte Piet isn't really seen as blackface by those people who'd you need to convince to stop this tradition. You could argue that they should see it as blackface and blackface as offensive, but for the moment this is not yet the case.

And yes, in general, while there are a depressing number of constants in racism, you still need to be cautious in applying your country's own standards abroad, but that goes the other way around as well.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:44 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


> What struck me in this thread was LucVdB saying "I am not racist in the least". This is something that as a liberal American
> I would never ever say, despite trying as hard as I can every day not to be racist.

That comment from the original thread, that was quoted approvingly in this one: "fuck all this racism, fuck trying to tell people what 'really' hurts, seriously, just fuck this shit." That's how you phrase it when you want to congratulate yourself for not being racist in the least, but you know better than to say it so plainly. Nobody who is actually aware of and ashamed of his own unconquered racism could say it. He would be too busy fixing himself to have any time left over for fixing others. Anyone who can say it, and does, may fairly be taken to be shouting "I am not racist in the least." (Falsely, of course, as you point out.)
posted by jfuller at 2:46 PM on November 15, 2012


jfuller: “Nobody who is actually aware of and ashamed of his own unconquered racism could say it. He would be too busy fixing himself to have any time left over for fixing others.”

Really? Nobody who is aware of their own shortcomings could ever say "fuck racism?" I'm really not sure about that. I have struggled with sexism a fair bit as a guy, but I don't think that disqualifies me from saying "fuck sexism" if and when I encounter it.
posted by koeselitz at 2:49 PM on November 15, 2012 [8 favorites]

jfuller: Nobody who is actually aware of and ashamed of his own unconquered racism could say it. He would be too busy fixing himself to have any time left over for fixing others.
I think somebody who is personally hurt by racism could say it though, yes? You may not have realized, but anansi is black.
posted by gilrain at 3:01 PM on November 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


Both the original article and the discussion contained multiple statements from non-Americans that they were offended by/not comfortable with blackface. The constant disregard of that fact is quite depressing.

Perhaps I didn't make my point finely enough. There is a world of difference between being uncomfortable with Zwarte Piet (which, hey, I am too!) and comparing anyone who doesn't agree with you on the topic to white supremacists.

The former is a reasonable reaction to the facts, the latter seems to come from a transposition of US symbolism into a non-US context.
posted by ssg at 3:05 PM on November 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


Is anybody actually defending Pope Guilty's outburst, though?
posted by gilrain at 3:12 PM on November 15, 2012


I'm not a he but I am aware of racist (and sexist, and heteronormative) attitudes/thoughts/assumptions I still have, and I would also say - have probably said, at various points - "fuck racism!"

I'm never going to fix all of my attitudes and assumptions. There's never going to be a point in my life where I'm going to feel thoroughly confident and able to say "Well, I fixed all my racist/sexist assumptions! Good to go now!" I can keep thinking, reading, listening, and reflecting. Holding out for being utterly pure in this respect before I allow myself to say "Racism sucks" is counterproductive.

One of the most useful things I learned in college - largely from my fellow activist students - is that I don't die when someone says "That thing you said/did comes off as pretty racist." Even more useful was learning that there's no requirement to immediately say "No it wasn't! I'm not a racist!" when someone calls you out. As my friend Scooter the Coat used to say, if you're feeling defensive, stop and think about what you're defending.
posted by rtha at 3:12 PM on November 15, 2012 [11 favorites]


I would agree that the Stormfront comparison was neither appropriate nor helpful.
posted by bitterpants at 3:15 PM on November 15, 2012


ssg: On the other hand, I'm assuming this is not true in general in Europe. Even acknowledging the history of golliwogs, etc, we can also acknowledge that blackface is just not the potent symbol that it is in the US.

The idea that caricaturing people of other races is widely considered to be beyond the pale. This isn't a new thing. Already in the 1930s Hergé got criticism for Tintin in the Congo (when he announced he was going to write about China, he got a letter from a Catholic Chaplain beseeching him to be less racist, which to Hergé's credit, he did). While Hergé didn't get much criticism for that book in his lifetime, Tintin in the Congo has been a topic of controversy since at least the 90s.

On the subject of racist children's literature: In Iceland a few years ago a small publisher republished an old translation of a minstrel show ditty that became a popular children's song in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th Century. The publication came complete with racist caricatures drawn for the original publication, back in the 1920s. The country exploded in argument.

There was a lot of the sort of rhetoric you see in the Zwarte Piet thread: "But it's a children's song, no offense is meant to black people." The counterargument is that it's even worse that this is taught to young children. Another argument that got repeated a lot was that accusing someone of racism was worse than being offensive. Somehow the latter falls under free speech but the former is disruptive to civil discourse.

I'm tired of the endless "oh it's different in Europe, don't bring your American point of view to race in Europe." It's not that different in Europe. Racial caricature is offensive here, just as much as in the US.
posted by Kattullus at 3:17 PM on November 15, 2012 [14 favorites]


I think if a person feels like there's a presumption being floated that he or she is advocating something racist, it's reasonable to say "no, you're misunderstanding me, I don't endorse racism, I just dispute whether this symbol expresses something racist."

(Again, I think the symbol does indeed express something racist. But I think merely saying "I'm not racist" isn't somehow indicative of a character flaw.)
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 3:18 PM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is anybody actually defending Pope Guilty's outburst, though?

No.

But I think merely saying "I'm not racist" isn't somehow indicative of a character flaw.

That's absolutely right, but isn't there also an issue where saying "I'm not racist" over and over again begins to be kind of, I don't know, like denial. I mean, this is indeed a ticklish subject, and I get that my own credibility on this issue has been damaged by my regrettable vociferousness on these kinds of issues, but isn't there a point at which we expect people to be adults about the whole thing and reevaluate their own investments, without considering those who keep pointing them out to be somehow "hounding" (a word you again deployed) them because of them?

