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Is the word "Cracker" acceptable on MetaFilter?
January 28, 2013 7:29 PM   Subscribe

Is this comment really going to stand? I've seen way less questionable comments get deleted so I'm a little surprised that it's still around. I have to admit, it is clever, but I think this may set a precedent where you can use any slur as long as you do it in a clever enough manner.
posted by MattMangels to MetaFilter-Related at 7:29 PM (640 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

Blogga, please.
posted by magstheaxe at 7:33 PM on January 28, 2013 [28 favorites]


Speaking as a deep-South cracker, I'm pretty much fine with it. This is not because one member of an ethnic group can speak for all of them, because that's not true, but because the insult lacks the structural power of an slur against a disadvantaged group.

If you're calling it a class-based insult, equivalent to "white trash," then I'll stand aside, because that is uncool. But my understanding is that it is a reference to whiteness alone.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:34 PM on January 28, 2013 [17 favorites]


As a white person I speak for my entire race when I say that was a pretty amusing comment.
posted by Greg Nog at 7:34 PM on January 28, 2013 [111 favorites]


Speaking as a white man, I am willing to bear this burden. Cracker is pretty powerless as a slur, I think.
posted by boo_radley at 7:34 PM on January 28, 2013 [9 favorites]


wikipedia chimes in:

In 2008, former President Bill Clinton used the term "cracker" on Larry King Live to describe white voters he was attempting to win over for Barack Obama: "You know, they think that because of who I am and where my politic[al] base has traditionally been, they may want me to go sort of hustle up what Lawton Chiles used to call the 'cracker vote' there."

If that ain't sufficiently politically correct for metafilter I don't know what is.
posted by bukvich at 7:38 PM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


NB I favourited Greg Nog's comment on behalf of all the indigenous peoples of South America.

Can someone else please take care of it for the jews of the world?
posted by elizardbits at 7:39 PM on January 28, 2013


Speaking as a Caucasian I could kinda give a damn whether you're white or not relative to this particular thread ("Is this word acceptable on MetaFilter?"). And for that matter you're kinda not, here on this website. Unless you have a headshot in your profile, your race in any given thread is basically "username."

I agree that comment should have been deleted. Funny, though.
posted by cribcage at 7:41 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


On the one hand, of course, such slurs are quite obviously offensive and ought not be used. That said, I pointed out that even the mention of “honky” and “cracker” had elicited laughter, and not only from the black students in attendance, but also from other whites. The words are so silly, so juvenile, that they hardly qualify as racial slurs at all, let alone slurs on a par with those that have been historically deployed against people of color.

The lack of symmetry between a word like honky and a slur such as “nigger” was made readily apparent in an old Saturday Night Live skit with Chevy Chase and Richard Pryor, in which Chase and Pryor face one another and trade racial epithets. Chase calls Pryor a “porch monkey.” Pryor responds with “honky.” Chase ups the ante with “jungle bunny.” Pryor, unable to counter with a more vicious slur, responds with “honky, honky.” Chase then trumps all previous slurs with “nigger,” to which Pryor responds, “dead honky.” The line elicits laughs, but also makes clear that when it comes to racial verbiage, people of color are limited in the repertoire of slurs they can use against whites, and even the ones of which they can avail themselves sound more comic than hateful. The impact of hearing anti-black slurs in the skit was of a magnitude unparalleled by hearing Pryor say “honky” over and over.

As a white person, I always saw the terms honky or cracker as proof of how much more potent white racism was than any variation practiced by the black or brown. When a group of people has little or no power over you, they don’t get to define the terms of your existence, they can’t limit your opportunities, and you needn’t worry much about the use of a slur to describe you, since, in all likelihood, the slur is as far as it’s going to go. What are they going to do next: deny you a bank loan? Yeah, right. So whereas “nigger” is a term used by whites to dehumanize blacks, to “put them in their place” if you will, the same cannot be said of honky; after all, you can’t put white people in their place when they own the place to begin with.


Tim Wise - Honky Wanna Cracker? Examining the Myth of “Reverse Racism”
posted by naju at 7:41 PM on January 28, 2013 [114 favorites]


You can use any slur you want, but be careful! The way you use it can get you in trouble.
posted by carsonb at 7:45 PM on January 28, 2013


My wife and I have a rule in our house, and maybe it applies here.

You can say anything you want to me and I will roll with it, but God dammit, it had better be funny.
posted by Toekneesan at 7:45 PM on January 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


Hey, some of us Crackers are Ritz. Can't do that with most other ethnic slurs.
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:46 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


This cracker approves of the comment.
posted by dfriedman at 7:47 PM on January 28, 2013


What about 'whitey'? Is that okay? Not trying to make a point, merely curious. My black friend told me that it was an offensive slur -- this white girl doesn't know.
posted by angrycat at 7:51 PM on January 28, 2013


That Chevy Chase and Richard Pryor sketch was friggen hilarious, even on re-watching years later. And would never get made for television today, which I guess is not a bad thing really.

As to Cracker? Well you know those in the dominate paradigm should by necessity take their marshmallow-ed lumps. Intention is 90% of message and Cracker even in the worst of intentions hardly makes a mark.
posted by edgeways at 7:51 PM on January 28, 2013


I love using the word cracker! I think it's hilarious.
posted by two lights above the sea at 7:52 PM on January 28, 2013


Was well-crafted joke. Classic reversal structure.

The very idea that I (for example) might be offended by it (as a male caucasian -- that's who's ostensibly being slurred here, right?) strikes me as somehow even funnier than the joke itself.

Also, Cracker's Kerosene Hat was a pretty damn good album.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:53 PM on January 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


I do think there's a distinction among slurs as to their severity, and I think that entered into the decision to let this stand. For example, in my own experience, the term 'cracker' doesn't have anything remotely approaching the kind of sting that certain other slurs have (and it's a slur that could be pointed at me).

The comment was flagged only once, which is at least some further support for the idea that people weren't bothered by its use in that comment.

This definitely does not set a precedent that any slur is okay if it's used in a joke.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:54 PM on January 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


Hah! I have titles hidden so I didn't see the poster's question-title until now. I guess it is us white devils that are being slurred. Well, slur away, slurrers! Slur away, I say!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:55 PM on January 28, 2013


This definitely does not set a precedent that any slur is okay if it's used in a joke.

Indeed. We've been pretty clear that there is a short list of never-okay words on MeFi and the rest of them we deal with on a case-by-case basis. If you are saying that you're offended by the word, by all means let us know and we can talk about it. It seems, however, like you're saying that you're offended by the lack of some sort of bad word parity here and we can talk about that if you'd like but the way we've moderated things in the past is that people get away with most bad words here and cracker is unlikely to make the short list.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:01 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


As epithets go, I think it's pretty...

•_•)
( •_•)>⌐■-■
(⌐■_■)

...whitebread.
posted by smoke at 8:13 PM on January 28, 2013 [47 favorites]


I am a professional white, just like the background on which I am reading this thread. I feel, therefore, that I possess the training and experience necessary to state unequivocally that that was a pretty good pun.
posted by decathecting at 8:13 PM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Now this young mister, he don't like sisters.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:14 PM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Man, I'm really tired (since the mid-80s) of people telling other people which words in the language they're allowed to use around them. It's language; it's information. Use the information people provide you with to decide whether you want to listen to them, not to pass rules on behalf of others in an attempt to— what... keep them safe? I don't really think it works that way.
posted by heyho at 8:15 PM on January 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


Yeah, count me as one who was kind of taken aback by that comment and how many favorites it got. On the one hand, I'm a white dude, and it didn't offend me at all. On the other hand, imagine if someone dropped a "nigger" joke in that thread, and it got 50 favorites, and the next comment was "who cares, I'm black and I wasn't offended, what's the big deal?" Would that be seen as adequate justification for letting it stand? I think not, and rightly so.

It's not about who's personally offended, it's about the culture we want to have here. And I dunno, but as I see it, it's a lot simpler to just say "MeFi isn't a place where you get to use racial slurs to make jokes" than it is to hem and haw about who gets to be offended and who doesn't.
posted by teraflop at 8:22 PM on January 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


I can't even keep up with American racism. I reckon let it stand.
posted by pompomtom at 8:26 PM on January 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


On the other hand, imagine if someone dropped a "nigger" joke in that thread, and it got 50 favorites, and the next comment was "who cares, I'm black and I wasn't offended, what's the big deal?" Would that be seen as adequate justification for letting it stand? I think not, and rightly so.

I think, as has already been explained, the comment was left not because a white person said it was OK but because "cracker" in no way, shape, or form approaches the insulting weight of the n-word. It would take a serious victim complex and the biggest blinders to history ever to make that argument.
posted by schroedinger at 8:27 PM on January 28, 2013 [86 favorites]


Once more, with feeling: if you take a situation with huge systemic inequalities which create a tension of some kind, you cannot then just swap players and say 'But what if it were like this?' It isn't. There's no comparison.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:28 PM on January 28, 2013 [47 favorites]


I prefer "cold-ass honky," myself.
posted by desjardins at 8:29 PM on January 28, 2013 [9 favorites]


I agree that cracker does not have the context of systematic oppression that a term such as "nigger" does, so I don't think it's nearly as offensive. I mean, it isn't complimentary in any way, but it doesn't symbolize you or your ancestors being treated as worthless chattel. In fact, for a racial slur meant to reduce you to the nothing more than the color of your skin, it doesn't even reference the color of your skin.

I find the term "whitey" more offensive that the term "cracker" for that very reason.
posted by maryr at 8:29 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I...um...honestly didn't know that cracker was considered a slur. I mean, I'm aware it's a word and all, but I've 1) only ever heard it used by white folks toward white folks, and 2) had no idea there are people who are actually offended by it.
posted by phunniemee at 8:30 PM on January 28, 2013


phunniemee - I tried to look up the etymology (which is either whips or yelling?) just now because all I could think was that it meant someone was salty? Like, what's insulting about a cracker?
posted by maryr at 8:32 PM on January 28, 2013


I was actually called whitey while attending a Juneteenth Day celebration with a handful of black classmates. I was literally one of three white people (that I saw) in a crowd of hundreds. I felt kind of uncomfortable for a bit, but I got to go home and never feel self-conscious about my skin color again.
posted by desjardins at 8:34 PM on January 28, 2013 [13 favorites]


What we're looking at here is how language stops having the pure meaning that it started with, and how people respond to that altered meaning.

"Cracker" started out as a slur, somewhere on the order of "redneck" and "inside-out oreo." So as far as slurs go, it wasn't a very loaded one. It certainly in no way, shape, or form, would compare to the N word. At its worst, it's a socio-economic insult more than a racial insult.

However, it's then used in a context where the "slur" part of it is only relevant because it's a loose synonym, and a pun that almost makes fun of itself. In that sense, it actually loses a lot of its original meaning because it's use has nothing to do with the fact that it's been used as an insult, and only has to do with basic meaning and punny usage.

So yes, taking something that's a mild insult, and using it to make a play on words is not the same as using a slur. It's somewhere on the order of this post on the green that is discussing racial slurs. They words are being used, but there is no context of offense.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:37 PM on January 28, 2013


I like crackers - especially when you take two crackers and make a cracker sandwich with peanut butter and marshmallow Fluff.

I can't see crackers as anything but good.
posted by 26.2 at 8:38 PM on January 28, 2013


It would take a serious victim complex and the biggest blinders to history ever to make that argument.

I specifically said it didn't offend me, so I don't know why you think I feel victimized. And I didn't think I needed to say this explicitly, but just in case: I am in no way trying to imply that anyone here (especially not the mods) is biased against white people, or anything like that.

I completely agree with you that there's a huge difference in weight between the two terms; I just think it's a difference of degree, and not one of category.
posted by teraflop at 8:39 PM on January 28, 2013


I really don't think cracker is offensive, I was just surprised that the comment wasn't deleted when it seems that moderators here are usually quick to delete anything that remotely sounds offensive/a slur.

My understanding of the word itself is that it's using an older, almost extinct definition of the word that means "to brag", e.g. something's not what it's "cracked up" to be. I guess white people in the South had a reputation of being braggers or something.
posted by MattMangels at 8:39 PM on January 28, 2013


phunniemee: "I...um...honestly didn't know that cracker was considered a slur. I mean, I'm aware it's a word and all, but I've 1) only ever heard it used by white folks toward white folks, and 2) had no idea there are people who are actually offended by it."

When I was in Philadelphia as a 6-7 year old, some kids called me a cracker and threw a brick at me. They were Irish American kids in another class. This isn't a joke, it's a real thing that happened and I still puzzle over it, thirty years later.
posted by boo_radley at 8:40 PM on January 28, 2013


"Dead honkey."

I can honestly say that that sketch cured me forever of the illusion of "anti-white slurs are just as bad" and fortunately I saw it when I was in my early teens. So much entitlement and inadvertent rudeness avoided thanks to the brilliance of Richard Pryor and whoever wrote that sketch.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:41 PM on January 28, 2013 [9 favorites]


The sound of the whip.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:41 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


As someone who once played in a band that opened for Cracker, I, uhhhh, what was the question again?
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:47 PM on January 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


I really don't think cracker is offensive, I was just surprised that the comment wasn't deleted when it seems that moderators here are usually quick to delete anything that remotely sounds offensive/a slur.

I for one am glad that they're more thoughtful than that... and I gotta say, this Meta puzzles the hell out of me (as do similar examples of attempts at language policing in the absence of insult or offense).
posted by Wordwoman at 8:54 PM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Hey, you know what? Cracker is not a slur. White people are in no way an oppressed minority in the U.S. and calling white people "crackers" fails to carry any weight because there's no centuries of hate and rejection behind it.
posted by drinkyclown at 9:00 PM on January 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


Jesus, you people.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:02 PM on January 28, 2013 [20 favorites]


whoa whoa, what's this "us"?
posted by boo_radley at 9:06 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


What do you mean, "you people!?"
posted by flatluigi at 9:06 PM on January 28, 2013 [12 favorites]


I thought the comment was funny.
posted by zarq at 9:07 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


'round eye' is an interesting pseudo-slur against white people because it actually rips on the (imaginary) asian people who would use it.
posted by facetious at 9:08 PM on January 28, 2013


It was a clever reversal of the "Polly wants a cracker" joke. Also, Cracker is nowhere near the same league as the N- word in terms of offensiveness.
posted by arcticseal at 9:10 PM on January 28, 2013


What do you mean, "you people!?"

Jesus, you meefs!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:10 PM on January 28, 2013


Who you calling "people"?
posted by gingerbeer at 9:13 PM on January 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


TBH, I found the swipe at Mom in that thread way more off putting than the ridiculous cracker joke. (to clarify, the cracker joke was hilarious)
posted by Space Kitty at 9:17 PM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


soon we will be tumbling
posted by boo_radley at 9:17 PM on January 28, 2013


TBH, I found the swipe at jessamyn in that thread way more off putting than the ridiculous cracker joke.

Seriously! I figured the thread wasn't the place to get into it, especially since jessamyn herself had bowed out, but that was both surprising and really unpleasant. I also find it a bit disingenuous for someone who mentions logic and well-constructed arguments fairly frequently to be unwilling or unable to understand the difference between referencing a specific argument someone has just made and their personality.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:21 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hey, you know what? Cracker is not a slur. White people are in no way an oppressed minority in the U.S. and calling white people "crackers" fails to carry any weight because there's no centuries of hate and rejection behind it.

My sentiments exactly.

Go live under the sharp end of institutional racism for five years or so; see if your complaint survives.

And a tip of the hat to yoink for the humor.
posted by Pudhoho at 9:21 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not saying I completely disagree about jessamyn being bizarre, just that I think it's in a good way. Hell, I've got lots of bizarre friends. I've got family members who are bizarre!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:22 PM on January 28, 2013


At the risk of being contrarian, I almost find it offensive because it's virtually powerless to offend. I dunno if that makes sense. Argh.
posted by windykites at 9:24 PM on January 28, 2013


As someone of 100% saltine ancestry, I am fine with cracker.
posted by zippy at 9:32 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Cracker has none of the sting of other slurs, except when used as a class slur. It wasn't used as a class slur in this case, so I'm fine with it here.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:35 PM on January 28, 2013


Space Kitty: "TBH, I found the swipe at Mom in that thread way more off putting than the ridiculous cracker joke. (to clarify, the cracker joke was hilarious)"

Mrs. Pterodactyl (quoting): "TBH, I found the swipe at jessamyn in that thread way more off putting than the ridiculous cracker joke."

Hey, isn't this that thing? about the editing?
posted by boo_radley at 9:36 PM on January 28, 2013 [13 favorites]


Fitz don't mind.
posted by unliteral at 9:47 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Regardless of just how insulting an ethnic/class slur is, none of them add anything more than anger and resentment to a discussion.
posted by eurypteris at 10:09 PM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


eurypteris: "Regardless of just how insulting an ethnic/class slur is, none of them add anything more than anger and resentment to a discussion."

Except that nobody is angry or resentful about the word "cracker". Even the people who are saying the word should have been eliminated by mods aren't claiming that they're offended, they're just standing up for some other MeFites who they assume must be out there, silently offended.
posted by Bugbread at 10:15 PM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


I am not white. I still think cracker is an unacceptable racial slur, and I was and am offended by its use. I didn't flag it, because I assumed that it had already been flagged and because I didn't think that it would outweigh the amount of people favoriting it. I will go rectify that.

However, reading this whole thread full of "It's cool, it's not a /powerful/ racial slur" kind of made me want to throw up in my mouth.
posted by corb at 10:18 PM on January 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


Well, I said it should have been deleted, I'm not "standing up for" anybody else, and I can speak for myself, thanks.
posted by cribcage at 10:20 PM on January 28, 2013


I'm conflicted. Yoink is a jerk, but I love good word play.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:24 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Even the people who are saying the word should have been eliminated by mods aren't claiming that they're offended, they're just standing up for some other MeFites who they assume must be out there, silently offended.

I, for one, thought I specifically said the opposite. But (and I really mean this honestly, not sarcastically or snarkily) if I didn't do a good job of getting my point across, I'm sorry. This kind of debate is always contentious and the last thing I want to do is add to that.
posted by teraflop at 10:26 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


As the whitest white person on the planet, I speak for the previous white people who themselves claimed to speak for all white people on the planet, but were insufficiently pale imitations next to me, in saying that 'cracker' has exactly negative one billion points of offense and slur power to me and my kind in the year 2013.
posted by zippy at 10:26 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Louis CK: "Ruined mah day!"
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 10:27 PM on January 28, 2013 [13 favorites]


I never heard of cracker used as a slur before this thread. Before, if someone called me a cracker, I'd go 'huh?' Now if someone calls me a cracker I'll think they are trying to slur me.

Thanks Metafilter, thanks a lot.
posted by Kerasia at 10:27 PM on January 28, 2013


I'm glad that there's someone still alive to stand up for the corpses of Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond, whose sensibilities will at last be respected and given fair hearing after a century of being shouted down.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 10:31 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


corb: "I am not white. I still think cracker is an unacceptable racial slur, and I was and am offended by its use...

However, reading this whole thread full of "It's cool, it's not a /powerful/ racial slur" kind of made me want to throw up in my mouth.
"

So you're from one ethnic group, and the fact that another ethnic group is cool with a certain term for themselves makes you throw up in your mouth?

Hasn't this been discussed, like, a million other times, in a million other contexts, where you're supposed to let the group in question speak for themselves, instead of telling them what they're supposed to feel? We've talked about whitesplaining and mansplaining and (I think) heterosplaining, but somehow you're cool with telling a bunch of folks that their experience "makes you want to throw up in your mouth" because you think their experience should conform to your expectations?

Man, we are down the rabbit hole.
posted by Bugbread at 10:32 PM on January 28, 2013 [19 favorites]


I once threw up in a rabbit hole.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:37 PM on January 28, 2013 [33 favorites]


Isn't this a case of Yoink trying to reappropriate the tools of oppression? We can proudly say that yes, we are crackers,or honkeys, ofays, or white devils. We can be anything we want. We are saying, yes, at long last, today is white boy day.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:38 PM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


I once threw up in a rabbit hole.

Alice's adventures in Chunderland?
posted by zippy at 10:39 PM on January 28, 2013 [19 favorites]


So you're from one ethnic group, and the fact that another ethnic group is cool with a certain term for themselves makes you throw up in your mouth?

Have you interviewed every single member of that ethnic group? Did they all tell you it was perfectly cool? And even if they did, could you be sure that your question itself wasn't influencing the response?

Because from here, it doesn't look anything like that. It looks like some representatives of said ethnic group happened to say it was A-OK by them, their feelings really aren't hurt. And maybe that's true. Maybe they are genuinely not offended. But that doesn't make it not a racial slur, and that doesn't make it any less to be challenged.

If I came in here to tell you it was totally cool to use the ethnic slur for my own ethnicity, would you then think it was cool for people to start using it, because I had said it was OK?

I mean, is it really that radical an idea, that maybe, just maybe, racial slurs are unequivocally bad?
posted by corb at 10:41 PM on January 28, 2013


Have you interviewed every single member of that ethnic group?

Is this how this works?
posted by shakespeherian at 10:43 PM on January 28, 2013 [15 favorites]


Well, it's generally only a slur if the accepted norm among members of the race is to consider it so, and what is a slur can become not a slur over time, and what is not a slur can become a slur over time.

So while no one white person can really speak for all people, I think you're going to have to trust that it would take a norm established by people who self-identify as white to say that, in fact, cracker is still, in 2013, a slur. And I'm not seeing anyone who self-identifies as white here arguing to the contrary, much less saying that it's viewed as a norm that it's a slur.
posted by zippy at 10:46 PM on January 28, 2013


EVERYONE USE THIS TO SUPPORT THEIR OWN THESIS
posted by shakespeherian at 10:47 PM on January 28, 2013 [9 favorites]


shakespeherian, you magnificent bastard (not intended as a slur against any actual bastards).
posted by zippy at 10:49 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


corb: "If I came in here to tell you it was totally cool to use the ethnic slur for my own ethnicity, would you then think it was cool for people to start using it, because I had said it was OK?"

If you and a bunch of other people of your ethnicity said "we're cool with that term, it isn't offensive", and then some white guy came in and said "That makes me throw up in my mouth"...we'd have one hell of a MeTa on our hands.
posted by Bugbread at 10:49 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


corb, I feel like you are confusing metafilter with the world at large.
posted by boo_radley at 10:50 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


So cribcage and corb, which of you were the one person who flagged it?
posted by jacalata at 10:50 PM on January 28, 2013


If I came in here to tell you it was totally cool to use the ethnic slur for my own ethnicity, would you then think it was cool for people to start using it, because I had said it was OK?

I kinda feel you missed a key distinction here: I would feel comfortable, henceforth, using it with you, which I think is what people are saying, here.

I don't see a lot of white people saying it offends them - I do see a lot of white people saying they don't mind and feel free to use it around them.
posted by smoke at 10:51 PM on January 28, 2013


(not intended as a slur against any actual bastards)

I'm putting this on my business cards.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:51 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I thought the mods' response was pretty reasonable. "This word isn't on our short list, and nobody objected until now." Well...okay then. I think the comment should have been deleted but that's a fair explanation of why it wasn't. But the drumbeat in this thread implying, and now outright stating that a slur can earn a pass just so long as one or more members of the target group are willing to vouch for it...boy, that idea is a lot more offensive than a particular word.

So while no one white person can really speak for all people...

You're going to have to tell that to a few people in this thread because there seems to be some confusion on that point. And yes, in my personal experience it is indeed "norm" to regard the word as a slur.
posted by cribcage at 10:51 PM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


corb: "Have you interviewed every single member of that ethnic group? Did they all tell you it was perfectly cool?"

And, wait, what? So if some black guy, or white woman, or transgendered Hispanic comes in and gives their opinion on their own race/gender, as a white cis male I can ignore it and say it "makes me throw up in my mouth", because their opinion doesn't count until they've interviewed every other black guy, white woman, or transgendered Hispanic?
posted by Bugbread at 10:52 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


So I was thinking just the other day that, really, MetaTalk was dull, dull, dull these days and what the site needed was some good old flamewar about some dumb, inconsequential shit.

Bonus points if it can get a certain kind of white dude to feel all oppressed for a change; grud knows how jealous we can get about that shit.

If it means you have to pretend that somehow cracker is equivalent to the n-word, that politicians are just as careful in avoiding asking for Ritz crackers as they are about describing a small amount as niggardly, that there's this intense fascination for and loathing of this word and this is drenched all through our popular culture, when in reality it just sounds like something from a mid-seventies race relations sitcom, well, it's a small price to pay to get your outrage on.

FFS the original joke not only was clever, it made sense in context, as the discussion it was a riff on was about entitle white men wanting their bit on the side/open marriage in the name of polyamory, with the assumption that their partners would have to adapt to them, rather than the other way around.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:54 PM on January 28, 2013 [27 favorites]


But the drumbeat in this thread implying, and now outright stating that a slur can earn a pass just so long as one or more members of the target group are willing to vouch for it...boy, that idea is a lot more offensive than a particular word.

I dunno, I don't think there's so many people doing that, as responding in a kind of straw-poll fashion to say, "well, I don't find it offensive, and certainly don't feel it has the cultural baggage of the n-word" - which I think is pretty irrefutable.
posted by smoke at 10:54 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Since the original concern voiced at the top of this page is that this particular usage will 'set a precedent where you can use any slur as long as you do it in a clever enough manner,' and everyone seems to have agreed that that isn't a concern....

Have you ever gotten really far into a sentence and realized you have no idea how to end it?
posted by shakespeherian at 10:55 PM on January 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


Using "cracker" is kind of like one of those celebrity "roasts" where you take someone rich and successful and make fun of them for an hour and they end up looking better at the end for being "able to make fun of themselves" and "take a joke". So I'm pretty unimpressed by its use in jokes, as it's the type of faux-edgy that just reinforces the status quo.
posted by Pyry at 10:55 PM on January 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


Dear Metafilter, thank you for letting me realize I am capable of feeling, for a fleeting instant, offended that someone might be offended that my group might be offended. This is the most meta gift of all.
posted by zippy at 10:58 PM on January 28, 2013 [21 favorites]


But the drumbeat in this thread implying, and now outright stating that a slur can earn a pass just so long as one or more members of the target group are willing to vouch for it...boy, that idea is a lot more offensive than a particular word.

Is actually not what's happening here and you're not stupid enough to believe that. Just because few people really think cracker is an ethnic slur, rather than a somewhat old timey insult, doesn't mean people here want to shout "noogie, noogie" if only they could find a couple of Black dudes to okay it for them.

Context matters. So do the particulars of the words in question. Cracker just isn't the equivalent of real racial slurs: it can't be in a society in which the white men have always had the whip hand.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:02 PM on January 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


And, wait, what? So if some black guy, or white woman, or transgendered Hispanic comes in and gives their opinion on their own race/gender, as a white cis male I can ignore it and say it "makes me throw up in my mouth", because their opinion doesn't count until they've interviewed every other black guy, white woman, or transgendered Hispanic?

What I am essentially trying to say is that there is, or should be, a higher bar for people saying something potentially offensive, than on validating someone's experiences.

So if someone comes in and says, "I feel this way about my race/gender", then no, I would hope you wouldn't be harsh to them, and would take their feelings and experiences seriously. But if someone came in and said, "You can totally say terrible things/use negative words against my race/gender" then yes, I would hope you would not take them up on it, because they may, in fact, not be right, and it may not be cool for everyone, and I think it's better to err on the side of not saying racial slurs than on the side of saying them for a funny ha-ha.

I kinda feel you missed a key distinction here: I would feel comfortable, henceforth, using it with you, which I think is what people are saying, here.

This does make sense, except it doesn't feel like people are saying "Use it with me," they're saying "Use it with everyone" and "It's not a big deal." Which are things I'm not comfortable associating with racial slurs.
posted by corb at 11:02 PM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


zippy: "Dear Metafilter, thank you for letting me realize I am capable of feeling, for a fleeting instant, offended that someone might be offended that my group might be offended. This is the most meta gift of all."

I would also like to thank MetaFilter for giving me an opportunity to feel offended that someone is offended that I'm not offended. I think this is a first.
posted by Bugbread at 11:03 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


noogie, noogie

Serious question: Is this a thing or are you just substituting an innocuous word, here?
posted by shakespeherian at 11:04 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


To me Cracker is one of those bazillions of Scottish micro-insults that only offends people of particular religion, ancestry, hair color, school district, with a certain preferred breakfast cereal and football team, not to mention a personal connection to the insult giver. So the question I immediately had wasn't Is it offensive? but rather How do we know it applies?
posted by fshgrl at 11:04 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have heard cracker used as a slur- but only by white people when talking about extremely poor white people who are dubious in some way, like they sell lumber stolen from construction sites off the back of their pickup or they have multiple children they've offloaded to their aging parents to raise while they do drugs and get tattoos. The white people using the slur are usually just as poor but are not (perceived to be) criminal or shiftless. It's a 'washing my hands of you in disgust' kind of epithet with strong, strong contempt underlying it. Calling someone a cracker is a thing that evokes a pretty strong response in some poor white people in the southern US in my experience.

But it is nothing like other racially-based slurs in weight or malice. No one goes out with a two-by-four looking for crackers to bash. No one burns crosses on their lawns until they sell their house and leave the area. There are few openly displayed adult hostilities to children who are in familes associated with that label. In a weird way, calling someone a cracker, in my experience of it, is an expression of in-group disapproval, which is totally different than calling someone a slur that can never apply to you.

I'm conflicted on whether or not we should use it as a collective, because while I certainly don't feel any great wound if I'm called a cracker, I also don't know that using racially-based slurs is a grand plan.
posted by winna at 11:07 PM on January 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


you're not stupid enough to believe that.

You know, you can make snide personal remarks or you can look down your nose at the thread as a "flamewar about some dumb, inconsequential shit," but I'm not 100 percent sure you can do both.
posted by cribcage at 11:07 PM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Confession time: At some point in this thread I got confused about which positions Bugbread and cribcage hold, respectively, I think because both their names are alliterative.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:10 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Serious question: Is this a thing or are you just substituting an innocuous word, here?

It's a thing from one of the best mainstream superhero comics you've never heard off:, Quantum and Woody, written by Christopher "Jim Owsley" Priest and drawn by M. D. "Doc" Bright. Basically a buddy comedy starring two childhood friends, an uptight Black man born to wealth and a slacker white dude, it was brilliant on race and how it intersects with friendship and everyday life.

Of course, at one point the n-word comes up and how it's used and well, you can't really talk about how it's used without using it but for some reason a mainstream comics publisher isn't really all that happy to have it plastered over its comics, so noogie was used instead.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:12 PM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm familiar with the use of 'cracker' that winna's talking about, but I read the linked comment as talking about the other use of cracker, "white person," where the one winna cites is a soclal putdown equivalent to "white trash" (i.e, poor, low-status white person).
posted by zippy at 11:13 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I appreciate you, MartinWisse.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:17 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bonus points if it can get a certain kind of white dude to feel all oppressed for a change

MartinWisse, unless I badly misread your comment and you actually think we need more flamewars, you really aren't helping matters by tossing out this kind of assumption of bad faith.
posted by teraflop at 11:18 PM on January 28, 2013


I'm familiar with the use of 'cracker' that winna's talking about, but I read the linked comment as talking about the other use of cracker, "white person," where the one winna cites is a soclal putdown equivalent to "white trash" (i.e, poor, low-status white person).

Yeah, I was more responding to the people in this thread who said they'd never heard cracker used as a slur. I think that the fact that I've only ever heard it used as a type of social shaming tool by people in the same group affects how it interacts with the overall idea of the word as a racial slur, which I think does play into the discussion about whether or not it's completely unacceptable or just deprecated.
posted by winna at 11:20 PM on January 28, 2013


I have a pea under my cracker.
posted by y2karl at 11:55 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was so amused by that comment that I had to explain the context for it over IM to my partner and then send it to him, along with all the other hilarious comments in that thread. We've been giggling it all night. As an added bonus, we went to Trader Joe's today, so we giggled over it while carrying actual crackers, and then while eating actual crackers.

They were delicious.
posted by NoraReed at 12:01 AM on January 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


If you're white and you don’t admit that it’s great, you’re an asshole! It is great... and I’m a man! How many advantages can one person have? I’m a white man! You can’t even hurt my feelings!

What can you really call a white man that really digs deep?

"Hey, cracker!"

"Ugh, ruined m'day. Boy, shouldn't have called me a cracker! Bringing me back to... owning land and people! What a drag..."

posted by Rhaomi at 12:03 AM on January 29, 2013 [12 favorites]


I should clarify that "this may set a precedent where you can use any slur as long as you do it in a clever enough manner" is not really my biggest concern; honestly I'm not offended by people using the word 'cracker' and I'm not going to claim that it's equivalent to "nigger", but I am concerned about the insinuation that "it's okay to insult white people, because, duh, they're white". If you want to know where I'm coming from read this comment. Its focus is on privilege related to gender but I believe the poster's points equally apply to discussions of race.
posted by MattMangels at 12:05 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


So I'm not a scholar on this subject, but I've spent a lot of time thinking about it, so here are my thoughts:

The word "nigger," when it is used by whites today at all, is used primarily by the lowest economic class of white Americans. This is important. It is a word that means, essentially, "no matter what state or class I, a white person, am in, I will always at least be superior to you, a black person." This is part of what makes the word so vile and why it continues on at all. It is the last, angry, vicious crutch of white privilege in those communities where it would otherwise matter least.

It is a word which robs its listener of humanity by reducing them to their color and simultaneously telling them that their color makes them "less than." The fact that it is used only really by the lowest-of-the-low of whites (because what use or need or want does even the most racist rich white man have for it?) only amplifies its power. Chris Rock once joked about how even the one-legged white busboy wouldn't trade places with him, and this word, "nigger," is the white expression of that concept, spat in the faces of black Americans.

It gets its power from centuries of oppression and fear and hatred and exploitation and a ruling class which, even if only subliminally, refused and refuses to let this one group truly assimilate into the melting pot.

"Cracker," meanwhile, gets any of its virtually non-existant power from pissed-off whites desirous of a slur of their own to get worked up about so that everything can be equal.

So no. I have no problem with the comment. No problem at all.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:05 AM on January 29, 2013 [30 favorites]


I thought The comment was a really really good pun. But here in Canada, crackers are for cheese.

Triscut, anyone?
posted by salishsea at 12:22 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Cracker," meanwhile, gets any of its virtually non-existant power from pissed-off whites desirous of a slur of their own to get worked up about so that everything can be equal.

This is the answer, we can close the thread now.
posted by empath at 12:25 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Slur is a funny word. Slur slur slur. Heh. It sounds like it means a specific kind of mud.

Hey wait, it kind of does!
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:27 AM on January 29, 2013


"I think, as has already been explained, the comment was left not because a white person said it was OK but because "cracker" in no way, shape, or form approaches the insulting weight of the n-word. It would take a serious victim complex and the biggest blinders to history ever to make that argument."

I misread that last bit as 'binders' and thought, "Hey! Leave the women out of this!"
posted by iamkimiam at 12:27 AM on January 29, 2013


So no. I have no problem with the comment. No problem at all.

With all due respect, this is typical liberal apologist MetaFilter double-standard bullshit, but honestly, I don't have the energy to read this thread, and I don't have time to appreciate the original joke "in it's context," much less mount a defense of my opinion in MeTa. And then cry myself to sleep because nobody agrees with me. I don't have so much of a problem with the words "cracker" or "redneck," I just have problems with people who try to tell me it's more okay than the word "nigger."

I'm known to be wrong. But still, this irks me on a deep level, and I have a little time on my hands if anybody wants to fuck with me.
posted by phaedon at 12:28 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Meh, I'm black but to me, a slur is a slur. I don't like hearing the word "cracker" because it just reminds me of other (less pleasant-sounding, I guess) racially-charged words out there and I've never heard anyone use the word "cracker" who wasn't using it in conjunction with (insert black stereotype here) so it's a prickly word for me.
posted by Autumn at 12:34 AM on January 29, 2013 [14 favorites]


Egads, we're really going to let that comment stay, with all of it's implicit assumptions and unanswered questions?

I sat there staring at it forever, trying to figure out the author's intent. Obviously, as others have mentioned, context is important. But is there enough here?

I'm still not sure.

I mean, the latent structure is just screaming for an analysis.

Does the author mean the guy is cute in comparison to other white white tall hetero males, or does cute apply to the noun male?

And what about the girls? On first read it seems she's pretty and short-term. But could short be an adjective? Does Cracker want only short girls?

This ambiguity can not stand.
posted by formless at 12:38 AM on January 29, 2013


phaedon: " I don't have so much of a problem with the words "cracker" or "redneck," I just have problems with people who try to tell me it's more okay than the word "nigger." "

Wait...when you say you have a problem with people who say "cracker" is more okay than "nigger", I take it you mean you think they're equivalent? (and not that, for example, you agree that cracker isn't as bad as nigger, but you just don't like other people telling you what you already believe).

So, if you think "cracker" and "nigger" are equally bad, but you don't have a problem with the word "cracker", then doesn't that mean that you don't have a problem with the word "nigger"? A = C, B = C, ∴ A = B?

I'm pretty sure that's not what you believe, but it is what you've accidentally said, and I'm not really sure what you meant to say.
posted by Bugbread at 12:39 AM on January 29, 2013


And what about the girls?

They're OK. Just as long as they don't sell clock radios.
posted by y2karl at 12:40 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that's not what you believe, but it is what you've accidentally said, and I'm not really sure what you meant to say.

I'm pretty sure that what he said is that he wants to be able to call people niggers.
posted by empath at 12:40 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


So, if you think "cracker" and "nigger" are equally bad, but you don't have a problem with the word "cracker", then doesn't that mean that you don't have a problem with the word "nigger"? A = C, B = C, ∴ A = B?

I'm actually chomping at the bit to relate to you a personal story that defends just this point, but I honestly don't want to go down in a ball of flames.

So let me say in an abstract way, I'm okay with words being words. Use the N word, I don't give a shit. Just don't try to tell me one insult is not as insulting as the other insult, simply because you say so and there is "socioeconomic context." It's called etiquette. It's called being polite. So please, spare me the hyper-intellectualized defense. It's impolite and extremely rude to address people with a slur that mocks their skin color, in a context in which you are intending to hurt someone's feelings. I'm not saying that the original poster of this comment was trying to do that.

But at the same time, you're letting "cracker" slide where as if we were making watermelon jokes, everyone would be freaking out. And the double-standard here is that, as long as no one freaks out and the comment is sufficiently clever, calling someone a "cracker" seems completely within the normative parameters of this website. And it's fucking obscene. But we don't want to rock the boat, now do we. And that's just my personal opinion, I'm not dictating policy.
posted by phaedon at 12:48 AM on January 29, 2013


you're letting "cracker" slide where as if we were making watermelon jokes, everyone would be freaking out

"Surprisingly, transposing asymmetric parties in an interaction does not transpose their asymmetry, as one might imagine." - posted by ead at 0:16 on October 24, 2012
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:55 AM on January 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm afraid I'm too stupid to understand what that quote is supposed to mean. Go ahead, please call me names.
posted by phaedon at 1:04 AM on January 29, 2013


phaedon: "But at the same time, you're letting "cracker" slide where as if we were making watermelon jokes, everyone would be freaking out. And the double-standard here is that, as long as no one freaks out and the comment is sufficiently clever, calling someone a "cracker" seems completely within the normative parameters of this website. And it's fucking obscene. But we don't want to rock the boat, now do we."

I don't like watermelon jokes because they offend blacks. I'm not offended by "cracker", and I'm white, so I'm cool with cracker jokes. If most whites were offended, I'd just call myself the odd man out, and call it a day. But apparently a lot of white people are unoffended.

I consider the rule to be "Don't use term A about group B if group B finds it offensive". "Nigger" is verboten by that rule, and "cracker", apparently, is perfectly cromulent by that rule. That's not a double-standard, that's a single standard.

You, apparently, consider the rule to be "Don't use term A if it's a slur against group B". Given that rule, yes, it's a double-standard.

But to accuse other people of using a double-standard, and of keeping silent out of a desire to "not rock the boat", is assuming that everybody is using the same standard as you. I don't really see a lot of evidence for that assumption.

But I've been warned against speaking for others, so I will just say that, for me, the single standard I'm using forbids "nigger" and allows "cracker".
posted by Bugbread at 1:06 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well Bugbread, I appreciate the civil response. I'm not one to follow the group, if I think a certain idea to be true, or in this case, wrong, then I don't follow the group. The double-standard is created merely by the fact that more people than not get a good chuckle out of jokes that used the word "cracker" as an operator. This site has time and time again shown itself to side with the majority when it comes to moral judgments. I actually think that over time that has proven to be a good modus operandi, and choose not to attack it, therefore if I'm filing a claim with anyone, it is with this silly white-guilt culture that runs rampant.