(Again, to be clear, I have no particular opinion about Luc, since I still haven't read the PZ thread.)
posted by OmieWise at 4:50 PM on November 15, 2012


Katullus, that example is an obvious one where the standards are the same, but it can be more subtle or less clear cut than that. To try and give an example, last year I visited a hotel in Switzerland which had a painting which included a representation of both a black person and a water melon. If you look on TripAdvisor then there are various complaints from American guests that this was racist, but do these images together signify the same lazy stereotype in Switzerland that they do in the US? The issue is not simply a difference in point of view but that the cultural signifiers can be significantly different and that this can make it difficult for the outsider to talk to and properly understand the person inside the culture. Of course, as your example (and possibly the majority of examples) make clear, the signifiers are the same.
posted by biffa at 4:54 PM on November 15, 2012


Racial caricature is offensive here, just as much as in the US.
The contentious point here is that many Dutch people do not perceive Zwarte Piet as it is shown today to be a racial caricature and do not act as such. The Sinterklaas festival is not a Borat-style Running of the Jew celebration, except with black people. Still, Zwarte Piet was born as a racial caricature, and people are entitled to be offended by it, particularly when it is used as an insult against them (according to many testimonies). Still, for the many people who attend the festival, it's a cool character and nothing else. That's a different situation from Tintin au Congo and the Icelandic caricatures from the 1920s, which are basically racist time capsules (and I'm of the opinion that Tintin au Congo should be published nowadays with an explanatory preface).
Are the Spanish representations of King Balthasar racist? The biblical Magi are not demeaning or insulting characters, but it's still done in US-style blackface. Do black people in Spain (where there's anti-black racism too) complain about it (perhaps they do, I don't know)?
What about the swastika, used by many Asian cultures as a sacred and positive symbol? A few years ago, a poster for an exhibition of Japanese art in Paris had to be removed because some people complained about the tiny, tiny swastikas etched in the samurai armor shown on the poster. Was that ridiculous or not? Perhaps not, because swatiskas are a loaded symbol in Europe, and many Europeans only know about its use by the Nazis. But on the other hand, these swastikas were sacred symbols that had nothing to do with Nazism, so removing them was somehow offending too.
Sometimes, we should admit that symbols mean different things for different people and acknowledge those differences rather than going immediately for the torches and pitchforks.
posted by elgilito at 5:27 PM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


This re-evaluating of attitudes, OmieWise, isn't that exactly what happened here? You make a point about someone repeatedly, self-righteously asserting their non-existent racism, but who is this person? I certainly don't think it's LucVdB, who has used those words exactly once that I can see, in a context where he has gone to some lengths to make clear that he is taking others' words very seriously. But how would you honestly know this, if you admit that you haven't read the thread we are all talking about and which many of us agree lead to at least some meaningful exchange of ideas?

And yet, OmieWise, you make these clamoring comments as you describe and I presume you want us to take them seriously. I certainly do. But I am also puzzled as to what their object is. It's a matter of "use your words" I feel as much as it is "direct your words", because I simply can't look inside your head and know whether your points refer to an actual person or event, or to a hypothetical one. And in a textual format this is all the more difficult to navigate.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 5:58 PM on November 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


Is repeatedly using my username a way of chastising me, because it sounds condescending.

I'm not suggesting anything about LucVdB. Seriously, I have no opinion about whether he is a racist one way or the other. I do think that he made his bed, and that he wasn't "hounded" from the site, which it seems is the mod line on this. We disagree.

I'm not sure what about my comments is "clamoring," but I think there's an issue here about how we make room for conversation about things like racism and sexism without also making room for exploiting Metafilter's willingness to have these conversations. I've said before that I think there are people on Metafilter who exploit the room for conversation to essentially concern troll around issues like sexism and racism. Is there something wrong with raising that as an issue?
posted by OmieWise at 6:26 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've said before that I think there are people on Metafilter who exploit the room for conversation to essentially concern troll around issues like sexism and racism.

Do you think that is happening here, is I think what we are asking? I get that the issue is important to you generally. I don't, personally, feel that it's well-exemplified by the thread that people are talking about in this thread, the one you said that you hadn't read.

Is repeatedly using my username a way of chastising me, because it sounds condescending.

He's a mod and English isn't his first language, there is a very good chance that he is trying to be polite and not chastising you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:29 PM on November 15, 2012


No, I do not think that is happening here. Or, more precisely, I don't know if it's happening here. I've been very careful about the limits of my knowledge about this.

But we are also having a general conversation about this, or so I thought.
posted by OmieWise at 6:37 PM on November 15, 2012


To try and give an example, last year I visited a hotel in Switzerland which had a painting which included a representation of both a black person and a water melon. If you look on TripAdvisor then there are various complaints from American guests that this was racist, but do these images together signify the same lazy stereotype in Switzerland that they do in the US? The issue is not simply a difference in point of view but that the cultural signifiers can be significantly different and that this can make it difficult for the outsider to talk to and properly understand the person inside the culture.

Incidentally, the meme of black people being a bunch of lazy good-for-nothing melon eaters is not just an American thing. In the 1840s (Scottish) Thomas Carlyle was calling the black laborers in the West Indies naturally lazy "pumpkin people" who just didn't know how good they had it in being the descendants of slaves in a British colony, as a parallel to the shiftlessness of Irish "potato people":
Sitting yonder with their beautiful muzzles up to the ears in pumpkins, imbibing sweet pulps and juices; the grinder and incisor teeth ready for every new work, and the pumpkins cheap as grass in those rich climates: while the sugar-crops rot round them uncut, because labour cannot be hired, so cheap are the pumpkins;—and at home we are but required to rasp from the breakfast loaves of our own English labourers some slight ‘differential sugar-duties,’ and lend a poor half-million or a few poor millions now and then, to keep that beautiful state of matters going on.
(Though I suppose it could just be an English-speaking thing, for all I know.)
posted by XMLicious at 7:05 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


OmieWise, you asked about that comment I made about saying "I'm not racist" - it was directed at the comment by dfan above, and a few responding to it.