If the final stop of the civil rights bus is at the "it's perfectly justifiable to slur white people, but not oppressed minorities" station, well then fuck that bus. Jesus Christ, I know who I'm talking to. For the most part you guys represent the beating heart of the liberal ideology that seeks equality in all things. And somehow you have ended up at "using the word redneck is okay because they are white" == "can't use the N word though because they're black". As if that is how things should be, in equilibrium.

Whereas the proper equilibrium ought to be, either don't use those types of words at all, or go fuck yourself with your double-standard politically correct culling of the English language and let people say whatever they want to.
posted by phaedon at 1:18 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


you're letting "cracker" slide where as if we were making watermelon jokes, everyone would be freaking out.

It's like how we let people talk about sex, but rape jokes aren't ok. What a horrific double standard, all words about sex should be treated the same!
posted by jacalata at 1:21 AM on January 29, 2013 [15 favorites]


What a truly petty attempt to be funny.
posted by phaedon at 1:24 AM on January 29, 2013


phaedon, for someone that professes to be very concerned with civility and respect, you sure seem awful comfortable painting the members of this site with an incredibly broad brush in regards to how they feel, what they think, and why they think it.
posted by smoke at 1:25 AM on January 29, 2013 [14 favorites]


Look, I think it's great that we're talking about how Metafilter deals with race and language, but there's no reason to tell anyone to go fuck themselves.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 1:28 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well I'll end my night with an apology then. Sorry for telling everyone to go eff themselves. Hats off to those who tried.
posted by phaedon at 1:33 AM on January 29, 2013


With all due respect, this is typical liberal apologist MetaFilter double-standard bullshit

This sets a very low bar for the amount of respect considered to be due. Which kind of gives you nowhere to go except "sweary flameout".
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:40 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Whereas the proper equilibrium ought to be, either don't use those types of words at all

Sorry, they're just not in the same category. "Cracker" is about as offensive as "blondie", I don't care how many times you call it a slur.
posted by empath at 1:41 AM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not trying to be funny, but I can see how someone with such peculiar ideas about language as you have might constantly misunderstand people.
posted by jacalata at 1:50 AM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


phaedon: "If the final stop of the civil rights bus is at the "it's perfectly justifiable to slur white people, but not oppressed minorities" station, well then fuck that bus."

I understand where you're coming from, and there are people who are making that argument (whites are privileged, so fuck 'em!).

However, keep in mind that the number of people making that argument is pretty small. It may seem like a lot, because that argument is so damn infuriating.

However, from what I can see most folks aren't saying "it's ok to insult white people because they're privileged", but "cracker just doesn't have much sting, because of history, while nigger has a ton more sting, because of history, so it's ok to use cracker precisely because it doesn't insult people". If there were a lot of people who found cracker personally offensive, the argument would change for that group, and it would be more obvious how small the "whites are privileged, so fuck 'em" group is.
posted by Bugbread at 1:52 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


People, pleeaaasse stop using that word






...without the proper modifiers.

It's pronounced: "cracker-ass cracker".
posted by P.o.B. at 2:05 AM on January 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


What bugbread said. I'm not coming at this from the point of view of "it's ok to insult white people," I'm coming at it from the place that "cracker" has no insult value when used to mean "white person," and so does not come across as a slur (a parody of a slur, yes, but not a slur).
posted by zippy at 2:06 AM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


I... don't think I would go so far as to say it is not a slur.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:27 AM on January 29, 2013


Really, I'm much more interested in the "any insult is exactly as insulting as any other insult" aspect. Because I can't even put myself in the frame of mind to make that work.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:55 AM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not trying to be funny, but I can see how someone with such peculiar ideas about language as you have might constantly misunderstand people.

I'm going to give your set of comments one response and afterwards ignore you completely. After all, I really have a thing for picking boogers. Your parroting of my distinction - equating calling white people crackers to just "talking about sex" and then equating calling black people niggers to "rape jokes" - is mind-boggingly stupid. I'm really sorry, passive-aggressive analogies are not your gift. At least mock me with a modicum of accuracy. Moving on.

Bugbread, I see your point. I wouldn't argue that "cracker" has the same weight the word "nigger," historically; you're completely right. But frankly, I'm less comfortable with moving targets like this, and would rather people just avoid racially charged language altogether, if that's what they have a problem with. A lot of people have come from the point of view that it's okay to insult white people. And I quote:

Mocking the powerful is comedy. Mocking the oppressed is oppression.

So where does this "white" tolerance come from? Guilt? Power? We can afford to laugh at ourselves? Fine, whatever. A cultural peculiarity at best. It's just so bizarre to see people shape what is acceptable and what is not, not because they hold some normative human value to be true, but via some kind of crude post-oppression cost benefit analysis. You essentially agree to continue to treat different people differently; for some reason this is completely self-evident logic to everyone but me. I loathe seeing otherwise smart people bend over backwards to defend this twisted, admittedly low-wattage form of discrimination.
posted by phaedon at 3:00 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ontopic, I didn't initially think the joke was funny, because it didn't tally with the way I understand "cracker" - which is a description of a member of the white rural poor in the South.

But then, during this discussion, I remembered its use in this Doctor Doom/Gallagher mashup, to describe Sue and Johnny Storm, who are wealthy Long Islanders. Which made me think that it may have a usage beyond my understanding of it. I also noted that none of the audience seemed to be shocked or offended by the use of the term, however.

In fact, I'd suspect that the only way one could use the term to offend with any expectation of success would be if you were very clearly using it as a pejorative against poor white people - see also "white trash" and, in Britain, "chav". It's just too diffuse to pin on white people as a whole.

As has been pointed out, it's hard to insult white Americans just on the grounds of their whiteness, because there isn't a long history of white people being treated as inferior or being enslaved because of that whiteness. Poor white Americans, much easier, because poor people have been getting it in the neck for a long time. Gay white Americans, absolutely. White women - again, you have a range of options.

So, it seems like the number of people who will be sincerely hurt by the appearance of the word "cracker" to describe a "cute, white, tall, rich, hetero male" is going to be small - which seems to be the takeout from this discussion. And, although that offence may be sincere, it's hard to legislate for.

We actually have an example in-thread of a comparable situation. Wolfdreams01 has an idiosyncratic self-perception as a kind of ethical calculating device. Because of this, he feels that criticising the quality of his ethical calculations is equivalent to homophobia.
Consider this - would it be acceptable to insult the gay lifestyle simply because one was not directing their insult directly at a specific gay man? I recognize that my mathematically-oriented lifestyle is far more unconventional and rare than simply being gay, but I don't believe that excuses Jessamyn's blatant intolerance, even if she is a popular mod here.
This is a useful comparison. Gay men and lesbians experience intolerance of their quote-unquote lifestyle in a range of ways running from jokes at their expense through to career discrimination, lack of marriage equality and, ultimately, being killed. And these forms of intolerance have a long history.

People who believe themselves to be computers do not experience systemic discrimination in the same way - and, since in my experience they are generally youngish straightish white men with graduate degrees, often do not experience much in the way of systemic discrimination elsewhere either. So, comparing intolerance suffered by one group (by a perceived slight on a message board) with intolerance suffered by another group (over centuries of disenfranchisement and murder) is a difficult play to make.

Likewise, I think, the people drawing n=p equivalencies between "cracker" (especially when applied to a hypothetical cute, rich, white, tall, heterosexual man) and terms of racial abuse which have been directed at black people for centuries, and are inextricably connected to a long history of black people in America being treated as less than fully human by society and the law, are fundamentally misunderstanding the way the world actually works.

I would suspect further that they have almost certainly not attempted any scientific trials of usage outside the theoretical space, and that although in absolute terms that is inarguably a good thing, it does weaken the validity of their findings.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:01 AM on January 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


I like to think of it like - remember when you were a kid and inevitably at some point you had a fit, most likely because of a sibling, and you decried "That's not fair!" And your exasperated parent responded "Yeah, well, life's not fair"? Then you grew up and found out THAT WAS TRUE!?

Words are like that; not fair.
posted by P.o.B. at 3:20 AM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


You essentially agree to continue to treat different people differently; for some reason this is completely self-evident to everyone but me.

Not to be snarky, but you may want to re-examine your core assumptions when you're in a situation where almost everybody else has reached a different conclusion from yourself. Is it likely that you alone are right and everybody else is wrong?
posted by MartinWisse at 3:22 AM on January 29, 2013 [8 favorites]


We traveled all the way back through time....to call you a cracker.
posted by angrycat at 3:27 AM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


I would describe the situation I'm in as a particularly off-base liberal fart bubble. It doesn't map out at all to my reality. So no, MartinWisse, on this one I won't be re-examining my core assumptions, whatever those are supposed to be. No political or moral leader I am aware of justifies the use of racial slurs, no matter what the context. The social asymmetry between whites and blacks does not in and of itself justify anything. To me it makes sense to censor racial epithets across the board, if censoring racial epithets is part of your deal. So I won't be looking to MetaFilter to teach me the rules of civility. Goodnight!
posted by phaedon at 3:51 AM on January 29, 2013


Well, I think we've all learned something about liberal fart bubbles today.
posted by Greg Nog at 3:53 AM on January 29, 2013 [20 favorites]


They are impossible to pop, that's for sure.
posted by phaedon at 3:55 AM on January 29, 2013


Isn't cracker mostly used to denigrate poor whites from the Southern U.S.? If so, maybe all the people chiming in to say they aren't personally offended don't mean all that much. After all, it is easy to not be offended when the slur in question isn't usually used against you and folks like you.
posted by Area Man at 4:07 AM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've never even heard the term Cracker used in a derogatory sense. Here in the UK, if I was called a cracker, I'd be - as we say - well chuffed like.
posted by greenish at 4:26 AM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Isn't cracker mostly used to denigrate poor whites from the Southern U.S.? If so, maybe all the people chiming in to say they aren't personally offended don't mean all that much. After all, it is easy to not be offended when the slur in question isn't usually used against you and folks like you.

It isn't being used towards that group in the original thread, however, which complicates the question. It's probably worth looking at the original link and the discussion here...
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:50 AM on January 29, 2013


I think our pal Greg Nog had the final word on this some time ago:

IF YR EVER ALONE IN THE WOODS AT NIGHT JUST WHISPER "IS IT RACIST TO-" AND A BUNCH OF WHITE PEOPL WILL FLOCK OUT OF TH TREES 2 GIVE OPINIONS

Alternately, we could just ask "Yo, is this racist."

Alternately, you could recognize that wordplay which pokes fun at a privileged class doesn't rise to the level of racism by any reasonable standard.

This place is getting more and more like reddit every day.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 4:54 AM on January 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


No political or moral leader I am aware of justifies the use of racial slurs, no matter what the context.

Frankly, I'm thrilled to find a comment where BUT HITLER is actually the correct answer.
posted by dubold at 5:00 AM on January 29, 2013 [16 favorites]


It was a joke, a pun, a play on words. Poly wants a fartface doesn't work.
posted by h00py at 5:01 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whoa, to me "cracker" really has ugly class connotations. (Just checked here to make sure I wasn't dreaming this up.) If asked outside of the context of this thread, I would have said it's one of those last slurs remaining that we are still sort of allowed to use, but that doesn't make it wise to use it, and in the current economic situation, we should be even more conscious of how we perpetuate class divides.

After reading this thread, I can accept that people use the term without thinking of class, but it would never have occurred to me until today. The fact that that that joke feels incredibly random and almost completely verbal also makes it-- I don't know. Ambiguous.
posted by BibiRose at 5:46 AM on January 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


frankly, I'm less comfortable with moving targets like this, and would rather people just avoid racially charged language altogether, if that's what they have a problem with.

Personally I'm not totally comfortable with it either. Practically speaking we have a site to run and part of the self-policing aspect is that we let people point out to us when there are problems. I think there are two metaconcerns with this comment outside of the content of the words.

- how many flags it got (almost none)
- how many favorites it got (a lot)

Which I think is exacerbating the issue of whether the word is a bad enough word to have the comment deleted from MetaFilter. And our calculus for this is different than my personal moral calculus for what I'd do. Here we almost never delete stuff. Rape jokes, n word, c word, people who insult other people by calling them a tranny. In all of these cases people from the community have spoken up in droves saying they find those words significantly hurtful enough that they felt we should make an exception to our "light moderation" policy for them. And this is of course an open question of what should be on that list. Other words that have been discussed but basically didn't make the list were mouth-breather, gypsy, spaz (I don't think people tend to use that here anymore), dick (and other lightly gendered pejorative terms) I'm not sure what else.

So people who'd like to complain that we treat some bad words differently from others are absolutely correct, we do. We have a set of guidelines that we use to determine what to do in situations we haven't already discussed where we think about things like

- the intent of the statement (which is amusing considering the FPPs title)
- the person making the statement (known button pusher? trouble in the past trying to push boundaries or needle other users)
- the heat of the thread (people mad? not mad? amused?)
- the larger social context (this a thing that has been in the news lately?)
- the reaction from the community (flags? usually not favorites)

And this didn't hit our level of "yeah we should axe that" especially considering the other larger issues that thread was having. So I'm not saying I think we have the perfect moderation situation here, but I do think it was more or less consistent with how we generally do things here. If that needs investigating, if people really want us to consider deleting more stuff, we'd have to have a conversation about what that would look like and I'm not sure it's that simple to come up with something that still seems fair and workable that doesn't change the way this place works.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:48 AM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Poly wants a fartface doesn't work.

It has a definite appeal to a certain demographic I am sure.
posted by elizardbits at 5:49 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Crackers are Southern whites.
posted by jgirl at 5:49 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'll dissent ever so slightly from the prevailing opinion here. I did think the joke was funny because it was an amusing reversal, and I generally find that funny. I think there's no reason why the comment shouldn't stand.

That said, I think the word cracker is more problematic than a lot of people here are giving it credit for. It's not a pejorative for white, it's a pejorative for poor whites. Calling it a pejorative for a privileged class or making fun of the powerful ignores that. Poor people, even poor white people, aren't a privileged class if you're making fun of them for their poverty. The pejorative usage of cracker wasn't originally by black people making fun of white people; it was by rich white people making of poor white people (upper class plantation owners making fun of poor Scots-Irish originally)

The actual pejorative usage of it is mostly in the past, at least in my experience*, but that doesn't really transform it into an acceptable word, to me. That's absolutely not to say that it's in the same category as a word like nigger, because it's absolutely not, not even close. But it does have an offensive background, even if it is mostly divorced from that offensive background in the current environment. The joke here worked in part because it ignored that class element, so it's harder for me to imagine someone taking offense at it for class reasons. On the other hand, if you called my poor southern white grandmother a cracker I'd probably punch you in the face, because it would mean something offensive.

*The preferred racial slur for white people when I was growing up was honky; poor white people were called poor white trash, although I know plenty of poor whites (hi Dad) who used that term for themselves.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:57 AM on January 29, 2013 [11 favorites]


There is someone out there worried by their halitosis and considering fart face to be a personal slur, I'm sure. I wish people would stop calling for rules and bans and so forth. It is impossible to please everyone. State your case by all means but it's ridiculous to expect to have all polarizing words/opinions/ideologies zapped away from view.
posted by h00py at 5:58 AM on January 29, 2013


" if people really want us to consider deleting more stuff, we'd have to have a conversation about what that would look like"

I would encourage that conversation. And, perhaps, changing the way this place "works" regarding the use of slurs is not necessarily a bad thing.

I got my ass whipped here a while back for objecting to the use of the phrase "old white guys" and making a comparison to another well known slur... Who knows if my objection to the use of that phrase was warranted, but I'll tell you this, it felt shitty to be told that my feelings about it were "wrong".

As for the term "cracker", during my life I've spent a significant amount of time in environments (the US Army and urban educational settings) where that term was ALWAYS used as a racial slur. And, when it was applied to me only because of my race, I absolutely knew that the word was intended to hurt and demean.

We can do without those kinds of words, they add nothing to this community.
posted by HuronBob at 5:59 AM on January 29, 2013 [8 favorites]


My brother has this routine where, whenever his wife asks him if he wants a cracker—or if he's really hurtin' for comedy, whenever she says the word "cracker"—he leaps up and says "Did you just call me a cracker?"

Anyway, as a cracker descended from some of the most cracker-y-ass-crackers-that-ever-cracked-a-cracker, that's what this discussion brings to mind.

People who believe themselves to be computers do not experience systemic discrimination in the same way - and, since in my experience they are generally youngish straightish white men with graduate degrees ...

I want to frolic with this comment in a field of clover.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:03 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Crackers are Southern whites.

And I think we all know what you mean by those people
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:11 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Cracker may or may not be an offensive word. However, sarcastically joking about being oppressed by using phrases that oppressed people have famously used to describe their oppression, and appropriating those phrases to describe a privileged group is not funny (to me at least), it's really hurtful.


Similarly, joking about how inoffensive this is because it's an attempted insult that only serves to remind people of how privileged they are may or may not be offensive. It's certainly a worthy topic of conversation. But it really just bothers me to have it reveled in as a source of humor. I mean, I get it. I know you're privileged, ok? I know you get to be white. I know that being black (nigger) is an insult and being white (cracker) isn't. I know you win. There's no need to rub it in. Believe me, I already know.

So if this is meant to be a discussion that people who aren't white get to participate in, maybe that's something to keep in mind.
posted by windykites at 6:12 AM on January 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


I mostly agree with Autumn and corb.

A problem with cracker is that when you use it, you open up the "ethnic slur" bag and let one out to play, even if it's perhaps it's not much of one. Even if it isn't going to hurt or make uncomfortable the people it's targeted at, it might make other people uncomfortable who have been hurt by other slurs. People just don't want to see the strings on that bag untied.

It's like: you've been abused by a drunken someone in the past, and now you see them drinking and playfully punching their friend's shoulder, and the friend is like ha ha no it doesn't hurt me I'm tough, but that friend never got hit hard ever so wtf does he know, and you would just rather no drunken punches of any fucking kind get thrown at all.

I'm not saying why it should have been deleted, just pointing out something that I think is legitimately bad about this that all this narrow focus on the word cracker is missing.
posted by fleacircus at 6:16 AM on January 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


It's not a pejorative for white, it's a pejorative for poor whites.

In some regions of the US, mainly some southern states, that is. Most people do see cracker as equivalent to honky, which is also how it was used in the origianl comment.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:20 AM on January 29, 2013


And, sorry, I just want to clarify that I'm talking about my emotional reaction to those kinds of jokes. I'm absolutely not ascribing questionable motives to people who've made them.
posted by windykites at 6:27 AM on January 29, 2013


A chap on the A train called me Richie Cunningham once.
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:30 AM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


I wonder what would have happened if the joke that birthed this thread was used in the title of a post.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:31 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


In some regions of the US, mainly some southern states, that is. Most people do see cracker as equivalent to honky, which is also how it was used in the origianl comment.

I understand that that's how it was used in the comment, which is part of the reason that I found the comment inoffensive. I don't think, though, that the first part really matters that much. For one, Metafilter is a community that includes plenty of members from the southern states, and for another, I'm not sure the "we don't use X offensive word offensively" metric would stand up in many cases. I've never heard anyone use the word "gypped" with any malice in their heart toward the Roma, but I still avoid it because the origin of the word is offensive. I certainly wouldn't mean anything hurtful to anyone if I did, but I recognize that it can be offensive, even if I don't mean it to be.

Cracker is like that. The origin of cracker is as a slur used in the South against poor whites by rich whites. Word meanings change, for sure, but you can't ignore that etymology entirely.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:33 AM on January 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think you should actually, unless it's specifically being used as a slur and that has nothing to do with the usage of cracker in this case. It seemed merely to be a particularly good pun with absolutely no ill will involved.
posted by h00py at 6:39 AM on January 29, 2013


Now I am sort of idly wondering why Curtis Mayfield made a distinction between "whiteys" and "crackers" in If There's A Hell Below.
posted by elizardbits at 6:41 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Where I'm from (East Texas), "cracker" just means "white". It doesn't differentiate based on income.
posted by Bugbread at 6:42 AM on January 29, 2013


The Atlanta Crackers were the hometown minor league team until the Braves moved here.

Surely the word would have become less, not more, offensive over time.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:46 AM on January 29, 2013


There's this really bad joke about some Italians, a vampire and a couple of alligators, and the punchline is "Drained wops keep falling on my head." I've been trying to figure out why that joke strikes me as more offensive than "Cracker want a poly" (I should note that I'm not Italian or a poor southern white). They're both the same general humor, and the use of the insult in both is to facilitate the word play, not as a "people of X group deserved to be laughed at for being in X group," like say in Polish joke.

I'm sure that it's at least partially because I'm way more aware of the history of bigotry behind the first's slur, and because ethnicity is a way more readily defined trait than class. The other thing is that the people described in the joke are the targets of the slur, but the guy who yoink was responding to only shares a passing resemblance to the slur in his joke (which I've always understood to be a poor southern white). Plus there's the whole thing that the percentage of people who use the term to mean white folk in general is very small for wop (non-existent in my personal experience, but pretty much nobody I knew growing up used it anyway) and pretty large for cracker. I've also never heard anyone self identify as the first, but plenty of people do so for the second (almost always in a way that ignores the class aspect of it though).

Who knows, maybe this is all just me rationalizing why I'm o.k. with a class based slur instead of an ethnic slur, but I don't think so. I think the reason I'm o.k. with it is that the term has been divorced from class (which in my experience is who the barb's venom is meant for) in the joke, and at the very least having a trial separation from it in society at large.

It's a complicated issue, in no small part due to the fact that cracker is a much more narrow and sharply focused slur in some places than others.
posted by Gygesringtone at 6:47 AM on January 29, 2013


I had thought sort of that whitey is the labels for all whites, and crackers for poor southern whites. Hence, Gil Scott Heron's "whitey on the moon." Cracker on the moon doesn't seem right.
posted by angrycat at 6:50 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Cracker is what you make of it, hummusface.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:53 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


hydropsyche, I'm not sure that fact means much of anything. It could be just a case of co-option. Baseball was a poor farm boys sport in a lot of ways, so that makes some sense. I think we all acknowledge that the use of slurs by the target group is qualitatively different.

I also don't think there are that many terms that get less offensive over time*; I mean, there was a barnstorming black baseball team that called themselves the "Ethiopian Clowns" but I wouldn't use that as evidence that it's okay to call black people "Ethiopians."

*I mean I guess if I started breaking out slurs for Scythians, that would be unlikely to cause offense.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:56 AM on January 29, 2013


zippy: "'cracker' has exactly negative one billion points of offense and slur power to me and my kind in the year 2013."

It's a homeopathic slur!
posted by Room 641-A at 7:07 AM on January 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


I do not think that this will set a precedent.
posted by Miko at 7:09 AM on January 29, 2013


...there was a barnstorming black baseball team that called themselves the "Ethiopian Clowns" but I wouldn't use that as evidence that it's okay to call black people "Ethiopians."

But weren't most of the black teams given (horribly racist) names by the white folks who organized the leagues? The Crackers were the much beloved hometown team, named by white people, populated by white players, rooted for by white fans. As a Southerner, ancestrally of the poor, rural variety, I just don't find the word offensive, and part of it is probably because my Mom grew up going to Crackers games.
posted by hydropsyche at 7:10 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


As a community, Metafilter has little interest in or sympathy for lower class white people. No precedent is being set, but the favorite/flag ratio and the general flavor of this conversation do express those values.
posted by Kwine at 7:13 AM on January 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


Here we almost never delete stuff. Rape jokes, n word, c word, people who insult other people by calling them a tranny.

I feel silly disagreeing with you on this, because obviously you have a much wider and deeper perspective. But from my perspective as a user, I do disagree. I feel like you (pl.) do delete rape jokes, "I'd hit that" comments posted by men, etc. And while I maybe lack an appreciation for just how big the pool is because I don't read every thread, I feel increasingly that "almost never" isn't accurate about deletions.

On the more relevant point, I agree with you: This instance was basically consistent with how this place works. But from that, I would say two things. First, it's become difficult to say with a straight face that favorites and flags are not a voting system. I understand that you don't respond to them robotically, but you (pl.) cite them awfully often in contexts like this. They function as a voting system, not automatically but nevertheless. And second, that larger concept is what I object to, the notion that a slur can get "voted into" acceptability.

I'd much prefer the earlier moderation answer in this thread, which I interpreted (maybe wrongly?) to be, "This word isn't on our banned list, and almost nobody flagged it so it didn't really blip our radar." That seems totally fair. I think it's very different territory, however, to begin discussing the comment's favorite count and to have a MetaTalk chorus endorsing it. I think those things are pretty indistinguishable from how so many other websites devolve into, "offensive thing happens, and comment section quickly fills with loyalists who defend the thing and mock the offended."
posted by cribcage at 7:14 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I feel silly disagreeing with you on this, because obviously you have a much wider and deeper perspective. But from my perspective as a user, I do disagree. I feel like you (pl.) do delete rape jokes

I think jessamyn was saying "we almost never deleted stuff, but here are some examples of stuff that gets deleted." I'd be shocked if jessamyn were saying that they let rape jokes stand because that's not really my experience either.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:18 AM on January 29, 2013


Ah. In that case I misread and misunderstood, and I apologize for not being more careful.
posted by cribcage at 7:20 AM on January 29, 2013


Wow. Seconding greenish and others, I'll have to be careful to pick another word for some uses in future. For me it's always been definition 4 here and I'd never come across 5. Thanks, might save me from an embarrassing moment one day....
posted by edd at 7:23 AM on January 29, 2013


Pithy joke, yes.

But personally I'd be happy if we just decided in general that using the word cracker isn't okay. I'm pretty clear on the fact that when it was used by blacks it wasn't a term of endearment, and I think it's the intention of the word that matters. That cracker isn't the equivalent of nigger is not relevant.

It would be a shame if we started deciding that insults weren't insulting because some part of the community experienced some type of privilege....white people just want something to complain about. Words that were meant as slurs against white people aren't okay. I'm technically and outsider to that community, since I am black, but I'm generally going with with the do unto others theory. I'd prefer people not make a pithy joke using even a mild ethnic slur, so, there you go.

So I feel about this joke the way I do about offensive hip hop songs that people listen to because the beats are just that great. It's not really great enough to be worth the offense. So yeah, funny, but funny enough to be worth using the word cracker, a slur, and offend people? Nope. Cheap laughs at someone else's expense are generally not worth it in polite company. In comedy clubs, where that is what people came for...sure. But in a place where we are trying to foster respect?

The mods should have deleted it.
posted by anitanita at 7:28 AM on January 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Here's my plea to get people to stop using the word "cracker" in public situations, like on Metafilter. Here's a couple anecdotes:

I used to live in New York. My girlfriend (at the time) is white, and all her family is white. A few of her family members came to visit, and they all went to a theme park. And while they were standing in line for a ride, there was some confusion about which people in line were supposed to move up, and people who were in line close to my gf got pissed off at her and her family. And my gf's aunt and a black lady started getting into it, and at one point, the lady said "Shut up, cracker". When my girlfriend told that story to the people she worked with, she expected them to think it was funny. Instead they were all shocked and embarrassed that someone would say that about her. They had to tell her that it's an awful word, that it's terribly offensive, and that no one should have said that to her and her family because it is THAT awful.

While living in New York, I was a teacher in the Bronx. I'm half white and half asian, and about 50% of the kids I taught were black, about 25% Puerto Rican, and about 25% were Dominican. One day, we were having a frank discussion on whether any use of the word "nigger" should be considered appropriate, and one of the tangents discussed was if there was any other words that were so awful that we should consider whether we need to use them at all. And the kids came up with "cracker". When I said it out loud, even in a academic context, some kids were verrry uncomfortable, and others asked me to stop saying it outloud.

If you personally are unoffended by the word "cracker", that's fine, but that's not the point. The point is that the word IS used as a horrible slur by many people, and some of them are probably reading Metafilter. If you think the word is funny, then use it in a private context, (or at least own up to the fact that you are using an offensive word).
posted by 23skidoo at 7:37 AM on January 29, 2013 [12 favorites]


"IS used as a horrible slur" should be "IS considered a horrible slur"
posted by 23skidoo at 7:43 AM on January 29, 2013


If someone tried to call me a "cracker" as an actual insult, I would laugh in their face because it would be utterly meaningless. It carries absolutely no weight or meaningful history, unlike some other "ethnic-based" insults, and so I don't really grok any calls for it to be insta-deleted in MeFi.

Particularly in the context it was used here, it was pretty fucking funny.
posted by modernnomad at 7:46 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I feel like this thread is spiritually entwined with this thread about triggers. Both are dealing with the larger issue of "What percentage of people are we willing to hurt/trigger/anger?" and the tradeoffs involved in freedom of expression vs. not hurting/offending/angering readers.
posted by charred husk at 7:50 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


> If someone tried to call me a "cracker" as an actual insult, I would laugh in their face because it would be utterly meaningless.

I'm not so sure. While cracker, honky, whitey, etc don't bother me in abstract, context matters. What if it was a group of African-American kids ganging up on you, calling you cracker or whiteboy, and no one else was around? Then the word itself really doesn't have the power, more the intent to other would be at play there. Now, that's kind of a loaded example and I apologize if it seems inflammatory. But, it's not so much the word but the intent behind it where ill-will can come in.

Which is all kind of meaningless in this context, as it was just an offhand joke made by (presumably) a white guy, with no othering implied or intended.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:52 AM on January 29, 2013


My fiance is born and raised here in Florida and proudly calls herself a "Cracker". I was born and raised in Virginia and I proudly call myself a "Hillbilly". We're starting a food business called "Cracker Billy's" with cuisine that is part of both our cultures. None of our families or friends are insulted, they love the concept, the name, and most importantly the food.
posted by white_devil at 7:54 AM on January 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


Eponycrackerful!
posted by Burhanistan at 7:54 AM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


anitanita: “But personally I'd be happy if we just decided in general that using the word cracker isn't okay. I'm pretty clear on the fact that when it was used by blacks it wasn't a term of endearment, and I think it's the intention of the word that matters.”

This is kind of fraught, and I really feel like I need to say that I believe you're wrong.

What I mean is that the modifier "when it was used by blacks" doesn't make much sense at all here. You can probably point to a ten-year period across the 60s and 70s when the term "cracker" was used commonly by black people, I guess – mostly as an angry retort by the new wave of black nationalism. Even there, let's be clear that "intent" is not so simple. When I listen to this, for example, I'm sorry but "whitey" doesn't seem much like a racial slur; he's dealing with hundreds of years of oppression and trying to make sense of his experience.

But, more to the point, "cracker" absolutely did not originate as a term black people had for poor whites. It originated as a term that rich white people had for poor whites. [cite] So, again, it's not a simple thing, since "cracker" has historically been less a racial slur and more a classist slur. Its use by black people was merely a product of the 60s-70s post-civil-rights melange.

What I'm kind of getting at is that I also think you're wrong when you say "it's the intention of the word that matters." It's the historical context of the word that matters. If someone angrily calls me an encrusted widget, I am not going to care, because as far as I know that isn't even an actual thing, and anyway even if their intention is to insult me I don't really care. If someone calls me a "cracker," I also don't care. Why? Because "cracker" is a word rich white people use on poor white people in the South. I'm not in the South, and even if I were, I'd more readily laugh at the pretension of seriously using such a term than I would despair at the association. Honestly, it's like calling someone "peasant" – more an indicator of the pretensions of the person using the term than an indicator of the status of the person being insulted. The same, frankly, is true of the term "white trash."
posted by koeselitz at 7:55 AM on January 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


If someone tried to call me a "cracker" as an actual insult, I would laugh in their face because it would be utterly meaningless. It carries absolutely no weight or meaningful history, unlike some other "ethnic-based" insults, and so I don't really grok any calls for it to be insta-deleted in MeFi.

I don't really get this line of reasoning, because it's purely based on your feelings about the word. There are people who feel like it does have that content, and unless you think they're lying (in which case say that), their experience is just as valid as yours. For my part, I think the original joke was fine, that many uses of crackers would be fine, but I can definitely foresee a time when someone says cracker and I take offense because of it seems directed at my family.

I understand an argument that is not enough people find this offensive enough for it to be a per se rule (I'd basically agree with that argument), but the argument that is "I don't find this term offensive, so it's okay"? That's meaningless. I could find a woman who didn't mind the C-Word, I'm sure, but that doesn't mean I get to use it.

My fiance is born and raised here in Florida and proudly calls herself a "Cracker". I was born and raised in Virginia and I proudly call myself a "Hillbilly". We're starting a food business called "Cracker Billy's" with cuisine that is part of both our cultures. None of our families or friends are insulted, they love the concept, the name, and most importantly the food.

That's co-option, and I think we all agree that it's different. This is basically the rural/poor/southern white equivalent of "why do black people get to use the N-word?"
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:57 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


What if it was a group of African-American kids ganging up on you, calling you cracker or whiteboy, and no one else was around? Then the word itself really doesn't have the power, more the intent to other would be at play there. Now, that's kind of a loaded example and I apologize if it seems inflammatory. But, it's not so much the word but the intent behind it where ill-will can come in.

What I mean is, even in that hypothetical situation, it would carry no more weight or "insulting power" than if they shouted "asshole!" or some other garden variety insult at me. If that hypothetical occurred in the US I wouldn't go home and be concerned that "white people" were systematically discriminated against. Now, if I was a white immigrant in say, China, had a similar experience, I might feel entirely differently - but in a society where whites hold most of the levers of power and privilege, calling one of them "a cracker" is meaningless.
posted by modernnomad at 7:58 AM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's the historical context of the word that matters. If someone angrily calls me an encrusted widget, I am not going to care, because as far as I know that isn't even an actual thing, and anyway even if their intention is to insult me I don't really care.

That's great that you don't let things bother you, but Metafilter is not your personal blog. It's something that all kinds of people use, so taking into account the way that the word is used by lots of different people besides yourself is important.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:01 AM on January 29, 2013


> What I mean is, even in that hypothetical situation, it would carry no more weight or "insulting power" than if they shouted "asshole!" or some other garden variety insult at me.

I would then say to remember that in case it ever does happen, because being on the end of that kind of othering, even in a situation that you can reason out to be meaningless in the face of systematic oppression and so forth, really sucks. It's worse than being called an asshole because it's a whole other kind of barrier between fellow humans.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:01 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would then say to remember that in case it ever does happen, because being on the end of that kind of othering, even in a situation that you can reason out to be meaningless in the face of systematic oppression and so forth, really sucks. It's worse than being called an asshole because it's a whole other kind of barrier between fellow humans.

Yes, if a bunch of black teenagers do successfully manage to "other" me, I will no doubt feel terrible. I am not holding my breath, however, as when I walk away from their nasty name-calling, I'm pretty sure I'll be able to flip open any magazine or turn on any TV channel and see a whole bunch of people that look like me being held up as paragons of virtue and society.
posted by modernnomad at 8:07 AM on January 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


One of my bosses recently announced that since most of his team is white (like him), it's perfectly okay to call us all crackers. "Ummm...except you, (sole black person in group)."

There was a stunned silence in the room, but I guess Team Cracker should have been high-fiving instead.
posted by malocchio at 8:10 AM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Burhanistan: “What if it was a group of African-American kids ganging up on you, calling you cracker or whiteboy, and no one else was around? Then the word itself really doesn't have the power, more the intent to other would be at play there. Now, that's kind of a loaded example and I apologize if it seems inflammatory. But, it's not so much the word but the intent behind it where ill-will can come in.”

modernnomad: “What I mean is, even in that hypothetical situation, it would carry no more weight or ‘insulting power’ than if they shouted "asshole!" or some other garden variety insult at me.”

Burhanistan: “I would then say to remember that in case it ever does happen, because being on the end of that kind of othering, even in a situation that you can reason out to be meaningless in the face of systematic oppression and so forth, really sucks. It's worse than being called an asshole because it's a whole other kind of barrier between fellow humans.”

Historical context still matters.

"Cracker" isn't a racial slur at all. It's a classist slur. If a group of young people, regardless of their race, gathered around me and called me poor as a taunt, I might find that "othering" – but not so much, frankly. Like modernnomad, I wouldn't find this worse than "asshole" or some other random insult. It doesn't have historical weight behind it.

"White boy" – well, maybe – but again, context matters, and history (along with my personal history) is part of that. It wouldn't mean much to be "othered" for me in a moment like that, simply because it hasn't happened to me before and I can be reasonably certain it won't happen again. It would just be a weird thing, and I'd be a whole lot more concerned with the fact that they were threatening me; and, yeah, they may as well call me an "asshole" in those circumstances for all I care. It would be the same.

I'm trying to think of circumstances where it would be different, and I can think of a few, I guess. The one concrete example I can give you is of a white guy I know who grew up here in New Mexico going to a school that was maybe 90% hispanic. His dad was a dentist, so there was a perception that he must be a rich kid since he was white with a father in the medical field (although that wasn't really true). He got called "white boy" constantly, and people often made little "rich white boy" references to him. It was something he put up with all through growing up.

Now, obviously he was in the minority, not just in that school but also among white people – as much as some people complain about it, I've never met a single other white person who grew up with that reality, largely because I don't know of any other circumstances where white people are so in the minority. For him, in that time, if a group of kids ganged up on him and threw the term "white boy" at him, I think it probably would have been an othering experience like you describe – simply because that othering was something he was familiar with, a pointer to a long and difficult experience.

But, again, his case is really rare. I think for most white people, being seriously called by a racial slur is such a novel experience that we'd shrug it off or equate it with any other insult. It's not a pointer to a longer context of repeated othering.
posted by koeselitz at 8:20 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Cracker" isn't a racial slur at all. It's a classist slur.

With respect, you telling people that doesn't actually make it so.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:23 AM on January 29, 2013 [8 favorites]


Honestly, it's like calling someone "peasant" – more an indicator of the pretensions of the person using the term than an indicator of the status of the person being insulted. The same, frankly, is true of the term "white trash."

I don't see how this isn't true of all slurs; they're all really about the person using them, but that doesn't mean they're not offensive and hurtful. Slurs based on class (like cracker or white trash) are probably less offensive that slurs based on race, but calling a poor white person "poor white trash" would undoubtedly be offensive. Being poor is a thing that exists, it invokes the same type of privilege issues as race or gender; perhaps not the same degree, but they're there. If I were poor (I'm not, but my extended family is), and someone decided to taunt me by calling me poor white trash, I'd take pretty strong offense at that, I think most people would.

What if it was a group of African-American kids ganging up on you, calling you cracker or whiteboy, and no one else was around?

The word was honky, but this was my bus riding experience for large portions of school. It was hurtful in the same way any bullying was, but not even close to the equivalent of the situation if the race were swapped. It wasn't honestly that different than being on a bus full of white people who decided to bully me, which probably would have happened if the white kids in town hadn't been too snooty to ride the bus.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:24 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, I will stop using the word. I am really not a cracker, but a hick (white trashy from out west)
posted by angrycat at 8:25 AM on January 29, 2013


Gosh! Come on with the polyamory links! Again? What is this, fuckanybodyfilter? :)
posted by Jeremy at 8:25 AM on January 29, 2013


Anecdatally, cracker as a jokey/defamatory way to refer to white people is banned by both the elementary school my mother teaches in and the high school my husband teaches in. They are in two separate districts - one suburban and one urban.

While it obviously doesn't carry with it the centuries of hate and stigma that the n-word does, the fact that those who are trying to teach the next-gen are categorizing it as a hurtful and offensive word is indicative of ... something, right?

So I was a bit shocked to see it not deleted here, where we attempt to keep things to a higher standard.
posted by kimberussell at 8:27 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Historical context still matters. "Cracker" isn't a racial slur at all. It's a classist slur.

People don't research the historical context of the word before using it. If people are using the word as a racial slur, then it IS a racial slur. People DO use this as a racial slur, and to claim otherwise is deceitful or ignorant.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:29 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think most of these words do not need to be said given the recent history of them being derogatory and used to denigrate people and putting them on the defensive before they can even address issues. Maybe in 100 years, we can add these words back in, but for now, their usage creates more problems than it solves. This includes the words that span all cultures, not just the white/black divide. However, as long as we have people who will go to any length to defend their usage based on some reason or another, discussions like this will happen again and again resulting in people not being any closer on agreement. For my part, words like this and many others have been excised from my vocabulary to the degree they can be. In their place, I take the time to look up new words that get the point across without the bias and hate.

Oxford Dictionaries lists 171,476 words in use, 47,156 obsolete words and around 9,500 derivative words included as subentries. Not sure how many of those words are derogatory, but I would bet it is low by comparison to the sum. Given that number, I tend to search for new words than stick with the ones that have a horrible history attached. There appears to be plenty of words to go around.