I definitely agree that someone could be in denial about being racist and use that phrase. But I guess I read Luc as (reasonably) trying to forestall a misunderstanding of what he was saying, not as somehow revealing his own racism by protesting too much.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:15 PM on November 15, 2012


Ironically, what we discover is that the world isn't simple black and white, but comes with shades of grey.
posted by infini at 7:20 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hey, anyone can be as general or as specific as they like. But this thread is mostly about a pretty specific thing from what I can see and if you go to some trouble pointing out that you didn't read the MeFi thread that spawned this one but still go on talking in generalities while other people are mainly addressing specifics related to that thread then it can be a breeding ground for misunderstanding, is my reading.

As for the clamoring, I was referring to your "regrettable vociferousness" comment, I apologise if that wasn't immediately clear. And I'm certainly sorry if I came across to you as condescending, I didn't mean it that way at all. (And for the record, there's no need for anyone to defend my English.)

Just to be absolutely clear about this, there's nothing about my contributions in this thread that I want to lend any sort of weight beyond just some dude talking on the internet with some other dude. For what it's worth, I am acutely and sometimes frustratingly aware that because I am a moderator now I have a responsibility to be more considered in my dealings with other members than I might be as a non-mod, and I really didn't mean to single you out in any way, so again I apologise if that is how this seems.

But I am also still a user, and as such I cannot help but note how of late you sometimes take a rather hard line in your arguments, yet seem to expect others to give them careful consideration. It's frustrating sometimes, because I do often find myself agreeing with your points in and of themselves.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 7:32 PM on November 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


elgilito: The contentious point here is that many Dutch people do not perceive Zwarte Piet as it is shown today to be a racial caricature and do not act as such. The Sinterklaas festival is not a Borat-style Running of the Jew celebration, except with black people. Still, Zwarte Piet was born as a racial caricature, and people are entitled to be offended by it, particularly when it is used as an insult against them (according to many testimonies). Still, for the many people who attend the festival, it's a cool character and nothing else. That's a different situation from Tintin au Congo and the Icelandic caricatures from the 1920s, which are basically racist time capsules (and I'm of the opinion that Tintin au Congo should be published nowadays with an explanatory preface).

Well, in the case of the racist children's song (and indeed Tintin in the Congo), this is something a lot of Icelanders grew up with. In fact, the parallels are even more pronounced considering the fact that the song would be sung in kindergarten and what not. In fact, when I googled for info, the top result was a kindergarten songbook.

There's nothing unique about the Zwarte Piet celebration. It's just one of many racist traditions that permeate each and every culture on the planet. A century ago European society didn't recognize women and non-whites as equal members of society, their humanity was not valued as highly as that of native-born males. Traditions that date back that far (if memory serves Zwarte Piet goes back to the mid-19th Century and was a Moorish servant) will run the risk of carrying with them reminders of the attitudes of that time. To give another example from Iceland, a lot of Christmas carols contain the rigid gender-roles of pre-women's suffrage society. But, you know, societies adapt, new carols get written and sometimes replace old ones in the canon.

The issue of Thanksgiving has been brought up a few times. Yeah, the tradition has been criticized as a celebration of genocide, but it's a complicated issue, for Native Americans as well as others. I used to work for many years with the chief of one of the Wampanoag tribes. Now, if you know your Thanksgiving mythohistory, the First Thanksgiving involved Puritans and Wampanoags. The job we had involved a lot of downtime and long car rides, so we'd often chat about all kinds of issues. And come November, Thanksgiving would be one of them (I made a post once that sprang from one of those discussions). She celebrated Thanksgiving with a lot of her family, but she had family members who refused to attend, a stance she understood. Personally my feelings about Thanksgiving are weird too. I was an immigrant in the US for a number of years, and as a celebration of immigration I thought it was quite heartwarming, especially since people would go out of their way to invite me to Thanksgiving dinners, since I was far away from home. That said, knowing a Native as well as I did opened up my eyes to how thoroughly the culture that existed on the land that I lived in had been subjugated.

Anyway, my point is that a lot of the crazy racist stuff that used to happen when she was a kid at Thanksgiving didn't happen anymore. She felt that was progress. It wasn't perfect, but it was better than it was when she was younger. For instance, at least actual Natives get to take part in the big nationally televised parade. Traditions always evolve and I really don't see the point in defending a tradition that actively makes people feel bad and reinforces racist caricatures to children.
posted by Kattullus at 7:45 PM on November 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


It may be worth considering the possibility that Zwarte Piet -- and blackface in general -- isn't widely seen as racist in Dutch the way it is in America is not because of a historical difference but a demographic one. The African-American population is 13 percent. The percentage of Dutch people who are black is about 400 people total, according to the Afro-Europe blog.

It can be easy not to recognize an hurt when there are few enough people to be hurt by it.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:52 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


That link says 400 thousand, Bunny Ultramod =)

The total population of the Netherlands is about 16.7 million, so 400 thousand is quite a number of people.
posted by Kattullus at 8:21 PM on November 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


It says 400.000; I suppose I read that as 400. Checking Wikipedia, it looks like the total percent of black Dutch are about 5 percent, which is certainly smaller than the U.S., although one expects large enough to be visible. But, then, the Jewish population of the United States is about two percent, and pretty visible (as well as having organizations dedicated to addressing anti-Jewish sentiments), and yet a lot of people still used "jewed" without any sense of its context. In my experience, a lot of the people who use the phrase come from places with very little Jewish visibility and are quite startled to hear it can be understood as an antisemitic phrase -- and I have gotten the "it's just a word, it doesn't have anything to do with Jews," response before.

I don't know enough about Holland to know how much visibility the black population has there, and how much the Zwarte Piet is considered problematic in places where the black Dutch populations is more visible. But I wouldn't be surprised if visibility is a large part of it. A lot of questionable cultural behavior becomes entrenched, and later disassociated from it's roots, because of a lack of visibility. When I was 10 years old, in Bath, England, I played a Moor in an annual play about King George, and it was a blackface role. There were no black people in my school, very few in suburban Bath, and the black population of Bath was then quite small. The role was certainly not meant to be degrading to black people -- it was more of an Othello-type situation, where the character was black, and so the white actor was painted black to play it. But I think the blackface mostly seemed unremarkable because, among a group of white people, there was nobody to remark on it who was being represented by it.

Jesus. I just now remembered that I did a blackface role once. That's kind of a shock.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:38 PM on November 15, 2012


I don't know that this is a very useful contribution to the discussion and I want to try and avoid voicing an opinion for the sake of voicing an opinion, but I cannot help but feel that there is a terribly formulaic quality to the way these discussions tend to unfold. Even granting that nobody can be "racism-free" [whatever that means and putting aside the question of whether this is even desirable], and acknowledging that this means we must be constantly vigilant and willing to examine those hidden assumptions and preconceptions that reinforce racist (and sexist) notions, I think it is fair to say that nobody on Metafilter intends to oppress anybody. I appreciate that a (large?) number of members value Metafilter as a space for just such ruminations but it is difficult for me to imagine how any social setting can weather this kind of intense, canonized debate without acquiring a certain ritualistic element that, perhaps, provokes a diminished tolerance for the kind of loose and sometimes poorly-considered barbs and jibes that establish the common ground from which a genuine exchange of thoughts and feelings can take place. I know the mods are sensitive to this dynamic and I think they do a miraculous job at making Metafilter one of the best places on the web, but for me this thread unfortunately does evoke the kind of uneasy Fremdschämen you get when you realize Christmas dinner has, once again, devolved into a shouting match between your slightly unhinged uncle and his recently graduated niece.
posted by deo rei at 8:44 PM on November 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

Indeed, perhaps one of the more interesting things for me in the thread was that when the topic of thanksgiving as a potential US corollary to ZP was introduced, the responses tended to focus on the fact that Americans no longer dress up as native americans and pilgrims, when the issue that was raised was whether the whole thing related to the whitewashing of genocide. Thanksgiving was defended as now being currently associated with family togetherness rather than as being a historical remnant relating to a dark colonial history, but there was little attempt to engage with the idea that the meaning of the Dutch celebration might be different from its percieved meaning from the US perspective. It seems clear that there are people within the Netherlands who experience ZP as racist (and that how it looks to me) but the same seems likely to be true of some people in the US as regards Thanksgiving, but because this is accepted as a national event within the US, and its celebration is within the norm for many Americans, then the same standards were not applied.
I think this is the first time I've seen a Metafilter thread be accused of insufficient derailing toward US issues:P

But seriously, the origins of Thanksgiving are an issue, yes. I think that many of us in the Zwarte Piet thread were trying to argue that, independent of the rest of Dutch Christmas tradition, the use of blackface in depictions of Zwarte Piet is racist, and that this particular ill could be fixed by simply depicting Zwarte Piet differently. Comparing one specific detail of the entire holiday celebration involving Zwarte Piet to the entire holiday of US Thanksgiving was thus not an accurate analogy for our point. (I dunno, maybe the Dutch holiday of Christmas did have racist origins, but I haven't heard that claim being made, and wasn't trying to argue it myself.) As others pointed out in the thread, a better comparison would be between the way Zwarte Piet is depicted and particular US Thanksgiving iconography (that used to be more common back in, say, the 80s) involving stereotypical depictions of Pilgrims and Indians. I.e.: compare holiday to holiday; compare particular detail involving racially stereotyped iconography to particular detail involving racially stereotyped iconography. Since most of us were focused on the particular issue of the blackface depiction of Zwarte Piet, we addressed the analogous detail in US Thanksgiving celebrations rather than the broader politics of the holiday as a whole.
posted by eviemath at 8:44 PM on November 15, 2012


The epic unkindness of likening a user's engaged participation to that of a Neo-Nazi white power site IMO should have been deleted right off the bat.

Still should be.
posted by zippy at 10:42 PM on November 15, 2012 [8 favorites]


(Regarding the black people/watermelon stereotype - someone referenced this on a forum I use a little while ago, and not a single one of the ~60% of us who were not from the US had any fucking clue what they were on about, and needed it explained to us. That some Scot once said something about something similiar a few hundred years ago doesn't mean much. It's not a stereotype people from outside America are generally familiar with.)
posted by Dysk at 12:30 AM on November 16, 2012


I'm tired of the endless "oh it's different in Europe, don't bring your American point of view to race in Europe." It's not that different in Europe. Racial caricature is offensive here, just as much as in the US.

Thing is, this isn't about whether or not you're from the US. Or whether or not you're from Europe. It's not a European tradition - it's a Dutch tradition. So if your ability to correctly understand it in context is based on where you're from (where you've lived and are conversant in the culture would be a better guide in my opinion, but still far from perfect) would be a question of whether or not you're from the Netherlands. Certainly, as a Dane living in the UK, I don't feel qualified to offer anything but an outsider's perspective.
posted by Dysk at 12:37 AM on November 16, 2012

It may be worth considering the possibility that Zwarte Piet -- and blackface in general -- isn't widely seen as racist in Dutch the way it is in America is not because of a historical difference but a demographic one. The African-American population is 13 percent. The percentage of Dutch people who are black is about 400 people total, according to the Afro-Europe blog.
Wait, you're looking to speak about racism in the Netherlands, yet when you read a figure that says there are "400 black people in the Netherlands", you think "sounds about right"! I mean this seriously, do you even have the first clue? Are you not ashamed that you're commenting on something, and can't even tell that a figure is wrong by three orders of magnitude?
posted by Jehan at 12:59 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are you ashamed you're commenting on a comment without reading the rest of the thread following it?