But that is just me.
posted by lampshade at 8:29 AM on January 29, 2013


I think for most white people...

I'm not sure about the relevance of having folks speculate about how they'd feel in a given hypothetical, but I am sure there is zero value to extrapolating individual speculation onto large groups of strangers. In this case it directly contradicts some personal experiences that have been shared in this thread—and I think that's something MetaFilter has discussed at length, not invalidating people's experiences with this kind of brooming.
posted by cribcage at 8:37 AM on January 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


me: “‘Cracker’ isn't a racial slur at all. It's a classist slur.”

jessamyn: “With respect, you telling people that doesn't actually make it so.”

23skidoo: “People don't research the historical context of the word before using it. If people are using the word as a racial slur, then it IS a racial slur. People DO use this as a racial slur, and to claim otherwise is deceitful or ignorant.”

What I mean is: while it's mixed up with race, it's possible to demonstrate that, historically, "cracker" has not been itself a racial slur. It's possible to point to the evidence of the usages we have on record and make it clear that "cracker" was not used as a racial slur, at least prior to maybe 1960, and even after that it's not easy to say what it means. In the mouths of people using it, yes, it's possible some people are using it as a racial slur.

What I guess I also mean is – I don't think they are. I really don't. We can talk a bit about it, and to do so I guess we'd have to come up with examples of people using "cracker" in a truly pejorative sense and look at the context. But the context I've looked at for the few examples I know of suggests that "cracker" almost invariably isn't meant even today as a racial slur.
posted by koeselitz at 8:38 AM on January 29, 2013


Yeah, the hand waving away of others' experiences is useless. Besides, what sucked for me about being "othered" as a white dude was more a sadness for the kids who were doing it, not really a sense of being victimized. Barriers of ignorance are disappointing and sad.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:41 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Burhanistan: “Yeah, the hand waving away of others' experiences is useless.”

Who is doing this?
posted by koeselitz at 8:44 AM on January 29, 2013


You.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:44 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not just POSSIBLE that people are using this as a racial slur. People are ACTUALLY using this as a racial slur. The fact that lots of people are unaware of this usage doesn't mean that the usage should not be considered. I've already listed two examples here.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:45 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Burhanistan: “You.”

Gosh, really?
posted by koeselitz at 8:47 AM on January 29, 2013


I guess we'd have to come up with examples of people using "cracker" in a truly pejorative sense and look at the context. But the context I've looked at for the few examples I know of suggests that "cracker" almost invariably isn't meant even today as a racial slur.

Um, yea I was going to stay out of this but I can't help being a data point and tossing my two cents in anymore.

"Cracker" isn't a racial slur at all. It's a classist slur.

You can justify it based upon textbooks all you want but as a non black person who went to a public school in Alabama that was about 50% white and 50% black getting called a 'fucking cracker' when I tried to stop someone skipping in the snack line I can say it wasn't used because I was any richer or poorer than the person who was using the term, although I was of another skin color.

being seriously called by a racial slur is such a novel experience that we'd shrug it off or equate it with any other insult.

For some perhaps, but I can say it sucked when it happened to me and that wasn't the only time.

Gosh, really?

Yes, really.

Don't get me wrong, I see some value in having a discussion on where the line must be drawn with regards to site moderation and it may be on one side of the other of the cracker line, really, it's a fair discussion to weigh the free speech thing vs the offensive thing, but I really didn't expect as many people to come into this thread saying, more or less, that if it isn't as bad as certain unspeakables then it's perfectly fine or that since it doesn't have a clear racist background that it's not a problem at all or, worst of all, "I'm white and I'm fine with it therefor let's just call it a wash eh?".
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:51 AM on January 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Thank you for explaining that, RolandOfEld. I can see that I've said some unfair things here. It's nice to have someone use words to tell me how.
posted by koeselitz at 8:53 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


If someone tried to call me a "cracker" as an actual insult, I would laugh in their face because it would be utterly meaningless.

I actually did this once. It proceeded an extended beating.

I think I've written about this here before, but when I lived in Minneapolis I was coming home from the bar when I was passing a group of Hispanic youths. One was pissing in a doorway to a restaurant I frequented. I said something, he said something, I said, "I live here, man. Have some respect." He said, "Mind your business, Cracker." He then came at me in a threatening manner and started chasing me because I run when people want to do me harm. They jumped in their car and that started chasing me as well. I am not faster than a car. I thought I was going to get run over, so I ducked between two cars in a parking lot. The man caught up with me. The car cut off my escape route, a handful of people jumped out of the car and I took a beating.

I remember waking up in my bedroom. I don't remember getting there. It was about 100 feet out my back door that the altercation took place. I lost my glasses, but it wasn't until the next day that I thought to look to see if I still had a wallet (I still had it).

I have photos someplace. I got a couple black eyes and a scraped chin. My jaw hurt and i had bruises all over and a hangover. I did a lot of self-blaming over the next few weeks. I shouldn't have been drunk in public. I shouldn't have walked home. I shouldn't have interacted with someone pissing in a doorway.

It never occurred to me to call the cops. I filed no report. Only told my parents.

When I went home for Easter weekend (I believe) I had to explain to the kid they were fostering what had happened. He was convinced I'd been beaten up by black people, because that's how he'd been raised. Only he didn't call them black or African American. I couldn't get it through this kid's head that the color of the people kicking your ass really doesn't matter. I also had a bit of difficulty believing this myself. It took me a while to quit blaming myself. It took me longer to not drop into a defensive mode whenever I saw non-whites in a group.

This all said, the term cracker offends me not at all.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:55 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can see that I've said some unfair things here.

The things you said were more than unfair. They were untrue.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:57 AM on January 29, 2013


To be totally clear – sorry if I've offended anyone here by unfairly dismissing your experience. I am sheltered. I can't really speak for all white people, nor should I; and if you've heard "cracker" as a racial slur, and it hurt, I'm sorry. Pretty sure I've said anything constructive I could have said already, so I'll bow out here.

23skidoo: “The things you said were more than unfair. They were untrue.”

Yep. I'm going to try to figure this stuff out, but this is clearly not the place. Y'all should continue with the discussion, though, as it seems like it could be a good one.
posted by koeselitz at 8:58 AM on January 29, 2013


An interesting takeaway from this conversation is that it would seem that when it comes to racial slurs, there has to at least be some consensus in society, and between the offender and the offendee, on whether or not said word is actually offensive, what is the intention, what is the historical context, etc. I think we're seeing this play out on MeFi, a lack of consensus.

If that consensus doesn't exist, the eradication of that particular world is slowed down tremendously. People will say the word doesn't offend universally, they didn't mean in a bad way, tell you to lighten up, that it doesn't carry any weight, it's not really the same thing as "nigger," etc. etc. If enough people around you condone the use of a particular word and object to the idea that a phrase is actually racist, then your protestations to the contrary will get drowned out, even if objectively, the word has racial overtones.

Perfect example? The Washington Redskins.
posted by phaedon at 9:01 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


"What if it was a group of African-American kids ganging up on you, calling you cracker or whiteboy, and no one else was around?"

I grew up in a neighborhood where I was one of a handful of white kids, and got the shit kicked out of me specifically for being white. I know what this feels like. "Cracker wanna poly" is not that.

Three other thoughts:

I don't really have a problem with white dudes calling each other cracker, just like I don't really care if black dudes call each other nigger. Context matters (despite the weird literalist brigade that always shows up for these debates).

I get called cracker at work pretty often by my black buddies there; I don't call them nigger. The closest I get is calling Erinn "my beautiful Nubian queen." For them, it's a funny way to defang some of the racism that they have to deal with every day. For me, it's a way to show that I get it.

And finally, Kerosene Hat is a terrible album. The first one is OK, though.
posted by klangklangston at 9:02 AM on January 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


I grew up in a neighborhood where I was one of a handful of white kids, and got the shit kicked out of me specifically for being white. I know what this feels like. "Cracker wanna poly" is not that.

Right, and I said that.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:07 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


This whole thing here reminds me a little of MRA dipwads whining about anti-male discrimination.
posted by dersins at 9:11 AM on January 29, 2013


This thread will make me think before I say "cracker" again -- not that I ever did, although I also never thought it was offensive -- although I'm not convinced. I mean, yes, it sucks when people are mean or violent, but I get real nervous when a bunch of white people start talking about being othered by mean old People of Color.

Anyway, I can't believe there's a MetaTalk thread about "cracker", but we're just gonna roll with Wolfdreams01 saying that being gay is way easier than having a "mathematically-oriented lifestyle".
posted by jess at 9:13 AM on January 29, 2013 [12 favorites]


"Cracker wanna poly" is not that.

I agree. Doesn't mean this discussion is uncalled for or out of place though, as I already said, but there are degrees to shittyness and this is one of the lesser degrees.

I think the key thing for me is that I completely respect if some people want to draw their line of offended in a different place than mine and I'll do what I can to do right by them when it comes to things like slurs. That's why I don't quite grok the way people go out of their way to defend the phrase as legit or to disenfranchise those others by belittling instead of trying to understand where they are coming from or to actually see why they think what they do about the word.

On preview: Yep, figures....
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:14 AM on January 29, 2013


wolfdreams01 is almost too entertaining to call out, looney bullshit posturing notwithstanding.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:18 AM on January 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


The closest I get is calling Erinn "my beautiful Nubian queen."

You have GOT to tell her that you're her "magnificent European King".

Anyway, I can't believe there's a MetaTalk thread about "cracker", but we're just gonna roll with Wolfdreams01 saying that being gay is way easier than having a "mathematically-oriented lifestyle".

This thread just gets weirder and weirder.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:19 AM on January 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


we're just gonna roll with Wolfdreams01 saying that being gay is way easier than having a "mathematically-oriented lifestyle".

I think he meant that being not-wolfdreams01 would, he imagines, be easier than being woldfreams01. And I can see his point.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:20 AM on January 29, 2013 [39 favorites]


Anecdatally, cracker as a jokey/defamatory way to refer to white people is banned by both the elementary school my mother teaches in and the high school my husband teaches in. They are in two separate districts - one suburban and one urban.

While it obviously doesn't carry with it the centuries of hate and stigma that the n-word does, the fact that those who are trying to teach the next-gen are categorizing it as a hurtful and offensive word is indicative of ... something, right?


It might simply indicate that schools tend to be hyper-conservative about the use of vulgarity in general. After all, there's value in training kids that a mixed public setting requires a higher standard of politeness. But the Seven Words You Can't Say on Television are also banned in schools, yet when used carefully they can be an acceptable part of adult conversations, and get their share of appropriate use on Metafilter. It's all about being sensitive to context, and that comment, in context, doesn't cross over into unacceptable to me.

(It's not a friendly reference, to be sure, but poking fun at stereotypes of utter, self-unaware privilege pushes my schadenfreude button more than anything else.)
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 9:20 AM on January 29, 2013


wolfdreams01 is almost too entertaining to call out, looney bullshit posturing notwithstanding.

He was sort of called out in the thread, to no avail. I certainly wouldn't say we "rolled with it" unless you mean "rolled on the floor laughing" which was my approach.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:20 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


That whole thread got weird in ways that I was really not expecting, which seems painfully naive in retrospect.
posted by elizardbits at 9:21 AM on January 29, 2013 [11 favorites]


TRIGGER WARNINGS PLEASE.

have you NO respect for the gluten addicted???
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 9:28 AM on January 29, 2013


Yo I call people palookas which is probably bad too. But THEN AGAIN I am a bad person.
posted by Mister_A at 9:34 AM on January 29, 2013


If anyone remembers Making the Band 2, you may recall that Chopper used the word cracker in one of his lyrics, P Diddy took him aside and told him that it might be best if he didn't use the word in his songs. If P Diddy says not to do it, it is probably pretty bad.

Ultimately the solution may be to subtly change the spelling and consider it a new word. Then everyone can feel free to say Cracka Please without fear of offending anyone.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:38 AM on January 29, 2013


I still don't really know what a mathematically-oriented lifestyle is. Is it having sex with calculators?
posted by windykites at 9:39 AM on January 29, 2013


Metafilter taught me not to call people maroons, a la Bugs Bunny, which is a good thing.
posted by angrycat at 9:41 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Quonsar, for the hundredth time : you have a butt fetish, not a "gluten addiction".
posted by boo_radley at 9:41 AM on January 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


If P Diddy says not to do it, it is probably pretty bad.

1. Compile all instances, ever, of P Diddy admonishing someone to not do something
2. Put that list in a book, call it "Baseline of Human Failure, Volume 1"
3. ????
4. PROFIT!!!!
posted by Doleful Creature at 9:56 AM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Where I'm from (East Texas), "cracker" just means "white". It doesn't differentiate based on income.

Data point: my family is also from east Texas, I grew up in Houston, and my sense is that it's a class-based insult among whites (but used for all whites by nonwhites). I wasn't offended or outraged by the comment, but I wouldn't have objected to a deletion and I'm glad I turned off favorites so I can't be annoyed by how many the comment received.
posted by immlass at 10:02 AM on January 29, 2013


Not every slang term, even if meant to be an insult, is a "slur". Racial/ethnic slurs are an attempt by someone to defame and insult an entire group of people. What supposed quality is a racist ascribing to every white American, Frenchman, Russian, Saxon, Celt, etc. when the word "cracker" is used? None. Whereas racisst have a very clear and horrifying "narrative" about minorities, and that's what those slurs are about.

What if it was a group of African-American kids ganging up on you, calling you cracker or whiteboy, and no one else was around?

The last thing I would be worried about is the names they called me. Look, as long as I'm in a Western nation, I cannot be alienated. I can be threatened, I can be attacked, but I will never feel the deck is stacked against me because of my ancestry, no matter what I'm called.
posted by spaltavian at 10:08 AM on January 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


Not every slang term, even if meant to be an insult, is a "slur". Racial/ethnic slurs are an attempt by someone to defame and insult an entire group of people. What supposed quality is a racist ascribing to every white American, Frenchman, Russian, Saxon, Celt, etc. when the word "cracker" is used? None. Whereas racisst have a very clear and horrifying "narrative" about minorities, and that's what those slurs are about.

I think the slur part is clearly about class, rather than race. It's racially constructed, but the insulting part is mostly about class (it's sort of like "ghetto" or "hood rat" in that way, in that it's simultaneously working on racial and class levels). The negative qualities are being ascribed to, essentially, poor, usually rural, whites. That's a group that absolutely can feel like they are the victims of a negative narrative or that the deck is stacked against them because of their background.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:16 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


A chap on the A train called me Richie Cunningham once.

If this only happened to you once, consider yourself lucky. Especially if you didn't get Opie before that.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:23 AM on January 29, 2013


I guess it is hard for me to take "cracker" as a slur, since I spent many happy days learning about the "original" homesteaders in Florida. I still have a deep affection for grey-stained pine buildings(PDF) under live oaks that trail Spanish moss.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:24 AM on January 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Not every slang term, even if meant to be an insult, is a "slur". Racial/ethnic slurs are an attempt by someone to defame and insult an entire group of people. What supposed quality is a racist ascribing to every white American, Frenchman, Russian, Saxon, Celt, etc. when the word "cracker" is used? None. Whereas racisst have a very clear and horrifying "narrative" about minorities, and that's what those slurs are about.

If you are unaware of a horrifying narrative about white people, go ask someone who uses "cracker" as a slur against all white people what their horrifying narrative is.
posted by 23skidoo at 10:25 AM on January 29, 2013


Omigod MCMikeNamara is Ron Howard
posted by shakespeherian at 10:39 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I came here to post the same sentiment as tmotat: during my 25 years in Florida, cracker never carried any real weight as a slur.

Even when used by the black guys in my high school in a sentence like, "you stupid cracker!" it never had any sting to it. "Honky" and "whitey" and sometimes "redneck" were the jabs that had some weight behind them. Although redneck was generally worn with pride often enough that it was hard to really land a punch with it.

Cracker is just what the early settlers were. Back woods people living a hardscrabble life, doing a bit of hunting, a bit of farming, a bit of whatever needed to be done. It's like trying to insult someone by calling them poor. I mean, yeah, okay, we were poor. How is that bad exactly?

There just weren't any words I ever heard for whites that had anywhere near the soul-punching weight and riot-inducing force of the n-word.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:42 AM on January 29, 2013


I was not making fun of Andy Griffith Ron Howard. This cannot be stressed enough.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:42 AM on January 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


If you are unaware of a horrifying narrative about white people, go ask someone who uses "cracker" as a slur against all white people what their horrifying narrative is.

Isn't the point about the "horrifying narrative about white people" that it's true? At least, the longer I live on this planet as a white person, the more I become convinced of that - both because of things I discover in my own thinking and behavior and because of things that I learn from history and my surroundings.

See, I will be the lone wild-eyed PC-thug radical on this thread and say that I have no trouble with people calling white folks crackers precisely because white people are often pretty terrible. I do maintain that any insult to white people is nothing compared to slurs against people of color, but I have no problem with people pointing out the failings of white people, even pointing them out with what you might call spirit and vigor.

Also, "cracker want a poly" is funny because it expresses perfectly a certain kind of cold-hearted selfish entitlement that I think characterizes capital-W Whiteness - it does not characterize all white people at all times, and it's something that I fight in myself as much as I can, but I think that one of the ways pinkish people become capital-W White is through learning cold-hearted selfishness and blindness - that's how we were able to become slave-holders, whip-crackers, and those who merely profited from slave-holding and whip-cracking.

That said, I think I am going to avoid the word in the future, for these reasons: I don't want any poor white people to think that I am letting myself off the hook of whiteness through saying that they are crackers as if I myself am not; and as windykites says upthread somewhere, the very innocuousness of the term renders it a bit unpleasant - if anything, it's not bad enough, it does not express the historical reality of whiteness and it turns aside the attempt to express that reality. There used to be a tee shirt you'd see around town on white hipsters that read "kill whitey" - it took a phrase that should carry some actual historical weight and turned it into...hm, not hipster racism but hipster anti-racism and posturing. I don't want to be saying "cracker" this and "cracker" that like it's some kind of linguistic fashion statement.
posted by Frowner at 10:44 AM on January 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


Things people yell on the bus can be entirely random. I spent a whole bus ride with a friend being called "wolfman" and "Elvis" before I realized that the guy was making fun of his sideburns. Well, not a whole bus ride, we jumped off and walked the rest of the way because it was annoying. Unfortunately, the same guy had predicted that "all the white people will get off at Racine" which is precisely where we got off.

Anyway, the point is, public transit yelling contains a mixture of truth and falsehood, because my friend looks nothing like Elvis.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:47 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


See, I will be the lone wild-eyed PC-thug radical on this thread and say that I have no trouble with people calling white folks crackers precisely because white people are often pretty terrible.

That's the exact excuse racists use for using "nigger".
posted by 23skidoo at 10:49 AM on January 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


The argument I have found most compelling in this thread is the one advanced by Autumn and several other posters who aren't themselves white that, for them, the use of "cracker" feels like opening up the ethnic slur bag.

That certainly isn't a bag I want open here, even though "cracker" doesn't bother me as a white lady. I'm fine with "let's just keep the whole bag closed" as a policy.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:50 AM on January 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


Except one example has thousands of years of history to back it up while the other does not.
posted by elizardbits at 10:51 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Right, but when someone gets called a "cracker", that insult is being hurled at one person who may have nothing to do with the ideas that the insulter has about white people.
posted by 23skidoo at 10:52 AM on January 29, 2013


Trying to figure out what races are sufficiently evil to use slurs against is as stupid a use of anyone's time as I can think of.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:53 AM on January 29, 2013 [13 favorites]


That's the exact excuse racists use for using "n****r".

Yes, and some people say that the earth was created 4,000 years ago while the rest of us assert that it wasn't; some people say that men are the real victims of feminism; et patati et patata. If one is going to say that no one can make claims about white supremacy because the historical record is too murky...well, there's not much possibility of a conversation there, is what I'd say.
posted by Frowner at 10:54 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Said another way, if you want to say that historically, white people have done lots of shitty things, that's all fine and good. But if you want to use that as an excuse for someone to use the word "cracker" as a slur against ANY white person, that's shitty.
posted by 23skidoo at 10:54 AM on January 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yeah, Frowner, that's pretty weak. The "cracker isn't nearly as insulting as other words" thing is probably a valid argument. "It's okay to insult white people because white people are awful" is bullshit and terrible.
posted by Justinian at 10:55 AM on January 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


I have no problem with people pointing out the failings of white people, even pointing them out with what you might call spirit and vigor.

Use whatever words you like, but I think it's disingenuous to imply that people who avoid a word are doing it because we/they have a problem pointing out anyone's failings. And no, "spirit" and "vigor" are not words I would use to characterize invoking a slur.

And personally, I wish people would stop comparing one slur to another. It's really not helpful. Even if you think the comparison is accurate in some aspect (and I'm not sure I do), it should be obvious that the comparison is just going to cause an immediate and inflammatory derail. Find another way to make your point.
posted by cribcage at 10:58 AM on January 29, 2013


I THINK I GET IT
IT'S LIKE HOW PARROTS SAY "POLLY WANT A CRACKER" IN CARTOONS AND SHIT
posted by frecklefaerie at 10:58 AM on January 29, 2013


I once had a support call with a Native American engineer from Oklahoma - in addition to being a razor sharp networking guy, he is one of the most charming and wickedly funny people I've ever worked with. He had two dozen insults for white people, and he went through all of them - "ghost rider" being a favorite when he caught me saying something stupid.

Cracker wasn't one of the insults... because it was too mild and inoffensive for him to get a good rise out of us. "Peckerwood nerd-babies" - now that one he used.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:00 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I THINK I GET IT
IT'S LIKE HOW PARROTS SAY "POLLY WANT A CRACKER" IN CARTOONS AND SHIT


That's how I took, although apparently "White people are horrible and demanding, just like parrots" is a competing interpretation.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:01 AM on January 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah, Frowner, that's pretty weak. The "cracker isn't nearly as insulting as other words" thing is probably a valid argument. "It's okay to insult white people because white people are awful" is bullshit and terrible.

All I can say is that as someone who has been white my whole life, I've seen both myself and other white people be terrible in our whiteness. I would be very surprised, honestly, if there's any white person in our times who isn't in some way marred and made terrible by growing up as white under white supremacy. The selfish bullshit that I've done and thought alone...and I am someone who has been doing as much anti-racist activism as I could understand how to do since I was old enough to do it, it's not as though I am someone who grew up consciously believing the simplicities that officially constitute racism in America. I have absolutely no problem with someone who is skeptical of white people and who assumes that our bad behavior originates in our whiteness - because in my experience it generally does. Believe me, I wish I didn't think this the case, and god knows I wish I didn't see evidence of it in my own life every day.
posted by Frowner at 11:02 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


It takes some pretty complicated mathematically-oriented humor calculus to parse.
posted by Drastic at 11:02 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


They can live to over 100 years and learn many interesting words and also they like nuts.
posted by elizardbits at 11:02 AM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


All I can say is that as someone who has been human my whole life, I've seen both myself and other people be terrible in our human-ness.

Works that way too, doesn't it.
posted by Etrigan at 11:03 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I really don't know how to parse this stuff except through personal experience. When i was in the 4th grade in Houston, I was one of a single busload of kids that got bussed to a formerly all-black school in the 5th ward. This was probably 1972? All 25 of us were in constant fear of having the crap beaten out of us, and though it never actually happened, we were constantly threatened, bullied and teased. I don't recall what they called us, word-wise. I know I was mostly sad about all the anger, because I was being judged as something I was not. The specific words just bounced off.

I mostly came away thinking "So, that's what it feels like." To me, the word Cracker holds no currency at all, is about on the same level as Redneck or Hick, and wouldn't give a shit if someone called me that. It's not part of the power structure of racist language being used to oppress a minority, so I don't see its use as being equivalent to other ethnic slurs that are used by those in power over a group they are currently subjugating, and that makes all the difference.

The comment in question was also a damn funny play on words that immediately caused the Public Enemy song to fire up in my head, so I got a good laugh. It was offered in a spirit of playfulness & not a spirit of anger or aggression. I'm pleased that it stood instead of being deleted.

We want to take care here to not insult people based on ethnicity, but has any white person actually surfaced here that was insulted by that comment? We seem to be tilting at windmills here.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:06 AM on January 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


I THINK I GET IT
IT'S LIKE HOW PARROTS SAY "POLLY WANT A CRACKER" IN CARTOONS AND SHIT


That's just the racist and classist agenda Polly is parroting.
posted by zippy at 11:07 AM on January 29, 2013


Use whatever words you like, but I think it's disingenuous to imply that people who avoid a word are doing it because we/they have a problem pointing out anyone's failings.

Now, I am perfectly willing to believe that here on Metafilter, where there's a fairly strong community and people can be pretty thoughtful, the folks who don't like to use or hear "cracker" (or any similar phrase)...that those folks are completely sincere and really would be up for hearing "I think that kind of bad behavior is characteristic of whiteness". I certainly do believe that you and the other folks taking that line here really do act that way - and for that reason, I'd be okay with foregoing "cracker" on metafilter.

However my experience in the world outside metafilter is that the vast majority of people who get all ruffled about "cracker" get just as ruffled when any kind of criticism of whiteness is raised - particularly when there's any suggestion that most white people share in a behavior or an attitude, and double particular when it's suggested that white people have unconsciously learned a behavior or an attitude and that it's more embedded than just "ooh, that person made one single poor choice, we should not judge". And that is one reason I don't object to people saying "cracker" - it's not as though there's tons of traction for talking about white supremacy and people are only objecting to "cracker" because it's rude and lowers the tone.
posted by Frowner at 11:10 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I really don't know how to parse this stuff except through personal experience.

Another way to parse it is to listen to the experiences of others, and to treat their experiences as equally valid to your own.
posted by 23skidoo at 11:13 AM on January 29, 2013


Some of you might be interested in Dana Ste. Claire's book Cracker Culture in Florida History which cheers the group for its self-sufficiency under the punishing conditions of eaking out a living in hardscrabble pre-air conditioned Florida. Full disclosure: he's a friend.
posted by carmicha at 11:14 AM on January 29, 2013


"Cracker" is an interesting word. It most definitely IS a slur, and a powerful one, directed at white people by black people. (Confirmed anecdotally, because it's the word those four black guys were yelling at me in a parking lot of a Hardee's in Montevallo, AL while they kicked my ass in a stupid fight over a fucking double cheeseburger that my friend Marty totally started but he's like 6'6" and 350 lbs so guess whose ass got kicked, but that's another story.) That white folks CAN and DO laugh it off is BECAUSE they are rarely if ever afforded the opportunity to hear that word coming out of a black person's mouth in anger. To NOT acknowledge that the word has power is, well, kind of a perfect example of the culture-blindness of white privilege.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:15 AM on January 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


Another way to parse it is to listen to the experiences of others, and to treat their experiences as equally valid to your own.

Do you really honestly feel that in the comment in question, that the word Cracker was hurled at you as an insult? If so, I can respect that, but I think maybe you misread the intention of the comment.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:16 AM on January 29, 2013


has any white person actually surfaced here that was insulted by that comment?

By that comment? Probably not. It was clever and funny. But more generally, by the website being a place where slurs are okay just so long as they're clever and funny? Yes, several people have expressed that opinion. I have no idea whether they're white, and that isn't relevant.

I accept that one person can feel a particular slur is hurtful, while another person feels the word holds no power. Those are both equally valid experiences. However, because of the nature of slurs, strictly in the context of a site-policy discussion I think one of those opinions is more important to hear than the other.
posted by cribcage at 11:19 AM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


They can live to over 100 years and learn many interesting words and also they like nuts.


Uhhh, what is 'dolphins,' Alex?
posted by Mister_A at 11:19 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Separately, I want to remind people of a few instances of erroneous policing of language around the word niggardly which go to show that feelings often trump etymology (and that unethicall politicians still use sound-alike words to advantage, as in lesbian/thesbian). Around my DC office, the school system incident prompted a new game: listing other faux slurs, e.g., spic and span; chink in the armor, etc.
posted by carmicha at 11:23 AM on January 29, 2013


I have never been hurt by being called "cracker" because I've literally never been called that in a hostile way and due to the of overwhelmingly white population of where I live and went to school, the situation has never come up. But you know, for example, I get really fucking bummed out listening to a bunch of men talk about

1) how difficult it is for them when someone calls them a "dumb man" or a "dick" or calls them out for "mansplaining," or
2) how NON-difficult it is for them because they live lives of privilege and how could something a woman said ever hurt them in their charmed, male bubble

I realize that 2) usually comes from a liberal attitude which is usually far more generous and openminded to me as a woman, but it's still a real fuckin' bummer. Not because I want to hurt men with my vicious words, but because it's just a reminder that women are in a disempowered position with regard to larger society-- we don't even have to be careful about actually hurting anyone, we just have to be careful about watching out own asses (all the time). I don't really want to carry on with the "no, cracker is okay, how can I complain" because what exactly does that mean? That it's okay for white people to call each other cracker (who cares)? That it's okay for black people to call white people cracker as long as they're the minority? That it's okay for black people to call white people cracker anytime, like the opportunity should be graciously extended as reparations?

I'm not going to get particularly bent out of shape about the word "cracker" in a parrot/polyamory (??) joke because that is possibly its most lifeless, inoffensive form, but all this "no it's okay, you can call ME cracker if you want" does actually come off as kind of weird and like, "well, nonwhites are a minority and thus do not threaten us so sure, they can do whatever they want." "I'm white and bullets bounce off of me so I think this racial slur is actually a hilarious joke, and sleep like a baby in my white privilege every night." I'm not saying that the sting of the word is equal to the sting of racial slurs with an entrenched history and violence, but there's a weird ring to the idea that women and minorities are so powerless that they can't even "ruin the day" of a white person/man.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:24 AM on January 29, 2013 [11 favorites]


However, because of the nature of slurs, strictly in the context of a site-policy discussion I think one of those opinions is more important to hear than the other.

If people are actually being offended, then I guess so. I read 9/10th's of the thread, and missed the actual hurt feelings, and only saw the hypothetical ones, so I figured that the offense was more imagined than real.

To me, the intention of the comment is more important than the words used to express it, within bounds of course, but I'm old and have lived through some egregiously politically incorrect times as far as what used to be normal language-wise, so I can accept that it may color my perception and adjust accordingly. I'm a little surprised that people would be bothered by cracker any more than they'd be bothered by redneck, but it is what it is, and my surprise doesn't supplant your interest in a slur-free dialog here.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:26 AM on January 29, 2013


Do you really honestly feel that in the comment in question, that the word Cracker was hurled at you as an insult? If so, I can respect that, but I think maybe you misread the intention of the comment.

That's not what I was talking about. I was pointing out that personal opinions about whether cracker is a slur are less important than listening and considering that other people might 1) consider it a slur in certain contexts, and 2) take offense to the term being used at ALL on Metafilter. I can recognize that the comment in question was a joke, but as was clearly stated by the person who started the meta, but maybe people should consider that it's a word that some people might not want to read on Metafilter, even when used in a joke.
posted by 23skidoo at 11:32 AM on January 29, 2013


carmicha: " ...other faux slurs, e.g., spic and span; chink in the armor, etc."


Doo-wop.
posted by Mister_A at 11:34 AM on January 29, 2013


I've read most of the comments here and I'm not able to compete with those of you who have submitted intellectual and historical reasoning for your positions. I am, however, a person who was raised and has lived my entire life totally in the Southern US, most of my life as what would be considered "poor." I "got" the word play of "cracker wants a poly" and can appreciate the cleverness of it.

However, for *me* in my world, cracker is definitely meant as a slur and can mean, according to context:

-- Southern white folk
-- Southern poor white folk (white trash)
-- Southern poor white folk with the implication that they (the white folk) are racist themselves.

It's a word I would NEVER use myself, it's a word that I can't remember the last time I heard it used in polite company, and a word that I would be shocked and a bit distressed to hear someone use out in the world.

I understand that I am (probably) not in the majority here and that it will (probably) be continued to be used on Metafilter. But my experiences, being in and of the South, make me wish that it was a word Metafilter decided it could do without.

Make of that what you will.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 11:34 AM on January 29, 2013 [19 favorites]


posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit

Citation validated.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:37 AM on January 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


Chiming in with similar thoughts as seanmpuckett. In Florida, Cracker -- capital-C, it's a proper noun -- just means "this [white] family has been here since before electricity."

When you have any group of people living in a place for a length of time and doing their thing, you wind up with stuff named for and after them. There are Cracker horses, Cracker cattle (both of these specific breeds), there's a Cracker accent, Cracker cuisine, Cracker politicians who are content to be called that (see Bill Nelson and Lawton Chiles)... hell, one of the big draws at the state fair is a thing called Cracker Country, where there are original farmhouses and re-enactors in period wear explaining how to make kettle corn and cane sugar.

Which proves nothing, really, except that as usual Florida is weird and backwards. It's strange to see that a word which is fairly innocuous here, with a specific cultural meaning, has a completely different one everywhere else. I'll only use the word in this specific Florida context, and certainly not sling it around at people who would interpret it otherwise, but at the same time, I hope that this variant definition manages to survive as an odd historical side-note.
posted by cmyk at 11:39 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


See also "Yankee"
posted by zippy at 11:45 AM on January 29, 2013


I'm never going to Cracker Barrel again.

The food is awful.
posted by Mister_A at 11:46 AM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Cracker Barrel has a long history of racism allegations, lawsuits, and settlements but not involving white people as the injured parties.

This is certainly irony in the Morrisettian sense, if not according to the classic definitions.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:12 PM on January 29, 2013


So I'm not a scholar on this subject, but I've spent a lot of time thinking about it, so here are my thoughts ...

posted by Navelgazer at 3:05 AM on January 29


Eponysterical.
posted by ericb at 12:18 PM on January 29, 2013


You crackers think you've got troubles?

This is what I call stigmatizing.

Can we also ban the term 'Scousers'.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:21 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


As a person of mixed Luxembourger/Scando-Hibernian descent, let me say that I am fine with 'Cracker.'

Just stop calling me a 'Damn Drunk Smoked Fish-Smelling Sauerkraut Eater.'
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:23 PM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I get that in Florida "cracker" refers to a specific group of people descended from early white settlers, but I don't think that's how the word is used elsewhere in the U.S.

The longer this thread has gone on, the more uncomfortable I've become with the word cracker. I started out laughing at the joke and thinking this was much ado about northing. Then I started to think about the class issues and get uncomfortable. (I don't buy that because something is merely a "classist slur" it is okay.) Now I see accounts of people being called this while getting beaten. That suggests it is a word said with hate and an intent to hurt folks.

I don't know what the mods should do. However, I'm not going to call anyone a cracker, and I don't think finding the word ugly means that I've somehow failed to recognize that the realities of racial oppression in the U.S. I'm certainly not suggesting it is as offensive as slurs used against black people, but why should that be the standard?
posted by Area Man at 12:28 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah I definitely have a stronger sense that cracker has some serious class-based implications that make it problematic to use. But at the same time it also is a stand-in for a moderate slur against white people of all classes/wealth, which is not as problematic as when the class side is there.

I think I'll still be ok with using it as a joke in the second of those uses; not really the first. Luckily in the particular instance that started all this it was the second usage. I guess we'll cross the bridge of "used as an intentional slur against a MeFi member or post subject" when it comes up.
posted by Lemurrhea at 12:38 PM on January 29, 2013


I'm not going to call anyone a cracker

To be clear, no real person was actually called a cracker here either -- just a hypothetical person coming from a clear place of privilege. Which was the point. And which really clarifies the issue for me in regards to this joke and my ability to continue to find it funny, though bringing that into the discussion probably muddies the actual issue lots of people are discussing.

To think the moderation wouldn't be different if another user -- or even a specific person who actually exists -- was called a 'cracker' is, I think, really ignore almost all previous precedents.

(and I'm only quoting you here, Area Man, because it inspired me to make the point, not because I think you were the one making any sort of assumption)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:40 PM on January 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Area Man: " The longer this thread has gone on, the more uncomfortable I've become with the word cracker. I started out laughing at the joke and thinking this was much ado about northing. Then I started to think about the class issues and get uncomfortable. (I don't buy that because something is merely a "classist slur" it is okay.) Now I see accounts of people being called this while getting beaten. That suggests it is a word said with hate and an intent to hurt folks. "

That's how I've been feeling about it. Whether classist or racist, it's still a slur.

I don't think this requires mod intervention or censorship. But it's good to know how people feel about it.
posted by zarq at 12:43 PM on January 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


The first time I ever heard the term "Florida cracker" was from my grandmother.

My first longterm girlfriend was nonwhite, and when I brought her to meet my family for the first time, I was terrified that my Greek grandparents were going to say something super racist. Not even, like, out of malice, just by accident. Like, they don't have any tendencies toward white supremacy, just leftover uses of the word "Colored" and such, holdovers from more overtly-racist days, and I was super worried that they'd drop something like that into conversation. But! I was pleasantly surprised when they met her; they said nothing awful, nothing even a little racist, and all was well.

So maybe a year or so after that, I bring a white friend of mine home from college for a visit. My grandparents ask where she's from, and she says Florida, and my Yiayia says jovially, "Oh! You're a Florida cracker?"

And my friend kind of looks like she has no idea how to respond, and really, neither do I. Out of all the ways I could have foreseen the octogenarians in my family being racist, it never would have occurred to me that it would be against white people.
posted by Greg Nog at 12:44 PM on January 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


much ado about northing

Ugh, what is wrong with me? Northing?
posted by Area Man at 12:46 PM on January 29, 2013


Much ado about the Free Folk beyond the Wall
posted by Greg Nog at 12:48 PM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


What if it was a group of African-American kids ganging up on you, calling you cracker or whiteboy, and no one else was around?

I would suspect I was in the Lou Reed song "Waiting for My Man".
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:57 PM on January 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


What if it was a group of African-American kids ganging up on you, calling you cracker or whiteboy, and no one else was around?

The one time I remember being called "white boy" by a black person, he was doing me such a big favor that it still retains a resonance of affection in my head when I hear it.

I was driving in the Central District of Seattle after work one day, four days after being treated for verrucae on all ten fingers with Cantharidin (aka "Spanish Fly") because liquid nitrogen had merely made the warts chuckle evilly to themselves, which had caused my finger tips to swell to about three times normal size, turn dark purple, and look like nothing so much as Italian plums with fingernails embedded in them (I don't remember how I thought I could continue to repair heavy electro-mechanical machinery in such a condition), and hurt so badly I would have been weeping if it hadn't made me so angry instead.

I turned right onto a northbound street, and the car beside me and a little ahead also turned, drifting into my lane a bit, causing me to have to brake and also sending me into a blinding rage; screaming, honking, shaking my fist and pounding the steering wheel (OW!)-- and when the other car stopped ahead of me, I exploded out of my car with nothing but mayhem in mind.

The other driver, who turned out to be a light-skinned black man of middle height but very heavy build, got out of his car and stood in the open door with a wide, wide grin on his face, gestured toward the other side of the street and said, as best I can recall, "Better look around and see what neighborhood you be in, White Boy."

I turned my head and saw about twenty-five black males, maybe 15 to 50 in age, frozen more or less in the postures they'd been in as they hung out beside the little corner store there before the ruckus started, all staring back at me intently, but with otherwise notably blank expressions on their faces.

After a long, long moment during which many thoughts rushed through my mind, I turned back to face him, laughed and said "I see what you mean. Thanks for the tip", got back in my car, and we drove off together.

It took almost an hour for my fingers to start hurting again.

(For the Seattle-aware, this took place at the intersection where Boren, Yesler, and 12th ave. S. all come together.)
posted by jamjam at 12:58 PM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Much ado about the Free Folk beyond the Wall

I'm glad you didn't refer to them as "wildlings" as that is a slur.
posted by Area Man at 1:01 PM on January 29, 2013


there's a weird ring to the idea that women and minorities are so powerless that they can't even "ruin the day" of a white person/man.

This is true. And I do recognize that my indifference to being called "white" or even "cracker" is due largely, if not entirely, to the happenstance of being white and male and straight-appearing enough in a society that (over-)privileges those qualities. But in the practice of speaking, as a white boy, about one's experiences in a situation like this, there's a bit of damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't in this formulation, isn't there? The indifference a white person may have to being called a cracker may have been purchased at the cost of terrible inequities, but it doesn't seem less weird (and personally, I feel it's much weirder) to rest on those inequities and claim an oppression that one may not have ever felt.

It's a word I would NEVER use myself, it's a word that I can't remember the last time I heard it used in polite company, and a word that I would be shocked and a bit distressed to hear someone use out in the world.