Or you would've, you know, known that this mistake was already admitted to.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:43 AM on November 16, 2012


One of the subtler differences between the US and Europe is the switch in . and , in writing numbers.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:57 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of the subtler differences between the US and Europe is the switch in . and , in writing numbers.

Yes. I found this very confusing. But not as confusing as having to shift gears between the British "half three" to mean 15:30 and the Icelandic "half three" (hálf þrjú) to mean 14:30. Oh and don't even get me started on how when they say "next Thursday", they don't mean the Thursday coming up this week, but the Thursday in the week following. I could do a whole Seinfeld-esque observational routine on this stuff.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:32 AM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


One of the subtler differences between the US and Europe is the switch in . and , in writing numbers.

The UK is in Europe, and uses the same convention as the US. It's more an anglosphere west/non-anglosphere west distinction.
posted by Dysk at 2:43 AM on November 16, 2012


Regarding the black people/watermelon stereotype - someone referenced this on a forum I use a little while ago, and not a single one of the ~60% of us who were not from the US had any fucking clue what they were on about, and needed it explained to us. That some Scot once said something about something similiar a few hundred years ago doesn't mean much.

Unless something like that from so long ago actually relates to the origin of the stereotype in the U.S. and anywhere else it has existed. I'm not sure why what a bunch of people on a 21st century internet forum say would have any more bearing on a painting of indeterminate age in a Swiss hotel somewhere.

I'd never heard of the stereotype either, even growing up in the U.S., until my early twenties or so. No foul on anyone who's unfamiliar with it either way, of course.

It probably seems as bizarre and nonsensical to me as it does to you; I've never heard of any reasoning behind it or why it would be offensive and I don't think I've ever even heard it used or read it anywhere besides that Carlyle quote, (though I'm sure I could find many instances if I went looking) people just mention it as an existing negative stereotype from time to time.
posted by XMLicious at 2:51 AM on November 16, 2012


I've been aware of the bizarre watermelon stereotype thing for a long time, basically from seeing vintage images, I think. Here's a good blog post about it (including super-offensive, racist images, old and new).

The epic unkindness of likening a user's engaged participation to that of a Neo-Nazi white power site IMO should have been deleted right off the bat.

We're not going to delete it now, but, yes, we've basically come to the same conclusion, which may be useful to clarify.

There has always been a core directive for Metatalk to be a place where people can express their problems and concerns with the site, moderation, specific threads, and other users (mostly) freely, and is thus the least moderated part of the site, with very few deletions – in terms of posts, almost none. We're more likely to close posts that are not really within the purview of Metatalk, but historically almost never delete. We want to maintain the freedom to address nearly any site-related issue here, but, on the other hand, we've been moving away from being so wide open that the latitude generally extended here becomes a free pass for anyone to indulge their very worst impulses or vent their personal frustrations in ways that are harmful to the site and other members. This post could have been deleted and reposted without the hyperbole and personal attack, and it would have resulted in a more useful conversation, hopefully without losing members in the process.
posted by taz (staff) at 3:16 AM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Dysk: It's not a European tradition - it's a Dutch tradition. So if your ability to correctly understand it in context is based on where you're from (where you've lived and are conversant in the culture would be a better guide in my opinion, but still far from perfect) would be a question of whether or not you're from the Netherlands.

I'm perfectly willing to give epistemological privilege to people who grew with the tradition when it comes to explaining how they see it, but I'm not going to ignore the Dutch voices who've spoken up against it, whether it's the Zwarte Piet Is Racisme group or John Helsloot or whomever. For better or for worse we live in a globalized world so we're constantly made aware of issues across borders from us. And, as I mentioned above, it's not like the Dutch are unique in keeping hold of traditions that cause pain to unprivileged societal groups. There are plenty of issues which are either too complicated for me or too distant from my experience for me to take sides in. But when the issue boils down to whether a racist caricature is acceptable or not, the issue fails to strike me as very complex.
posted by Kattullus at 3:34 AM on November 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Regarding the black people/watermelon stereotype

I think it's the dumbest slur I've ever heard.

"Ha! You enjoy succulent, crispy chicken, fried to perfection, followed by its perfect counterpart, an icy wedge of crimson melon, dripping with sweet juice! And you enjoy it frequently, in the company of friends and families, sometimes outdoors in pleasant weather! You're quite the buffoons!"
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:52 AM on November 16, 2012 [10 favorites]


Reading Kattullus makes me wish we'd have more visibility on the issues of caste and gender, meself.
posted by infini at 3:53 AM on November 16, 2012


I don't disagree with your conclusions, necessarily Kattullus, so you needn't lecture me on the topic of the original thread. The constant treating of 'Europe' as a cultural monolithic entity, though, and its use in a lot of the reasoning bandied around here, THAT I disagree with.
posted by Dysk at 3:54 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hah! That was basically my point too, Dysk =)

And I didn't mean to lecture, but reading back my comment I can see how it completely comes off that way. I apologize.
posted by Kattullus at 4:16 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm actually willing to cut LucVdB and nemspyda and Pope Guilty some slack here. About the Stormfront thing, I don't really read it as saying, "You, [username], are a vicious racist who belongs on Stormfront." In part, here's why -- as I read that thread and this thread, this is what happened:

1. I thought, "Yeah, if your 'beloved adorable sentimental childhood character' (or any character) has an actual racial or skin-color identifier IN THEIR NAME," it's pretty much automatically racist in nature. I mean, does anyone anywhere ever refer to this character as "Piet"?

2. Then that led me to think about similar characters like "Little Black Sambo" and that whole rigamarole, and how, sure, that book and character were "beloved and charming" to me when I was 5, but when I was 16 or 18, they were fucking horrifying, and I couldn't believe my sister actually named her black CAT Sambo (and refused to call him that for the next 16 years) and felt vaguely nauseated when collegiate poverty convinced me to work at Sambo's Restaurant for 2 days in 1981 before it was mercifully closed and I returned to relieved penury.

3. Which led me to Google "sambo's restaurant" to remind myself of the history.

4. And the very first image of a Sambo's Restaurant sign that I clicked landed me in an actual Stormfront thread (that I will not link to, thanks) where someone was waxing nostalgic about Sambo's and the term "sambo" and how race-traitor liberals ruin everything decent people care about. And then in the same thread some other people were copy-pasting lists of the "average IQs" of a bunch of African countries and saying appalling things about Haiti.

So anyhow, it wasn't a great rhetorical tactic for PG to raise the highly-charged spectre of Stormfront, but I think maybe the point was that if you're talking about a given subject and your sentiments start sounding similar to shit people say in a Stormfront thread, that's really not a good sign and may indicate the need for extended reflection on the topic.
posted by FelliniBlank at 4:33 AM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'd just like to note, Sinterklaas is not 'Dutch Christmas'. Sinterklaas is a separate holiday celebrated on (and leading up to) 5 December. Christmas is celebrated on the 25th and 26th.
The relation between the two is mostly that the American Santa was inspired by Sinterklaas.
posted by HFSH at 6:14 AM on November 16, 2012


The relation between the two is mostly that the American Santa was inspired by Sinterklaas.

...and the analogy is about what's important to a kid's mind: packages in Holland at Sinterklaas, in many other countries at Christmas, a little varying between on the 24th (daytime - evening) and 25th (morning).

Dysk: The constant treating of 'Europe' as a cultural monolithic entity, though, and its use in a lot of the reasoning bandied around here, THAT I disagree with.

Thanks. Having (as an European) lived in four different European countries over the past 33 years (which included bringing up my kids from a Dutch wife in the Dutch Sinterklaas tradition in Sweden; at the time quite oblivious about how hurtful the connotations of the custom were, and rather wrapped up in practical matters such as making fake foot- and hoofprints in the snow all over the yard, and dealing with the cold feet that came my way), I am grateful for you to have said this so much better than what I attempted to (and didn't post) yesterday.

It cuts both ways too: my SO blows up every time the Swedish papers publish articles about some place in the US in which claims are being made that "the Americans" do this that and the other. The point is, simply, no matter the sensitivity of the topic, one can't argue like this.
Specific differences in nationality and tradition can be made into a brilliant device of Show and Tell, for letting other people understand just how different the perception of reality can be in other parts of the world (It requires, though, a listening counterpart in order to become fully effective. It requires someone to look and perceive before the judgment help-generator kicks in, not after).
Blanket claims about cultural differences made from a remote site, on the other hand, may whack a discussion with too many variables into a 2-dimensional shape, but they can never ever serve to, in discussion, come closer to solving problems like this one.
posted by Namlit at 7:44 AM on November 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


Are you not ashamed that you're commenting on something, and can't even tell that a figure is wrong by three orders of magnitude?

I am not sure what you want to accomplish with this question, but, in answer to your question, no, I am not ashamed. It was an honest misreading. I have not been to Holland, researched my information, and misread it. When pointed out, I reresearched and reassessed. I am not clear on why I should feel shame about this, or why you would want to shame me in this thread.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:50 AM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't know enough about Holland to know how much visibility the black population has there, and how much the Zwarte Piet is considered problematic in places where the black Dutch populations is more visible.

The Zwarte Piet is considered problematic by those who consider it problematic. Visibility has little if nothing to do with it. In fact, integration in Holland has at least advanced thus far as not to make "visibility" a topic one way or the other, in most parts, for most people.

Just for the entertainment of those who haven't lost faith in real-life examples: When my kids were two and four respectively, we traveled from Sweden to Haarlem, Holland, to celebrate Sinterklaas, for good or worth, with my former wife's family. There was a black man standing in the bus from the airport to the city. My daughter was used to speaking loudly in Dutch in (Swedish) buses, without anyone able to understand. Completely entranced, wrapped up in sweet Holiday with Presents and Magic Events clouds, she exclaimed "Look! There is Zwarte Piet!!" The triggers being, in order, that segregation in Sweden is stronger, percentages different, thus her experience with a "visibility" of the black population non-existent, and she was a kid. We shushed her, and the man laughed, loudly, and gave her thumbs-up.

Which proves nothing one way or the other, but at least it is a true story about Holland, kids, Swarte Pieten, and visibility. It made us talk to our kids about how people are alike, and not to be pointed at, and so the story had a good effect after all...
posted by Namlit at 8:18 AM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


The tradition IS in fact changing. Anyone with school age children watches the Sinterklaas Journaal (warning: Flash). This is as close to "canon" as you get on Sinterklaas. It's the seasonal television program that depicts de Sint and de Pieten on their journey from Spain to Holland and eventually 5 December.

In addition to the main narrative arc, there is always a secondary one. Last year it was about the Pieten getting used to a disabled Piet who turns out to be far more able than them. This year it's a romance between the bumbling (white) postman and the savvy (black) correspondent who's largely unaware (thus far) of his affections. The Journaal each year uses the event to broadcast some kind of positive and progressive theme with humor and kindness. Yes, it's still got the blackface, but as others have pointed out, that too will probably be rainbow-faced soon.