I was also raised in the south, with family raised in the south for generations, and mildly derogatory or mildly condescending is how I would characterize "cracker." On a scale of derision "white trash" and "redneck" are much worse. The crackers were just poor; the rednecks were poor and mean. I wouldn't presume to politely address an unfamiliar white person as "cracker," but, then, I wouldn't politely address them as "bro" or "lady" or "buddy" or "ginger" or "sad sack," either.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:08 PM on January 29, 2013


I'm glad you didn't refer to them as "wildlings" as that is a slur.

Really? I've been one of the Free Folk for my whole life, and I've never considered it to be a slur. Sure, sometimes Southerners use it in a hostile way, but, honestly, they live their whole lives in servitude to a confusing, ever shifting roster of kings and lords, so I find it pretty difficult to get offended by anything they want to say about us. Generally speaking, my friends and I toss around "wilding" without giving it much thought, and I have a hard time imagining any of them being more than slightly bemused at being called a "wildling" by someone who expected the name to hurt them.

In other words: you know nothing, Area Man.
posted by Ragged Richard at 1:24 PM on January 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


By that comment? Probably not. It was clever and funny. But more generally, by the website being a place where slurs are okay just so long as they're clever and funny?

Yeah, but that ain't gonna happen, now is it? Even people who disagree about the harm in using cracker are unlikely to start making puns about the N-word, nor do we have any reason to believe the person that originally made the joke, or those who favourited it, would be likely to start using cracker as a slur.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:31 PM on January 29, 2013


"Cracker" isn't a racial slur at all. It's a classist slur.

i'm not sure i totally agree with you - there's plenty of testimony to say otherwise, but that's not what concerns me

often when race issues are brought up, someone will say something about class discrimination and people will complain that they are attempting to derail a conversation about race with one about class, and dismiss the argument out of hand

now, here's the thing - according to you and some others, if this is a slur, it's a classist one - some agree, some try to turn the issue to a race one, saying that the structure of race relations and privilege make it not important, but it seems that few are expressing any kind of concern over this as a class issue

so, class would seem to be a significant and non-derailing issue here - and we're not doing a very good job of confronting it at all

why are we avoiding this?
posted by pyramid termite at 1:31 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was also raised in the south, with family raised in the south for generations, and mildly derogatory or mildly condescending is how I would characterize "cracker." On a scale of derision "white trash" and "redneck" are much worse. The crackers were just poor; the rednecks were poor and mean. I wouldn't presume to politely address an unfamiliar white person as "cracker," but, then, I wouldn't politely address them as "bro" or "lady" or "buddy" or "ginger" or "sad sack," either.

I'd wonder if this is generational, but I have no idea how old you are. For me, white trash is probably the worst (you're literally calling another human being trash) and cracker the second worst. Redneck is the one I associate most with co-option and rural white southern pride. Some of the people I grew up with self identify as rednecks and with a great deal of pride; I never knew anyone who self identified as a cracker.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:40 PM on January 29, 2013


there's a weird ring to the idea that women and minorities are so powerless that they can't even "ruin the day" of a white person/man.

There are three things we shouldn't really conflate:

1) the actual experiences of men or white people being harassed by people of colour or women, as several posters have told us had happened to them. No matter how privileged you are as a person due to your percieved gender, class and race, there will still sometimes be a situation in which it is used against you and in which something like cracker can suddenly have the same menace as the more usual racial slurs have
2) the idea that there is any kind of equivalence, notwithstanding situations as described in 1, with racial or other slurs aimed at people of privilege or those not privileged: that is, in the wider American culture cracker does not carry the same weight as the N-word, even though a good case can be made for not using it, just because it misses the weight of hatred and menace that historically attached to the latter -- how many lynchings started with "get that cracker"?
3) the sort of dismissive attitude the quote above talks about: you can say what you want, little missy, but as a man I just cannot take you seriously enough to be insulted by your slurs. It's sometimes difficult to tell the difference between well intentioned white people who try to explain 2) and why this means they're less uncomfortable with slurs aimed and those who are just using this as rhetoric to keep people of colour down without coming across as the bad guy (or so they think).

I do maintain that any insult to white people is nothing compared to slurs against people of color, but I have no problem with people pointing out the failings of white people, even pointing them out with what you might call spirit and vigor.

Careful, that's what got Robert Fisk in trouble when he said he understood the Afghan refugees who had attacked him; it goes right against most people's belief in fairness and the Golden Rule and all that.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:46 PM on January 29, 2013


there's a weird ring to the idea that women and minorities are so powerless that they can't even "ruin the day" of a white person/man.

As far as the Louis CK bit goes, I partly linked to it out of excitement, "ooh ooh, this is funny and relevant!" I agree with his overall point that white males really can't complain much, comparatively speaking, but I think he's deliberately going over the top to milk the laughs. The whole clip is borderline-transgressive, tiptoeing right on the line of outrageous, and I assume that's in line with his overall comedic approach, rather than what he literally believes about the imperviousness of white males.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 1:56 PM on January 29, 2013


I think it's more offensive to draw an equivalence between "cracker" and "nigger" than to use the word "cracker" in a joke.
posted by prefpara at 2:06 PM on January 29, 2013 [12 favorites]


I'm a white person who grew up in an area where to be white was to be the lowest person in the pecking order, and where the use of slurs referencing my whiteness were used to intimidate. In junior high, there was a Kill [white-slur] Day, on which day white kids were jumped and beaten.

I no longer live in that area, but when I return to visit, hearing the slur still lights up all my fear-sensors.

So, for those who don't find "cracker" offensive, I would just suggest that you speak only for yourself, and don't conflate your experience of the world (and that word) with that of others who might be reading along.

All that aside, I didn't flag the comment. It is a beaut of a pun.
posted by nacho fries at 2:31 PM on January 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think it's more offensive to draw an equivalence between "cracker" and "nigger" than to use the word "cracker" in a joke.

This really strikes true for me, too. I would never on any day under the sun equate equal standing to the two words.
posted by Atreides at 2:37 PM on January 29, 2013


I think it's pretty clear to most people that one word is horribly taboo across the board, and the other word has varied meanings. Just because some people are noting that the two words have things in common (like being slurs) doesn't mean that anyone here is saying that two words carry the exact same impact.
posted by 23skidoo at 2:53 PM on January 29, 2013


Yeah, it doesn't seem controversial to me that two things can both be bad without one thing being as bad as the other.
posted by Justinian at 2:54 PM on January 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Kind of like stab wounds to the groin and paper cuts.
posted by elizardbits at 2:56 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or stab wounds to the groin, and completely discounting the experiences of people who are different than you.
posted by 23skidoo at 2:59 PM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm a white person who grew up in an area where to be white was to be the lowest person in the pecking order, and where the use of slurs referencing my whiteness were used to intimidate. In junior high, there was a Kill [white-slur] Day, on which day white kids were jumped and beaten.
[citation needed]
posted by scrump at 2:59 PM on January 29, 2013


As I said before, cracker is in no way comparable to other racially-based slurs.

That said, Bulgaroktonos' experience matches my own in terms of racial slurs directed against white people.

For me, white trash is probably the worst (you're literally calling another human being trash) and cracker the second worst. Redneck is the one I associate most with co-option and rural white southern pride.

in that if I called someone a cracker in my home town, I'd expect to get in a fight that might end physically. If I called someone white trash? It is guaranteed that person is going to throw a punch. Redneck in my mind is associated with exurban people who think their John Deere mower is the same thing as a tractor and who complain about any remaining farms near their raw little McMansion subdivision.
posted by winna at 3:00 PM on January 29, 2013


Please. Ranchettes!
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:06 PM on January 29, 2013


Yes we can all agree there is nothing worse than paper cuts.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:06 PM on January 29, 2013


[citation needed]

I'm not sure what the point of your comment is.
posted by nacho fries at 3:06 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, I guess I've changed my mind on this, then. When I was engaged in the thread above, it seemed to mostly consist of two camps: "I'm white, and I disagree that it's offensive" and "I'm white, and I don't find it offensive, but I'm fighting on behalf of hypothetical offended people". However, pulling into the later thread, there's a lot of "I'm white, and I'm personally offended by this term". Not just one or two people, but a lot of people. Which means, by definition, it's an offensive term. Is it as offensive as "nigger"? No. Not even remotely close. But does that mean that somehow magically it's not offensive at all? No, that's not how offensiveness works.

Now, people disagree about whether it's racist or classist, but, honestly, so what? MetaFilter isn't cool with either racist or classist offensive terms, so it doesn't matter in a practical sense which it is.
posted by Bugbread at 3:06 PM on January 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


I would tend to agree, but I also believe that the test of whether there are people who are offended by a word isn't necessarily a good one for whether that word is 'offensive' or not, which sounds weird, I know, but.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:13 PM on January 29, 2013


Yeah, I'm thinking I wouldn't be okay with its gratuitous use, having read much of this thread. I was kind of flip about it earlier.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 3:14 PM on January 29, 2013


reading people's experiences, like Nacho Fries, have made me realize that the word is more than grist for the mill of comics. So, I know, PC police and all that, but surely this benefits civilized conversation, right?
posted by angrycat at 4:04 PM on January 29, 2013


doesn't mean that anyone here is saying that two words carry the exact same impact.

this guy?
I just have problems with people who try to tell me it's more okay than the word "nigger.".... Just don't try to tell me one insult is not as insulting as the other insult
posted by jacalata at 4:34 PM on January 29, 2013


Since nobody has spoken for all of Australia & New Zealand yet, I'll state with authority on behalf of all blackfellas, whitefellas, yellafellas & anyfellas that we don't give a shit about this as the word has no currency here.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:47 PM on January 29, 2013


Sly doesn't mention crackers.
posted by klangklangston at 4:54 PM on January 29, 2013


This is Cracker soul.
posted by Eideteker at 5:45 PM on January 29, 2013


MartinWisse, I agree that those are useful distinctions. I think there can be some real slippage between 2) and 3) though, thanks to the tools we use to talk about privilege and systemic inequality, or else a presentation of 2) which belies a kind of ignorance about how "the oppressed" have to deal with 3).

And for the record I like the Louis C.K. bit, but I think it's pretty bitterly funny (as is a lot of his work). While he's not always the most lucid critic of privilege I don't have a problem with those particular observations. It's just when they start being passed around like boilerplate rather than comedy that it can be a little annoying how trifling they sound.
posted by stoneandstar at 7:36 PM on January 29, 2013


I've never used or received cracker as an insult because as Ubu says, it's just got no traction here in Oz. And after seeing this discussion, I'll be playing it safe and not using it in future*. But as any woman who's been harassed in the street by a guy following her and giving her 'compliments' about her appearance can tell you, the actual word isn't the problem, it's how it's deployed within a situation.

Between race and class issues, and history, and that a lot of people are ok with it but a large minority aren't, I doubt this will have a one-size-fits-all solution. I'm ok with the mods continuing to judge it's offensiveness based on context and intention, as they have been doing. It's not a "slurs are ok if they're funny" or "slurs are ok against a majority" situation, it's a "joke directed at a hypothetical person not on this site who is a member of a privileged group using that privilege to satisfy his carnal desires" situation which is highly unlikely to happen again. The next time the word comes up (if it ever does) I assume the mods will take the experiences shared in here into account when deciding what to do about it.

* Not least because if I insult someone I want them to know a) that they've actually been insulted and b) what I'm insulting them about. Cracker is clearly too complex and regional for that purpose.
posted by harriet vane at 8:02 PM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yes, Harriet, that's exactly my take on it. This discussion has been quite interesting to me, and I'll certainly be avoiding using it in the future (not that it's exactly something I say every other day, anyway).
posted by smoke at 8:26 PM on January 29, 2013


Over the years I've become increasingly annoyed with the subset of white people who believe in nonsense like "reverse racism" (that article should be required reading) and who seem to be on the lookout for opportunities to propagate their misguided belief in the aforementioned nonsense. Like if they keep talking about it and talking about it it will suddenly be an actual thing instead of a really sad & insanely unhelpful fundamental disconnect. So, good or bad, that's how I came to this thread.

I don't use words like cracker or honky, both of which just seem silly- honky always makes me think of a clown nose and despite my weird clown phobia, the conjured image is just too absurd for me to get past to find the offensiveness. I mean "asshole" has always seemed like a more powerful invective than any of those words. But besides the silliness & ineffectuality of words like cracker or honky, I also don't use them because I don't want to give that subset of white people anything to latch on to- I don't want to give them ammunition. I don't want to make it easy for them to ignore what racism actually is. Try being me when cops pull up to a car that I'm standing outside of in full daylight, with the passenger door open, as I lean in and talk to my white fiance who is in the drivers seat and having the cops say when they think that I can't hear them that they were afraid for his safety. (Do not however, try being me when, after hearing that, I give the cops an earful, because seriously fuck you).

But I'm not only a Black Woman Angry At The System®, I'm also someone who tries extremely hard not to needlessly hurt other people for any reason whatsoever. So for much of this thread, those two parts were really warring with each other, and I won't pretend that I didn't think and don't still think that some of the earlier comments were coming from that subset of white people who look for proof of the possibility of a completely oxymoronic societal construct like reverse racism. But at some point in the thread, I came to realize that for some people, it's just a hurtful word. It might not hurt in the way that the n word hurts me (google slavery and its long reaching effects), but that feeling, when it's honest, is always valid.

So having never used the word (and, for the record, to me "cracker" does not have to do with class. If it did, the offensiveness would have been obvious.) I decided to try it out. I called out to my fiance who was in another room, "Hey! What are you doing in there cracker!?"* And, even without any heat behind it, it didn't sound silly coming out of my mouth, it sounded mean and it was difficult to say. While I don't think the original comment should have been deleted (it was kind of genius, see also context), words that have the capability of hurting a large group of people simultaneously shouldn't be given a blanket pass and should probably be avoided.

*My boy came out of the other room smiling and said, "Did you just call me a crapper?" and after I told him what I'd really called him, he replied, "Oh, crapper would have been a better insult." And then the whole conversation took a rather gross turn, the rest of which I will spare you.
posted by eunoia at 9:22 PM on January 29, 2013 [14 favorites]


Yeah, I think living in the southern US or a region of the world where white people aren't the privileged majority really flavors the word and others like it in a different way. I do agree that some words have more power than others, but I did kind of cringe at the comment and don't consider it classy at all. I like MetaFilter to be classy. I also like MetaFilter to be diverse, and I feel like it is but quite often the conversations feel very dominated by upper-middle class white USians and sometimes perspectives on other classes, ethnicities and cultures can be kind of oblivious and offensive.
posted by byanyothername at 9:38 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


For me, white trash is probably the worst (you're literally calling another human being trash) and cracker the second worst. Redneck is the one I associate most with co-option and rural white southern pride.

I don't know why more people don't call out white trash frankly. It is #1 very classist and #2 very racist towards nonwhite people. Because with the qualifier, it's saying that all nonwhite people are trash, and this subsection of white people is also trash.

There is really no other way to read it.
posted by sweetkid at 9:47 PM on January 29, 2013 [8 favorites]


As long as the slur is against the powerful or those that are perceived as the powerful Metafilter Mods are ok with it -- this is what I've learned as a member of the community. Cites available.
posted by Shit Parade at 10:04 PM on January 29, 2013


There's a great Molly Ivins quote that I can't quite remember, talking about Rush Limbaugh and humor/satire being used as a weapon, and how it has long been the greatest weapon of the underprivileged against the privileged, and how ugly and evil it is when turned the other way.

Ahh, here it is:
There are two kinds of humor. One kind that makes us chuckle about our foibles and our shared humanity -- like what Garrison Keillor does. The other kind holds people up to public contempt and ridicule -- that's what I do. Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful. I only aim at the powerful. When satire is aimed at the powerless, it is not only cruel -- it's vulgar. —quoted in People magazine interview, 1991.
That's what all of this is reminding me of.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:12 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Because with the qualifier, it's saying that all nonwhite people are trash, and this subsection of white people is also trash.

I'm not going to say that you're wrong, but I have never once suspected this reading of the term.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:13 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


sweetkid: "It is #1 very classist and #2 very racist towards nonwhite people. Because with the qualifier, it's saying that all nonwhite people are trash, and this subsection of white people is also trash.

There is really no other way to read it.
"

I always read it as a single term, "whitetrash", not as two individual words to indicate "trash which is white".

Maybe that's a really uncommon way to parse it, I dunno, but "there's no other way to read it" isn't accurate. Maybe "that's the most logical way to read it" or "that's the most obvious interpretation".
posted by Bugbread at 10:18 PM on January 29, 2013


I am unhappy about the original comment because all day I've been humming goddamn Nirvana. Complete with that false start on the third verse. ALL DAY.
posted by gingerest at 10:29 PM on January 29, 2013


Y'all has totally ignored us trailer trash in your erudite discussions.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 10:55 PM on January 29, 2013


"Try being me when cops pull up to a car that I'm standing outside of in full daylight, with the passenger door open, as I lean in and talk to my white fiance who is in the drivers seat and having the cops say when they think that I can't hear them that they were afraid for his safety. (Do not however, try being me when, after hearing that, I give the cops an earful, because seriously fuck you)."

So, I was talking to my aforementioned coworker Erinn about how my folks were doing some genealogy and, much to the chagrin of some in my family, my mom is three-eighths black. She looks at me and says, "You ain't black. We call the cops, we'll see who they arrest." (I didn't say I was black, outside of some crazy Stormfront rules, but had to just kinda nod and say, "Yeah, it's fucked up.")

"As long as the slur is against the powerful or those that are perceived as the powerful Metafilter Mods are ok with it -- this is what I've learned as a member of the community. Cites available."

Some members of MetaFilter have a very fucked up view of how both MetaFilter and the world function. Ibid.
posted by klangklangston at 11:36 PM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


As someone whose parents emigrated to the United States in the '70s to study medicine, spending their entire lives helping people in need in a country completely foreign to them, helping to build clinics in under-privileged communities when many other doctors were chasing dollars, whose grandfather ran a kiosk selling cigarettes and newspapers and got his ass kicked by communists for expressing his political views back in the motherland, whose great grandparents lived in complete poverty with donkeys and goats in the mountains and struggled without basic things like running water and electricity, whose family a few generations before that lived under Ottoman rule, I mean, the idea that all that happened so that I could end up raised in the greatest democratic melting pot in the history of mankind only to be sociopolitically reduced to a "privileged white" who not only "doesn't get it" but deserves the cracker honky humor that he has coming to him, is fucking unbelievable.

How's that for a run-on sentence. Anyway, I feel like we could all stand to at least pretend like we're all in this thing together. I'm glad at least some people feel a little differently because of the conversation in this thread. And it's been a real eye-opener to me as well. In particular I really liked eunoia's comment. Thanks.
posted by phaedon at 11:43 PM on January 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Rape jokes, n word, c word, people who insult other people by calling them a tranny. In all of these cases people from the community have spoken up in droves saying they find those words significantly hurtful enough that they felt we should make an exception to our "light moderation" policy for them.

Some members of MetaFilter have a very fucked up view of how both MetaFilter and the world function. Ibid.
posted by klangklangston at 11:36 PM on January 29 [+] [!]


Learn to read the thread.
posted by Shit Parade at 11:56 PM on January 29, 2013


Also, not wanting to be misunderstood, but I personally think more words ought to be allowed not less (delete speech deemed illegal, speech which are direct threats of violence, and useless banter i.e. repeating a curse 50 times etc).

I understand the rationale behind the decisions mods have made, but I also know (from experience) that this rationale is very unevenly enforced and is often done to be friendly towards groups the mods have decided are disenfranchised, sometimes this moderation is done at the expensive of the more 'privileged'. Doesn't actually bother me, only bothers me when the mods deny it. Just be explicit and move on, I appreciate Jessamyn's comment I quoted, it is one of the few explicit statements on this asymmetry in enforcement to protect the disenfranchised. So, in short, Crackers and Dicks for everyone, just leave off the r-n-c.
posted by Shit Parade at 12:26 AM on January 30, 2013


The Republican National Congress?
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:32 AM on January 30, 2013


phaedon: "I mean, the idea that all that happened so that I could end up raised in the greatest democratic melting pot in the history of mankind only to be sociopolitically reduced to a "privileged white" who not only "doesn't get it" but deserves the cracker honky humor that he has coming to him, is fucking unbelievable."

Hey, at least you're a privileged white in the majority. I'm a white guy in a country where white guys make up less than 1% of the population. We get restricted from various business establishments. We get turned down looking for housing. Old folks get up to avoid us on trains. But I still get to get on the Internet and have people talk about how awesome it is to make fun of white folks, because in other countries they've got lots of privilege.

(Don't get me wrong, though, of all the minorities in Japan, us white guys have the most privilege. But that's like saying Asians are more privileged than blacks or Hispanics in America.)
posted by Bugbread at 1:35 AM on January 30, 2013


Well, there's problems and problems, and privilege and privilege, I guess. At a (further) guess you are in Japan because you can earn a better living there than elsewhere at the moment, or because you find things about it which are sufficiently pleasant to counteract the disadvantages. That's a slightly different form of suffering than, say, somebody who is going through the same impoverished, broken education system that their parents and grandparents went through, will have to abandon education to start earning in a low-status, low-waged job, and who does not have a chance to develop the specialized skills required to become an economically viable transplant to another country where they would have the opportunity to experience a novel _form_ of discrimination.

The idea that intersectional discourse seeks to establish some sort of strict graph of skin color to level of disenfranchisement or privilege is I think a phantasm. This is all bad stuff. But it is _different_ bad stuff. Like, there's a reason why doctors at free clinics tend not to worry about how few people with insurance are coming through their doors. They are tackling other problems which are closer to their objectives. This does not disqualify them from complaining about the prohibitive cost of health insurance, however.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:45 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


running order squabble fest: "At a (further) guess you are in Japan because you can earn a better living there than elsewhere at the moment, or because you find things about it which are sufficiently pleasant to counteract the disadvantages. That's a slightly different form of suffering than, say, somebody who is going through the same impoverished, broken education system that their parents and grandparents went through, will have to abandon education to start earning in a low-status, low-waged job, and who does not have a chance to develop the specialized skills required to become an economically viable transplant to another country where they would have the opportunity to experience a novel _form_ of discrimination."

Very true. Plus, it was tons of privilege in the US that enabled me to get the education and skills necessary to get a visa to Japan, and to get a decent paying job. I had plenty of privilege that helped me get here, and still benefit from that privilege today. I just think "whites are the majority, and lots of whites did shitty things in the past, which even well-meaning whites benefit from today, so it's okay to use slurs against them" is a strange thing to say on an international website.

Also, my mom being Spanish and me being therefore half-Spanish, I'm curious about "spic". The Spaniards did some cruel, cruel shit in Central and South America. By any standards, they would be called oppressors. Can MeFites call my mom a spic?

And, not directly related to me, what about the Turks? Looking at the Armenian Genocide, it's pretty clear that Turkey could be called a clear oppressor. Are slurs against Turks permitted?

I understand the argument that "cracker isn't that bad a term, because it doesn't carry much weight, due to historical reasons". I'm fine with that reasoning for accepting cracker. But some people are saying that even if it does carry weight, it's okay to use because white people are a majority, and have been shitty. It seems that there are lots of different minorities and majorities in different countries, and people who are majorities in some are minorities in others, and people who are oppressed in some are oppressors in others. I don't understand how that logic would allow "cracker" but (presumably) deny "spic" or...er...I don't know any slurs for Turks, sorry.
posted by Bugbread at 3:08 AM on January 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Here ya go
posted by Joseph Gurl at 3:38 AM on January 30, 2013


Looking at the Armenian Genocide, it's pretty clear that Turkey could be called a clear oppressor. Are slurs against Turks permitted?

If it were a website located in Turkey, where the majority of users were Turkish, and they were speaking in Turkish from a largely Turkish perspective, and most of the Turks thought it was okay, I would say probably yes.
posted by empath at 3:56 AM on January 30, 2013


I think one of the things that I find interesting about these discussions is that they enable a tremendous amount of hateful language under the aegis of inverted commas. In particular, the one word white people generally cannot say (in public, in mixed company, without some adverse consequences) gets taken out like the javelins on sports day and hurled all over the place, because, hey, it's not like we're throwing the javelins _at_ people. We're just clarifying the question of how far, and under what conditions, javelins can be thrown... I think there are some interesting dialogs about privilege there. (Or possibly just a thesis - put a "do not press" sign over a button, and people are going to start finding circumstances in which it is not only possible but desirable for them to press that button).

Similarly, lawyering about whether hate speech is justified by the Armenian genocide and Cortez is... lawyering about whether hate speech is justified by the Armenian genocide and Cortez. We already know the answer to both those questions, I think, and if not the mods have effectively answered them above. As a term used in a discussion about racial epithets, allowed but not necessarily encouraged. As a term of abuse directed at a MeFite, or indeed a MeFite's mother, not cool.

I think whether what we started talking about in this thread _was_ a "javelin word" was under discussion, and is still under discussion. A strand of that discussion is that for some it is inapplicable to the target in the example (an imagined rich white man with an interest in polyamory), but that it functions for them as an abusive term along a particular axis of class and race, to denigrate a specific disadvantaged group (poor white people in the southern US). That's been fed into the discussion.

I don't think I see anyone saying that terms of abuse are usable or not on a strict mathematical calculation of numbers, however. Apart from anything else, it doesn't take very long to think of examples of countries in which a statistical minority retains privilege. Hell, give the US a couple of generations...

The argument that abusive words have less capacity to harm based on the social context and history of where they are being used, on the other hand, is pretty uncontroversial, I'd say. If I can use a word to refer back to a time when people who looked like me owned people who looked like you as property, and people who looked like you would be killed out of hand for treating people who looked like me without deference, then yes, that has a specific social context. If there is ongoing discrimination against a group to which you belong and I choose to tie directly into that with my choice of language, that's a tool I have.

So, if a straight man in the US calls a gay man in the US a hateful term based on his sexuality, that's plugging into a complex of associations which come from a social context where the question of whether that gay man is entitled to equal treatement under the law is still being debated, where people are fairly regularly discriminated against, beaten up and in a number of cases killed for loving people of the same gender, und so weiter. If a gay man calls a straight man a breeder, that straight man has the option of hittng the fainting couch with the force of a thousand exploding suns, but he's likely to look a bit silly.

"Oh no, you referenced the fact that heterosexual people have children. Which is used as a reason to portray the relationships you have as unnatural and unproductive, and justify legal and social discrimination. Woe is me."

(Whereas a particular straight person might be hurt by it on an individual or personal level because they are _not_ in that set - because they have fertility issues, say, or desperately want but cannot afford to have children. In which case the same factors are in play. And I've seen gay people being mortified and apologetic in those circumstances, because they had been relying on the powerlessness of the insult to cause meaningful harm to a heterosexual subject. Which is why even apparently powerless terms might have unexpected impacts, which is sort of where we came in.)

If purely mathematical (you make up 51% of the population, therefore you are fair game), or purely historical (Spartan cruelty to the rebels at Ithome in 460BC justifies the word I am about to call you) views are being advanced here, I would say that there are on a fringe diametrically opposite the equally counter-experiential argument that all insulting words function in the same way as and are a bad as each other.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:07 AM on January 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


It seems pretty silly in my eyes to expect people to discuss certain words while wanting them to avoid mentioning those words. Mentioning a word is not the same as using it, just like you can grab a javelin, hold it up for others to see so they'll know which javelin you mean, and not throw it.
posted by Too-Ticky at 4:24 AM on January 30, 2013


And, again, this is interesting, because you have kind of imagined an entire paragraph there.

There is at no point any expectation expressed that any words not be used. There is a statement that some words have _pointy tips_, and that it is interesting how words which have a clear and acknowledged power to hurt and offend (somewhat independent of intended usage - you might not want to declaim choice passages from "Huckleberry Finn" in a diner, for example, even if your aim is to beat the drum for racial equality, because the word, overheard a few tables away, has a drumbeat of its own) are handled. For example, Jessamyn specifically did not mention the specific terms which were not cool on MetaFilter in full, although her reference relied on a general understanding of what those terms are and how they are signified. That's an approach. There are others, clearly.

Some words have considerable weight provided by general context, and that has an interplay with the specific context of their usage*. However, there is a clear differnce between words used as terms of abuse and words used in discussion of abuse, both in general and on MetaFilter. How you deal with that is one of the interesting tensions in discussions like this. As is the possibility that somebody will imagine that somebody is trying to take a particular freedom away from them by pointing out some of those compexities.


*These are not necessarily terms of abuse. There was a protest against Penny Arcade's treatment of the topic of rape and rape survivors. One person responded to that by sending a rape survivor involved in that protest a message containng the word "rape" repeated several thousand times. That's a word generally seen to be without a pointed tip, but one which in this case was being repurposed in the hope it would have a bludgeoning impact.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:45 AM on January 30, 2013


So, if a straight man in the US calls a gay man in the US a hateful term based on his sexuality, that's plugging into a complex of associations which come from a social context where the question of whether that gay man is entitled to equal treatement under the law is still being debated, where people are fairly regularly discriminated against, beaten up and in a number of cases killed for loving people of the same gender, und so weiter. If a gay man calls a straight man a breeder, that straight man has the option of hittng the fainting couch with the force of a thousand exploding suns, but he's likely to look a bit silly.

I think a part of the problem in this case is less that calling out a term for heterosexuals based on their sexuality is as damaging as calling out a term for homosexuals or bisexuals based on their sexuality, and more than some of us believe no one should be called out because of their sexuality. Similarly to race. I have yet to see anyone arguing that the c-word has as much force and hate as the n-word. But I think it's reasonable for people to say that being mean based on someone's race is not cool, nor are slurs based on it.
posted by corb at 5:10 AM on January 30, 2013


(That is, "not cool" in derogatory usage. But that signification is complex also - so, to the best of my understanding using a racially abusive term to describe a Spanish or Latino MeFite, or their mother - not cool. Using it about Marco Rubio, for example - not cool. Using it sarcastically to characterize Marco Rubio in the context of what you see as the anti-Hispanic statements he makes for political purposes, probably tricky to do without problems. Sarcastically rephrasing a statement made by a politician which has clearly anti-Hispanic overtones by replacing "alien" or "illegal" with racially abusive terms ... maybe OK, but maybe not encouraged? Quoting the term used by a GOP leader when he thought the mikes were off, unlikely to be problematic. And so on. Lots of grey areas and questions of usage.

And substitution and simulacrum are complex in themselves. Call Barack Obama a "stupid [n-word]" on MetaFilter, and the expectation is that you'd get bounced. Call him "a stupid N-word" - like, those exact characters typed out like that, and I suspect you would _still_ get bounced, because of the clearly racist intent. Whereas if, in discussing his description by Lynn Westmoreland as "uppity", someone set out the clear inference in explicit terms, it would be unlikely to be questioned or criticised.

On the other side of the acceptability event horizon, some of the far right's best brains are dedicated to the question of how racist descriptions and depictions of Barack Obama can be in order to attract support while retaining deniability. Of course, since we are talking about the far right's best brains, these calculations often turn out to be incorrect.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:12 AM on January 30, 2013


running order squabble fest, you're right, I interpreted your "In particular, the one word white people generally cannot say (in public, in mixed company, without some adverse consequences) gets taken out like the javelins on sports day and hurled all over the place, because, hey, it's not like we're throwing the javelins _at_ people" as "let's not do that". Apparently, I got it wrong.
It seems that you merely meant to imply that "some words have pointy tips", whatever that may mean.

I generally like analogies, but it seems I don't understand the one you're using the way you intended me to. Maybe your way of putting things is just too complicated for me to understand.
posted by Too-Ticky at 5:40 AM on January 30, 2013


I generally like analogies, but it seems I don't understand the one you're using the way you intended me to. Maybe your way of putting things is just too complicated for me to understand.

That's possible, or it might have been poorly expressed, or have relied on a shared culture we do not have. The analogy I was drawing, I think, depends on a shared metaphorical culture where javelins are recognized as a tool used in school sports days, but a tool the use of which is treated with a degree of caution greater than, say, the basketball. We may not have that culture in common.

However, I think that "all over the place" - which was intended to describe the usage pattern in the thread rather than the direction of the javelins in the metaphor, since in the metaphor the javelins are being thrown in the context of a school sports day, thus in one direction and from one point - may have been confusing, for which apologies. I did intend to communicate a sense of exuberance, however. And I do think your reaction was interesting: not that you read it the way you did, but what the process leading to that reading was.

corb: I have yet to see anyone arguing that the c-word [in this case not the usual c-word] has as much force and hate as the n-word.

It happens here. Like I say, that's a counter-experiential position which is probably diametrically opposed to a counter-experiential statement - hypothesized by Bugbread - that a simple majority or a past indignity might justify any current abuse of an ethnic or cultural group. I don't think the second argument has been seriously advanced, and I believe the first has only been made by Phaedon, and does not represent a mainstream of thought.

But I think it's reasonable for people to say that being mean based on someone's race is not cool, nor are slurs based on it.

"Nobody should ever be made to feel bad or insulted on the grounds of their race" is a good principle, I think.

However, it serves the interests of the privileged if this morphs into an argument that this is the only thing that needs to be said when it comes to dealing with insults relating to race. Because it can become an enforced slate-cleaning, in effect - demanding that people who are subject to the most powerful forms of abuse (not just verbally) should not draw uncomfortable attention even to the disparity between the power of their respective pejoratives, and the deeper issues underlying that disparity. And if "cracker" is offensive when applied to and because of its reference to poor white people in the South, we are _still_ looking for a comparable term for white people in the US in general with anything remotely resembling the force of the insults which can be directed at other groups.

Put another way: there's a reason why we are having this discussion about one of these words, and not the other, and that reason is not pure lexicographical happenstance. Again, I think this is interesting, and merits consideration.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:00 AM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


corb: I have yet to see anyone arguing that the c-word [in this case not the usual c-word] has as much force and hate as the n-word.

It happens here.


There's that one comment, but not much else; I don't think there's any significant number of people arguing that cracker is as bad a nigger, and honestly the whole conversation about how their different is sort of besides the point. Nigger is the comparison that Godwins any discussion of racial slurs. There's very few comparable slurs, both because the experience of African Americans is worse than experience of many other discriminated against groups and because even the other slurs for African Americans don't have the power of nigger.

The fact that cracker isn't as bad as nigger would only matter if nigger were the only slur we frowned upon, but I don't get to say wop or mick or polack either, even though calling they're not nearly as bad as nigger.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:08 AM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


And if "cracker" is offensive when applied to and because of its reference to poor white people in the South, we are _still_ looking for a comparable term for white people in the US in general with anything remotely resembling the force of the insults which can be directed at other groups.


These points have all been addressed in this thread, but I'll repeat them:

1) "cracker" is not solely used to refer to poor white people in the South. That is one usage, but the word is also used as a slur against ALL white people. There are several other nuances that can be found, if you'd like to read the whole thread.

2) The force of specific words varies A LOT by location. If you find a certain word is only mildly offensive, that may be because you have never gotten to experience a culture where that word is TOTALLY offensive.

3) The overwhelming majority of people in this thread objecting to the usage of the term fully understand that different racial slurs pack a different emotional punch. But that doesn't mean that some racial slurs suddenly stop being racial slurs, simply because more powerful ones exist.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:21 AM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Bulgaroktonos: Indeed - directly after the words you quoted, I said:
Like I say, that's a counter-experiential position which is probably diametrically opposed to a counter-experiential statement - hypothesized by Bugbread - that a simple majority or a past indignity might justify any current abuse of an ethnic or cultural group. I don't think the second argument has been seriously advanced, and I believe the first has only been made by Phaedon, and does not represent a mainstream of thought.
.

So, since we agree entirely on that, we're left with the words you don't get to say. And, again, that's interesting - clearly, we are talking about specific values of "don't get to say" - you just said them. And the idea of "getting to say" is quite interesting in and of itself.

You don't get to say them to people, with the intent to abuse, without possible consequences - in the case of MetaFilter, post deletion and possible banning. You may not get to say them frivolously, to make a humorous rhyme or wordplay, without some sort of consequence - on MetaFilter, probably post deletion and an admonitory note. And so on. But there is no actual mechanism preventing you from saying them, and there are contexts in which saying them has very few consequences.

The immediate discussion here is whether "cracker" fits into that set of words on MetaFilter - those words you should not be using as abusive terms against other members or people being discussed, or use lightly. So, is it closer to "spaz" (to use an example from the mod comment above) or to those terms you don't (in certain contexts) get to say (without potential adverse consequences).

(On preview - thanks, 23skidoo! I have read the whole thread. I will ask you in turn just to read the words I wrote. There are fewer of them, but we may have different comfort levels, so I'll take a break now to give you a run-up. Gosh, that sort of patronizing adminition really doesn't help the tone of the discussion at all. Something to think about there, I guess.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:28 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've read everything you wrote, but the language you're using is flying way over my head. I'm sorry for assuming you hadn't read the whole thread, but the three points I made are still valid.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:38 AM on January 30, 2013


"I've read everything you wrote" should be "I read everything you wrote before I made my first comment to you"
posted by 23skidoo at 6:40 AM on January 30, 2013


Boil that shit down.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:43 AM on January 30, 2013


Sorry, 23skidoo, that was kinda snappy of me. I think we agree, to a degree - I said waaaay up here that my understanding of "cracker" was originally that it applied solely to poor white southerners, but that I had also seen it applied to members of the Fantastic Four, who share only whiteness with that group, so it had some broader resonance.

I think I pretty much still understand that resonance the way I did there - that it relies for its power to disparage on a nexus of elements - location, class, different forms of "whiteness" - and if deployed outside that nexus is likely to seem odd or picturesque rather than viscerally offensive.

However, what we've been hearing recently in this thread is people saying "it refers to poor white southerners in a way that is hurtful to me" - we've been hearing from a particular set of people with particular experiences. Based on those experiences, I'm not likely to use it (although i wasn't likely to use it previously, TBH). So, I think my journey through the discussion, from reading the thread in its entirety and in sequence, may be slightly different from yours.

I think a problem might be that you're experiencing this adversarially - you think we're on opposite sides of an argument, maybe, about whether the word should be used on MetaFilter. Which is not an argument I'm having - because it's already been had, primarily. The mod line on this was down within 30 minutes of this post going up.

So, the rest is really just knowledge sharing and hypothesizing. There's a sideroad about whether certain words are or are not "slurs", but no real move to systematize what a slur actually is or does, which is tricky. And there's a dialog around what you can/can't say (on MetaFilter or elsewhere), which I find interesting for the multiple interpretations around the idea of "can/can't say".

Also, I find the idea of these discussions as a kind of pressure valve where people can use racial slurs in hypotheticals and analyses (that is, for science) interesting. Which I guess is MetaMetaTalk, but the actual moderator response was asked for and given almost immediately, so everything after that is a level down anyway.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:28 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


However, what we've been hearing recently in this thread is people saying "it refers to poor white southerners in a way that is hurtful to me" - we've been hearing from a particular set of people with particular experiences.

And we've also been hearing from people who've been saying "it refers to white people, regardless of income level, and not just in the South, in a way that is hurtful to me." I think that's an important point to take away from this discussion, personally: understanding that the word is not just used against poor white southerners.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:47 AM on January 30, 2013


...which I already stated that I understood in my first post to the thread, although "used against" and "damaging to" are different qualities.

We have your anecdotes about the term being used by a black person to insult a white person, and other people later being horrified by this, and about a [mixed] classroom of children finding the term disquieting and offensive. And we have some other accounts, such as RolandofEld's, which suggest that it has a dual usage - by white people in the south as a classist insult against poorer white people, and by black people as a pejorative term applicable to all white people, on the level of "white boy" or "honky" - which is also the precept in Burhanistan's "black kids" hypothetical.

Interestingly, though, "it refers to white people, regardless of income level, and not just in the South, in a way that is hurtful to me [sc. as a white person]", while it has certainly been said, has not actualy been said in that specific combination all that often. Although there has been an interesting occurrence of people who do not identify as white arguing against its usage because they feel it opens up race as a viable topic for abuse, and they stand to lose more from that than white people. Which is not something I had thought about, but makes a lot of sense.
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:19 AM on January 30, 2013


"Also, not wanting to be misunderstood, but I personally think more words ought to be allowed not less (delete speech deemed illegal, speech which are direct threats of violence, and useless banter i.e. repeating a curse 50 times etc).

I understand the rationale behind the decisions mods have made, but I also know (from experience) that this rationale is very unevenly enforced and is often done to be friendly towards groups the mods have decided are disenfranchised, sometimes this moderation is done at the expensive of the more 'privileged'. Doesn't actually bother me, only bothers me when the mods deny it. Just be explicit and move on, I appreciate Jessamyn's comment I quoted, it is one of the few explicit statements on this asymmetry in enforcement to protect the disenfranchised. So, in short, Crackers and Dicks for everyone, just leave off the r-n-c.
"

So, this is more thin-skinned whining from Shit Parade that moderators are unfair because you can't say "tranny" whenever you want. Good, I'll file that with the rest of the thin-skinned whining you do, and the general malingering about the site's moderation, which seems to be your only contribution here. Have fun at your White History Month.
posted by klangklangston at 8:44 AM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


...which I already stated that I understood in my first post to the thread, although "used against" and "damaging to" are different qualities.

I went back and found your first post in the thread, and I can't see you acknowledging the point I was making at all. And then in your second post, you say "In fact, I'd suspect that the only way one could use the term to offend with any expectation of success would be if you were very clearly using it as a pejorative against poor white people." To me, if you understand that the word can and is used, in certain instances, against ALL white people, then you'd quit saying that it's a word that's used against poor white Southerners.

Interestingly, though, "it refers to white people, regardless of income level, and not just in the South, in a way that is hurtful to me [sc. as a white person]", while it has certainly been said, has not actualy been said in that specific combination all that often.

The number of times it's been said is completely unimportant. What's important is that ANY people are saying it.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:57 AM on January 30, 2013


I also know (from experience) that this rationale is very unevenly enforced and is often done to be friendly towards groups the mods have decided are disenfranchised, sometimes this moderation is done at the expensive of the more 'privileged'.

I would be more than happy to copy to this thread your rape jokes that we deleted as well as, if you want, the long back and forth discussions we had about why we deleted them and how you could phrase your comments differently so that you could participate here without getting your comments deleted. I understand that you wish moderation were different here. However you want it to be different to such a degree and in such a direction that it's unlikely to happen. You know this, we've had long conversations about this, what you choose to do with this information is up to you. I think we've been clear about how moderation works here and what we're likely to delete.

We're not protecting anyone, we're setting a tone for how we'd like conversation to happen here, most of which just happens through community norm-setting [I think fewer people will toss the word 'cracker' around after this thread, though we probably will continue to not explicitly delete it unless people are being assholish about it] and some through fiat when community norm setting either doesn't work or isn't sufficient.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:03 AM on January 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Jesus wept, it's not like there aren't lots of other places on these great Interwebs where somebody who wants to tell rape jokes and use slurs to their heart's content can just go hog wild with that.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:50 AM on January 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


I thought the statement was really funny, and I favorited it for that reason. And as a white person, I was not offended at all by use of the term "cracker", even though I was bullied in elementary school and junior high school specifically due to my race (growing up poor, I went to school in Harlem until I passed some special tests and got into Stuy).

I definitely agree that it is a double standard to allow one racial slur but not another. I think that one reason it was allowed was because of the context. For example, the n-word is an offensive slur but in the proper context, it is acceptable (one of my black friends calls me "nigga" all the time). That is because it is obviously done without malice.

Another reason it may have been allowed is because slurs vary greatly in severity. For example, there is a huge difference in the racial undertones of calling your friend "nigga" and calling him a "negro." Similarly, there is an equivalent difference between calling somebody "cracker" or calling him "graymeat." One of these slurs is playful; the other is not.

That said, nobody should make the MeTa OP feel bad for bringing this issue up. It was a legitimate question and makes Mefites more aware that they might be called out on potentially racist behavior in the future, regardless of whether it is directed towards a minority or majority. That is socially-responsible behavior that the OP should be proud of, not ashamed by. It is also behavior that the mods should encourage, even if they stand by their original ruling. (Which I thought was correct, for what it's worth.)
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:02 AM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


wolfdreams01: "or calling him "graymeat.""

?

I've never heard that term before, and urban dictionary doesn't have an entry for it. Is it new?
posted by zarq at 11:07 AM on January 30, 2013


Because with the qualifier, it's saying that all nonwhite people are trash, and this subsection of white people is also trash.

I'm not going to say that you're wrong, but I have never once suspected this reading of the term.


I'm sure most people don't think of it that way, or even say it with that intention, but it really does seem like that is what it means.
posted by sweetkid at 11:09 AM on January 30, 2013


Jessamyn, you are welcome to publish any and all of my comments and correspondence with the mods.

I do not appreciate being labeled, by a moderator, as someone who tells 'rape jokes' when, as far as I can recollect, I have never written out a rape joke on Metafilter. I've used rape in metaphors and analogies, but I do not toss the word around for giggles.

If we're going to continue talking about 'privilege' through the lens and language of cultural studies, please be aware that as a moderator you have inordinate amount of power, that our relationship is vastly unequal, and being labeled as someone who tells rape jokes in this community is oppressive (perhaps akin to going door to door telling people that I'm a registered sex offender). This isn't the first time that my speech has been chilled in Metatalk, perhaps my opinion (which I think is often assumed to be the opinion of the romanticized oppressor) is considered less valuable and therefore more easily censored.

Again, you are protecting certain classes of people by being selective in which slurs you more heavily police, I believe that is fine even laudable, but I do find it troubling when you seem to not fully accept that reality, why is it difficult for you to accept?
posted by Shit Parade at 11:16 AM on January 30, 2013


The number of times it's been said is completely unimportant. What's important is that ANY people are saying it.

I'm sorry, 23skidoo. You seem to be angry, and I am not sure why, exactly. I thought it might be something about me, but wandering upthread it looks like you're calling people who don't line up with you "deceitful and ignorant" pretty much from the start, based at that point on... a couple of anecdotes in which people told you or your ex-girlfriend's aunt that "cracker" was a serious insult.

(Oddly, your ex-girlfriend's aunt was not offended - I would assume relatively few African-Americans would be unaware of the offense being aimed for with a comparable pejorative, which you don't seem to have factored in but is an interesting data point. And the people telling you that this was an unacceptable word to use were doing so in a classroom environment. In fact, in the anecdotes you brought to the table nobody was actually called a cracker both with hurtful intent and in a way that they actually found hurtful. But anyway. We can accept that such an event can transpire, I think.)

So, yeah. I get that you don't like this word, and you are unhappy with people who do not agree with you about it. I understand your feelings about this. I do not see any great privation, personally, in continuing not to use it, nor does it seem to crop up on MetaFilter very often. When it does, it will be judged on a case-by-case basis by the mods, based on intent and usage. Beyond that ... good luck?

I confess that I tend to think that combating racist language is generally a part of combating broader inequality - which is one reason why Autumn's point seemed resonant to me.

In the greater scheme of things, then, it might be useful to think about what the broader connections are on this one - how, in essence, the term contributes to the oppression of white people and keeps them down, or ties into a network of pervasive microaggressions against white people which gives an impression that they are less generally valuable than people of color.
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:18 AM on January 30, 2013


zarq: "I've never heard that term before, and urban dictionary doesn't have an entry for it. Is it new?"

Zombies? We also used to call scrapple gray meat, but that can't be right here.
posted by boo_radley at 11:22 AM on January 30, 2013


This isn't the first time that my speech has been chilled in Metatalk, perhaps my opinion (which I think is often assumed to be the opinion of the romanticized oppressor) is considered less valuable and therefore more easily censored.

Learn "Hearts and Flowers" and you'll never be oppressed again.
posted by klangklangston at 11:24 AM on January 30, 2013


I'd appreciate it klangklangston if you stopped harassing me, especially given our history. Thanks.
posted by Shit Parade at 11:29 AM on January 30, 2013


I've never heard that term before, and urban dictionary doesn't have an entry for it. Is it new?

I don't think so... I got called that a few times in junior high (this would be the late 80s) so I'm simply speaking from personal experience. Based on the contexts in which it was used (which were always more hateful) I always took it to be a more negative and racially charged slur. Perhaps it was simply a regional slur that never made it into the vernacular.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:32 AM on January 30, 2013


klang, SP, please commence pretending one another does not exist if that's what it takes.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:33 AM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


rapey stuff? uh oh, off i go
posted by angrycat at 11:35 AM on January 30, 2013


(meaning I leave the thread before I start burning things with my eyes like the little girl in Fire Starter. If you were falsely accused, SP, mea culpa.
posted by angrycat at 11:36 AM on January 30, 2013


Jessamyn, you are welcome to publish any and all of my comments and correspondence with the mods.

I do not appreciate being labeled, by a moderator, as someone who tells 'rape jokes' when, as far as I can recollect, I have never written out a rape joke on Metafilter. I've used rape in metaphors and analogies, but I do not toss the word around for giggles.


Honestly, SP makes a good point here. Jessamyn's accusation against him was pretty serious, and given the power differential between a mod and a standard user, that is the kind of claim that absolutely needs to be backed by proof. Given that SP has given written permission for her to publish all correspondance and/or deleted comments, I think she should post the relevant statements he made. That would decisively resolve at least part of the argument and allow the matter to rest without any further speculation.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:41 AM on January 30, 2013


well this has gotten lurid.
posted by boo_radley at 11:43 AM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Speaking as a lifelong cracker, BWAAAHAHAHAHAHA. Favorited.
posted by jfuller at 11:53 AM on January 30, 2013


Jess gets on shift in a few hours and may not be particularly around in the mean time, and I'm not going to presume I've seen all the correspondence in question so I'm not going to try and jump into that specific notional content dump by proxy.

If Shit Parade really wants me to talk about a couple examples of deleted rape-related comments in the mean time and the pretty serious fuzziness of the line between "rape joke" and non-sequitur "rape analogy", I can do that.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:53 AM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would just as soon not see rape jokes pasted into this thread, regardless of the reason why they're being brought up.

I mean...ideally I'd like to see it not happen at all, but maybe if there's going to be a public hearing staged on the matter then y'all (moderators included) could go and open a new MetaTalk thread for that.
posted by cribcage at 11:55 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I did not intend this thread to become a referendum on me as a user. My intention was simply to share my experience of metafilter/talk on how moderation has worked in the community. Plenty of people already believe I'm a sexist troll so I don't feel any need to have claims on what I have and haven't said be hashed out in an expeditious manner, I doubt it will change many opinions really.
posted by Shit Parade at 12:02 PM on January 30, 2013


"Hey, you got your 'silenced by the mods' on my 'racism against white people'!"

"Hey, you've got 'racism against white people' on my 'silenced by the mods'!"

(Pause)

"OH MY GOD THAT TASTES HORRIFIC!"
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:05 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Plenty of people already believe I'm a sexist troll so I don't feel any need to have claims on what I have and haven't said be hashed out in an expeditious manner, I doubt it will change many opinions really.

Does that mean you are revoking the permission you offered for her to publicize those statements? Because by itself, that would seem rather damning. While Jessamyn made a serious accusation against you, your claim that she is lying is itself a serious accusation, considering that she is a mod. I'm not trying to pick on you; it just seems mildly concerning to me that either kind of accusation would be so blithely tossed around here.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 12:09 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Let's not post those deleted rape comments in this thread just to prove a user has that sort of history. I'm really not keen on being privy to behind-the-scenes discussions between users and moderators, and I think it crosses a line that moderators should not cross.
posted by nacho fries at 12:09 PM on January 30, 2013


No, go ahead, publish anything I've written. I'm just not here to derail the cracker conversation.
posted by Shit Parade at 12:11 PM on January 30, 2013


I've never heard that term before, and urban dictionary doesn't have an entry for it. Is it new?

The only place I've ever seen it used in the way wd01 references (or in any way at all, actually) is in at least one Stephen King book, possibly The Stand? I think RatMan calls someone that in Vegas, just before the executions.

posted by elizardbits at 12:19 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Interesting. Thanks for clarifying, wolf and lizard.
posted by zarq at 12:22 PM on January 30, 2013


I am now imagining you both having exciting adventures together, like moose and squirrel.
posted by zarq at 12:23 PM on January 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


yes ours is a forbidden love
posted by elizardbits at 12:24 PM on January 30, 2013 [11 favorites]


I'm now imagining you smoking some weirdness zarq.
posted by sweetkid at 12:24 PM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm sure I've seen it in a Stephen King book as well. I think it was The Running Man.I believe Bradley call Richards graymeat at one point. Maybe it is one of those Stephen King words.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:25 PM on January 30, 2013


The only place I've ever seen it used in the way wd01 references (or in any way at all, actually) is in at least one Stephen King book, possibly The Stand? I think RatMan calls someone that in Vegas, just before the executions.

Geez, now I'm wondering if maybe it wasn't even a slur at all, just something some kid in school made up when he read the Stand, which his friends picked up on. All this time I thought that phrase was something totally horrible, and it isn't even in Urban Dictionary?!? I'm tempted to go to U.D. just to create a definition of "graymeat" that is really exceptionally positive.

"George is exceptionally successful, isn't he?"
"Yeah, he's really graymeated the hell out of life. His parents must be so proud."
posted by wolfdreams01 at 12:28 PM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm sorry, 23skidoo. You seem to be angry, and I am not sure why, exactly. I thought it might be something about me, but wandering upthread it looks like you're calling people who don't line up with you "deceitful and ignorant" pretty much from the start, based at that point on... a couple of anecdotes in which people told you or your ex-girlfriend's aunt that "cracker" was a serious insult.

Totally not angry. Just because I've been direct doesn't mean I'm angry. You've misunderstood why I called someone deceitful or ignorant, so let me explain. If a person says they're unoffended by the word "cracker", that's fine by me. If a person says they use the word "cracker", that's fine by me. If a person says that the only way that cracker is used is as a classist insult, that's not fine by me, because it's untrue. Either the person is lying, or they are ignorant of the other uses of the word. It's not something that's up for debate. If that's a personal definition, that's fine by me. If someone's trying to tell other people that they shouldn't be offended by the word, because it's a only used as a classist insult, then yeah, that's either deceitful or ignorant.


(Oddly, your ex-girlfriend's aunt was not offended - I would assume relatively few African-Americans would be unaware of the offense being aimed for with a comparable pejorative, which you don't seem to have factored in but is an interesting data point. And the people telling you that this was an unacceptable word to use were doing so in a classroom environment. In fact, in the anecdotes you brought to the table nobody was actually called a cracker both with hurtful intent and in a way that they actually found hurtful. But anyway. We can accept that such an event can transpire, I think.)


You seem to be focused on whether people are actually hurt by the word, and that's not my point at all. My point is that the word is used as a racial slur, and I listed those two anecdotes because there didn't seemed to be people unaware that the word could be used as a racial slur. That was the point. The fact that my ex's aunt was unoffended was exactly why I told the story: there are lots of people who have no idea that the word is a racial slur.

So, yeah. I get that you don't like this word, and you are unhappy with people who do not agree with you about it. I understand your feelings about this.

That's totally and completely untrue, and a really strange reading of everything I wrote. When I've made responses in this thread, it's been to people who've been saying untrue things, like "cracker is only a class-based slur", or people who've been intimating that their personal opinions about the word should be enough to make the decision whether the word is a racial slur. Again, it's not that I'm unhappy with people who like the word (because the words that people like or don't like are none of my business). But I am uncomfortable with letting someone say "People who think "cracker" is a racial slur are not correct" without taking steps to point out how they are wrong.
posted by 23skidoo at 12:31 PM on January 30, 2013


yes ours is a forbidden love

Damnit Elizardbits! I thought we agreed that we would argue and tease each other in public so that nobody would ever suspect the depths of our passion.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 12:31 PM on January 30, 2013


Oh, and I wrote a fricking novel there, so if there's more to be said running order squabble fest, let's me-mail it out.
posted by 23skidoo at 12:36 PM on January 30, 2013


I just looked through the past year or so use of "cracker", and it looks like it was used over a dozen times in the last year in reference to white people. Only about a third of the time was it used as a straight up derogatory insult beyond quoting other people or talking about the word.
A word used as a slur popping up 4 or 5 times a year is pretty low bar usage, but then again maybe people really shouldn't be using it that way at all. I mean a wink and a nod towards irony goes a long way for me, but specifically designating other people, ANY PEOPLE, as below you is a fucked up thing to do, right?
posted by P.o.B. at 12:38 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm wondering if maybe it wasn't even a slur at all

The context of it was a fancy-dressed black dude taunting a bunch of white men who were about to be publicly and supergrotendously executed by a Devil analogue, so it's not unreasonable to assume that the sentiment was unpleasant.


also don't forget to bring home some 1% milk
posted by elizardbits at 12:38 PM on January 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


Relevant OED entries pasted below (long)
4. U.S.
Thesaurus »
Categories »

a. A contemptuous name given in southern States of N. America to the ‘poor whites’; whence, familiarly, to the native whites of Georgia and Florida. Also attrib.
According to some, short for corn-cracker n.; but early quots. leave this doubtful.

1766 G. Cochrane Let. 27 June (D.A.), I should explain to your Lordship what is meant by Crackers; a name they have got from being great boasters; they are a lawless set of rascalls on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas and Georgia, who often change their places of abode.
1767 N.Y. Mercury 21 Sept. in Mag. Amer. Hist. (1878) II. 250 A number of people called Crackers, who live above Augusta, in the province of Georgia, had gone in a hostile manner to..Okonee.
1784 London Chron. No. 4287, Maryland, the back settlements of which colony had since the peace been greatly disturbed by the inroads of that hardy banditti well known by the name of Crackers.
1850 C. Lyell 2nd Visit U.S. II. 73 Sometimes..my host would be of the humblest class of ‘crackers’, or some low, illiterate German or Irish emigrants.
1856 F. L. Olmsted Journey Slave States 548 The operatives in the cotton-mills are said to be mainly ‘Cracker girls’ (poor whites from the country).
1887 Beacon (Boston) 11 June, The word Cracker..is supposed to have been suggested by their cracking whips over oxen or mules in taking their cotton to the market.
1888 Harper's Mag. July 240 They will live like the crackers of Georgia or the moonshiners of Tennessee.

...

6c. An attachment to the end of a whip-lash by which a cracking sound can be produced. U.S., Austral. and N.Z.

1835 J. W. Monett in J. H. Ingraham South-West II. App. 288 To the end of the lash is attached a soft, dry, buckskin cracker... So soft is the cracker, that a person who has not the sleight of using the whip, could scarcely hurt a child with it.
1880 A. A. Hayes New Colorado (1881) x. 140 Each wagoner must tie a brand-new ‘cracker’ to the lash of his whip.
1890 ‘R. Boldrewood’ Colonial Reformer I. xviii. 110 Stockwhips garnished with resplendent crackers.
1907 W. H. Koebel Return of Joe 164 Fresh and efficient crackers swung continually at the ends of the stockwhips.
1966 ‘J. Hackston’ Father clears Out 64 I'd plaited a whip specially for the occasion with a new green cracker on it.
Sense 4 has been brought up before -- I'm personally more familiar with it being used as a noun in sense 6c, as in a cracker is referencing whites who were either slave owners or the task masters who would be cracking the whip as the slaves toiled.

Perhaps unrelated is the children's lyric, Johnny Cracked Corn, the analysis of the meaning of the song is fascinating to me.
posted by Shit Parade at 12:46 PM on January 30, 2013


wolfdreams01: "now I'm wondering if maybe it wasn't even a slur at all"

:tmyk:
posted by boo_radley at 12:52 PM on January 30, 2013


sweetkid: "I'm now imagining you smoking some weirdness zarq."

I'm normally this weird. No extra pharmaceuticals required.
posted by zarq at 12:55 PM on January 30, 2013


"or calling him "graymeat.""

Yeah, not to try to diminish the pain someone may have felt at the sound of this taunt, but The Stand is literally the only place I've ever encountered "graymeat." And to me it always sounded like an insult King made up out of his ignorance of how a black person might actually talk because, if you think about it, what does it even mean to call a white person "gray"? Now, pink I could understand, even yellow, maybe, but gray?

OTOH, you weren't incinerated by a holy atom bomb blast, so you've got that going for you.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:07 PM on January 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


octobersurprise: "you weren't incinerated by a holy atom bomb blast, so you've got that going for you"

well it's still early in the day so you never know!!!
posted by boo_radley at 1:36 PM on January 30, 2013


OTOH, you weren't incinerated by a holy atom bomb blast, so you've got that going for you.

Is that what you call it when someone gets righteously flamed in a Metafilter pile-on until they are roasted to a crisp? Because if so, I'm pretty sure that's happened at least once already. ;-)
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:42 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's a whole lot of pages to get through even if you are fated to get incinerated by God's nuclear finger.

"Graymeat" is also brand new to me. My brain is insisting on connecting it to Gruad Grayface from the Illuminatus! trilogy. Perhaps one of his lovers' pet names for him.
posted by Drastic at 1:43 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


If a person says they're unoffended by the word "cracker", that's fine by me. If a person says they use the word "cracker", that's fine by me.

Ah, right. I was clearly confused by the way you said:

Here's my plea to get people to stop using the word "cracker" in public situations, like on Metafilter.

I figured a plea meant that you weren't fine with people using the word "cracker", but I can see that might not be the case.

So... we're back to what a slur is and does. If you want to describe a pejorative term which can be applied (among other uses) in the US to white people by black people as a racial slur, that's certainly a workable definition. It's certainly an insult, and tied into issues of race. However, in the absence of certain forms of systemic or historical discrimination against white people in the US, it feels like a different kind of "slur experience" from the words it is being compared with. I think Louis CK's etymology is probably off, but his point is not bad.

So, I get called a cracker. It's a racial slur! But the deaths of children in my community are reported as tragedies, not as faceless parts of a narrative of gang violence. A radio host doesn't get a big pay-off for calling black students "nappy-headed hos", because the station that sacked him wasn't confident a court would decide that was an unforgivable failure of professionalism, and then walk into a highly-paid new job. I don't get followed around stores. I don't get pulled over when driving my dad's Audi. There were no laws made specifically to keep my family away from respectable folk for a good chunk of the last century.

If what you are aiming to do in this thread is literally just to correct people whenever they suggest that "cracker" does not have a usage as a pejorative term used by black people about white people, then that's certainly a thing to do. Although it feels kind of privileged in and of itself, when its use is then directly equated with the use of racial insults against people who also experience systemic racial discrimination.
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:48 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


A quick Google Books search suggests "greymeat" has been used several times by King, and once or twice by a handful of other contemporary authors.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:49 PM on January 30, 2013


empath: "If it were a website located in Turkey, where the majority of users were Turkish, and they were speaking in Turkish from a largely Turkish perspective, and most of the Turks thought it was okay, I would say probably yes."

Is it wrong to find it a little amusing that "so what, they're a minority" is being used in defense of the argument "so what, they're the majority"?
posted by Bugbread at 2:02 PM on January 30, 2013


This isn't the first time that my speech has been chilled in Metatalk

You made implications that you had citations and/or personal experience that would speak directly to what you perceive as unequal treatment based on who we are trying to be "friendly" towards. I offered to share cites and correspondence from our side of the conversation if required and/or helpful. I'm also happy just to drop the entire thing.

Apologies if I was overgeneralizing the tenor of your deleted comments or the lengthy conversations we've had about the way we treat rape comments on MetaFilter, that wasn't my intention.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:09 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Although it feels kind of privileged in and of itself, when its use is then directly equated with the use of racial insults against people who also experience systemic racial discrimination.

As was pointed out upthread, only one person has even come close to directly equating the use of cracker with the use of any other word. That's not happening here.
posted by 23skidoo at 2:36 PM on January 30, 2013


Fair enough: I was thinking of this, which directly equates two processes, one of which justifies calling white people crackers, the other of which justifies the use of a particular racial insult against people who also experience systemic racial discrimination.

(Which I think is somewhat inaccurate, incidentally, or at least incomplete - there all sorts of reasons offered by people on why they should be able to drop N-bombs, from "I am clearly not a racist, so it doesn't have any hurtful qualities when I do it" to "they say it, so why shouldn't I?", "it no longer has any capacity to offend", "where/when I grew up, it was just the word everyone used", "I am being ironic", "my black friends call me it", "I am actually saying it with an -a at the end, which is OK", "I am satirizing that guy over there's racism" and so on.)

But sure. We can agree that "cracker" has a usage as a racial slur, FSVO slur. A less emotional term might be "racially targeted pejorative". If all you aim to do is correct people who don't think that usage exists, that is, as I say, a thing that can be done. It may be a useful service. But ... well, see above. It also feels somewhat political in itself, in the face of the peculiarities of the world in which these terms actually exist.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:58 PM on January 30, 2013


You win, I'm done with the thread. Me-mail if you're sincerely interested in understanding my point of view. It's really very far away from the one that you're trying to pin on me.
posted by 23skidoo at 3:09 PM on January 30, 2013


If i were to restate current policy as i understand it in my own words:

Be civil and avoid insults. insults directed towards individuals on the blue are not tolerated. repeated and vile hate speech is mot tolerated. beyond that certain words are never tolerated(rare scholarly exceptions may apply). Rape can only be used in the literal.

depending on flag, thread context, mod fiat, comments will be deleted especially if deemed flamey or derailing.
~~
That's my understanding. interpretation includes the realization that the words more or less 'banned' are all from historically oppressed groups. It has also my experience that hatred expressed towards men and whites has a higher bar to jump before being removed. it is what it is. again i personally am ok with this as long as the community doesn't try to pretend otherwise.
posted by Shit Parade at 3:12 PM on January 30, 2013


I just searched, and it seems we have about 500 mentions of "honky" vs about 2000 mentions of "nigger" on the site. But - and here's where it gets interesting - less than 200 results for "Romulan". So maybe "Romulan" is even more banned? What are these liberals afraid of?
posted by Greg Nog at 3:21 PM on January 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


> I don't know why more people don't call out white trash frankly. It is #1 very classist and #2 very racist
>towards nonwhite people. Because with the qualifier, it's saying that all nonwhite people are trash, and
> this subsection of white people is also trash.
>
> There is really no other way to read it.

Meaning no disrespect to you, sweetkid, I know there's another way to read it: "white trash" specifies the partition of the white population that's trashy, as distinguished from the partition of the Black population that's trashy, or the partition of the Hispanic population that's trashy, or the partition of the Inuit-Yupik population that's trashy, or...etc.
posted by jfuller at 3:23 PM on January 30, 2013


So maybe "Romulan" is even more banned?

Maybe all the other Romulans are just hidden under a cloaking device?
posted by jetlagaddict at 3:27 PM on January 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


Oompa Loompa Only gets 60 so obviously they are the master race.
posted by Shit Parade at 3:44 PM on January 30, 2013



Meaning no disrespect to you, sweetkid, I know there's another way to read it: "white trash" specifies the partition of the white population that's trashy, as distinguished from the partition of the Black population that's trashy, or the partition of the Hispanic population that's trashy, or the partition of the Inuit-Yupik population that's trashy, or...etc.


"Black trash" and "Hispanic trash" are not really commonly known terms. I'm sure there are regional or specific uses of those terms, but they're not nearly well known to the point that "white trash" is. Everyone else is labeled by the same derogatory terms, regardless of income level, mannerisms, even what percentage of what ethnicity they actually have. They just get a blanket term.

I mean, there is definitely an undercurrent to this term of "everyone else is basically trash, or less worthy, and this group of white people is lowering themselves to that level."
posted by sweetkid at 3:51 PM on January 30, 2013


Racist are going to be racist, but I don't think I would put that as having "definitely an undercurrent" category. I have heard non-whites use the term so the argument kind of falls apart at that point.
posted by P.o.B. at 4:11 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


My interpretation has always been the same as sweetkid's.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:26 PM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have heard non-whites use the term so the argument kind of falls apart at that point.

Nonwhites are not a monolithic group, so I don't see why that makes the argument fall apart. My brother thinks racist jokes are hilarious, even racist jokes targeted at people of our own ethnicity, and I very much don't. That's a marked difference even in one family.
posted by sweetkid at 4:35 PM on January 30, 2013


Considering that the phrase "white trash" developed among black slaves as a term for white servants, and only later was it adopted by proper whites who reaily had no problem with black people using it, this whole interpratation that it's actually an attack on nonwhites is just a load.
posted by Snyder at 5:15 PM on January 30, 2013


this whole interpratation that it's actually an attack on nonwhites is just a load

Nope, no it isn't. Sort of like this whole thread has been about changing meanings of terms? I'm not saying it's an attack on nonwhites specifically, I'm saying it's implied. And that is one part of the two part reason for not using it.
posted by sweetkid at 5:20 PM on January 30, 2013


sweetkid: "Sort of like this whole thread has been about changing meanings of terms?"

That's not how I've seen this thread to be, at all.
posted by Bugbread at 6:04 PM on January 30, 2013


Nonwhites are not a monolithic group

I'm going to skip the "no shit sherlock" comment because I have resolutions to uphold, and assume that you don't think I am a 6 year old but rather one of us has a misread here.

First of all, just to be clear on this I, or no one else afaict, is arguing for the use of "white trash", and if that is your backhanded straw man assumption then we can drop it right now and you can murder whatever definition you care to.

Second, by what I'm reading, you're saying if someone (specifically a white person) uses "white trash" they would in turn also be calling everyone who is non-white "trash" also. My point being by your definition even if a non-white person uses the term "white trash", they would in turn be calling themselves "trash". Anecdotally, I have seen someone who is non-white use the term, so my question would be how do you propose your built-in incompatibility work there?
posted by P.o.B. at 6:41 PM on January 30, 2013


I'm going to skip the "no shit sherlock" comment because I have resolutions to uphold

This is not actually skipping it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:46 PM on January 30, 2013 [14 favorites]


Shoot, now I'll have to start over tomorrow.
posted by P.o.B. at 7:15 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


be sure to put a quarter in the jar and think about what you've done.
posted by boo_radley at 8:52 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


P.o.B., the white people I have known to use the phrase "white trash" seem to get off on the double shot of direct classism and implied racism. I've only ever heard white people say it, so can't comment on other usages in other communities.

In my rural Massachusetts hometown, which until I was 12 was all white except for one Filipina lady married to a white dude, there was no reason for anyone to describe someone as "white trash" except for the added thrill of implied racism. And yet the really terrible people seemed to relish it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:54 PM on January 30, 2013


When I was a kid in Houston, it was used by both racists and non-racists, synonymously with "trailer trash".
posted by Bugbread at 9:36 PM on January 30, 2013


The wiki for white trash talks about different uses in both black and white culture. I've searched around a little and I don't see anything to back up the "definite undercurrent", but I have no doubt there are people just as you say Sidhedevil and like I said racists are going to be racist. Although, I did pose a simple question but I guess that's not going to be answered.
posted by P.o.B. at 9:52 PM on January 30, 2013


I always thought "white trash", like "white slavery", suggested that the default (unmodified) setting is other-than-white. It seems to be about the intersection of poverty, rurality, lack of education, and perceived antisocial (but not necessarily criminal) behavior.
Whether one uses the expression "trailer trash", "trashy", or "white trash", one is literally calling a person or group of people worthless garbage. Even if it's done in a chummy self-deprecating sort of way, it's still gross and awful.
Given we can't even figure out what "cracker" means, I don't think it has the same impact. Still, if someone says it hurts them, personally, then why use it?
posted by gingerest at 10:15 PM on January 30, 2013


I'm with sweetkid & Sidhedevil & jessamyn on this one. My family's from rural Pennsylvania & rural Maryland, and both sides definitely use "white trash" in the sense of, "Well, you should be better than "those people" (said phrase meaning exactly what you think it means) just because you're white, but you're not, so you're no better than trash."
posted by soundguy99 at 10:48 PM on January 30, 2013


Maybe it's a north-south thing?
posted by Bugbread at 10:57 PM on January 30, 2013


And now I'm curious: do y'all put the stress on the first word, the second word, or neither? Do you say "white trash" or "white trash" or "white trash"?
posted by Bugbread at 10:58 PM on January 30, 2013


It would be odd if certain contextual information did not change it's meaning and usage as other slurs do.
posted by P.o.B. at 11:58 PM on January 30, 2013


I mean, there is definitely an undercurrent to this term of "everyone else is basically trash, or less worthy, and this group of white people is lowering themselves to that level."

I honestly have never heard of this before, and I think you made the comment upthread that the presence of this undercurrent is essentially undeniable. Well, a lot has been said back and forth here, and at the very least, it's fair to say I've learned that everyone is entitled to their own culture interpretation of a slur. Maybe that's why it's best not to use them in the first place.

But like I said, I've never heard of this. Ever. Logically, at no point do the two words "white trash" connect themselves with anything non-white. The "trash" describes the state of the whiteness. The phrase, in turn, refers to nothing other than the pale color of one's skin and their socioeconomic status.

You yourself point out that the word "trash" is not commonly used to describe Hispanics or Blacks (qua "Hispanic trash" and "Black trash") yet you insist that the word has a connection with these non-white groups. This strikes me as a fairly grandiose assumption, that you are of course entitled to, for whatever reason. But it could go either way. I just think it's a little hard to get other people on board with your idea when it doesn't seem to totally make sense.

Still, I could not tell you why the word "trash" has been adopted to describe poor whites, as opposed to say, a different word. I just spent the entire day up in the high desert of California and I would tell you when looking at how some poorer white people are living out there in total arid desolation, it looks like they're living in a trash heap. It's kind of crazy. I can tell you in my experience that when using the phrase "white trash," I'm not making a cynical meta-comment about other groups that they remind me of.

The phenomenon is, in and of itself, unique.

I don't want to completely discredit the type connection you are proposing, however, when it comes to racially charged phrases. I just think it applies more directly to slurs like "wigger" or "twinkie."
posted by phaedon at 1:26 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you grew up in the south in an area with a sharp black/white divide on class and income, then 'white trash' came with the assumption that blacks were trash. That was always the way it was used in southern md where i grew up. The only people that used that used it in a way to put 'white trash' and blacks in the same category of undesirables. It's racist, and not against whites.
posted by empath at 2:28 AM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Wigger"?

Dolly Parton. Cher. RuPaul. Dame Edna. Mrs. Doubtfire.....
posted by zarq at 4:00 AM on January 31, 2013


Etymology is kind of a mug's game, and the South is definitely not an area I know well or would pretend to, but this doesn't sound incompatible...

Hypothesis: an insult starts off directed by slaves to white people reduced to, effectively, indentured servitude by poverty (that is, people who despite the advantages conferred by whiteness are still effectively thralls of the white wealthy). It is then adopted by the white wealthy as a disparaging term to describe the same group - who from their perspective are, despite the advantages of whiteness, effectively thralls to them, which raises some awkward questions about the virtue of whiteness, and the ethics of thralldom.

From that perspective, "white trash" becomes an othering mechanism to justify the treatment of those who are on an archaic, hideous and racist taxonomic level one's equals (in a way that non-white people were not really believed to be at the time, and certainly not generally by slave-owning plantation masters, who were taught that slavery was not only not unjust but was part of the divine plan) as little better than slaves. These people may have pale skin (the logic goes) but they are not, in fact, like us. They are trash, and exist in the same not-us category as our not-white workers, be they slaves or subsistence labor - indolent, untrustworthy, needing to be watched and ordered around if they are to be of any use at all.

(Worth noting also that there was a racial component within what we would understand as fairly uncomplicatedly "white people" at this point - as someone said in a recent thread on HP Lovecraft, he managed to be racist against other white people. The leading citizens would be primarily of English or French descent, and be able to trace their lineage back to Independence. The "trash", depending on the time and region, might be Irish, Scottish, Polish...)
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:21 AM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


But like I said, I've never heard of this. Ever. Logically, at no point do the two words "white trash" connect themselves with anything non-white. The "trash" describes the state of the whiteness. The phrase, in turn, refers to nothing other than the pale color of one's skin and their socioeconomic status.

I actually think it is a pretty common interpretation, whether or not you have heard of it.
posted by liketitanic at 6:35 AM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Wigger"?

Dolly Parton. Cher. RuPaul. Dame Edna. Mrs. Doubtfire.....


zarq, this comment confuses me. Can you explain it? I don't see the connection between the word wigger and those people.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:02 AM on January 31, 2013


They wear wigs.
posted by Etrigan at 7:07 AM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]



But like I said, I've never heard of this. Ever. Logically, at no point do the two words "white trash" connect themselves with anything non-white. The "trash" describes the state of the whiteness.


How do you know it's not the reverse, that the "white" describes the state of the "trashness?" Doesn't the modifier generally appear before the thing being modified, in English? And isn't "white" an adjective? Sure looks to me like this is a case where "white" is marked, and unmarked is something not white. I am totally not seeing your logic at all.
posted by BibiRose at 7:08 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh. I get it now. I guess I've got the normal meaning of that word too stuck in my head to see the word "wig" in it.

Also, I didn't realize Dolly Parton wore a wig, but in retrospect that fact was pretty obvious so I'm not sure how I missed it.

In conclusion, I'm going to go listen to "Jolene" and feel sheepish.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:14 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Wigger"?

Have you seriously not heard that word before?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:21 AM on January 31, 2013


Dame Edna did love to wear Fila tennies with her pants hanging off her rump.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:34 AM on January 31, 2013


jessamyn: " Have you seriously not heard that word before?"

Never. Although this time there's an urban dictionary entry. So I guess I've learned something.

In retrospect, I probably shouldn't be trying to make light of a slur. It just struck me initially as ridiculous-sounding. Sorry for the confusion, Bulgaroktonos.
posted by zarq at 7:35 AM on January 31, 2013


No problem, I was honestly confused and didn't assume you meant anything negative by it. Honestly, as someone who got called that a dozen times one day in high school because I wore the wrong type of coat, I'm pretty pleased to know that there are people who don't even know it.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:41 AM on January 31, 2013


Yeah I've always heard it as one of those words that for some reason people who would never say the N word will totally say to describe a white kid who has mannerisms and affect that are, to their mind, black. As if you can't be white and act or dress or talk like that, or if you do it's worthy of someone using a slur-sounding word to describe you. Usually it's said in a negative way, (as opposed to a joke way) and it's one of those crazy things where the person saying it doesn't really feel that they're making this totally racist statement and yet they (to me) totally are.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:41 AM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've never heard "wigger" before. In high school all the kids used the obnoxious acronym "RIC," though – for "racial identity crisis" – which is bad, although at least it doesn't have the unfortunate resonances of "wigger." It's weird, I don't think I've really heard that one since high school. But it does look like it's in the urban dictionary.
posted by koeselitz at 7:45 AM on January 31, 2013


Bulgaroktonos: "No problem, I was honestly confused and didn't assume you meant anything negative by it. Honestly, as someone who got called that a dozen times one day in high school because I wore the wrong type of coat, I'm pretty pleased to know that there are people who don't even know it."

*nod* Thanks. It may be an age thing? I went to high school in the late 80's and college in the early 90's so if the term arose after that, I might not have come into contact with it.

The wrong type of coat?! Ugh.

jessamyn: "Usually it's said in a negative way, (as opposed to a joke way) and it's one of those crazy things where the person saying it doesn't really feel that they're making this totally racist statement and yet they (to me) totally are."

Thanks for explaining. Yeah, that seems completely racist to me, too.
posted by zarq at 7:57 AM on January 31, 2013


Yeah, it is very much racist. I recall it being used a lot in the early to mid 90s, especially after the fame of Vanilla Ice.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:03 AM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


It may be an age thing? I went to high school in the late 80's and college in the early 90's so if the term arose after that, I might not have come into contact with it.

It arose slightly after that, yeah, depending on where you went to school. I feel like it was firmly entrenched in youth culture by the mid-'90s, and was definitely a thing by the time Jamie Kennedy got to it (I don't know whether the word was ever actually said in the movie, but the intent was clearly there).
posted by Etrigan at 8:04 AM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've never heard "wigger" before.

I'm honestly shocked to learn the meaning of this word. I'd seen it in written form but never got the context, and I always assumed it must be British slang, some cousin of "wanker" or "bugger."

Looking at all the arguments about the correct usage and meaning of so many of these slurs, it makes me think they're especially vulnerable to rapid drift. As a direct consequence of their offensive meanings, a) you're unlikely to find them in Webster's; b) if you first encounter them as a young child it's likely to be in a situation where you overhear them without understanding their context and meaning; c) if asked, parents and teachers may simply scold you without explaining why such words are bad, thus never correcting your perhaps mistaken guesses about what they mean.

I still remember being confused, then angry, when in second grade I sincerely didn't know that an extended middle finger *meant* anything, after my teacher scolded me, but then refused to explain what it meant, and refused to believe I didn't already know.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 8:43 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


My experience with 'wigger' is that it refers to white people who are consciously attempting to be a part of black culture more than white culture. So, yes, totes racist, but in a slightly different way than how others experienced it. What a fascinating rainbow of racism is accessible to us!
posted by shakespeherian at 9:00 AM on January 31, 2013


I first heard "wigger" in the early 90s from my cousin who lived in rural Virginia. He told me that people in West Virginia were wiggers. I don't think he was trying to say they were attempting to act like black people. It was more that he thought they were trashy. This was the same guy who had a Confederate flag draped across the back seat of his hatchback. He'd also say, "If the South would've won" alot. (He's not white, so when arguing about this stuff I'd ask him to think about what life would actually be like for him if the South had won. The argument didn't seem to have an impact on him.)

Given that background, it was always very clear to me that wigger is an expression of racism.
posted by Area Man at 9:19 AM on January 31, 2013


I grew up in Northern Virginia and people called people from West Virginia "white trash" and white kids who "acted like black kids" were "wiggers."
posted by sweetkid at 9:22 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


> white kids who "acted like black kids" were "wiggers."

I'm fairly confident that this is the "proper" origin of that slur, with other connotations attributable to drift. Not to be prescriptivist or anything.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:24 AM on January 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


> It may be an age thing? I went to high school in the late 80's and college in the early 90's so if the term [wigger] arose after that, I might not have come into contact with it

Same here, and I've heard it. I have a faint sense that it was around during the early days of hip hop becoming popular with white, middle- and upper-class people, and the accompanying "Is it okay for white people to rap" discussions.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:42 AM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Wigger" was definitely a thing when I was in high school (class of 92). My school was overwhelmingly white, so this slur was exclusively used by white people to police other white people. Aside from "acting black," the connotation was that the person thought he or she was superior to other whites because he or she was cooler and had better style. It was also closely associated with a false bravado - if we'd had Facebook then, these kids would have been the ones throwing gang signs in their profile pics.
posted by desjardins at 1:29 PM on January 31, 2013


What about 'whitey'? Is that okay?

Don't call me...

Always thought, with the righteous wah that propels that tune, that it should've had an alternate title: "Wah-wah Whitey",
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:13 PM on January 31, 2013


> My interpretation has always been the same as sweetkid's.

As you wish, jessamyn.
-- Dread Pirate Westley
posted by jfuller at 6:28 PM on January 31, 2013


> My interpretation has always been the same as sweetkid's.

As you wish, jessamyn.


Yeah that was the moment my side won the argument, although others (Sidhedevil, running order squabble fest, empath) certainly helped a lot.
posted by sweetkid at 7:47 PM on January 31, 2013


by argument I mean well spirited disagreement. Except for that one grary thing.
posted by sweetkid at 7:48 PM on January 31, 2013


Huh? I didn't know we were tallying points for a win, which I have to admit is a really odd thing to assume based off of an unsupported idea and a couple of experiences, but I guess you're saying jessamyn counts as an automatic crit?

There is the little aspect of totally disregarding the widespread cross-cultural usage of the word and the hand-waving away of other's experience because it doesn't align with yours kind of shades that little convo, but congratulations I guess.

Except for that one grary thing.

Let us not forget the one snarky thing, the one true thing to rule all things internet.
posted by P.o.B. at 9:40 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I got 74,237 points. Where does that put me on the leaderboard?
posted by Bugbread at 9:49 PM on January 31, 2013


Did you add your bonus modifier?
posted by P.o.B. at 9:52 PM on January 31, 2013


No, the timer ran out at the last minute.
posted by Bugbread at 10:43 PM on January 31, 2013


As it does.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:37 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


At the risk of derailing the derail ... one of the things that's struck me in this conversation is not so much who's right or wrong about a particular term and its usage, but how contentious the understanding of some terms - the ones directed at white people - can be.

Put another way, if someone says that it's okay for them to use racial epithets about black people because they are only talking about the bad black people, I think we fairly safely assume that they are a) a racist, b) a time traveller from the Reconstruction and a racist, c) Chris Rock, and doing a bit in a 1996 HBO special or d) someone who saw Chris Rock doing a bit in a 1996 HBO special, who at the very best needs someone to explain how comedy works to them.

Whereas the discussion about "cracker", above, showed a range of readings, from "mild pejorative" to "serious slur tied to a specific class and regional origin" to "serious slur with equal and serious impact on all white people", any or all of which seem to be in play simultaneously. I kind of got into it by accident with 23skidoo, above, because I didn't understand what he was looking for as table stakes to join the conversation - an initial acknowledgement that "cracker" was a racial slur against all white people which in some ways should be compared with racial slurs directed against other ethnic groups, and in other ways should not. "White trash" is similarly open to interpretation and etymologizing/etiologizing.

It's interesting to me that what these words mean and how they are used seem uncertain and ambiguous to some and sharply defined to others, but in potentially contrasting ways. Maybe it's because white guilt makes white liberals accept anti-white racism meekly without resisting or interrogating it (as I think Phaedon was arguing). Maybe it's because they just don't crop up very often, in particular outside particular interfaces of class and power which don't feature large on MetaFilter.

(Which doesn't have a huge impact on the original question, but I think we answered that a while back.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:04 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


You "won" the argument the same way the US "won" in Iraq. By loud declaration supported by little accomplishment of merit.
posted by absalom at 5:01 AM on February 1, 2013


Huh? I didn't know we were tallying points for a win, which I have to admit is a really odd thing to assume based off of an unsupported idea and a couple of experiences, but I guess you're saying jessamyn counts as an automatic crit?


It was a joke. It was a joke that I "won" anything. It did start the conversation about the term which I think has been interesting.

I don't know what's getting your back up (and apparently absalom's as well) but I've been civil and don't like playing this shouty stuff in MetaTalk or anywhere else really. If you don't like my commentary or agree with me, fine, then just leave it.
posted by sweetkid at 5:22 AM on February 1, 2013


Maybe it's because white guilt makes white liberals accept anti-white racism meekly without resisting or interrogating it

I come from the school of thought where, in the US and most "Western" countries, there is actually no such thing as anti-white racism because part of racism [as opposed to just prejudice or bigotry or discrimination or intolerance] is that it's the people or type of people who hold the privileged position have or had institutional power, not just personal power, to oppress people. Racism = prejudice + power is the way I look at it. You may have differing definitions, that's fine.

I am not arguing this point here and no one has to agree with me, but it's a school of thought, not just my personal opinion. As a result, it's fine, totally fine, to say that you don't like the word cracker for various reasons and it's even fine for people to share their experiences being on the receiving end of racially-motivated negative speech or actions that involved this word. At the same time, my personal opinion is that while I think racially-based derogatory words are generally lousy here and not a good way to communicate (and we have had some discussion about whether people feel that this even IS truly racially based or not, and that was a worthwhile discussion to have) I think that their position in this society is indivisible from this society's racial history and has to be interpreted that way.

I am not guilty about this particular point, nor am I meek about it. I have a different way of looking at it that informs the way I think we should deal with this moving forward. There should be ways that we can look at the ways these words are used and the way we moderate them on MetaFilter without implicating or de-statusing other people's viewpoints as not legitimate or the result of some sort of character flaw. People are different.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:25 AM on February 1, 2013 [13 favorites]


Anybody remember that scene in The Last Waltz where keyboardist (and sometimes vocalist) Richard Manuel was talking about some of the potential band names they ran through before deciding to just call themselves The Band? One of the names they considered was "The Crackers". But, in his wild-eyed way, he indicated that calling it that would have been a bit... too much.

Now I wanna see that scene again.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:31 AM on February 1, 2013


I come from the school of thought where, in the US and most "Western" countries, there is actually no such thing as anti-white racism because part of racism [as opposed to just prejudice or bigotry or discrimination or intolerance] is that it's the people or type of people who hold the privileged position have or had institutional power, not just personal power, to oppress people. Racism = prejudice + power is the way I look at it. You may have differing definitions, that's fine.

It sounds like you're saying it's impossible to be racist against white people. I find this viewpoint very concerning, especially coming from a mod. "Power" is a relative term - everybody has more or less power somewhere. As a white man in the business world, I have a disproportionate amount of power in that limited area of society, but as a white boy growing up in a predominantly black area, I had much less power than my peers. Similarly, while my views may hold more traction within mainstream society, whenever I go to a counterculture event, I have a disproportionally small amount of influence. It sounds like you are essentially taking one aspect of western society and inappropriately viewing every situation through that lens, even where it may not be accurate.

More significantly, I would like to ask if this philosophy - that "there is actually no such thing as anti-white racism" - is something that guides your decisions as a moderator, or is simply a personal philosophy that you live by.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:35 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm guided by the beauty of our weapons
I'm guided by this birthmark on my skin

-L. Cohen
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:41 AM on February 1, 2013


Similarly, while my views may hold more traction within mainstream society, whenever I go to a counterculture event, I have a disproportionally small amount of influence

Wait, are we really arguing that if there's one community worth singling out as one in which middle-class white dudes are horribly underrepresented and disempowered, it's the counterculture events scene? Only... wow.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:45 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


is something that guides your decisions as a moderator, or is simply a personal philosophy that you live by.

My actions as a mod are all open to examination and discussion here. We make moderation decisions as part of a group of moderators and in consultation with the community who we work for based on a set of guidelines that have evolved over time and that are themselves open to discussion from the community. If people think the moderation decisions on the site appear to be preferencing or favoring a certain viewpoint, we talk about that here.

Our general rule of thumb is that if we think our personal viewpoints are affecting our ability to accurately or fairly moderate something on the site, we check in with the other members of the team to get a reality check about what might need to happen, so the system is somewhat self-correcting. We don't claim that we're completely devoid of personal opinions, however we do try to be consistent in the way we apply the guidelines that are the core of how the moderation on this site works and part of that is not just axing or not-axing something based on "well that is in line with my personal beliefs so I'm going to made a decision based solely on what I believe"

There's a bit of a rabbit hole you can get down "Well what if all the mods subscribe to a particular set of beliefs, how do you ensure that the decisions you are making will be objective?" and the answer is that we can't. There are some blind spots that we certainly must have (and are frequently accused of having) that, again MetaTalk acts as a place where we can discuss those issues.

One of the central tenets of the moderation policy here is that you can believe whatever you believe as long as you interact with other people decently. That in and of itself is a decision that carries some baggage along with it, but it's a starting point for the way this community works.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:47 AM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Very few places will you see such godawful nonsense met with such a sensible reply.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:49 AM on February 1, 2013 [14 favorites]


Wait, are we really arguing that if there's one community worth singling out as one in which middle-class white dudes are horribly underrepresented and disempowered, it's the counterculture events scene? Only... wow.

There's no need for sarcasm, you privileged cracker. I know that as a child growing up going to school in Harlem, I was bullied and marginalized quite a lot by black people, so Jessamyn's statement about not believing in anti-white racism makes me feel as though she has led a very sheltered life and is taking her personal lack of experience with anti-white racism as evidence that it does not exist - a common logical fallacy that denies the validity of my personal experience.

In any case, thank you for the answer, Jessamyn - I appreciate your thoughtful reply. It does help clarify things in a reasonable way that makes sense to me.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:58 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Have you seriously not heard that word before?

I'm in the position of having heard that word, but never in reference to an individual person, but only to a group of people. "The wiggers are going to have a fight with the rockers after school in the back parking lot," for real-world example. So I knew that it was a word applied to a group of kids who acted in somewhat gang-like fashion, but not really the etymology of the word, because, well, I was a teenager. Looking back, I can say that I think there were a lot of saggy pants in that crowd, which I suppose could be associated with imitating black culture? I have never heard any alternate explanation of the origin rather than the blend of "white" with the N-word, but at the same time, I've never really associated it as a racial slur, in part because of how I heard it - as a ridiculous term used to apply to a group of teenagers, in a time of other equally ridiculous terms. Like "rocker", because really, wtf. Or "prep."

I'm curious how much other people's experiences and understandings differed. I don't really ever use the term because there is no /call/ for it, but I do want to know when terms are racist or racial slurs, so I can make sure to not only never use them myself but also call people out when I see them.


In a side note, I agree that anti-white racism can and does exist. I don't think I've seen it a lot on Metafilter, so I'm not sure how much it exists as a mod problem, but I am slightly concerned by the idea that it might not be treated with gravitas if it did occur, due to personal philosophy. Would it still be moderated, except under the "don't be a dick" principle? How heavily would it be moderated?

I think one of the great things about Metafilter is the fact that it is a community trying, or at least striving, to model the world they want to see. It would be nice if the line could be a firm "no racism allowed here, no-how."
posted by corb at 8:13 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's no need for sarcasm, you privileged cracker. I know that as a child growing up going to school in Harlem, I was bullied and marginalized quite a lot by black people, so Jessamyn's statement about not believing in anti-white racism makes me feel as though she has led a very sheltered life and is taking her personal lack of experience with anti-white racism as evidence that it does not exist - a common logical fallacy that denies the validity of my personal experience.

Dude, if it's based on a lack of personal experience it isn't a logical fallacy - it's a failing of empirical understanding.

That formal fallacy would be:

Only forms of racism I have experienced exist.
I have not seen racism against white people.
Ergo, racism against white people does not exist.

Jessamyn argued nothing of the sort. Her syllogism is:

For an expression of prejudice to be identified as "racism", it must be supported by institutional power.
Expressions of prejudice against white people in the US are almost never supported by institutional power.
Ergo, expressions of prejudice against white people in the US can almost never be identified as racism.

If your response to that is that the bullying and marginalization you experienced at the hands of other schoolchildren was racism, despite not being supported by institutional power - that is that you reject the definition of racism employed in the syllogism - that's fine, but it's an externality unrelated to whether the logical proposition is fallacious. That makes it, in your opinion, an informal fallacy - that is, not a fallacy of formal logic.

I know you have this whole "I am a computer with my computer brain" thing going on, but just whacking the modifier "logical" into sentences does not make that more convincing.
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:17 AM on February 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


I love this place. Kinda hate it too, but that's only natural.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:21 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


you reject the definition of racism employed in the syllogism - that's fine, but it's an externality unrelated to whether the logical proposition is fallacious. That makes it, in your opinion, an informal fallacy - that is, not a fallacy of formal logic.

That's an excellent point. In that case, I will rephrase to state that I reject the definition of racism employed in the syllogism. I believe racism is hatred against somebody else based on their ethnicity or the color of their skin and that it can exist completely independantly of general societal power.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:22 AM on February 1, 2013


To get /completely/ nitty-gritty about this:

It looks like Wolfdreams01 is arguing less that Jessamyn's /stated/ explanation involved a logical fallacy, and more that the internal thoughts guiding her feelings that cause her to make that stated explanation involve a logical fallacy. Which might be true, but it's also really hard to read internal thoughts.

I do, however, subscribe to a slightly different definition of racism: hatred or prejudicial treatment directed against a person, ethnicity, or race based on their perceived or real ethnicity, race, or skin coloration, regardless of where the societal power lies.

There's sadly too much of it.
posted by corb at 8:25 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I do, however, subscribe to a slightly different definition of racism: hatred or prejudicial treatment directed against a person, ethnicity, or race based on their perceived or real ethnicity, race, or skin coloration, regardless of where the societal power lies.

I find myself in the very rare position of agreeing with corb. Very rare. I'm doubtful that it will ever happen again, but, there you go.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:30 AM on February 1, 2013


It sounds like you're saying it's impossible to be racist against white people.

She's saying that there's a school of thought that takes as it's definition of what racism as a systemic phenomenon as being defined by the actual power relationships involved rather than primarily as an expression of personal animus. For the record, this isn't a school of thought as in "some shit I personally believe in, dressed up as 'school of thought' to make it sound good", it's an actually firmly established academic approach to the subject of racism. Worth reading up on if you're unfamiliar.

Notably, it does not argue that it's impossible for out-group people to be shitty to in-group people for racially motivated reasons, or for people to use in- or out-group references or slurs or whatever to be shitty to each other, so, e.g., when some guy throws this:
There's no need for sarcasm, you privileged cracker
into a conversation, they're still behaving like an asshole regardless of how you approach the question of what defines systemic racism.

You can partially or totally disagree with that line of thinking; that's your prerogative, and you'd hardly be alone there. But don't use it as an excuse to act like a jerk.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:31 AM on February 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


I know that as a child growing up going to school in Harlem, I was bullied and marginalized quite a lot by black people...

As a black/hispanic kid bussed out to school in the suburbs from 3rd grade until I graduated high school, I wasn't bullied at all (seriously not even once that I can recall) by white people, but there were subtle acts of racism throughout my experience. I was bullied and marginalized by the black kids on my bus for various stupid (but still painful at the time) reasons. But they weren't being racist. They were being shitheads.

My point is that the presence, or lack thereof, of overt negative interactions does not have anything to do with racism- racism isn't just someone giving you shit because of your skin color, just like the lack of someone giving me shit because of my skin color doesn't negate the presence of racism.

In a side note, I agree that anti-white racism can and does exist.
Not in the United States.
posted by eunoia at 8:31 AM on February 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


corb: internal thoughts and feelings are not logically fallacious. Propositions constructed as logical are logically fallacious, or informally fallacious, or not fallacious. Formal logic has structures and rules, and I'd like to avoid "illogical" or "logically fallacious" just being used as a sound effect meaning "I do not like this".

wolfdreams01 I believe racism is hatred against somebody else based on their ethnicity or the color of their skin and that it can exist completely unrelated to general societal power.

Fair enough! In which case, you're just arguing about what the particular word "racism" covers, since you and Jessamyn both agree that prejudice based on ethnicity can exist independently of societal power. It is actually an argument about semantics (as opposed to all those things on the Internet that are described as arguments about semantics which are not, for which see also "logical fallacy").

Basically, "why can't I, as a white American, say that I am a victim of racism in the US if black people can" is pretty much the same kind of question as "why can't I, as a white person, call black people [insert epithet of choice] if black people can?"

In both cases, the answer is "actually, you can. However, depending on the company you keep, and the quality of your argumentation, you might find that they think less of you as a result." In the former case it's more likely to be an eye-roll than an angry confrontation, but there isn't really a way it can be guaranteed not to happen unless you pre-select the people you say it to.
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:37 AM on February 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


In a side note, I agree that anti-white racism can and does exist. I don't think I've seen it a lot on Metafilter, so I'm not sure how much it exists as a mod problem, but I am slightly concerned by the idea that it might not be treated with gravitas if it did occur, due to personal philosophy. Would it still be moderated, except under the "don't be a dick" principle? How heavily would it be moderated?

To dig into this a little more: I think basically any sort of manifestation of racism on the site necessarily gets dealt with moderation-wise primarily under the "don't be a dick" principle; the argument about whether racism is or isn't defined in terms of systemic oppression is pretty much moot in the immediate context of a comment on a website because stuff here doesn't happen in that kind of broad historical scope. Someone saying something lousy to another user is lousy whether it's flavored with racism or sexism or ableism or just plain being-a-dickass-ism.

In other words, we're basically never going to look at some crappy behavior through the lens of whether or not it accords with or contradicts some philosophical view of power structures or systemic injustices or whatever; we're going to say "is someone being needless crappy here?" and from there decide how to deal with it (deletion, mod note, in-thread or metatalk discussion, emailing someone, in really outstanding cases giving someone a timeout or a ban).

The process of day-to-day moderation is necessarily a lot more pragmatic than a discussion about philosophy and cultural analysis and social justice; they're large, complicated topics that dwarf the question of whether a comment is out of line according to the genearal "don't be a dick" guidelines of this site.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:39 AM on February 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


running order squabble fest: "For an expression of prejudice to be identified as "racism", it must be supported by institutional power.

How is a term that is supposed to define discrimination, a sense of superiority and/or hatred based on assumed racial differentiation somehow redefinable to only apply when a power imbalance occurs?

I'm really not sure that sort of redefinition is appropriate. It would seem to essentially give a pass to expressions of racial hatred by anyone but those in power, and waters down the definition by introducing semantic factors that don't necessarily apply to all situations. Reverse power imbalances exist in many minority-majority communities throughout the US. A couple of folks in this thread have given examples from personal experience. If they were targeted because of their skin color, how is that not racism?

What does one refer to hatred of white Americans based on their skin color, then if not racism?
posted by zarq at 8:46 AM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


running order squabble fest: " Basically, "why can't I, as a white American, say that I am a victim of racism in the US if black people can" is pretty much the same kind of question as "why can't I, as a white person, call black people [insert epithet of choice] if black people can?""

Not really, no.

Your example is of a traditionally oppressed group taking a word that has been used to denigrate them and making it their own. Using it in such a way that it limits the power of that word over them.

The idea that racial hatred should somehow not be defined as racism -- when it is clearly and obviously based on assumptions about racial differentiation -- when an institutionalized power imbalance is present, is not the same thing.
posted by zarq at 8:53 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


"It would seem to essentially give a pass to expressions of racial hatred by anyone but those in power, and waters down the definition by introducing semantic factors that don't necessarily apply to all situations."

Because it's an academic definition dealing with social structures and institutional effects. Reading it as "giving a pass" only works if you see racism as more of a dick move than regular prejudice and bigotry, which, in this definition, is dubious.

(It's not the definition I go by, but then the amount of racism I see aimed at whites is negligible, and I think that definitions that don't take into account social context err too much on the side of using cherry picking to diminish the tremendous amount of actual [economic; physical] damage done to victims of racism from whites. And I'm someone else who had the shit kicked out of me as a kid for being white.)
posted by klangklangston at 8:57 AM on February 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


"What does one refer to hatred of white Americans based on their skin color, then if not racism?"

Prejudice, bigotry, hatred, etc.
posted by klangklangston at 8:58 AM on February 1, 2013 [5 favorites]



What does one refer to hatred of white Americans based on their skin color, then if not racism?


Prejudice.


How is a term that is supposed to define discrimination, a sense of superiority and/or hatred based on assumed racial differentiation somehow redefinable to only apply when a power imbalance occurs?

I'm really not sure that sort of redefinition is appropriate. It would seem to essentially give a pass to expressions of racial hatred by anyone but those in power, and waters down the definition by introducing semantic factors that don't necessarily apply to all situations. Reverse power imbalances exist in many minority-majority communities throughout the US. A couple of folks in this thread have given examples from personal experience. If they were targeted because of their skin color, how is that not racism?


It's not a random "redefinition"that came up here and now in the grey, nor is it something believed by only a handful of people. It's called institutional racism, much like institutional sexism. I don't think it gives a "free pass" to anyone, it basically means that if you have that hatred AND that power, then you have the ability to use your hatred in a way that impacts the life of a person who does not have that power, in real social and economic ways. And I agree with a lot of people that in most cases minorities and women do not have that power. I mean that's the whole basis on why cracker isn't nearly as bad as n- word. It doesn't mean people who use "cracker" to display anti white bias should get a "free pass" it means that the n-word is dramatically worse based on the power dynamics of the people using it and the historical basis of those dynamics.
posted by sweetkid at 9:01 AM on February 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


"What does one refer to hatred of white Americans based on their skin color, then if not racism?"

Prejudice, bigotry, hatred, etc.


This seems like unnecessary hair-splitting. Regardless of whether you call such hateful behavior "racism" or instead prefer to define it as "prejudice," "bigotry," "hatred," etc, the more important question is "Should it be tolerated on Metafilter?" I think that the answer is no, and that the mods should issue a firm and unequivocal statement that behavior that falls into any these categories will not be tolerated - regardless of whether it targets a majority or a minority. The fact that this is not happening and that we are instead waffling on the topic by discussing the precise semantics and definition of racism is... troubling.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 9:11 AM on February 1, 2013


klangklangston: " Because it's an academic definition dealing with social structures and institutional effects. Reading it as "giving a pass" only works if you see racism as more of a dick move than regular prejudice and bigotry, which, in this definition, is dubious. "

klangklangston: " Prejudice, bigotry, hatred, etc."

Hmmmm.

OK, so one aspect of institutionalized imbalance between an in-power majority and an oppressed minority is that structures are embedded in society to ensure that the majority protects their privileges. A strong, unerring symptom of would be a sense of majority entitlement. We see this with patriarchal sexism, for example. But sexism can exist without being institutionalized. Sexist acts do not require those such structures to be defined as such.

What you're all saying is that all acts of racism by definition require those structures to be defined in any way as racism. That all racism is by definition institutionalized, in other words.

I agree that the words you've used are appropriate in the cases I gave. But I'm not sure that such a purposefully limited definition of the word 'racism' is all that great an idea.
posted by zarq at 9:13 AM on February 1, 2013


It's not a random "redefinition"that came up here and now in the grey, nor is it something believed by only a handful of people. It's called institutional racism, much like institutional sexism. I don't think it gives a "free pass" to anyone, it basically means that if you have that hatred AND that power, then you have the ability to use your hatred in a way that impacts the life of a person who does not have that power, in real social and economic ways.

An honest question for those who view racism in such terms:

"Institutional racism" seems an excellent way to describe racism that is backed up by a power structure and thus "institutionalized" de jure or de facto. But it seems like there's an additional step taken - that because of that understanding of institutionalized racism, the word racism itself must only refer to institutionalized racism.

Why is that? What is lost by using racism to refer to the hatred and prejudice, and institutionalized racism to refer to that specific and awful racism which has been endorsed over the years by awful power structures?
posted by corb at 9:19 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


This seems like unnecessary hair-splitting. Regardless of whether you call such hateful behavior "racism" or instead prefer to define it as "prejudice," "bigotry," "hatred," etc, the more important question is "Should it be tolerated on Metafilter?" I think that the answer is no, and that the mods should issue a firm and unequivocal statement that behavior that falls into any these categories will not be tolerated - regardless of whether it targets a majority or a minority. The fact that this is not happening and that we are instead waffling on the topic by discussing the precise semantics and definition of racism is... troubling.

I think you missed a few comments.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:20 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


On non-preview:

sweetkid: "It's not a random "redefinition"that came up here and now in the grey, nor is it something believed by only a handful of people. It's called institutional racism, much like institutional sexism."

Would you say then that all sexism is institutionalized? That one cannot be sexist without that institutionalized power imbalance (in the US, against women)?

(I feel like this is a reasonable conclusion to draw from your comment. Am I misinterpreting your meaning / not understanding you properly?)

I'm not an MRA proponent in any way, shape or form, and am fully cognizant of the history of structured, patriarchal sexism against women. But the idea that only men are capable of being sexist doesn't make sense to me.
posted by zarq at 9:20 AM on February 1, 2013


"What does one refer to hatred of white Americans based on their skin color, then if not racism?"

Really you should be asking Jessamyn about this, because it's the school of thought she referenced, but I am broadly in agreement that structural racism functions differently from person experience of discrimination based on race. How carefully you want to delineate that obviously depends not just on whether you subscribe to that school of thought, but also a number of other factors.

However, Jessamyn did propose a series of terms for acknowledging racial animosity against the direction of institutional prejudice:
prejudice or bigotry or discrimination or intolerance
It's not like she's saying "if you got marginalized and bullied at your school for being white, that's totally awesome". She's saying that, structurally, such incidences of racially motivated prejudice or bigotry or discrimination or intolerance take place against the direction of institutional racial disadvantage in America.

To pick back up on what I said, I don't think anyone is going to stop you from using "racism" to describe such events - although you might get an eye-roll if you find yourself telling a group of African-Americans that they should take more care not to be racist against white people, for example, and I don't think anyone here has the power to prevent that. The school of thought Jessamyn is describing simply wishes to maintain a taxonomical distinction between acts of racially-motivated agression which go with the flow of institutional prejudice and those which go against that flow.

And, as Sweetkid says, "cracker" is a useful test case here, because it is fairly inarguably, if empirically, not as upsetting for most of our hypothetical non-poor, non-southern white Americans to be called that by an African-American as they walk down the street as it is for many African-Americans to be n-bombed by a white person in the same situation. Going back to one of the real-world examples in this thread, a white person called a cracker by a black person when (reading between the lines) she appeared to be pushing into the line ahead of that black person did not actually understand that she had been insulted with a racial pejorative and was only told later that she should have been hurt by it. That's kind of a luxury, and it's a luxury born of belonging to a class which it is almost never profitable to try to abuse on racial grounds, which is tied up with dialogs of institutional and societal power.

To take a different, and somewhat ad absurdum case, how about Irene Morgan? When she kicked the sheriff arresting her for not giving up her seat to a white person in the balls, she was absolutely doing it for reasons connected to that sheriff's status as a white American. Does that make it a racist action? Is it a racist action in the same way that criminalizing refusing to give up your seat for a white person was a racist action?
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:22 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Would you say then that all sexism is institutionalized? That one cannot be sexist without that institutionalized power imbalance (in the US, against women)?

Yes, I do think sexism is institutionalized. I think men and women can be sexist towards women in an "upholding the patriarchy" way but not that women can be sexist toward men, no. Women can be prejudiced, bigoted, etc. but not sexist.

I don't mean to be snarky in any way but I'm surprised if you're saying you're only just hearing about this now zarq, considering you participate in gender discussions often enough on Metafilter.
posted by sweetkid at 9:24 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


The fact that this is not happening and that we are instead waffling on the topic by discussing the precise semantics and definition of racism is... troubling.

Welcome to Metafilter, where we actually consider declarations of brightline, unyielding bans on swaths of speech pretty problematic in its own right, regardless of our inclination to take a hard and attentive look at the especially tricky edge cases of usage and to try and keep shit from getting overly nasty.

You may feel otherwise, but that's something you'll have to decide how to accommodate regarding your time spent here.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:29 AM on February 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think you missed a few comments.

Not at all - I simply thought that what Cortex expressed here left a lot of room for ambiguity and interpretation. As somebody with a semi-eidetic memory, I have a tendency to reference comments people made several months ago, and it would be pretty awesome to have an fairly short and unambiguous statement from the mods like "bigotry against any race or sex will not be tolerated, regardless of whether they are a majority or minority." That way, the next time I see somebody who thinks it's totally OK to demonstrate such behavior as long as they don't target minorities, I can simply educate them by linking to said comment.

Welcome to Metafilter, where we actually consider declarations of brightline, unyielding bans on swaths of speech pretty problematic in its own right, regardless of our inclination to take a hard and attentive look at the especially tricky edge cases of usage and to try and keep shit from getting overly nasty.

You may feel otherwise, but that's something you'll have to decide how to accommodate regarding your time spent here.


That's fair, and I suppose in this one aspect we will have to agree to disagree. I feel that on the whole, you mods do a good job, and I hope that my criticism about how you are handling this one thing isn't coming across as an attack on the quality of your work overall. I recognize that you have a lot going on, and it's completely true that hard and unyielding rules can often be problematic.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 9:38 AM on February 1, 2013


> For an expression of prejudice to be identified as "racism", it must be supported by institutional power.

What actually gives us logicians such a chuckle is that, logically speaking, a definition like this is flat out magic. It's the universal exculpatory excuse. Find some (any) characteristic of white people or white society, glue it on as a required feature of the definition of racism -- hey presto, racism necessarily, in all logic can only proceed from white people. And then we believe it.

And the trick is fully generalizable to anything else you may not want your group to be accused of. As for instance, to be identified as "offensive body odor" we rule that it must be supported by institutional power; therefore only white people can have offensive body odor. And then we believe it.

Probably (probably, but who knows) nobody has claimed this about offensive body odor yet. But only because it has not yet been seen as useful, not because of any inherent absurdity. No degree of reductio ad absurdum will make any impression on those who can claim the original quoted claim without getting a sudden attack of the embarrassed giggles.
posted by jfuller at 9:41 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


(In fact - and I say this with tongue somewhat in cheek - this kind of reminds me of the "graymeat" thing above. As near as we can puzzle it out, a black New Yorker may actually have had to adopt a word invented by Stephen King in the hopes of being able to insult Wolfsdreams01, our propositional victim of racism against white people, since he read "cracker" as playful.

I don't even know what kind of -ism it is if you even have to get your insulting names for white people from white people for them to be taken seriously. It's like the joke about Trondheim...)
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:42 AM on February 1, 2013


And while you're here, cortex, I want to know when you will issue a firm and unequivocal statement prohibiting the rich and the poor alike from sleeping under bridges, begging in the streets, and stealing bread.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:47 AM on February 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


and it would be pretty awesome to have an fairly short and unambiguous statement from the mods like

Honestly, not to knock the photographic power of your memory or whatever but it is not overly difficult in a thorough and attentive read of Metatalk to find us pretty explicitly pointing out that we consider people being shitty to each other or to absent others or generic groups in any of a variety of modes to be bad behavior and not something we consider really an okay or good way to be on Metafilter. All of this stuff is a long-time topic of discussion on the site.

And the basic notion that we consider being a prejudiced/bigoted/sexist/racist dickass to others bad seems like enough of a given that pushing for some notional "unambiguous statement" of it feels a little bit like asking for us to state clearly that we are affirmatively against beating our wives. That may not be how you intend it to read but that's kind of how it's coming off from this end.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:48 AM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


running order squabble fest: "Really you should be asking Jessamyn about this, because it's the school of thought she referenced, but I am broadly in agreement..."

Yeah, sorry. I should have directed my original comment to her, not you. You did such a good job breaking down her position that I just automatically responded to it.

running order squabble fest: "She's saying that, structurally, such incidences of racially motivated prejudice or bigotry or discrimination or intolerance take place against the direction of institutional racial disadvantage in America."

I totally agree. I'm simply saying that I'm not convinced all incidents of racially motivated prejudice/bigotry/discrimination stem from institutionalized racism.

To take a different, and somewhat ad absurdum case, how about Irene Morgan? When she kicked the sheriff arresting her for not giving up her seat to a white person in the balls, she was absolutely doing it for reasons connected to that sheriff's status as a white American.

This is an example of a response by a clearly oppressed minority to an act of institutionalized racism. Factors don't just include the sheriff's skin color, but also the privilege and authority imbued upon him by society and Ms. Morgan's lack thereof.

Does that make it a racist action? Is it a racist action in the same way that criminalizing refusing to give up your seat for a white person was a racist action?

Again, they're not equivalent, and not really addressing my overall point.

sweetkid: " I don't mean to be snarky in any way but I'm surprised if you're saying you're only just hearing about this now zarq, considering you participate in gender discussions often enough on Metafilter."

It's okay. I appreciate you giving me the benefit of the doubt here.

So, it's not that I'm only just hearing about it now. I just never really gave the idea that all sexism is institutionalized much credence because it didn't really mesh with my understanding of the term: that sexism exists and institutionalized sexism also exists and they're not exactly equivalent. If the two were plotted on a Venn diagram, they'd have huge, but not equal overlap. I think institutionalized sexism is a very large subset of sexism, if that makes sense.

Also, between this and the "greymeat" and "wigger" derails upthread, I feel like I'm coming across as a sheltered, naive idiot in this thread. :P
posted by zarq at 9:52 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just never really gave the idea that all sexism is institutionalized much credence because it didn't really mesh with my understanding of the term: that sexism exists and institutionalized sexism also exists and they're not exactly equivalent. If the two were plotted on a Venn diagram, they'd have huge, but not equal overlap. I think institutionalized sexism is a very large subset of sexism, if that makes sense.

I'm with zarq on this. Part of my problem with this form of the discussion is that I only hear "racism/sexism requires a power imbalance" from people while they are actively trying to dismiss actual acts of anti-white/anti-male prejudice as not worth discussing. It's one thing for an academic to explore what racism/sexism means and how to differentiate prejudice from prejudice with power behind it, but "That's not racism because you're white" seems to correlate closely with "So shut up about how the black kids beat the shit out of you in high school."
posted by Etrigan at 10:00 AM on February 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


"It's called institutional racism, much like institutional sexism. I don't think it gives a "free pass" to anyone, it basically means that if you have that hatred AND that power, then you have the ability to use your hatred in a way that impacts the life of a person who does not have that power, in real social and economic ways."

Well, and further on this point — it doesn't have to be hatred. It can be obliviousness. However, it still results in structural harm to minorities.

""Institutional racism" seems an excellent way to describe racism that is backed up by a power structure and thus "institutionalized" de jure or de facto. But it seems like there's an additional step taken - that because of that understanding of institutionalized racism, the word racism itself must only refer to institutionalized racism.

Why is that? What is lost by using racism to refer to the hatred and prejudice, and institutionalized racism to refer to that specific and awful racism which has been endorsed over the years by awful power structures?
"

What is lost? Well, there's the imprecision that comes from making it a broader word, and there's also the broader context of institutional racism that informs and provides a background for individual acts of prejudice or bigotry.

I think something that's important to realize is that this is a paradigm for examining racism in a systemic sense. While there's a heavy individual experiential bias in talking about this stuff, especially here in America, that's actually not very helpful for addressing racism and mitigating or ameliorating its effects, and in many cases is deleterious — especially when you get into a lot of the claims of "reverse racism." And the folks who hew to the prejudice plus power definition tend to view racism primarily through the lens of a social problem to be solved.

Again, I don't necessarily hold with that definition as exclusive, but I do think it's a very helpful tool for thinking about racism in a way that's likely to help reduce or eliminate racism.

"What actually gives us logicians such a chuckle is that, logically speaking, a definition like this is flat out magic. It's the universal exculpatory excuse. Find some (any) characteristic of white people or white society, glue it on as a required feature of the definition of racism -- hey presto, racism necessarily, in all logic can only proceed from white people. And then we believe it."

Well, no. Logicians chuckling about that are laughing at a straw man and should be rather abashed at their inability to recognize terms of art outside of their own field.
posted by klangklangston at 10:03 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I totally agree. I'm simply saying that I'm not convinced all incidents of racially motivated prejudice/bigotry/discrimination stem from institutionalized racism.

Yeah - literally nobody is saying that, though. Certainly, Jessamyn is not. In fact, she's saying the exact opposite - that is "there are incidences of racially motivated prejudice/bigotry/discrimination that do not stem from (or rather, follow the line of, whether stemming from or not) institutionalized (or rather, systemic, societal or institutional) racism". She, or rather the school of thought. Is then adding "Which it is useful to identify as taxonomically different from those which etc".

As it happens, the taxonomic divider this school of thought chooses is to group the latter set under "racism", and avoid using that term to describe the former set (taxonomically, at least). If you want to call one "racism A" and the other "racism B", that's another way to do it.

Honestly, and said without judgment, it feels like you're getting stuck on the word "racism", and the way people in positions of systemic privilege might not be able to access it to describe isolated or contextual incidents of prejudice or discrimination which they encounter in an uncomplicated fashion.
posted by running order squabble fest at 10:04 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Etrigan: “I'm with zarq on this. Part of my problem with this form of the discussion is that I only hear the ‘racism/sexism requires a power imbalance’ from people while they are actively trying to dismiss actual acts of anti-white/anti-male prejudice as not worth discussing. It's one thing for an academic to explore what racism/sexism means and how to differentiate prejudice from prejudice with power behind it, but ‘That's not racism because you're white’ seems to correlate closely with ‘So shut up about how the black kids beat the shit out of you in high school.’”

"Seems to correlate closely with"? They are not the same thing. I think this is an apprehension a lot of people have, and I understand it – but it really doesn't seem to be happening in this thread. As far as I can tell, at this point nobody is saying that it's okay to be a jerk to a white person if you're black, or to be a jerk to a man if you're a woman.
posted by koeselitz at 10:08 AM on February 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


running order squabble fest: " Yeah - literally nobody is saying that, though. Certainly, Jessamyn is not. In fact, she's saying the exact opposite - that is "there are incidences of racially motivated prejudice/bigotry/discrimination that do not stem from (or rather, follow the line of, whether stemming from or not) institutionalized (or rather, systemic, societal or institutional) racism". She, or rather the school of thought. Is then adding "Which it is useful to identify as taxonomically different from those which etc".

We already have a word that acts as a modifier on racism to create this specific semantic difference. That term is "institutionalized" and it applies to the more general 'racism' category. No, what Jessamyn is saying is that anti-white racism does not exist in the US because it is not institutionalized / structured within our society.

I'm pretty confident of my interpretation of her meaning because her words weren't ambiguous in any way. Let's go back to what she said: " I come from the school of thought where, in the US and most "Western" countries, there is actually no such thing as anti-white racism because part of racism [as opposed to just prejudice or bigotry or discrimination or intolerance] is that it's the people or type of people who hold the privileged position have or had institutional power, not just personal power, to oppress people. Racism = prejudice + power is the way I look at it. You may have differing definitions, that's fine."

She is not just classifying / identifying them differently. Which wouldn't be necessary, since the word racism does not normally assume that said discrimination (etc) is institutionalized. She is saying that the word "racism" does not apply to anti-white acts in the US.

Honestly, and said without judgment, it feels like you're getting stuck on the word "racism", and the way people in positions of systemic privilege might not be able to access it to describe isolated or contextual incidents of prejudice or discrimination which they encounter in an uncomplicated fashion."

I fail to understand why we shouldn't be allowed to describe acts of non-institutionalized racial bias as racism, yes.
posted by zarq at 10:27 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Because the ambiguity is then abused by those who want to get rid of affirmative action and anti-discrimination clauses.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:37 AM on February 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


they are actively trying to dismiss actual acts of anti-white/anti-male prejudice as not worth discussing.

The thing is, though, is that specific, individual acts of anti-white/anti-male prejudice are so very very often trotted out as some kind of "proof" that institutional racism/sexism (especially racism or sexism that's operating in relatively subtle ways) doesn't really exist. So it's understandable (to me, anyway), that a "black kids beat the shit out of me personally" comment gets viewed with a high level of suspicion.

Also, as per klang's comment, ". . . . this is a paradigm for examining racism in a systemic sense", if a discussion is about systemic racism/sexism, then interjecting an individual contrary example could certainly be considered irrelevant and a derail.
posted by soundguy99 at 10:56 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rustic Etruscan: "Because the ambiguity is then abused by those who want to get rid of affirmative action and anti-discrimination clauses."

Ah. Well, that makes sense.
posted by zarq at 11:03 AM on February 1, 2013


I think there's this thing sometimes where people get locked into their models, and it doesn't really help anyone understand each other.

By my definition, I'd argue that anti-white racism exists. And I think (or perhaps hope) most of the people arguing that it doesn't exist, will still agree that shitty things get said and done sometimes to white people, on the basis of their race.

I'm seeing what looks like two schools of thought coming out of there. One school of thought seems to be that if we admit or talk loudly about incidents of anti-white racism, then somehow people will stop caring about anti-minority racism. I'm really not sure where this comes from, and would appreciate a tangible example of where this has happened. I know that a lot of people like to eyeroll over "reverse racism", but I haven't seen many instances where talking about or admitting or bringing up and giving validity to anti-white racism actively diminishes the ability to seek an end to anti-black racism, for example.

The second school of thought (admittedly, only brought in by a few people on this thread) seems to suggest that because some white people have done awful things, it is okay to treat white people badly or discriminate against them based on their race, because the race has done awful things and they should be judged on that standard.

From my perspective, both of these schools actually contribute to, rather than diminish, racism. People who perceive themselves as a persecuted class do not learn to love those who they believe are persecuting them - whatever the reality of the situation. And often they attempt to persecute in those instances where they have the opportunity - which seems to be how these cycles get started and continue forever.
posted by corb at 11:05 AM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I fail to understand why we shouldn't be allowed to describe acts of non-institutionalized racial bias as racism, yes.

Before we go into that - nobody is saying you shouldn't be allowed to do anything. I would sincerely recommend you think about why it seems to you that you are being _prohibited_ from doing anything. This is a really interesting formulation.

Clearly, you are allowed to describe etc. You are doing so right now. So, what are you actually "failing to understand"? I think there is some interesting stuff there about how privilege functions, and how we often do not notice it, and then find that we are reading not being agreed with as an infringement on our personal liberty.

Second: this school of thought says: Racial prejudice=racial prejudice. Racial prejudice+power = racism.

[sc. It is entirely possible for people without institutional power to suffer due to racial prejudice, but it is useful for this discourse to preserve the word "racism" for the action of institutional power on people from institutionally less powerful groups.]

You say: Racial prejudice=racism. Racial prejudice + power = institutionalized racism.

That is the difference between your positions. If MetaFilter allowed images, I could do you a diagram.

So, when you say:

No, what Jessamyn is saying is that anti-white racism does not exist in the US because it is not institutionalized / structured within our society.

You are right inasmuch as she would according to this structure not use the phrase "anti-white racism" to describe acts of racial prejudice against white people in an context where white people are not subject to systemic discrimination. But you seem to be trying to doppler that meaning with some sort of claim that she is saying that no white person can ever be the victim of or complain of racially motivated prejudice or bigotry. Which is obviously not true.

It is as if you are saying that British people refuse to accept that cilantro exists because they call it coriander. No, they just call it coriander.

Now, certainly different use of terminology may alter the way one might _think_ about racism (and possibly coriander). If one, for example, stops and thinks "how does power affect my perception of and the general function within society of what just happened?" every time one encounters an incidence of bigotry, that is gong to encourage the development of a particular toolkit and approach to looking at issues of race and power. One could theoretically do that either way, however. Thus:
Yo, is this institutionally racist?
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:10 AM on February 1, 2013


I know that a lot of people like to eyeroll over "reverse racism", but I haven't seen many instances where talking about or admitting or bringing up and giving validity to anti-white racism actively diminishes the ability to seek an end to anti-black racism, for example.

Because, in my experience, people who talk about "reverse racism" seem to want to make shitty behavior they have experienced at the hands of individual racial or ethnic minorities as equivalent to (for instance):

- Redlining - having entire housing opportunities unavailable to you because of your race

- Having entire job categories closed to you because of your race

- Having your right to vote closed to you because of your race

- Not being able to go to a particular public school because of your race

And so on. Being a white kid who's shit on by non-white kids because of your race completely and utterly sucks and should be unacceptable. But it's not the same as not being able to buy a house in a particular neighborhood because the banks have decided you are the wrong race to buy a house in that neighborhood. It's not the same as being stopped-and-frisked because you are brown and in the "wrong" neighborhood.

There are ways for white people to talk about bigotry they have experienced because of their race that does not dismiss the very real institutional racism that exists and is practiced against non-whites, but I haven't seen it very often.
posted by rtha at 11:28 AM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


(Incidentally, I have no idea why I am still following the 'what Jessamyn says' thing here - I may be wholly misrepresenting her personal opinion. But this is how I understand this toolkit for looking at the intersection of race and power, based on ideas proposed by Wellman, Tatum and others, generally responds to criticisms of this kind.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:30 AM on February 1, 2013


It is as if you are saying that British people refuse to accept that cilantro exists because they call it coriander. No, they just call it coriander.

This is still a significant difference if you're a member of a website that has specific rules explicitly prohibiting cilantro but merely considers coriander "distasteful" and "a mildly dick move."

Furthermore, if the difference isn't significant, then why are so many people fighting so hard to make sure we don't refer to coriander as cilantro? That in itself makes the argument suspect.

(And yes, I recognize that this comment won't win "Best Analogy of the Year" but I think you all see what I mean.)
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:33 AM on February 1, 2013


Are you actually confused as to why one word has different context than another?
posted by P.o.B. at 11:41 AM on February 1, 2013


Are you actually confused as to why one word has different context than another?

What I'm saying is just that if we assume that everyone is arguing in good faith and has no hidden personal agenda - well, it just feels like there is an awful lot of effort being made to distinguish between "racism" and "prejudice" based on extremely subtle differences (so subtle, in fact, that Running Order Squabble Fest even framed this as "the difference between cilantro and coriander"). I appreciate that some people feel the need for very precise definitions, but I just can't picture anybody on Metafilter ever making such an argument to distinguish between the words "rabbit" and "hare", for example.

I'm not trying to be snarky - it's simply an observation. As somebody with an passion for psychology, I have a tendency to examine people for hidden/subconscious motivations, and this just stood out to me. I could be jumping at shadows, but it's at least worth consideration, don't you think?
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:54 AM on February 1, 2013


The 'cilantro and corriander' thing is to explain the difference is between a spectrum of racism/institutional racism and one of prejudice/racism, not to differentiate levels of acceptability of racial shittiness on Metafilter.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:58 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


"In a side note, I agree that anti-white racism can and does exist."
Not in the United States.


If I were to cite an example of a region in America where whites are routinely excluded from access to positions in government and public service (including positions of power, like the police force) and the private sector, and who are routinely subjected to slurs, and who are told not to go to certain beaches and other public areas because the non-whites have designated them white-free areas, and who in the public school system are subject to bullying which goes unpunished because (some) non-white administrators are anti-white and/or afraid of the bullying kids and those kids' parents, would that example change your mind?
posted by nacho fries at 11:59 AM on February 1, 2013


Making such an argument to distinguish between the word "rabbit" and "hare", for example.

I would- they're different animals.

posted by winna at 11:59 AM on February 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


an awful lot of effort being made to distinguish between "racism" and "prejudice" based on extremely subtle differences (so subtle, in fact, that Running Order Squabble Fest even framed this as "the difference between cilantro and coriander")

You have missed rosf's point, actually; the argument is not that the distinction between prejudice-plus-power and prejudice-sans-power is so subtle that it's the difference between names for an herb. The argument is that choosing to make a distinction between the two and using different vocabulary to label the two kinds is not an attempt to deny that one of the kinds exists and is indeed bad.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:00 PM on February 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Because, in my experience, people who talk about "reverse racism" seem to want to make shitty behavior they have experienced at the hands of individual racial or ethnic minorities as equivalent to...

I think this is part of the larger issue for me. If people feel that they have been the victim of racism, I feel that folks need to look at that seriously, that's a serious accusation and people should care, a lot. At the same time, because that is true, there are a lot of people who use those terms in ways that I think most of us here would agree don't apply, exactly. Concern trolling, if you will. People do not do this here, for the most part, but you see it all over the internet and a lot in the real world of gratuitous lawsuits and 24 hour news cycle freakouts.

I also feel that there have been, sadly, a lot of people (possibly the bulk of the people who use these terms in an "I am actually claiming this" way as opposed to "I am interested in semantics way") who use these terms to claim that they are the victims of racism when in fact they are not, they are just in a situation where a specific instance of something did not go their way, possibly because of one person's bias, possibly because of something like affirmative action (huge can of worms about that which I'd love to not get into) and there's a big fight.

So, among people who study these things at an academic level (you don't have to agree with them or me, I am just sharing information) the fact that people are using these terms in a sort of flipped-around way is often a dog whistle sort of indicator that they're coming at the issue from a not-where-you-think direction. And then there is a small subset of people who just stumble into a description like "anti-white racism" by accident and no one is blaming them for anything or saying they are wrong on how they feel. So, sort of like how people who want to study the racial basis for intelligence are almost always doing so because they are, in fact, trying to prove racist theories (unless they're doing a meta-analysis sort of thing).

If you're sort of dug into critical race studies at any real level, the history of these sorts of people, who tried to use Science! to prove racist, classist, xenophobic, sexist and homophobic things, is appalling and upsetting. So, like the Men's Rights problem--where there are legitimate things that men who are legitimately discriminated against can be upset and demand redress for, but they're often drowned out by bizarre misogynist folks, moreso in the US than in the UK--you wind up with a group of people who have sort of poisoned the term. Men who are actively campaigning for equal rights and lack of discrimination against men are much better off using some different term, and I'm sorry that is true but if clarity of communication and ultimately redress of grievances is important, it's important also to understand the current discourse about these terms (for academics, for lawmakers, in internet forums, among in- and out-group communities) so that we can better understand each other.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:11 PM on February 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


running order squabble fest: " Before we go into that - nobody is saying you shouldn't be allowed to do anything. I would sincerely recommend you think about why it seems to you that you are being _prohibited_ from doing anything. This is a really interesting formulation. "

This is the second insinuation you have made that the language I am using or the words I am focusing on in this discussion are somehow indicative of unconscious bias on my part.

Do you have something you would like to say? I have tried my best to broach this topic, which I know is emotionally charged, in as low-key and undramatic a manner as possible. I'm trying to be polite and ask questions and define terms so I can better understand what's being talked about and draw my own conclusions. For my own edification. I'd appreciate it if you tried to do the same.

Clearly, you are allowed to describe etc. You are doing so right now. So, what are you actually "failing to understand"?

You misread my comment.

I am failing to understand the justification behind Jessamyn's position (and yours) on the subject. Primarily because at this point I feel like you're not really making a case, but are instead choosing to repeatedly tell me my own position on the subject which in some ways misinterprets what I have said.

These discussions do not exist in a vacuum and I believe it is counterproductive to pretend they do. Discussions about the use of controversial and charged words on metafilter often result in those words taking on "accepted" definitions here. The diminishing acceptance in this community of the word "bitch" is a reasonably good example of this. We had a conversation about it in meta. As a result, fewer people are using the term in comments, including myself. In my case, I was convinced through the conversation that a word I barely gave any thought to using is actually quite insulting and inflammatory. And yes, that's also a good example of my own privileged status as a male in Western society.

I use these discussions to determine whether I should change the way I use certain words around here. Or use them at all. I daresay I'm not the only person who does so. Being part of this community is having an awareness that people may interpret language to certain norms. I find that sort of knowledge valuable.

I think there is some interesting stuff there about how privilege functions, and how we often do not notice it, and then find that we are reading not being agreed with as an infringement on our personal liberty.

This isn't a matter of personal liberty. It's a matter of doing the least harm. I'm all for the latter. But if I choose of my own free will to curtail my language or change the way I use a word I'd like the reasoning behind it to make sense.

...

That is the difference between your positions. If MetaFilter allowed images, I could do you a diagram.

I don't need a diagram. I've been explaining the difference between Jessamyn's and my understanding of the word 'racism' at length for several comments now. Would you please stop restating our positions? I understand them.

You are right inasmuch as she would according to this structure not use the phrase "anti-white racism" to describe acts of racial prejudice against white people in an context where white people are not subject to systemic discrimination. But you seem to be trying to doppler that meaning with some sort of claim that she is saying that no white person can ever be the victim of or complain of racially motivated prejudice or bigotry. Which is obviously not true.

Can you please link to a specific comment I've made which implied Jessamyn said "no white person can ever be a victim of or complain of racially motivated prejudice or bigotry," please? As far as I know, all I've said is that she says anti-white acts aren't racism. Which I disagree with. Because I do not agree with her premise.

To repeat: we already have a perfectly good word to describe 'racially motivated prejudice': Racism. Jessamyn is saying that she believes it should not be used to describe 'racially motivated prejudice' except in specific cases.

It is as if you are saying that British people refuse to accept that cilantro exists because they call it coriander. No, they just call it coriander.

It's not like that at all. You keep bringing up inappropriate analogies. Both words for the herb mean the same thing. By contrast, 'racism' and 'institutionalized racism' are not the same thing. If they were, we wouldn't have to distinguish between them by calling one "institutionalized."
posted by zarq at 12:13 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


If people feel that they have been the victim of racism, I feel that folks need to look at that seriously, that's a serious accusation and people should care, a lot. At the same time, because that is true, there are a lot of people who use those terms in ways that I think most of us here would agree don't apply, exactly.
...
I also feel that there have been, sadly, a lot of people (possibly the bulk of the people who use these terms in an "I am actually claiming this" way as opposed to "I am interested in semantics way") who use these terms to claim that they are the victims of racism when in fact they are not, they are just in a situation where a specific instance of something did not go their way, possibly because of one person's bias, possibly because of something like affirmative action (huge can of worms about that which I'd love to not get into) and there's a big fight.


This actually gets at the heart of, I think, one of the major problems.

The difference between racism and perceived racism is not huge to the external observer - that's one of the big reasons behind the "Yo, what you said was racist" idea rather than the "Yo, that's racist" idea. It all exists in the mind of the person who is perpetrating it. So, there are many victims of racism out there - and there are many victims of what is not actually racism, but may present as racism - maybe classism, maybe misogyny, maybe a host of other things up to and including "That person had a bad day" or sometimes "That person is on the opposite side of a political issue that I think touches on race." (For an example: see the accusations of racism leveled at Eric Cantor for opposing the expansion of tribal sovereignty to cover non-Native rapes on Native land) But there is a strong social stigma against racism, where there is a weak social stigma against those other things. Which means, in essence, that victims of one are effectively a protected class, while victims of the other are not. Thus: by saying, "That's not racism, that is X," it lowers the available redress for grievances and sympathy that someone who would be a victim of racism is subject to.

And thus, by defining anything that happens to white as not-racism, it is an automatic statement that whatever has happened, no matter what, it can never rise to that level of help and social support.


I also think that sometimes, it feels like people wanting to define racism as a thing which only happens against minority ethnicities or races, do so in order so that they can use race to discriminate in a positive fashion, without being accused of being racist. I know you would prefer not to get into affirmative action, and I also don't want to get into the merits or negatives about that, but I do want to note that for some, affirmative action, and other programs, even the ones that exist to "level the playing field", /are/ institutionalized and codified racism. For example: there are a host of organizations that exist to offer opportunities for people of Hispanic descent. I have taken advantage of some of them, and may continue to do so in future. If I like, when I die, I can leave a scholarship to some deserving college student, and specify: must be of Hispanic origin. But someone who is white absolutely cannot do that. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure a scholarship specifying: "Must be white" or "Must be of European origin" would be shot down in a flash. If there was an explicitly White Caucus that gave jobs with a preference to only white candidates, they'd be up on charges.

So in a sense, it feels like: Even mild racism is bad. But we like to give opportunities to people who have been deprived for a long time. If we made them race-neutral, then due to existing racial pressures, we would not be able to give opportunities to people. But that would mean we were racists. Being a racist is bad; thus we cannot be racists;thus, there must be a narrower definition of racism that only applies to when minority races are wronged at the hands of the perceived dominant race.

The other problem with this idea is that demographics are changing in this country. White people may not be a minority yet - but I promise in thirty years they will be. Will it then still be acceptable to racially discriminate against them, because of historical factors beyond any new people's control?
posted by corb at 12:45 PM on February 1, 2013


I have seen scholarships available to students of German/Norwegian/French/etc. extraction, and those seem to me to be in the same category as scholarships for Hispanic/Latino students, since, as the US Census Bureau likes to remind us, "Hispanics can be of any race."
posted by rtha at 1:09 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


corb: “I know you would prefer not to get into affirmative action, and I also don't want to get into the merits or negatives about that, but I do want to note that for some, affirmative action, and other programs, even the ones that exist to "level the playing field", /are/ institutionalized and codified racism.”

No, they're not – not by our definition. That's the point, isn't it?

But this is pretty much a moot point now, and I want to say that, for rhetorical purposes, you'd probably be best off abandoning the "affirmative action is racist" angle. The fact is that affirmative action has been shown pretty incontrovertibly to be damaging to the very minorities it presumes to help. So: whether or not you think it's "racist," it's clearly not a good thing.

To say something about the motivation behind that and other programs, however: I think it's essential to note that double standards are necessary here. People generally hate that idea, because I think they have a simplified idea of what double standards mean. But in this situation, they mean: we can't forget history. We can't forget the circumstances people came from, and the things they had to overcome to get where they are. Those things are facts, important facts, facts that are integral parts of our experience. This is why there are scholarships for brown people but not for white people: because there is an essential double standard at play, a double standard that recognizes the essential context we're talking about here.

“So in a sense, it feels like: Even mild racism is bad. But we like to give opportunities to people who have been deprived for a long time. If we made them race-neutral, then due to existing racial pressures, we would not be able to give opportunities to people. But that would mean we were racists. Being a racist is bad; thus we cannot be racists;thus, there must be a narrower definition of racism that only applies to when minority races are wronged at the hands of the perceived dominant race.”

This is pretty confusing, and assumes that the reasoning is backward and circular at points. Better to put it this way: we believe that racism is endemic in society, and that white people have been given power where non-white people have been denied it. In order to correct that imbalance, we want to give opportunities to non-white people that they have historically been denied. Because of the racism endemic in society, which ensures that white people are granted the privilege to enjoy opportunities before other groups, this requires us to explicitly target those opportunities toward specific non-white groups.

“The other problem with this idea is that demographics are changing in this country. White people may not be a minority yet - but I promise in thirty years they will be. Will it then still be acceptable to racially discriminate against them, because of historical factors beyond any new people's control?”

I think this doesn't mean much. Demographic majorities don't indicate societal power. And moreover I think there's kind of a conception of racism here that seems wrong to me; it's a common one, but I take issue with it. The notion is that one group is in power and oppressive, while another is oppressed – and then, over time, the tables turn, the relationship flips, and the oppressor and the oppressed switch places. There's a lot of paranoia about that happening here in the US right now, but I am more than dubious that it's even a remote possibility at this point. Income inequality is greater than it's been in decades; white people aren't ceding their control of power and resources, they're consolidating it. And again, they don't have to be the demographic majority to do that.
posted by koeselitz at 1:14 PM on February 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


There are more women in the U.S. than there are men. Is discrimination/prejudice against women a thing of the past?
posted by rtha at 1:21 PM on February 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


corb: "But someone who is white absolutely cannot do that. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure a scholarship specifying: "Must be white" or "Must be of European origin" would be shot down in a flash."

There is a foundation in Texas which is doing 'whites-only' scholarships.

corb: "White people may not be a minority yet - but I promise in thirty years they will be. Will it then still be acceptable to racially discriminate against them, because of historical factors beyond any new people's control?"

Numbers aren't the whole story. Unless the historical factors that are still present today in our society are eliminated, we'll still be looking at a situation where it will be harder for an African American man to go to school, find employment and do many other things that white people never have to worry about, such as being stopped and harassed by the police for no other reason than their skin color.

Let's look for a moment at apartheid in South Africa. In the 90's, whites made up about 15% of the population. The apartheid system was designed to oppress the majority non-white population and keep that tiny minority of white people in power.

Similarly, here in the US, institutionalized racism isn't just numbers. Who is in the minority or majority does not map perfectly to who has and is able to wield power. Tremendous progress has been made. But we're not there yet. Which is why the scholarships exist. Being black in this country often still means you're not considered an equal to a white person or given fair consideration for a position solely on your skills and merit. The reason affirmative action and quotas were so important is that left to their own devices, institutions were severely biased against minority applicants. Whether for jobs, scholarships, student positions, etc. Merit rarely entered into hiring or acceptance practices. Applicants who weren't white wouldn't even be considered. Things have changed. But I'm not sure they've changed all that much.

Our society rigs life itself against them. So counterbalances were envisioned that would level the field.
posted by zarq at 1:22 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


White people may not be a minority yet - but I promise in thirty years they will be.

People who are currently considered white will be in the minority in thirty years. But American culture is very, very good at assimilating anyone who isn't black into the loose, vague construct that is "whiteness." At various times in U.S. history, Italians, Germans, Jews, and the Irish were all considered to be non-white. I would not be surprised at all if in thirty years at least some subset of the people we currently consider Hispanic were instead considered white people, in the same way that Italian-Americans currently are.
posted by Ragged Richard at 1:37 PM on February 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Also Asians. We're most of the way there except for the crappy jokes about food, call centers and arranged marriages and "where are you really from." Economically though.
posted by sweetkid at 2:05 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would not be surprised at all if in thirty years at least some subset of the people we currently consider Hispanic were instead considered white people, in the same way that Italian-Americans currently are.

In 30 years, racial differences won't matter because we'll all hate the Alpha Centauri immigrants. But really, what do those filthy antennae-heads expect, when they come over here illegally, take jobs away from our hard-working cyborgs, and can't even speak proper Terran because of their tripartite mandibles?
posted by wolfdreams01 at 2:19 PM on February 1, 2013


zarq: This is the second insinuation you have made that the language I am using or the words I am focusing on in this discussion are somehow indicative of unconscious bias on my part.

Dude, I am simply telling you that you are not being "not allowed" to do anything. Like you have just told me that you believe that you are taking care to be low-key and undramatic. Which is useful information, because I can now clarify to you that this is not, to my mind, undramatic language you are using.
I fail to understand why we shouldn't be allowed to describe acts of non-institutionalized racial bias as racism.
It is dramatic language. As is "insinuation", by the way. That's kind of "just what are you implying?", door-slammy, "I said good day!" language, TBH.

So, this isn't an insinuation of any kind on my part. It is a statement that the way you are describing this is unrelated to any kind of actual, real-world or MetaFilter-world limit or prohibition on your behavior.

In fact, I already said waaaaaaaaay upthread, and you misunderstood at the time, but we got sidetracked from:
Basically, "why can't I, as a white American, say that I am a victim of racism in the US if black people can" is pretty much the same kind of question as "why can't I, as a white person, call black people [insert epithet of choice] if black people can?"

[Hold onto the "I said good day!" for a second. Same kind of question, not same degree of awfulness. The point of similarity, which you did not quote in your previous refutation, follows.]

In both cases, the answer is "actually, you can. However, depending on the company you keep, and the quality of your argumentation, you might find that they think less of you as a result." In the former case it's more likely to be an eye-roll than an angry confrontation, but there isn't really a way it can be guaranteed not to happen unless you pre-select the people you say it to.
That stands. You are allowed to call whatever you like racism. Not only will nobody on MetaFilter stop you, but nobody on MetaFilter can stop you. The mods have already listed the things that are no-hesitation deletions, and that isn't any of them. There is no guarantee you will not be contradicted, however. This does not mean that you are not being allowed to do something. It means the system is working.

So, why are you talking about what you are not being allowed to do? In what way are you being constrained? How are you the victim, here? That is the question I was asking you to think about. Your response - asking me to clarify in what way I am attempting to victimize you - is maybe not the best response, and I would suggest taking another turn at it.

By contrast, 'racism' and 'institutionalized racism' are not the same thing. If they were, we wouldn't have to distinguish between them by calling one "institutionalized."

So, here's a funny thing. "Institutionalized racism" is not a concept that has existed since the dawn of time. It's not even a concept that has existed for as long as the concept of racism. It was promoted in the 1960s by, among others, Stokely Carmichael - who I think would be absolutely tickled to see it being used in a defence of the freedom of white Americans to identify as victims of racism, btw.

But. It's a particular way of looking at the world. In Carmichael's way of looking at the world, roughly, institutional racism is the tendency of institutional structures, knowingly or unknowingly, with or without benign intent, to treat people of other races unequally. I can tell you with considerable confidence that Stokely Carmichael did not intend it to mean "the racism that cannot be directed against white Americans, as opposed to the racism that can". Carmichael and others sought to distinguish between different ways black people experienced racism.

But, again. Your conception of what institutional racism means is a little different. It is "racial prejudice + power" (where "racial prejudice" and "racism" are interchangeable terms) - because you want to preserve the term "racism" for other forms of prejudice without bringing considerations of power into it - anyone can be racist against anyone else, regardless of where they are in the privilege stakes, if their negative perceptions or actions are driven by perception of racial difference. So, what you call racism (arugula), School-of-Thought calls prejudice, bigotry, racially-motivated aggression etc (rocket). What you call institutional racism (cilantro), S-o-T calls racism (coriander). S-oT also has the term "institutional racism", which means something else again and is a subset of what they call "racism" (um... coriander leaf?).

That's fine. However, the people Jessamyn was citing are not particularly interested in employing the word "racism" to avoid issues of relative power, because they are interested in employing the word "racism" to examine issues of relative power.

That said, if you want to apply your standards and definitions, nobody is going to stop you.

(No guarantee. Engineer this situation at your own risk.)

As such, I'm not sure what is to be done, at this point. You have explained how you use "institutional racism". I think that there are problems with that usage, which I hope are clearer, but nobody here can make you stop using it in that way. I can say that I would be concerned (and I don't think I would be a wholly crazed outlier) that this usage was dilutive of the idea of institutional racism, and also leads to the dilution (or, if you like, broadening) of the concept of racism - which is a feature in your model, but I think a bug for others. And, as Jessamyn says, this is awkward, because such a dilution serves the interests of some pretty unpleasant people, although I am totally sure that it is in this case by no means motivated by a desire to do so.

But. Yeah.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:21 PM on February 1, 2013


"But this is pretty much a moot point now, and I want to say that, for rhetorical purposes, you'd probably be best off abandoning the "affirmative action is racist" angle. The fact is that affirmative action has been shown pretty incontrovertibly to be damaging to the very minorities it presumes to help. So: whether or not you think it's "racist," it's clearly not a good thing."

That's flat out bullshit, so much so that I assume that you've missed some words in there somewhere.

Affirmative action's biggest success has been in helping women, something that's forgotten in order to color it with an explicitly racial cast.
posted by klangklangston at 2:50 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jessamyn specifically asked that we not derail this thread with an affirmative action debate, and I am going to repeat it.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 3:09 PM on February 1, 2013


Also, regardless of the subject matter, klangklangston, is it really necessary to say nasty things about or to every single person you disagree with on these kinds of subjects?
posted by corb at 3:17 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


1) I don't consider "bullshit" particularly nasty.
2) Koezelitz and I know each other fairly well, and honestly, what he wrote was such a significant deviation from his normal, rational and compassionate take that I would not be surprised if he missed a few words in there.
3) I've managed to disagree with several people in this very thread without being nasty at all.

So, your premises are flawed, and your comment reads as passive agressive hyperbole. I will, no doubt, accept your apology graciously.
posted by klangklangston at 4:38 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am familiar with the racism = prejudice + power.

overall it is a useful construction. what people here are missing is that power has many diffetent structural forms, a neighborhood, a gang, ann NGO, a churh, a corporation, a housing oabrd, etc etc are all power structures capable of systemic racism. so yeah in contex racism can vctimize anyone.

little weird the people itt that attempt to categorily deny someone victimhood, a little sick really.
posted by Shit Parade at 5:39 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also as far as demographics go 'white people' will be a plurality for while after they are no longer the majority and correct me if i am wrong but in California this is either the case now or soon will be.
posted by Shit Parade at 5:53 PM on February 1, 2013


Like you have just told me that you believe that you are taking care to be low-key and undramatic. Which is useful information, because I can now clarify to you that this is not, to my mind, undramatic language you are using.

It is dramatic language. As is "insinuation", by the way. That's kind of "just what are you implying?", door-slammy, "I said good day!" language, TBH.


No, not particularly. You've used passive aggressive language toward me twice, and "insinuation" was the most accurate description I could come up with. No gauntlets were thrown, no cheeks slapped, no doors slammed, etc., etc. Frankly, re-reading my own comments, your characterization of my intentions as "door-slammy" seems rather silly. I'm not sure why, but you do seem to be taking this a lot more personally than I am. I was trying to have a conversation. You seem fixated on the idea that I'm making some sort of dramatic statement. Even after I've explained further. It's a little weird.

In the future, if you would like to know what I mean by a particular comment, it might serve you better to ask rather than make assumptions.
posted by zarq at 8:24 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


If my phrasing was upsetting to you, I apologize, of course. That said, I think we're falling into a very fundamental subjectivity trap here. Nota:

Frankly, re-reading my own comments, your characterization of my intentions as "door-slammy" seems rather silly.

People often find when they re-read their own comments that they sound totally reasonable and the person who is not falling in line with them sounds rather silly. Getting past those sorts of ingrained bias and getting to what people have actually said is one of the marks of successful good-faith discussion.

For example: I did not "characterize" your "intentions" as door-slammy. You quoted the words I actually said, and it makes me a little sad that you immediately then misstate what those words are. I said that "insinuation" was door-slammy language - as in "just what are you insinuating?", that standard of melodrama.

So, from my perspective, the demand that I make clear what I was insinuating was dramatic and not appropriate, since I was not insinuating anything. I was requesting that you think about why you were using the language of prohibition - of not being allowed to do things - when it was clearly unrelated to the realities of the situation. If you want, you can get into sideroads about tone to move away from that question, but the question remains, and I think has the potential to say interesting things about privilege.

("Passive-aggressive", "fixated" and "taking things personally" of course are again sort of dramatic, and clearly making things personal, but without amateur psychoanalysis where would Internet argument be? Trying to avoid that kind of pathologizing is one of the reasons why I try to stick to metaphors about salad garnishes, but this is another derail. I don't object to the terms - they are tropoi of Internet argument, and I take them in that spirit.)

So, if we can take as read that when I do not agree with you I sound to you fixated and weird, and when you re-read your comments they sound totally reasonable (and probably vice versa) and adjust for that rather than embracing it, the question is:

In what way are you not being allowed to do anything? And what does framing it in those terms do to the argument?

Because you said:

I fail to understand why we shouldn't be allowed to describe acts of non-institutionalized racial bias as racism, yes.

That's roughly how that breaks down in terms of what was actually written, rather than what either of us think might have been insinuated.

If what you actually mean is:

I fail to understand why other people are describing acts which I would describe as racism as racial prejudice, and acts which I would describe as institutionalized racism as racism.

Well, I've been trying to answer that, but that discussion has been neglected in favor of this derail about insinuations and fixations. It's above, and references the origins of the term "institutionalized racism", which was not intended to mean or do what you are asking it to mean or do (although terms change meanings, of course, both over time and in different discourses - there's a really good example asterisked below), and the objectives of critical race theory.

To boil it down again: critical race theory is a discipline in which people seek to analyze the interplays of different conceptions of race and different forms of power, and their impact on societies and communities.

A tool in that analysis is to draw a distinction between discrimination which runs with the flows of systemic, cultural and institutional power (which critical race theory often calls racism, and of which institutional racism is a subset, along with e.g internalized racism* and culturally-endorsed expressions of racism by non-institutional actors), and discrimination which does not.

This occurs because an objective of critical race theory is to study the intermingling of race and power. It is therefore valuable for them to make racism (the big word, the primary concept) fit to that conception.

If you do not want to do that, then that process will seem less valuable. In fact, it might seem like this is ignoring the suffering - which remains real - of lots of people who experience prejudice even when this prejudice is not supported by structures of systemic power.

To which our hypothetical critical race theorist would say that they are not ignoring it, they understand that it is bad and they are happy to identify it as bigoted and prejudiced, but that for their studies the term racism is a tool with a particular use, and it would be counterproductive to dilute that in their particular analytical toolset.

Now, at this point you have said "No. What you are calling racism is not racism, but institutionalized racism. What white people experience is not prejudice, but racism." One problem with that, in terms of critical race theory, is that institutionalized racism is already a subset of racism, for their purposes.

Some variation of this argument has happened many, many times, but at its heart is a difference of approach. Critical race theory wants its focus to be on dialogs of race and power, so makes that what is called "racism" in their analysis - and does not feel they need to qualify that (e.g. with "institutionalized"). People who are not aligned with the aims of critical race theory may instead see value in identifying _all forms of racially motivated prejudice_ as "racism", because that's what they feel should be the focus of attention. As I said above:
Your conception of what institutional racism means is a little different. It is "racial prejudice + power" (where "racial prejudice" and "racism" are interchangeable terms) - because you want to preserve the term "racism" for other forms of prejudice without bringing considerations of power into it - anyone can be racist against anyone else, regardless of where they are in the privilege stakes, if their negative perceptions or actions are driven by perception of racial difference. So, what you call racism (arugula), School-of-Thought calls prejudice, bigotry, racially-motivated aggression etc (rocket). What you call institutional racism (cilantro), S-o-T calls racism (coriander). S-oT also has the term "institutional racism", which means something else again and is a subset of what they call "racism" (um... coriander leaf?).

That's fine. However, the people Jessamyn was citing are not particularly interested in employing the word "racism" to avoid issues of relative power, because they are interested in employing the word "racism" to examine issues of relative power.
Now, there are things which spin off from there, and could be examined in good faith - for example, how these discourses can coexist. One might, for example, look at the saw "patriarchy hurts men, too" - which is used by critical gender theorists at the sharp end to highlight that the power dynamics of sexism hurt men, even when they are not directly subject to sexism. The coining "kyriarchy" is aimed at doing something related - baking an intersectional series of privileges together to acknowledge both that many men are disadvantaged by sexist structures, and that women can perpetuate those structures.

However, good faith is hard to maintain here, not least because critical race theory is often being advanced by people who have first-hand experience of racism (or in your model "institutionalized racism"), and often find themselves being told by people who do not have that experience that they are doing analyzing racism wrong. This is problematic, and problematizes any proposed method of analyzing racism which is less "exclusive" - in which the tool they are using to analyze the relationship of race and power is instead a word that covers all forms of discrimination with a racial component.

At which point, critical race theorists often point out that the implication of this is that racism needs to be extended to white Americans in order for white Americans to care about it - that it needs to be turned into a different problem, one which neglects considerations of privilege, before privileged people will agree to address it, in effect. At which point the well-meaning white American may feel that their egalitarian goals are being subjected to (reverse) racism. At which point the critical race theorist say "no, that is precisely what they are not being subjected to. We may have some prejudice going into our conversation about this, but we don't think it's analytically useful in terms of our practice to throw every instance of prejudice into a big bucket marked "racism". That's exactly what we just said!"

At which point the well-meaning white person tells them that they are getting very emotional and that when they say white Americans are not subject to racism while simultaneously being racist against this particular white American by denying that he or she can be subject to racism, they sound silly. And around we go...

Which brings us neatly back to the question of "allowed to". You started off by saying that you didn't understand why you were not being allowed to use a term in a particular way - to which the answer is "you are of course allowed to do that. It just means you are not using it in a way congruent with the way critical race theory uses it". You then said:

By contrast, 'racism' and 'institutionalized racism' are not the same thing.

Which, funnily enough, critical race theorists would agree with you on - however, they would disagree with and want to enter a dialog with your definitions of both.

So, "what do you mean by 'not allowed to?'" is not a rhetorical question. It's a totally sincere inquiry into how this feels to you. Does the existence of a critical discourse on race which says we should exclude acts of prejudice by members of disempowered groups from its terminological definition of "racism" feel threatening to your discourse or limiting to your speech? Does its existence make you feel that "we" (FWVO "we") are "not allowed" to operate within or expound a different discourse - one which allows members of the dominant culture to describe acts of prejudice or bigotry experienced at the hands of members of disadvantaged cultures using the same term as the inverse process? If so, how?

A straight answer to that question, rather than a discussion of tone or an analysis of the psychological failings of your interlocutor, is one possible way into other questions, including the relative privilege of different worldviews (white privilege versus academic privilege is one of the common tensions here). It is not the only way, but it is a way which I thought might have been interesting to you. It seems instead that you felt it was a personal attack. I am sorry if I did not make its aims sufficiently clear, and if I then became frustrated at what appeared to me a tone derail, but I have attempted to continue to discuss the issue in that light. I hope we can proceed from there.


* "Internalized racism" is itself a controversial phrase within critical race theory - bell hooks, for example, prefers "white supremacy" to highlight that it is not internalized so much as osmosed - but saying "white supremacy" tends to generate a _lot_ of heat and little light outside discourses where this specific application of the term is understood.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:16 AM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


1) I don't consider "bullshit" particularly nasty.
3) I've managed to disagree with several people in this very thread without being nasty at all.


I believe the first is what allows you to believe the third.

klangklangston: Some members of MetaFilter have a very fucked up view of how both MetaFilter and the world function. Ibid.
klangklangston: So, this is more thin-skinned whining from Shit Parade that moderators are unfair because you can't say "tranny" whenever you want. Good, I'll file that with the rest of the thin-skinned whining you do, and the general malingering about the site's moderation, which seems to be your only contribution here. Have fun at your White History Month.
klangklangston: *inserts a link about miniature violin for someone he disagrees with*
klangklangston: Logicians chuckling about that are laughing at a straw man and should be rather abashed at their inability to recognize terms of art outside of their own field.
klangklangston: That's flat out bullshit, so much so that I assume that you've missed some words in there somewhere.

You have, of all your contributions to this thread, a total of one comment responding to someone you disagree with in which you were not kind of jerkish in your reply. I've also experienced situations in which you were kind of jerkish in your replies to me, whether or not there was anything personal in the comments. I think you have kind of a low standard for what is jerkish behavior. Maybe you're a stand-up guy, but I'm just wondering if this is really necessary.
posted by corb at 8:22 AM on February 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm wondering if it's really necessary to collect a bunch of links to publicly convince one user to be nicer or less jerkish or whatever.
posted by sweetkid at 9:24 AM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


"You have, of all your contributions to this thread, a total of one comment responding to someone you disagree with in which you were not kind of jerkish in your reply. I've also experienced situations in which you were kind of jerkish in your replies to me, whether or not there was anything personal in the comments. I think you have kind of a low standard for what is jerkish behavior. Maybe you're a stand-up guy, but I'm just wondering if this is really necessary.

Your count is wrong, your examples overblown, and this does seem to rest on your ongoing propensity to say silly things and then become upset when people tell you they're silly. But if you'd really like to have a referendum on our participation here, feel free to start a new MeTa. In it, I'll be happy to explain why comments you've made about how it's OK to let the poor die are far more nasty than any time I've called that "bullshit."
posted by klangklangston at 11:48 AM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Your count is wrong, your examples overblown, and this does seem to rest on your ongoing propensity to say silly things and then become upset when people tell you they're silly. But if you'd really like to have a referendum on our participation here, feel free to start a new MeTa. In it, I'll be happy to explain why comments you've made about how it's OK to let the poor die are far more nasty than any time I've called that "bullshit."

I don't know which specific comments of Corb's you are referring to, so I will try to be circumspect in my defense of him. However, here are some points that you are failing to consider.

1) You say Corbs count is wrong and his examples overblown. Do you have anything to justify that other than your own subjective opinion? Asserting something confidently isn't enough to make it so. I agree with Corb's assessment of your rude behavior (as least when it comes to this specific thread) and furthermore I think it's incredibly arrogant of you to act as if your claim that he is wrong overwhelms all the solid empirical examples that he provided.

2) Letting the poor die is an ethical issue, and has nothing to do with rudeness. I find it hard to believe that Corb would have made such a comment, but I have no problem with it as long as it was phrased in a way that was respectful to other users. I come to Metafilter to learn new facts, not to have self-righteous radicals push their bullshit ethical codes on me. The Metafilter terms of service say that we have to be respectful to our fellow users - they say absolutely nothing about having to be good human beings, by whatever arbitrary standard you use to define the term. I think your rudeness is far more damaging to Metafilter than Corb's alleged immorality, because rudeness makes it harder to have a civil dialogue, but personal ethics are something on which you can simply agree to disagree.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:06 PM on February 2, 2013


corb is female.

Letting the poor die is an ethical issue, and has nothing to do with rudeness.

It's a very rude thing to say around a poor person.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:09 PM on February 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


It's a very rude thing to say around a poor person.

Not at all. I would not be offended in the slightest if somebody expressed the wish to kill me (in fact I would probably be rather amused), as long as they did so in a polite and respectful way. Klangklangston's comments (which Corb linked to) don't live up to that standard.

And in any case, even if we agree with your (irrational, to my mind) assertion that death is rude, I don't see how Corb's alleged "rudeness" in another thread justifies klangklangstons rudeness in this thread. Are you arguing that we allowed to be as rude as the lowest common denominator it is possible to find anywhere on Metafilter? If so, I think it won't be long until we become the same as Reddit.

P.S. Sorry Corb! I didn't notice your user profile was female. I apologize for the incorrect gender references.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:27 PM on February 2, 2013


Wolfdreams01, it seems to me that you are not the best possible arbiter of what is and is not rude.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 1:31 PM on February 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


God bless ya for trying to kill me with laughter.
posted by klangklangston at 1:32 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wolfdreams01, it seems to me that you are not the best possible arbiter of what is and is not rude.

I'm not trying to arbitrate, I'm simply raising a point for general consideration. Your comment about my own rudeness is an ad hominem argument, and one which does not even attempt to respond to the rational point I made.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:40 PM on February 2, 2013


You seem to have a deep belief that everything you say is rational, and what you disagree with is by definition irrational. It makes you really frustrating to disagree with, and I'm not all that interested in doing so. I was just trying to point out that just because you have a different opinion than Jessamyn about the rudeness of an action does not make your opinion true.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 1:43 PM on February 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


In my world, there is no polite way to say to someone's face that I think it's okay that they die because they're poor. How nicely it's said does not erase the disrespect inherent in a statement that declares the poor person as less deserving of life simply because they have fewer resources.
posted by rtha at 1:45 PM on February 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


Rtha, that's an interesting statement, because if you replace the word "poor" with "Republican" and "fewer resources" with "different views" then a lot of Mefites have actually expressed that deathwish quite vociferously (although not particularly politely either, which is unfortunate).
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:55 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


[This is not really an opinion on killing the poor, but I've found that a fun meta-MeTa-game is working out the best place in these posts to insert "because I am a robot, beep boop". The only rule is you can only do it once, no matter how numerous the possibilities.

So, for example, you only get one of:
Not at all. I would not be offended in the slightest if somebody expressed the wish to kill me (in fact I would probably be rather amused), as long as they did so in a polite and respectful way because I am a robot, beep boop.
or
P.S. Sorry Corb! I didn't notice your user profile was female because I am a robot, beep boop.
You decide!]
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:56 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's not really helping, rosf.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 1:59 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think your rudeness is far more damaging to Metafilter than Corb's alleged immorality, because rudeness makes it harder to have a civil dialogue, but personal ethics are something on which you can simply agree to disagree.

Maybe you can. I mean, really, if you can "simply agree to disagree" about the type of argument under discussion here, we might as well all go home, because nothing means anything. "Agree to disagree--" ugh. On the surface it sounds all civil and rational, and kind of witty, because it's a contradiction. But that's just it-- it's a contradiction! What it usually means, really, is: I give up. You're impossible to argue with, or the topic's not worth it, or something like that. In what way is that a satisfactory conclusion to a discussion that means anything at all to the participants?

You're also begging the question as to whether that sort of argument is "personal." The discussion was about public policies. It wasn't some deeply personal topic about which one opinion is as good as the other.

Not that I think dragging in that rather old argument was especially helpful here.
posted by BibiRose at 2:03 PM on February 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Quite right, Restless N. Sorry. Think I've burned out my good faith chip - will take a break.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:11 PM on February 2, 2013


Rtha, that's an interesting statement, because if you replace the word "poor" with "Republican" and "fewer resources" with "different views" then a lot of Mefites have actually expressed that deathwish quite vociferously (although not particularly politely either, which is unfortunate).

You argued that as long as a statement that it's okay for you to go die because you're poor is made politely and respectfully, you don't think it's rude. My point that there is no way to be polite and respectful when saying, to a person's face, that it's okay for them to go die because they are [thing]. Whether [thing] is poor, or Republican, or whatever, it's a rude statement and dressing it up in pretty language doesn't make it not-rude. I said "poor" specifically because it was an example from someone else that you responded to.

I was not arguing that it's okay for other people to make that statement about not-poor people. Why write as if I had?
posted by rtha at 2:14 PM on February 2, 2013


We're kind of getting pretty far afield from the point of this MeTa, arguing over choice of words in a defense of a defense against a charge of rudeness that was tangental to the discussion to begin with.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 2:26 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yo klangklangston, this is just to say that I also think you've made some nasty comments in this thread. I think most of the examples corb pointed out were nasty. In fact, I think both of your replies to corb were nasty, too. I think you've made some non-nasty comments as well. But more nasty ones.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 2:32 PM on February 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh, lord. Only on the internet.
posted by octobersurprise at 2:34 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


because if you replace the word "poor" with "Republican"

Food? You really should have thought of that before you became peasants!
posted by shakespeherian at 2:39 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


My point that there is no way to be polite and respectful when saying, to a person's face, that it's okay for them to go die because they are [thing]. Whether [thing] is poor, or Republican, or whatever, it's a rude statement and dressing it up in pretty language doesn't make it not-rude.

I was not arguing that it's okay for other people to make that statement about not-poor people. Why write as if I had?


Sorry, there seems to be a misunderstanding. I'm not trying to accuse you of saying that, and I apologize if it came across that way. If you say that it's not okay in your worldview to wish people were dead regardless of [thing], and you live up to that, then that is a consistent ethical viewpoint and I respect you for it.

However, this is not about your ethics or my ethics, this is about the ethics of the Metafilter community as a whole, as enforced by the mods. Those ethics supercede ours because they are effectively the contractual terms we agreed to abide by as users. MetaFilter ethics are rarely stated openly, but they can be inferred through deductive reasoning. Here is the general train of thought I am using to infer MetaFilter ethics:

1) MetaFilter users occasionally say things about how they wish Republicans were dead, or things to similar effect. When they are called out on this, the mods have defended those users on the grounds that their rudeness was not directed towards specific users, only to a general class of people.

2) From this, we can infer that one of the MetaFilter ethics is that it is okay to express a wish for [class of people] to die, as long as you are not talking about a specific user. Based on observation, this apparently does not interfere with the contractual "respect" clause that we agreed to when joining MetaFilter.

3) So - regardless of our own personal views on that - it should be okay on MetaFilter to wish death on others, as long as you don't do so in a way that is disrespectful on a personal level.

I make no ethical judgements regarding the rightness or wrongness of this. (I don't think I'm qualified to make ethical judgements, which is why I try to date people with strong moral compasses.) I'm simply explaining the train of thought by which I arrived at this conclusion. Personally I'm fine with a "wishing death on others" position, and I'm equally fine with a "not wishing death on others" position, as long as the overall position is enforced equally on all classes and groups. It totally doesn't matter to me either way.

In any case, LobsterMittens makes the excellent point that this line of thought has run pretty far afield. If you'd like to continue discussing it, perhaps we should take it to MeMail. My overall point is that I thought KlangKlangston's comments (in this particular thread) were rude, and I am voicing my support for Corb when she expressed this and gave specific example. I am not attacking KlangKlangston in general, nor do I think this makes him a bad human being or a bad user. I'm just saying in this particular thread, he's been exceptionally abrasive, and it would be nice if he could own up to that.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 2:43 PM on February 2, 2013


MetaFilter users occasionally say things about how they wish Republicans were dead, or things to similar effect. When they are called out on this, the mods have defended those users on the grounds that their rudeness was not directed towards specific users, only to a general class of people.

Defended the non-deletion of a such a sentiment on a site that tends overwhelmingly toward non-deletion, not defended the sentiment as having merit or being ethically sound or laudable. People say all kinds of dumb stuff on this site sometimes that we don't necessarily delete as such; to mistake that as an endorsement is to be pretty profoundly mistaken indeed.

That's aside from the fact that statements along the lines of "I wish x were dead / would die in a fire / etc" are actually more in lines with what's likely to be deleted than you're portraying, especially compared to the average bit of ire. I am sure you can find specific objectionable examples, but it is honestly very tiring dealing with your ongoing tendency to reference one-offs (or just your memory of having once seen said one-offs) as a good foundation for a deduction that doesn't actually jibe well in practice with the guidelines of this place or how we actually do our jobs.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:56 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Cortex, this wasn't intended as a criticism of you or the mods, and I don't see why you're choosing to take it that way. As I said, I make no ethical judgements about this - I simply work as effectively as I can within the parameters of the rules as I understand them. It's worth mentioning that if Metafilter had more brightline, clearly defined rules, then this kind of inductive reasoning to figure out what the "unspoken" boundaries are wouldn't be necessary.

In any case, as I told rtha, this is a derail and we should probably take this to MeMail if you'd like to debate it further.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 3:07 PM on February 2, 2013


Cortex, this wasn't intended as a criticism of you or the mods, and I don't see why you're choosing to take it that way.

That isn't in any way how I read cortex's comment. This is super weird.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:18 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


if Metafilter had more brightline, clearly defined rules, then this kind of inductive reasoning to figure out what the "unspoken" boundaries are wouldn't be necessary.

IME, humans don't have much trouble with the "unspoken" boundaries of metafilter, though I can see how they might present a few more difficulties to someone of mixed robot/lupine ancestry.
posted by octobersurprise at 3:54 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you say that it's not okay in your worldview to wish people were dead regardless of [thing], and you live up to that, then that is a consistent ethical viewpoint and I respect you for it.

Much as I hate to decline any respect, I want to be very clear that I'm really neither here nor there about the okayness of anyone saying any other group can go die. My very specific point is that there is no way to politely or respectfully say to someone's face that they can go die because they are [thing]. The statement is inherently rude and disrespectful. That's it.
posted by rtha at 3:59 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why do I get the feeling this is about to be closed up?
posted by P.o.B. at 4:01 PM on February 2, 2013


> Here is the general train of thought I am using to infer MetaFilter ethics:

It's not an algebraic theorem.
posted by desuetude at 4:06 PM on February 2, 2013


MetaFilter ethics are rarely stated openly, but they can be inferred through deductive reasoning. Here is the general train of thought I am using to infer MetaFilter ethics:

The main problem with your deductive reasoning is that it is neither rational nor completely informed. It is heavily biased by which threads you choose to read, which comments you read, what moderation you see within that framework (as opposed to all of the comments, threads, and moderation you don't observe), and, last, and most importantly, by how your own perceptions and biases heavily influence your interpretation of all of the above. Your entire inference of Metafilter ethics is predicated on the assumption that your interpretations represent absolute truth. Or, as someone else pointed out, you assume what you think is rational, and if others disagree they must be irrational.

This incorrect assumption of rationality and absolute truth provides an interesting micro-study on the larger discussion of racism going on in this thread. Essentially, one side of the debate equates all forms of racism as equal--"cracker" has the same denigrating weight as "nigger", affirmative action equates with segregation. Meanwhile, the other side argues for a more nuanced discussion of these topics, with an eye towards interpreting these things through the lens of history and the larger long-term socioeconomic disparities between difference races within the United States. No doubt the essentialists see the nuanced side as totally irrational (both are slurs so they are the same!), while the more nuanced side sees the essentialists as closed-minded and ignorant towards the larger cultural forces involved in the debate (one represents the structural violence that existed for centuries to treat people of a particular subculture as human, the other assuredly does not represent anything so grave).
posted by schroedinger at 4:33 PM on February 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


Let's just pull this nasty fruit off the vine and stomp on it and continue on the path.
posted by Burhanistan at 4:45 PM on February 2, 2013


2) From this, we can infer

No, "we" can't. I infer nothing of the sort.

In the interests of accuracy, please speak for yourself.
posted by nacho fries at 8:07 PM on February 2, 2013


I've already said this twice in my past two comments, but evidently it bears repeating since some of you apparently missed it.

DERAIL. MEMAIL.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:16 PM on February 2, 2013


If you want people to stop talking to you, it is much more effective to just stop responding.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 8:42 PM on February 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


> I've already said this twice in my past two comments, but evidently it bears repeating since some of you apparently missed it. DERAIL. MEMAIL.

Don't tell me what to do. It's not nice.
posted by desuetude at 11:15 PM on February 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


I've already said this twice in my past two comments, but evidently it bears repeating since some of you apparently missed it.

Your attempts to moderate the conversation, while still get in your personal last word, are interesting. It betrays an interest rooted not in rational discussion but in a desire to control the conversation. Your backhanded critiques of moderation here as biased and divisive further betray this frustration. And make no mistake, despite your protestations, your belief moderation is biased and divisive is a critique, especially given how you repeatedly state you praise what you perceive as "rationality" (i.e. agreeing with you).

Again: I find this to be an apt comparison to the racism debate. Note how rather than discussing the substance of the argument over racial slurs, those who felt cracker equated to other racial slurs often begin to critique the conversation's tone. That is, if you no longer wish to respond to your opponents' arguments but cannot bear to leave the conversation, attempt to change the conversation's rules to your favor by equating the weight of your feelings about a word or your opponents' arguments as equal to the factual basis and substance of said word and arguments.

A friend of mine recently related a debate he was involved with over the Confederate flag. A person who proudly displayed it refused to discuss what it represented to her, rather she simply argued that because she liked the flag people's criticisms were, by default, rude. Thus effectively attempting to change the conversation from the historical background of the flag to how people were hurting her feelings by saying anything negative about it.

One might argue it is the height of irrationality to subsume the factual, historical background of a word or flag or whatnot in favor of one's own personal feelings when determining the interpretation of that thing.
posted by schroedinger at 6:49 AM on February 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


And make no mistake, despite your protestations, your belief moderation is biased and divisive is a critique, especially given how you repeatedly state you praise what you perceive as "rationality" (i.e. agreeing with you).

Not at all. It's quite possible in my view to disagree with me in a rational way and when somebody does so, I acknowledge their point and revise my conclusions. In fact, I've even done so in this very thread.

Your attempts to moderate the conversation, while still get in your personal last word, are interesting. It betrays an interest rooted not in rational discussion but in a desire to control the conversation. Your backhanded critiques of moderation here as biased and divisive further betray this frustration.

While I appreciate that you've clearly done your research when it comes to this armchair analysis of my psychology, you could have saved yourself some time by simply asking me. Yes, obviously I'd like to control the direction of this conversation - that's not exactly a deeply concealed secret. Specifically, I'd like to control it by steering it away from topics that are boring and pointless to me (the ethical beliefs of internet strangers) and towards topics which are more relevant to my interests (Klang's rudeness in this one thread, which I feel shuts down productive discourse and thus limits my ability to acquire nuanced knowledge). That's the whole reason I jumped back into the thread.

And hey, you can go in whatever direction you want and get as many "last words" as you like, but just so you know, talking about myself isn't all that interesting to me (unless you're a licensed therapist - in which case, thanks for the freebie), and if you insist on shifting the subject to make it about me personally, I'm simply going to check out of this thread because I don't derive any benefit from it. Which you are totally welcome to do, I guess - it's a free country and all that. It's just that I took you for the kind of person who was arguing in good faith, rather than the kind of person who would use cheap tactics to drive somebody else out of the thread simply for the sake of "winning."
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:31 AM on February 3, 2013


Were you just talking to a mirror?
posted by Burhanistan at 9:35 AM on February 3, 2013


Specifically, I'd like to control it by steering it away from topics that are boring and pointless to me (the ethical beliefs of internet strangers) and towards topics which are more relevant to my interests (Klang's rudeness in this one thread, which I feel shuts down productive discourse and thus limits my ability to acquire nuanced knowledge). That's the whole reason I jumped back into the thread.

You were the person who brought up "Metafilter ethics" in the first place--you brought it up, did your own armchair analysis of the community and moderation, and now that you've said your piece you claim everyone else is derailing the conversation by addressing your criticisms. That's not really how "nuanced discourse" works.

Tell me, why is it derailing and cheap tactics to address your foibles as a poster, yet you feel addressing Klang's rudeness is relevant? His "rudeness" interferes with your ability to have a nuanced discussion, OK. But have you considered that maybe your willful misinterpretations of comments, of moderation, and your bad-faith assumptions about the motivations of this community may be equally disruptive? You can't have it both ways--you can't claim it is relevant to make personal criticisms of the styles of others and not yourself.

I think, perhaps, if you weren't interested in talking about yourself then you wouldn't derail conversations away from the topic at hand and into extended recitations of your personal feelings about how other posters and the community affect you and your participation.
posted by schroedinger at 9:38 AM on February 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


To wrench this thread rudely back on-topic, before Atlanta got a major league baseball team by swiping the Braves and Hank Aaron from Milwaukee it had a minor league team of long standing (1901-1965) whose formal, official name, to which nobody in the Known Universe objected in all those years, was the Atlanta Crackers.
posted by jfuller at 10:01 AM on February 3, 2013


those who felt cracker equated to other racial slurs often begin to critique the conversation's tone.

It's true that several people compared "cracker" to other slurs. Personally, I thought that was unnecessary and unhelpful. There were also people, and I think many more, who objected to the term irrespective of any comparison.

To your larger point, I don't know whether it's rational or irrational to pore over a word's historical background in the context of a conversation about one community's civility. I do know that it doesn't make a lot of sense to me, and it doesn't seem germane. Several people say, "That word is offensive," and somebody else responds, "Actually, historically that word was used to refer to _____." It's a non sequitur. We're not talking about factual, historical background. We're talking about civility and, okay, feelings.

I'd like to control it by steering it away from topics that are boring and pointless to me (the ethical beliefs of internet strangers) and towards topics which are more relevant to my interests (Klang's rudeness in this one thread, which I feel shuts down productive discourse and thus limits my ability to acquire nuanced knowledge). That's the whole reason I jumped back into the thread.

That is, by definition, a derail and rude. This is not a thread about Klang's rudeness. It's a thread about the word "cracker." If you want to discuss Klang's rudeness in a MetaTalk thread, you can go open one.
posted by cribcage at 10:07 AM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


> Yes, obviously I'd like to control the direction of this conversation - that's not exactly a deeply concealed secret. Specifically, I'd like to control it by steering it away from topics that are boring and pointless to me (the ethical beliefs of internet strangers) and towards topics which are more relevant to my interests (Klang's rudeness in this one thread, which I feel shuts down productive discourse and thus limits my ability to acquire nuanced knowledge).

> if you insist on shifting the subject to make it about me personally, I'm simply going to check out of this thread because I don't derive any benefit from it.

You'd like to control the direction of the conversation toward things that interest you, benefit you personally, you you you. But then you claim that it's other people who are "insisting" on making this about you personally. Because booooo, they're not making it about you in the way that you want them to. It's as if they're not being controlled at all!
posted by desuetude at 10:57 AM on February 3, 2013


To wrench this thread rudely back on-topic, before Atlanta got a major league baseball team by swiping the Braves and Hank Aaron from Milwaukee it had a minor league team of long standing (1901-1965) whose formal, official name, to which nobody in the Known Universe objected in all those years, was the Atlanta Crackers.

That's interesting - although when you say the known universe, do you mean that there is no record of any objection in the places where such records should be, or that you do not know of any objections? Only, if the latter, there might have been objections which did not prevail - qv the Washington Redskins, whose name is not infrequently held to be offensive by certain people, but remains unchanged for reasons of history and continuity...
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:46 PM on February 3, 2013


If my phrasing was upsetting to you, I apologize, of course.

I wasn't "upset." Considering your last few comments, I tend think my initial assessment was accurate.

You have spun a badly chosen phrase I wrote to describe a casual cultural attitude about the use of language on metafilter, into an hyperbolic discussion about an attitude I do not possess. I have explained myself and tried to move the conversation forward. Despite this you have continued to pound away at the topic. That explanation is here, in the two paragraphs that start with the phrase: "These discussions do not exist in a vacuum." The "not allowed" phrase wasn't expressed well by me. I did not mean anything with it beyond what I have already told you.

That's what I meant by "fixated." I have explained myself. And once again you spent a bunch of time telling me what I meant to say, and asked a question I've already answered.

Well, I've answered it twice now. And now I'm done going in circles with you.
posted by zarq at 1:56 PM on February 3, 2013


To wrench this thread rudely back on-topic, before Atlanta got a major league baseball team by swiping the Braves and Hank Aaron from Milwaukee it had a minor league team of long standing (1901-1965) whose formal, official name, to which nobody in the Known Universe objected in all those years, was the Atlanta Crackers.

They were originally the Atlanta Firecrackers. That team's name was changed to the Atlanta Crackers in 1901. There was also a team during the same time period in the Negro league called the Atlanta Black Crackers.
posted by zarq at 2:04 PM on February 3, 2013


I'm not sure how a team name would make it de facto okay anyway. It's not like there are not problematic team names.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:40 PM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ah, OK, zarq - you're going to pass over the lengthy discussion of how critical race theory works and the approaches and tools it uses, and instead continue to complain about me responding to the words you wrote?

Well, that's possibly a useful lens through which we can look at privilege in itself. People in privileged groups tend to feel able to set some pretty tight parameters for the conditions under which and the tone in which they are prepared to discuss these matters. There is a very long history of dominant groups telling subaltern groups that they are doing resistance or critique wrong, which is often tied up in ideas of irrationality or anger.

In fact, your link back there is instructive:
But if I choose of my own free will to curtail my language or change the way I use a word I'd like the reasoning behind it to make sense.
In a funny sort of way, this is actually further outside what I think is going on than the idea that you weren't going to be allowed to use the word "racism" to describe prejudice against white Americans by black Americans (on MetaFilter*).

How you - you personally - use the word "racism" is of limited interest to critical race theory - as Jessamyn kept saying, there is no suggestion that this is a situation where you have to agree with her or with them. I thought you were simply trying to understand why their terminological toolset differed from yours, and were unaware of the preconceptions you were bringing to that discussion. However, if you were actually asking that the adoption of a toolset by critical race theorists be explained to you in a way that you would then judge worthy or unworthy ... well, that's a somewhat different issue.

So, this is my bad. I had not realized the intention here was not to help you to understand why critical race theory used these tools, but rather to persuade you of the value of them doing so, so you could decide whether to do likewise. Only, you're not actually generally at the centre of that dialog, and I think a lot of underlying stuff would need to be interrogated before there was any likelihood of that happening.

Anyway. Critical race theory has been doing this for a while, and its analytical toolset, definitions and all, has survived coexistence with broader and less analytically targeted, or politically divergent, understandings of the term. This is actually quite common in language shared between academic disciplines and non-academic usage**.

I think were you to confront, say, bell hooks and ask that she provide you with a set of reasonings behind the way she uses language to interrogate race and power which would be convincing to you, you would get in response a suggestion that you read her work. And possibly an eye-roll.

If you're genuinely curious about whether you should adopt the analytical toolset of critical race theory, that would be actually not be a bad place to start. Not the eye-roll, the other thing.

However, that is not what you have been conveying in this thread, where you have instead been telling critical race theorists, largely in absentia, that they are doing defining racism wrong. Which argument I've already addressed. You and they have different goals, and will probably continue to do so. It would make little sense for you to adopt a terminological approach at odds with your goals, or for them to do likewise.


* Or elsewhere, really. If the hypothetical group of African-American youths posited upthread by Burhanistan were to set upon you, and Beverly Daniel Tatum were to find you and offer to shelter you until the police arrived, you could _probably_ get away with describing the language you were subjected to as "racist". No guarantees, though - engineer this situation at your own risk.

** A good example, in fact, being "white supremacy" - a term that crops up quite often in critical race theory, but one which has a very different payload outside those dialogs.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:50 PM on February 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Here, take a breather, squabblers: 30 Rock, Race and Identity Politics.
30 Rock's characters' ability to live alongside each other is an acceptance that institutional and incidental racism and sexism and homophobia are part of how we live. We can survive by laughing at them.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:13 PM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Credit where it's due: hydropsyche brought up the Atlanta Crackers in this thread five days ago.
Here's a Word Detective blurb about the positive meaning of "cracker" (cf. "crackerjack", "cracking").
posted by gingerest at 4:48 PM on February 3, 2013


Rosf, I'm not continuing this conversation with you because you have repeatedly framed your points to me as personal attacks, consistently misinterpreted my meaning despite repeated explanations on my part, outright ignored those explanations, accused me of pushing an agenda when i just wanted to have an objective conversation, and have basically been acting in bad faith from the get go.

If it makes you feel better to frame that in terms of my privilege, so be it. I should never have bothered trying to broach such a touchy subject in meta in the first place.
posted by zarq at 6:11 PM on February 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


your belief moderation is biased and divisive is a critique,

biased past participle, past tense of bi·as (Verb)
Verb
Show prejudice for or against (someone or something) unfairly: "the tests were biased against women"; "a biased view of the world".
Influence unfairly to invoke favoritism: "her story failed to bias the jury".

Now, unless "biased" has some special academic usage within some particular academic discipline (and this is the context in which you are invoking "biased"), then there is precedent to make such a claim -- using even the moderators own words. Perhaps it can be argued that much hinges upon "fair", but I would make a simple distinction between what is fair and what is just.

Jessamyn has been clear, repeatedly, within this thread, that moderators single out certain words for additional scrutiny, these words (r-n-c) obviously target those groups who have suffered historic disadvantages, namely blacks and women. A claim that moderators are "biased" towards these words are more than a critique, it is a fairly straight forward interpretation of what the moderators have themselves wrote.

Again, we can quibble over "fair", I'll say this bias is just as in deserved and within the scope of law, but not fair as in equitable or equal treatment.
posted by Shit Parade at 10:28 PM on February 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, zarq - "objective" is another of those tricky words. Honestly, I don't think there is any way we can be wholly objective when discussing these issues, or, really, any issue. In this case, in particular, we're dealing with emotional issues, and it doesn't do a lot of good to ignore that.

We can, potentially, be aware of our personal investments and inclinations, however.

bell hooks example again: in Killing Rage, hooks tells the story of a time that she and a friend of hers were in the first class cabin -

I know, right? Academic privilege!

- waiting to take off, when her friend was called to the front of the cabin and told that her upgrade had not been completed, and that she had to give her seat up to the man who had (successfully) booked the same seat. The man is apologetic, but clear that this is not his fault - he would prefer not to dislodge another person, but he has paid for this first class seat, and he intends to enjoy it. This is, to him, an uncomplicated situation.

For hooks, however, the experience of a black woman being told to give up her seat for a white man - and specifically a black woman being called up and told in view of the entire cabin that her claim to this seat is invalid - has emotional implications far beyond the irritation of lost legroom. hooks finds herself suddenly aware that she wants to kill this man.

Stabbing a dude to death on an airplane is not portrayed as an objectively good solution to the problem, even at a time of laxer security. It was certainly not an unemotional response. However, it was seen as sufficiently interesting as a response as to be worth digging into. At the very worst, she got a book title out of it.

If what we want is a totally objective conversation, and the subject is not something like the angles of Platonic solids, then we are likely to be disappointed, because we are all subjects - of our environment, for starters. If one believes that in one's own case this does not apply - that one is uniquely able to have an objective view of, e.g. how other people should apply terminology to the discrimination they experience, often as not a purely academic phenomenon - then... well, in that case it's possible that we started off from fundamentally different places, with fundamentally different views about how discussions and people work. I'd say the closest one can come to objectivity is a mutual acknowledgement and awareness of subjectivity.

Which perhaps explains why you were unhappy about the "insinuation" that "the language I am using or the words I am focusing on in this discussion are somehow indicative of unconscious bias on my part". That seems to me something of a no-brainer. It applies to everyone, and the next step is to try work out how that might be affecting the discussion. One thing that does not apply to everyone is the extent to which they have been told that their subjectivity represents the way the world works, and the extent to which ingrained systems of power support that belief - what is often shorthanded as privilege. And indeed the way that questioning privilege feels like a personal attack - because it is questioning one's subjectivity.

If you feel that seeking to acknowledge and explore this represents bad faith, then that does help to explain, I think, why we've been butting against each other. I think acknowledging subjectivity is actually a useful thing to do - in particular if it prevents a situation where one is looking at the response of members of subaltern groups to discrimination and concluding not only that their response is different (because coming from a different subjective experience of the world) but objectively invalid. So, your initial question:

How is a term that is supposed to define discrimination, a sense of superiority and/or hatred based on assumed racial differentiation somehow redefinable to only apply when a power imbalance occurs?

is where maybe we should have stopped and looked at that, because that idea of what a term is supposed to do is already problematic. And, yes, this is once again looking at the words you've used, but I really don't know how one gets around that.

Audre Lorde famously observed that you can't dismantle the master's house using the master's tools. Personally, I've always found this counter-intuitive - the master's tools are likely to be the premium, John Deere shit, and probably not even very heavily used. However. In this case, critical race theorists are creating a tool - a definition of racism to mean, very roughly, "prejudice+ingrained systems of power which support that prejudice" - with which to if not dismantle then at least survey the master's house. It's a tool for a purpose.

I'm aware that this is a very emotive metaphor, and I'm very much alive to the dangers of that. However, taking the idea of "institutional racism" (which has a specific and different definition within studies of race and racism, as a subset of racism) and using that to seek to confiscate the tool they have created - by saying that their definition of "racism" is not what the word is supposed to mean, and they should alter their discourse and redefine "institutional racism" to describe what they are currently describing as "racism", to bring both in line with the (quote-unquote) objectively correct definition - that is, to bring their use of those terms into line with yours, despite the difference in aims and subjective experience of the world - is problematic.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:10 AM on February 4, 2013


(As an example, looking over that, I can see ways in which I might unthinkingly have made asides which have the capacity to seem disrespectful to victims of terrorism, bell hooks, Audre Lorde and many of those living with the direct legacy of slavery. I'm not really any of those people, and my own privilege often makes me oblivious to these issues, or leads me to think that a particularly satisfying turn of phrase or self-delighting joke is justified when others would and will disagree - what you might call "pulling a Wild Wild West".)
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:10 AM on February 4, 2013


running order squabble fest, this is getting fairly obsessive and way, way past all point or purpose of this discussion, and zarq has already said he's not engaging in this back and forth any more. You need to find a better venue to do what you seem to want to do here.
posted by taz (staff) at 5:41 AM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fair enough, taz. I don't wholly see the difference between wolfdreams01's demand that people stop addressing him in MeTa (which was ignored) and zarq doing likewise, and getting that "tag, no comebacks" officially sanctioned. And I can't see how such sanction encourages good behavior, since the behavior it incentivizes is presumably to get in there, make your argument and then loudly declaim that you are done with this topic if you are unable or unwilling to defend it.

However, I am sure there are good reasons for this.

TBH, it's disappointing that having subject knowledge - being able to reference pre-existing materials, rather than just responding to immediate stimuli - is considered obsessive, but again, I'm sure there are good reasons for that.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:57 AM on February 4, 2013


I think she just means it's ok if you let your dancing monkey take a smoke break, is all.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:43 AM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


gingerest: " Here's a Word Detective blurb about the positive meaning of "cracker" (cf. "crackerjack", "cracking")."

Thanks for this. Fascinating!
posted by zarq at 6:46 AM on February 4, 2013


Letting the poor die is an ethical issue, and has nothing to do with rudeness.

It's a very rude thing to say around a poor person.


I don't think I've ever said anything like, "The poor should die." I think klangklangston is attempting to reference my political beliefs, which tend to be more conservative than his, and suggest that holding those political beliefs is akin to wanting poor people to die.

However, that said, I think that if we were using the standard that holding ethical beliefs that lead to a lower standard of living for any class of individuals is rude, that the amount of negativity overwhelmingly directed towards the Republican party, and conservatives on the whole, (not to mention gun owners) must be regarded as unrelentingly rude.
posted by corb at 7:18 AM on February 4, 2013


The Rude Boys are coming for my guns
posted by Greg Nog at 7:24 AM on February 4, 2013


getting that "tag, no comebacks" officially sanctioned

What is officially sanctioned is trying to respect people's request to not engage them even if it's in the form of "Do not engage me.... and I have these final words before I sign off..."

the behavior it incentivizes is presumably to get in there, make your argument and then loudly declaim that you are done with this topic if you are unable or unwilling to defend it.

Sometimes the goal is just to get the non-conversation to stop and not to incentivize any other behavior, though I do not disagree with your general point. Interrogation of one user or the "Let's talk about what I want to talk about, only" behavior from any one user is counter to the general purpose of MetaTalk and works most effectively when taken to MeMail.

the amount of negativity overwhelmingly directed towards the Republican party, and conservatives on the whole, (not to mention gun owners) must be regarded as unrelentingly rude.

We are aware of your feelings on this topic and it's totally fine if you feel the need to open up a MeTa thread with specifics about this issue. However at the bottom of a long thread about something else entirely may not be a great way to have that conversation take place.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:39 AM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I understand that Jessamyn, I was responding specifically to what felt like an uneven declaration that the perception of my politics seemed rude. However, I do think that overall contention does have a lot to do with this MeTa as well - the idea that it's okay to be rude or throw racial slurs at the majority or perceived majority rather than the minority is very much the subject here, albeit a bit narrower.
posted by corb at 7:54 AM on February 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


1) I don't think it's ever, really, especially cool to say anything like 'All Republicans should die!' or whatever.

2) On the other hand, Republicans are not a class. Republicanism is voluntary membership in a political party and as such I think it's fair to make sweeping statements about Republicans ('Republicans are jerks!') that it wouldn't be okay to make about actual classes of people, e.g. people of a certain ethnicity ('Latinos are jerks!') or whatever.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:30 AM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


the amount of negativity overwhelmingly directed towards the Republican party, and conservatives on the whole, (not to mention gun owners) must be regarded as unrelentingly rude.

Speaking of hurt feelings, the NRA is making a list of organizations, institutions, individuals, and corporations who have been rude about their objectives, or, as they like to say, who are "anti-gun." I must say, I find it remarkable that the NRA actually describes their enemies as "anti-gun," (not, say, "anti-second amendment" or some such bushwa) as if these people and groups are being rude or objectionable to the very guns themselves. It seems to me a stunning degree of fetishization even for the NRA and it has me imagining a giant, floating Wayne LaPierre head barking edicts to the savages below.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:40 AM on February 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'll know I'm doing things right if I get on that list of theirs.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:06 PM on February 4, 2013


the NRA is making a list

Wow, is that a "First against the wall" list?
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:10 PM on February 4, 2013


Wow, octobersurprise, that list is almost deserving of its own thread.

Doesn't matter if you want to approach it from a lulzy position ("DAMN YOU, RICK FOX!") or just stare in wide-eyed disbelief that they call out AMC THEATERS as an "Anti-Gun Corporation." That list has it all!
posted by SpiffyRob at 1:49 PM on February 4, 2013


Oh, and the Kansas City Chiefs, for good measure.

Heartless, terrible assholes, they.
posted by SpiffyRob at 1:50 PM on February 4, 2013


I would love to know why AMC THEATERS is 'anti-gun.'
posted by shakespeherian at 1:52 PM on February 4, 2013


Another question is what the AMC theaters and Kansas City Chiefs are doing donating to anti-gun rights legislation and groups. You'd think all those people upset about corporate financing would be fighting this outrage.
posted by corb at 1:53 PM on February 4, 2013


Oh be serious.
posted by rtha at 1:56 PM on February 4, 2013


You'd think all those people upset about corporate financing would be fighting this outrage.

This is almost a textbook definition of concern trolling. If you are not trolling here, please make it more clear that you are not trolling.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:58 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Alright. I was attempting to be sarcastic. I didn't think anyone would take that as a straight line from me. But in effect, I do think that it's a disingenuous move to complain that the NRA is targeting these poor companies and organizations that have nothing to do with "anti-gun behavior" when those poor companies and organizations that have nothing to do with "anti-gun behavior" are using their financial muscle against gun rights.

I also think that mock outrage over the NRA talking about guns as political objects in and of themselves, from people who are claiming that guns are responsible for violent behavior, is kind of hilarious.
posted by corb at 2:25 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Brady Act is anti-gun, now?
posted by shakespeherian at 2:28 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I also think that mock outrage over the NRA talking about guns as political objects in and of themselves, from people who are claiming that guns are responsible for violent behavior, is kind of hilarious.


maybe you could laugh somewhere else because I thought this thread was about the word 'cracker' and its use on the site.
posted by sweetkid at 2:30 PM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


maybe you could laugh somewhere else because I thought this thread was about the word 'cracker' and its use on the site.

Did you? Have you been reading it? My comment was in direct response to octobersurprise, who thought it'd be a fine place to dump on the NRA.
posted by corb at 2:35 PM on February 4, 2013


She was attempting to be sarcastic.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:38 PM on February 4, 2013


Oh, not a concern troll? It's apparently so hard to keep track of this.
posted by corb at 2:40 PM on February 4, 2013


The NRA was also attempting to be sarcastic.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:42 PM on February 4, 2013


"Here is a bad thing. I do not like this."
"Here is a bad thing. I am pretending not to like this to provoke responses."

Is that helpful? I am not attempting to be sarcastic since I only sort of understand sarcasm most of the time.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:43 PM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


My outrage about that list isn't mock, and I have the guns.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:48 PM on February 4, 2013


But in effect, I do think that it's a disingenuous move to complain that the NRA is targeting these poor companies

I didn't see anyone complaining. I see expressions of astonishment and mockery, but not complaining. Is there a comment that you see as somehow expressing a belief that the NRA should not have the right to print a (really weird kind of nonsensical to my eyes) list like that?
posted by rtha at 2:48 PM on February 4, 2013


Speaking for myself, I'm glad somebody is watching Sandy Duncan.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:37 PM on February 4, 2013


You'd think if they were keeping such a close eye on these people and groups, they'd notice that Nora Ephron, Andy Williams, and Ed Koch are dead, and 'N Sync haven't performed together since 2005.
posted by gingerest at 4:13 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


There should never be an expiration date for hating 'N Sync.
posted by corb at 4:39 PM on February 4, 2013


Nix 'em from the noosphere.
posted by Burhanistan at 4:44 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are some really good, interesting and enlightening and thought-provoking contributions in this thread. And some painful-sounding anecdotes. Thank-you to the contributors.

There are also some contributions that make broad and rather negative assumptions about what other people believe and then try to pin those other people to those beliefs. This thread has umpteen examples from whichever point of view. I don't think that's a productive way to interact with other human beings on such a touchy and so often personally painful subject. I wish Metafilter would do that part better-- at least start out pretending the person you are talking to is not a horrible human being who needs to be taken down a peg for their own good.

I know, I know... "welcome to the Internet!" where "someone is wrong!" etc.
posted by zennie at 5:19 PM on February 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


You'd think all those people upset about corporate financing would be fighting this outrage.

No, I'd think that all those people content to let companies do whatever they wish would be perfectly OK with this. Is there some reason they wouldn't be?
posted by octobersurprise at 6:28 PM on February 4, 2013


A claim that moderators are "biased" towards these words are more than a critique, it is a fairly straight forward interpretation of what the moderators have themselves wrote.

Well if you want to claim "removal of things offensive to the general population" is "bias" then yes, all moderation is biased. All moderation, everywhere. That is the nature of moderation. The alternative is 4-Chan.
posted by schroedinger at 8:02 PM on February 4, 2013


4Chan has moderation (no cp), and the decision when building a system to preclude moderation is itself evidence of a bias.

However, a problem frequently seen in purportedly logical systems is confusing a possible definitional framework with a meaningful one. If this is biased, and every possible conception of moderation is biased, then that can't be called meaningful bias without a qualification of how this is different in a significant way.

Which means that it's a loaded word — most frequently used as a critique — used without underlying significance.

Especially when combined with frequent protestations that this is the best choice for the community, it's a bit like repeatedly saying that the mods are shit-eaters. There's an undeniable contamination of all of our food with infinitesimal amounts of fecal matter — it's true in the most meaningless, misleading way. It's also hard to treat as an honest contribution.
posted by klangklangston at 8:27 PM on February 4, 2013


Right - we're back to normalization of experience. "You are biased towards the deletion of words that will cause offense to the majority of users" implies that this bias is arbitrary, rather than the product of a decision to moderate content as little as possible, but also to aim to avoid/prevent a) big fights and derails in the non-fighty, non-derail-friendly bits of MetaFilter (i.e. outside MetaTalk) and b) members who contribute value to the community, whether through FPPs, AskMe answers or general quality of participation, leaving. Those interests appear to be served by not letting members N-bomb, C-bomb or makes jokes about raping other members.

4chan allows all of those three things, because 4chan has constructed its moderation policy with different goals in mind, but it still moderates content according to other goals (legality, ponies).
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:58 AM on February 5, 2013


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