But there's a reason I bring this up in MeTa. With a few exceptions, I am astonished at the level of unexamined ethnocentrism in both threads. The Dutch are not some unthinkingly privileged culture unaware of their own problems or unwilling to address them. Some participants in both threads seem unable to appreciate that the Dutch know about these problems and will solve them eventually in their own way. Which tends to be less HULK SMASH than in the US.

I suppose this is somewhat inevitable given how heavily N American the userbase is. But it might be helpful for the site if people tried to be aware of viewing things from their own cultural lens like we all try to be with gender/sex, race, etc.
posted by digitalprimate at 8:20 AM on November 16, 2012 [8 favorites]


I mean, does anyone anywhere ever refer to this character as "Piet"?

Sure. "Sint & Piet" is very common as is the signoff "Piet".
posted by deo rei at 8:37 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Dutch are not some unthinkingly privileged culture unaware of their own problems or unwilling to address them.

Yes. The civil servants I've been working with are introspective, intelligent and highly aware that they need an external perspective on developing better policies for the developing world. They speak frankly about the challenges and are not only willing to address them but pay for the privilege of being guinea pigs. Hopefully they'll recover from the experience ;p
posted by infini at 8:57 AM on November 16, 2012


I am not clear on why I should feel shame about this, or why you would want to shame me in this thread.

Not to take anything away from your participation in general, which I think does Metafilter proud, but I thought it was a fair (and funny!) jab. If one's understanding is such that it does not allow a distinction between what's plausible and what's utterly beyond belief, then I think there is nothing wrong in feeling a little ashamed for pontificating on the subject with such authority. FWIW, 2009 numbers have it that nearly half of the population of Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, is "foreign", with about 20% of those "black" (as in skin color/features).
posted by deo rei at 9:54 AM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


That said, Geert Wilders has the fourth largest party in Dutch politics. I mean, that's a long way from having the largest party in Dutch politics, but it's worth noting...
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:56 AM on November 16, 2012


But he's not keeping women in binders. (I mean, if we're comparing politicians and their shenanigans) I guess its all a glass houses and stones kind of thing innit?
posted by infini at 10:33 AM on November 16, 2012


This thread has been interesting.

3. Which led me to Google "sambo's restaurant" to remind myself of the history

I did that too, and was going to bring that up before I saw your comment. You should check out the talk page on the Wiki article about the Sambo's chain, and follow the link at the end of the longest post. It's interesting too.

________________________________________________________________________

On Stormfront, the Dutch forum is second only to the UK among the foreign forums. I can't read any of it, but searching for Zwarte Pieten turns up 133 threads. It is conceivable that someone on Stormfront made arguments that sound similar to what LucVdb was saying, and that the Pope got his knickers in a bunch over the similarity, but I do not sense that Luc's intent was the same. Luc didn't want to be a tarred and feathered Mefite.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 11:12 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sure. "Sint & Piet" is very common as is the signoff "Piet".

"Je vroeg een gitaar en een goochelspel. Maar wat denk je wel?!? Ik ben Sint niet! Piet."

. If one's understanding is such that it does not allow a distinction between what's plausible and what's utterly beyond belief, then I think there is nothing wrong in feeling a little ashamed for pontificating on the subject with such authority.

Mwoah. If we expect people to get the statistics of every pissant little country right, before we know it we would actually have to take Belgium seriously, and that's just a step too far.

That said, Geert Wilders has the fourth largest party in Dutch politics.

Down from last time. It looks like Wilders has finally crested, but yeah, his success this past decade is a sympton of the Dutch backlash against anything without clogs, windmills or tulips.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:44 PM on November 16, 2012


This post could have been deleted and reposted without the hyperbole and personal attack, and it would have resulted in a more useful conversation, hopefully without losing members in the process.

This is excellent!
posted by ssg at 12:58 PM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


But he's not keeping women in binders. (I mean, if we're comparing politicians and their shenanigans) I guess its all a glass houses and stones kind of thing innit?

Just to be clear, I believe Mitt Romney's comment was widely misinterpreted here - it should be pretty obvious in hindsights that by "binders" he was using the definition that involves physical restraints - ie, "a person or thing that binds." So technically his statement was accurate, since he was metaphorically attempting to "put women in chains."
posted by wolfdreams01 at 2:16 PM on November 16, 2012


Is repeatedly using my username a way of chastising me, because it sounds condescending.

There you go again. Your username was used twice in two different paragraphs. It wasn't excessive. This is similar to how you said Luc repeatedly stated he wasn't racist, when he only said so once.

Ease up on the hyperbole.
posted by spaltavian at 4:52 AM on November 17, 2012


There you go again.

what

This is similar to how you said Luc repeatedly stated he wasn't racist

I did not say this, and I'm not sure why you would think I did. I didn't even mean to suggest it. I was having a different conversation about a wider topic, as some of my other comments indicate.
posted by OmieWise at 11:07 AM on November 17, 2012


To pull slightly away from the post under discussion and into MeTa Talk proper territory: I'm finding it hard to square this:

"MetaFilter bans more people holding opinion X than opinion Y not because opinion Y is nauseating and the mods want to stamp it out, but because it's a minority opinion on this website and therefore being strident about it will turn a thread into a flamewar. By contrast, being strident about the MeFi-majority opinion will garner friendly cheers and solidarity, which are not a problem to moderate."

with this:

"we've stated that we moderate based on behavior and not on the content of what people say"

Either one would make sense, but I have trouble understanding how both can be true. Certainly the former has seemed more often the case than the latter. But... Is that not the official policy?
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:43 PM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Both aren't true. "... we moderate based on behavior and not on the content of what people say," is true.

People with minority opinions aren't banned more. I'd say it's definitely the opposite, simply because majority = more people, and thus of people who are banned, more will be from the majority.

But there's very little banning that goes on in the way it's being discussed here. The vast majority of people who are banned are kicked for spamming. Of the rest, outside of straight-up trolls, it's usually a case of repeated, specific problematic behavior over time, usually with preceding temp bans and/or notes from mods saying some version of "we need you to not do X anymore." Of that group, a certain number will return under a new account with an agreement to really, really not do X. Sometimes this means they need to stay away from certain topics because they find it difficult or impossible to self-moderate when it comes to that topic.

For us, the question is whether the user behavior is negatively impacting the site and requiring an excess of mod time and intervention just to allow them to continue doing the same thing when they fail or refuse to change that pattern; at some point it becomes Not Worth It from our point of view. We typically spend a long time trying to work with such a user if they are an otherwise valuable, good faith participant on the site, and less time if most of their contribution here is low-value acting-out, snarking, fighting, shitstirring, etc.

But there is never a time when "holds unpopular opinion" is a basis for banning, unless that is accompanied by behavior as described above.
posted by taz (staff) at 1:53 AM on November 18, 2012


On Stormfront, the Dutch forum is second only to the UK among the foreign forums

There's no Afrikaans in there?
posted by MuffinMan at 10:07 AM on November 18, 2012


Either one would make sense, but I have trouble understanding how both can be true.

They're not exactly. Or, rather, what taz says is accurate.

The first comment you quote is by cribcage and is not policy at all, just an observation based on spending a lot of time here. The second is actual policy.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:15 AM on November 18, 2012


There's no Afrikaans in there?

That is odd. There is one, and it is one of the three smallest. The only active thread right now is about "Maybe the White South Africans should come to the USA on tourist visas, and when Obama grants the illegals amnesty, they would become permanent residents of the United States of America."
posted by Mr. Yuck at 11:47 AM on November 18, 2012


But there is never a time when "holds unpopular opinion" is a basis for banning, unless that is accompanied by behavior as described above.

But isn't it more likely that those who are banned will wind up being those with an unpopular opinion, simply by dint of numbers?

For example: Let's take hypothetical User A, and hypothetical User B. For the purposes of example, User A and User B are exactly, precisely the same, in terms of behavior on the site - how often they argue their very strong opinions with anyone who disagrees, and how likely people of their polar opposite opinion are to find their views offensive enough to need challenging.

Hypothetical User A has an opinion that is shared with 5% of Metafilter, neutral to 15%, and disagreed with strongly by 80% of Metafilter.

Hypothetical User B has an opinion that is shared with 80% of Metafilter, neutral to 15%, and disagreed with strongly by 5% of Metafilter.

Let us suppose User A posts something on a thread related to that opinion. There is not only a massively higher probability that someone will disagree, there are also many, many more people who disagree with that opinion - which means that one post has the ability, if Metafilter had 100 users, to have 80 people posting and disagreeing vehemently. This leads to a high moderation load.

Let us suppose User B posts something on a thread related to that opinion. There is a much lower probability that anyone will disagree in the first place - and even if someone does, and posts, at most, out of 100 theoretical Metafilter users, there are a maximum of 5 people who would disagree and post, thus leading to a lower moderation burden.

Thus, even without active bias, it seems likely that there is a higher probability of people being banned for high moderation load also being ones who hold unpopular opinions.
posted by corb at 7:45 PM on November 18, 2012


Again, though, nobody gets banned for unpopular opinions, very few non-spammers get banned at all, and the people who get banned are folks with long-running impulse control problems or the like that transcend ideology.

To put it another way: if User B has an unpopular opinion and a modicum of self-awareness and restraint such that they don't let their desire to (or inability not to) get in argument after argument about their opinion, there's really basically not a problem with User B's behavior. There may be a couple people in the disagreeing-with-them group who have their own problems with engagement, but those are the folks who are going to hear from us with the "cut it out" message.

The problem in part is that we can't in practice dissociate opinion from behavior in a question like this because people do a poor job of dissociating that themselves sometimes, and that's usually where the problem crops up. When there is a problem with someone's behavior and they feel like the problem is just that systemic bias against their minority opinion is to blame, we can explain that, no, the problem is their behavior and they need to cut that out on the face of it but whether they'll acknowledge that or not is a real crapshoot. The fact that there are people on Metafilter who (a) hold relatively unpopular opinions but (b) don't constantly get into protracted exchanges with all comers or other weird dustups somehow gets set aside; the fact that we talk to people who hold relatively popular opinions when they nonetheless get up to problematic behavior likewise somehow gets factored out.

I would like to say that there is some practical path towards perfect and equitable justice for all on Metafilter, that preferences and dispreferences and ideological asymmetry never will lead to edge effects that can be or at least be perceived to be a bummer, but that's hoping for too much. But as much as I take issue with some of the not so great behavior that shows up on the site, I also can't credit what does in some cases come across more as a persecution complex masking sort of crappy discursive impulses, by people all over the various ideological spectra that exist on this site. Our biggest problem is with people failing to display self-moderation and restraint in how they steward their own behavior, on either side of most altercations, not with the specific opinions involved.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:22 PM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


No one does unselfconscious racism combined with casual cultural superiority like a northern European.
posted by spitbull at 2:25 AM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think you mean "no one casually oppresses minorities like Gaston".
posted by elizardbits at 6:19 AM on November 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


No one does unselfconscious racism combined with casual cultural superiority like that northern European

ftfy

(I have met the guy. Remember him clearly. Norwegian or something; a guitar player and school teacher as I recall)
posted by Namlit at 7:50 AM on November 26, 2012


« Older Which has more deleted reposts...  |  After five years the MeFi Mall... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments