It's not shocking if you hear that sort of thing all the time. January 14, 2014 6:45 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to ask that people stop posting "ironic"/"what if we were talking about X TOPIC" type comments to make their point like this comment in the Alinea baby post.

The authors of such comments usually defend themselves by saying "that's what OTHER people say," or "it was satire" or somesuch. Often the purpose seems to be to "shock" people into rethinking their opinion, because of course they would never say such things about black people, or people in wheelchairs, or Indian people who "smell like their food."

This bothers me because it's always minorities (racial, LGBT, people with disabilities) singled out for the shocking hilarity. Always. I feel like people who say these things, thinking they are being shocking, are not keeping in mind that members of those groups hear those prejudicial comments constantly and it's just more of the same, whether it's presented as ironic or not. It's not shocking at all.

It would be great if people could find a way to rework their points so as not to include this ironic racism/sexism/whatever, the "what if this were black people," and consider that this is a diverse community and people are reading your comments who are hurt often by this language and are not at all shocked to hear people using it.
posted by sweetkid to Etiquette/Policy at 6:45 PM (325 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

As two mods said in that thread, it should have been deleted, but they caught it too late to do so.

Which more or less says to me they're on top of this sort of thing and maybe this thread is going to be a lot of grar :/
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:52 PM on January 14, 2014


Well, it's not just that comment but a general trend that I'm really irritated about and sick of seeing. And I wanted to express more about why it actually bothers me.
posted by sweetkid at 6:53 PM on January 14, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm not even asking for the comments to be deleted though that helps, I'm asking that people consider not doing it.
posted by sweetkid at 6:54 PM on January 14, 2014


Yeah, we're pretty bearish at this point on Ironic Xism; not to the point where it's literally an autodelete or anything, there's some inherent subjective aspects to the whole deal depending on the context and presentation, but I sure don't see it as a particularly smart gambit to go with, since you're setting yourself and everyone up for stuff like:

- people not knowing you're trying to be ironic and thinking you just said something super shitty
- people knowing you're trying to be ironic but having to deal with the genuine bullshit you're satirizing in their own lives
- people arguing about the irony-or-not to the detriment of the erstwhile converstation
- you potentially getting embroiled in a self-defense sort of dynamic in the thread

There's usually a better way to go if you're trying to make a point on the site; there's better places than the site if what you specifically feel like doing is writing satirical "this is what terrible people who are not me might say" stuff.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:57 PM on January 14, 2014 [11 favorites]


I agree with sweetkid. I really dislike this sort of ironic racism/sexism/whatever.
posted by lalex at 6:58 PM on January 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


It isn't just the stuff about minorities. Sometimes it's Hitler or Tyranny or Nickelback. It isn't unlike how the far right cries communism or socialism whenever the country discusses progressive policy. It's inflammatory, hyperbolic, non-analogy implored for shock value and to cut the discussion off at the knees. It is a rhetorical device that is meant to strip all nuance from the conversation and portray one side as despicable via some fallacious if/then nonsense.

Discussions are way more interesting when you actually talk about the thing at hand, at not some weird other world no one is actually talking about.
posted by Lutoslawski at 7:00 PM on January 14, 2014 [18 favorites]


I think the mods have been pretty up on that stuff since I've been here, especially in political threads.
posted by Think_Long at 7:01 PM on January 14, 2014


I'll do my part to counteract grar by saying thank you for this being the general policy even if sometimes things slip through, as someone who falls into a couple of minority groups personally and has generally found the "but we couldn't say this if we were going to say this about Mexicans/gay people", aside from making me grind my teeth personally, also seems to often come from the people who would rather like permission to say that kind of thing about Mexicans/gay people. Not that it applies here as much, but that's what's made me knee-jerk hate that particular construction. So, yay that the system at least usually works, and hopefully it will continue to do so.
posted by Sequence at 7:03 PM on January 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


Oh yeah, should have mentioned that it isn't something I see frequently here. It happens, but at least the egregious ones are usually nixed.
posted by Lutoslawski at 7:05 PM on January 14, 2014


This is my first MeTa that isn't sort of a mundane "where's this thread" type thing ( in nearly 8 years of site participation) so just want to point out again that though there's always grar, I wrote this in as straightforward and thoughtfui way as possible, and don't think the mods did anything wrong and this post was not to call out the mods or criticize their handling of these comments. I wanted to discuss why these comments aren't good or shocking and aren't achieving what people might think they are.
posted by sweetkid at 7:08 PM on January 14, 2014 [12 favorites]


My problem with those comments is that the comments only serve their shocking / ironic purpose if you assume that your audience is entirely white people. If your audience includes real people who are the target of your hyperbolic snark, then that portion of your audience is not shocked by your words -- they are saddened, angered, and sickened. So really, there are (at least!) two solid reasons not to pull that tactic: not only does it hurt many of our members by making Metafilter yet another place where they can expect to hear these ugly sentiments, but it acts as a backhanded insult against those same members, implying that they are not an expected part of the community here and as a result we don't expect to speak to them.
posted by KathrynT at 7:16 PM on January 14, 2014 [88 favorites]


I should say, one of my SEVERAL problems with those comments.
posted by KathrynT at 7:18 PM on January 14, 2014 [3 favorites]


I have to say, seeing those comments in the thread really surprised me, although I did take them as trying (unsuccessfully) to make a point through sarcasm.

One problem is that often when people are using this method of communication it's in a thread where there is already some fightyness going on and so those reading these comments are not in the right frame of mind to be assuming the best intentions of the writer.

Plus what KathrynT just said above.
posted by blurker at 7:19 PM on January 14, 2014


I glossed over it, basically assuming it had to be sarcasm because Metafilter, but my universal rule of thumb is that if you have to tell people it's a joke/sarcasm/ironic, YOU HAVE FAILED IN YOUR TASK.
posted by rhizome at 7:21 PM on January 14, 2014 [4 favorites]


My problem with those comments is that the comments only serve their shocking / ironic purpose if you assume that your audience is entirely white people. If your audience includes real people who are the target of your hyperbolic snark, then that portion of your audience is not shocked by your words -- they are saddened, angered, and sickened.

This is my general issue. It's a thing people can decide to do as an in-joke sort of thing privately among friends who know them if they want to. It's inappropriate for an international site that wants lots of different kinds of people to feel welcome here. On a personal level I have the same weird recoil when someone makes a thoughtless "Jews run the media" lulzy comment (here on MeFi, which is all I'm talking about) because my family has dealt with some shit, historically, and it's not abstract to me. Not saying this is a thing that pains me regularly, but that it's a weird thoughtless way to go about making your point and relies on some in-group/out-group signifiers that just aren't at play here in the same way they might be elsewhere.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:21 PM on January 14, 2014 [5 favorites]


Thanks for bringing this up sweetkid. "People would never say that about X people" is a terrible argument. Very often it isn't even true, but the person making the argument is in a position where they don't encounter it. What seems obviously outrageous to some is par for the course for others. It makes bigotry out to be this super-villain type encounter when in reality it's often quite mundane. This just undermines the efforts of those fighting and dealing with bigotry and erases their existence and experience.

I personally really, really hate when black people are used as the group "no one would ever" since so many times people absolutely have and will.

On preview: My problem with those comments is that the comments only serve their shocking / ironic purpose if you assume that your audience is entirely white people. Exactly KathrynT. I think people are usually being quite sincere but it's sincerely ignorant and in my opinion racist in effect.
posted by Danila at 7:21 PM on January 14, 2014 [11 favorites]


I would not object to automatic deletion of "ironic" xism. Because, well, people *would* and *do* say that about x.

And in this particular case, it's just a bit more objectionable, because you're comparing being x to screaming in a restaurant, as if just the fact of being x is horrible and hard to be around.
posted by jeather at 7:24 PM on January 14, 2014 [4 favorites]


Oftentimes, I only read comments hours after they've been posted. Especially in a thread like that one with an already clear mod presence, there's not really a point to flagging comments because if it was going to be deleted it would have happened already.

I flagged this one anyway, because it was so clearly a baiting, fighty, all-around bad comment that it would have felt wrong not to. There's a lot of comments that I dislike or disagree with that I don't flag, because I feel they still have merit or are on-topic enough that it should stay. But the redeeming features here were so outweighed by the inflammatory phrasing that it looked like nothing more than an attempt to make everything worse.

It's a rough thread. Anything involving parenting has a hair-trigger, and this one wasn't likely to be better. But there were a handful of posters who seemed determined to really make it go terribly.
posted by gadge emeritus at 7:27 PM on January 14, 2014


I thought it was totally clear that it was sarcasm, and I thought it was a really shitty comment, basically for the reasons that KathrynT said. And just because there are people here who deal with those sentiments in their everyday lives, and they shouldn't have to be confronted with drive-by reminders of people's shitty prejudices just because someone wants to score cheap rhetorical points.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:30 PM on January 14, 2014 [5 favorites]


The comment is indefensible, but the commentor has been a thoughtful and level-headed contributor here for many years. This strikes me very much as someone having a bad day.
posted by Wolof at 7:34 PM on January 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


The commenter made a total non-apology.
posted by lalex at 7:38 PM on January 14, 2014 [5 favorites]


I still think it's the baby's fault
posted by philip-random at 7:39 PM on January 14, 2014 [6 favorites]


I have also been a thoughtful and level headed contributor here for years and comments that use stereotypes about my and other cultures/minority groups as shabby satirical asides and come back to defend those comments as like "A Modest Proposal" make me feel excluded from conversation. As KathrynT said the comments imply that certain people are not expected members of the community here.
posted by sweetkid at 7:39 PM on January 14, 2014 [16 favorites]


Please note that I characterised the comment as "indefensible".
posted by Wolof at 7:41 PM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


No I understand, I wasn't attacking you.
posted by sweetkid at 7:46 PM on January 14, 2014


Also this kind of thing is not like "A Modest Proposal". That was written with the Irish poor in mind, it was about their plight specifically. It wasn't dismissively using them to make an example about other people.
posted by Danila at 7:49 PM on January 14, 2014 [4 favorites]


I don't think the whole ironic-caricature-of-a-Fox-News-commenter thing is really adding a lot to the discourse here even when people aren't bringing ironic bigotry to the table too.

Like how in half the threads about an evil megacorporation doing something horrible, somebody has to chime in and be all, "But that's silly, everybody knows that the job creators have America's best interests at heart!" What do you think you're adding to the conversation when you're doing that? Don't get me wrong, I ain't saying the mods should always delete them, but next time any of you feel compelled to make a comment like that, maybe think about what it's actually going to add to the discussion?

Once you start breaking out the ironic racist stereotypes as a rhetorical device though, I'd say that's well over the line into shoot on sight territory.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 7:51 PM on January 14, 2014 [11 favorites]


Yeah that was a stinker.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 7:55 PM on January 14, 2014


You know, as I mentioned in another thread, much lighter thread, I have a kneejerk tendency to contrarianism, but I have to say, the more I think about it the more I think you're absolutely right, sweetkid. There's really no angle here where this is not a dick move.
posted by Diablevert at 7:57 PM on January 14, 2014 [3 favorites]


I agree that comments written as ironic racism/sexism/otherism aren't a good idea. In this particular thread several people took the comment seriously and the whole thing caused affront and confusion. Moreover, I agree with sweetkid that it is probably trying for the people who are constantly being "othered" in their real lives to see such statements about their differences, real or imagined, as some sort of written performance art. I'm sure it is offputting and isolating and offensive. I'm in favor of such comments being deleted, and it's what the mods usually do, and I have no beef with this policy or the mods, I agree absolutely.

I wonder generally whether people think straight-up, non-ironic analogies are okay? I think ironic sexism/racism on a website is bad because it's harder in type to tell who is serious and what's real. But I think it's sometimes okay to draw analogies between the hardships that one kind of people now face to the hardships that another kind of people face or have faced, if you're doing it clearly, without irony, and you're being sensitive to the issues on both sides. (And the sensitivity is the key ingredient to this, I think.)

Also, while the comment in question here was expressed in a way that was problematic, I appreciated that the user was trying to express a viewpoint in the thread that was unpopular -- sort of taking up for the underdog. It's difficult to have an unpopular viewpoint on MetaFilter sometimes. It is easier to express your agreement with the majority of MetaFilter in a comment without causing a shitstorm than it is to express your disagreement. I mean, ironic racism is not the answer, obviously, and again I think such comments should be deleted and this shitstorm is deserved. I do think it could have been helpful in the thread if the child-in-fancy-restaurant haters had dialed their rhetoric down a bit, as well, but no one was really complaining to anyone about that.
posted by onlyconnect at 8:05 PM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


I appreciated that the user was trying to express a viewpoint in the thread that was unpopular -- sort of taking up for the underdog.

One of the things that really got to me about that comment, not that all the ironic Xism stuff doesn't really get to me, was that the examples were sort of framed to make fun of people for getting upset about things that certain groups "can't help" - like Spanish speakers having trouble with transactions in English if they are new immigrants ( I think that's what that was) or blind people needing assistance - and then the Indian comment was about needing showers and "smelling like their food."

It's like not only was the commenter making an ugly stereotype, they were also implying that it's silly to call out Indian people for being smelly because it's something they can't help, being that all they eat is that stinky Indian food every day and they need a shower.

That's partially why I commented that Indian people don't actually eat like curry constantly. That comment just really irritated me. Also am Indian American and had bacon for breakfast, and some peanut butter on crackers. My mom is from Actual India and eats English muffins.

Also - curry isn't even part of our regional cuisine and if we ever made it when I was growing up, it was sort of an exotic taste adventure.

I know curry wasn't mentioned in the comment but it is usually what people mean when they say "smell like their food."

I saw a preview for the new jason Bateman movie where he told an eight year old kid to "shut his curry hole" and the whole audience laughed. It just sucks.
posted by sweetkid at 8:16 PM on January 14, 2014 [20 favorites]


"I wonder generally whether people think straight-up, non-ironic analogies are okay?"

I don't like them as they're usually not done very well at all although because they're sincere and because I know people hate being called out on privilege I don't say anything so as not to derail the conversation. I think it can maybe work if the person making the analogy is actually a member of the group bring used as an analogue because there's things they'd know not to say or wouldn't even think to, usually. That's the level of sensitivity that is needed but my bar may be a bit high.
posted by Danila at 8:21 PM on January 14, 2014


I do think it could have been helpful in the thread if the child-in-fancy-restaurant haters had dialed their rhetoric down a bit, as well, but no one was really complaining to anyone about that.

Huh. Funny - in the thread I read, it was the parents using race as an ironic and unironic comparison to refusing entry to a screaming baby, making drawn-out parallels between adults eating and animals, or suggesting complete strangers should go up to a parent with a squalling infant and suggest they take them off their hands for a bit for the good of the room and not expecting the parents to react defensively.

Would you mind showing me the thread you've been reading? It sounds a lot more evenhanded than the one I saw.
posted by gadge emeritus at 8:24 PM on January 14, 2014 [14 favorites]


There's also often overlap in the analogies, like "imagine we were saying this about black people instead of men" or "substitute 'black' or 'gay person' for 'men" - but obviously a person can be a man, gay, and black so what does that even mean?
posted by sweetkid at 8:25 PM on January 14, 2014 [12 favorites]


gadge emeritus, while I actually tend to agree with your take on that thread, I don't think it's quite sporting to bring it up here. This MeTa isn't really about that thread as a whole.

Let's not do that brawl all over again here.

As far as the actual point of this MeTa, I thought it was a bit of a MetaFilter thing to add "hamburger" to the end of particularly sarcastic somments, or I've seen some people add "/sarcasm" - which I guess can help just in case a reader's sarcasm meter is temporarily out of whack. But I think KathrynT pretty much nailed it above.

So count me as another vote for "Ironic whatever-ism doesn't work, is a pretty crappy way to treat fellow MeFites, and should be vigorously flagged when encountered."
posted by soundguy99 at 8:59 PM on January 14, 2014


I don't tend to like analogies (ironic or not) because most people tend to go for hyperbole or they just aren't the neatest or closest of comparisons - and then there's a lot of fighty about bad analogies or inaccurate comparisons.
posted by crossoverman at 9:02 PM on January 14, 2014 [4 favorites]


Thank you for posting this meta, sweetkid.
posted by zarq at 9:03 PM on January 14, 2014 [11 favorites]


There's really no angle here where this is not a dick move.

a bad move -- yeah. I don't see anybody doubting that. But a dick move? That feels to me like OmieWise's intentions are being questioned in a manner that doesn't really hold with my experience of his contributions to the site.
posted by philip-random at 9:08 PM on January 14, 2014 [3 favorites]


Am I the only one who thought omiewise's comment was nonsensical because, even if ironic racism was okay, he was responding to a comment about behaviour, not ethnicity or gender or any other essential thing? And then getting huffy about being called on the racism part?
posted by fatbird at 9:30 PM on January 14, 2014 [7 favorites]


Definitely on your side here, sweetkid.

I lived in a super low cost ($300/month) apartment complex my last year of college in Charlotte that was famous for hosting lots of international students from India, and people would never shut their mouths about how dirty my apartment complex was, and how people were always cooking stinky curry, and nobody takes showers, etc. I only lived in that [really friendly!] place for a year, but I now definitely understand a lot more that those noxious ignorant hateful stereotypical comments might follow around folks over the years in small-but-cumulative ways on a regular basis. It's mean, stupid, hurtful, and degrading, and you don't deserve the implicit harassment here on this website, like straight up.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:31 PM on January 14, 2014 [4 favorites]


He was parodying reenum's general disgust for children, and it went badly awry. Reenum's comment was pretty odious too, though. Someone very small bumped your table? THE HORROR.

All of us were once children too.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:33 PM on January 14, 2014 [6 favorites]


Am I the only one who thought omiewise's comment was nonsensical because, even if ironic racism was okay, he was responding to a comment about behaviour, not ethnicity or gender or any other essential thing? And then getting huffy about being called on the racism part?

Nope, not the only one.
posted by rtha at 9:39 PM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


strangely stunted trees: "I don't think the whole ironic-caricature-of-a-Fox-News-commenter thing is really adding a lot to the discourse here even when people aren't bringing ironic bigotry to the table too.

Like how in half the threads about an evil megacorporation doing something horrible, somebody has to chime in and be all, "But that's silly, everybody knows that the job creators have America's best interests at heart!" What do you think you're adding to the conversation when you're doing that?
"

A thousand times this. This seems to be especially common in posts about good news. A trans kid gets treated in a really fair and understanding way by a school? Police handle some situation in a reasonable, classy way? Good law gets passed? Quick, jump in and make a comment about what you're sure some asshole would probably say! If the assholes aren't saying anything that gets people all angry, it feels like some people think it's their job to step in and say it ironically for them, lest people actually get cheered.
posted by Bugbread at 9:55 PM on January 14, 2014 [14 favorites]


I flagged a set of comments, including that one, early this morning. But on that one comment the flag didn't "take," while the other ones that I flagged were quickly deleted. I don't know if my computer hiccuped or I clicked in the wrong place or what. But either way, I guess it didn't get enough early flags and by the time it got attention it was being quoted, so sadly it stayed.

It was a clearly reprehensible comment, wasn't funny, shouldn't have been made in the first place, and in a perfect world would have been quickly deleted. I'll let the apology speak for itself.

Reenum's comment was pretty odious too, though.

This is factually not true. The comment is here. It is carefully written, is not anti-child in any way, and makes a clear point. It was repeatedly mischaracterized in the thread and is being mischaracterized here as well.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:03 PM on January 14, 2014 [18 favorites]


It was repeatedly mischaracterized in the thread and is being mischaracterized here as well.

well it has received 270+ favorites, so I think most folks are getting it.
posted by philip-random at 10:16 PM on January 14, 2014


Reenum's comment was pretty odious too, though.

This is factually not true. The comment is here. It is carefully written, is not anti-child in any way, and makes a clear point. It was repeatedly mischaracterized in the thread and is being mischaracterized here as well.


I'll chime in then as someone who was also offended by reenum's comment* and found it very disheartening to see how heavily favorited it was.

The thread in question was about a very specific incident in a very specific context. Reenum's comment read to me like the off-topic (kids running amok at a grocery store or slowly picking out change at a sandwich counter is analogous to a babysitter flaking on a night you have non-refundable $1000 dinner reservations?), angry rant of someone who has been holding in his seething "bratty kids and their horrible, entitled parents" diatribe for years and finally found a somewhat tangentially related thread to throw it in.

*Not that this is any way justifies the "ironic Xism" response.
posted by The Gooch at 10:40 PM on January 14, 2014 [8 favorites]


My problem with those comments is that the comments only serve their shocking / ironic purpose if you assume that your audience is entirely white people. If your audience includes real people who are the target of your hyperbolic snark, then that portion of your audience is not shocked by your words -- they are saddened, angered, and sickened.

Thanks for saying this, KathrynT. As a person of color, it can be hard for me to explain how white Metafilter can feel to me sometimes. It's not overtly racist, and I appreciate the moderation team's diligence in removing racist comments; and I certainly haven't felt unwelcome whenever I do end up talking about my race and experiences around race.

But whenever we're not directly talking about race, I feel like awareness that there might be people of color on this website completely dissolves. It's the constant policing of correct English language and how so many linked pieces end up degenerating into arguments over the writer's style and English; it's how so many AskMes seem to assume a purely white standpoint (the hugely dramatic one about body odor a few months ago comes to mind); about how FPPs on racism never seem to go well; and indeed, it's the constant use of in-language that comes off as purely between white people, as Kathryn points out.

A lot of that is particularly insidious to me because it's something that I - and obviously many other PoC - have had to constantly struggle with in North American culture. Being constantly told that "I'm not like one of the other asians" as a largely white in-group's way of preserving their ability to make racist jokes around me because they were "not about me", for instance. Or constantly being told that I wasn't blending well enough because I wasn't acting or dressing or talking enough like white people. Or being shut down whenever I had the audacity to talk about my racial experiences because "we don't see color, man."

To clarify, I'm not calling for any changes in rules or moderation over these points, but these are my honest feelings about the way Metafilter deals with race sometimes, and I really wish that our community members would pay more attention to the fact that this is a diverse site and that unchallenged assumptions of whiteness as default really do a lot to hurt our PoC members.
posted by Conspire at 10:45 PM on January 14, 2014 [50 favorites]


I think the more shocking thing about any of this pointless heap is that people don't understand rhenium's fine comment.
posted by planetesimal at 10:51 PM on January 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


You (the Gooch) are offended that Reenum chose this thread about this specific incident to talk about a tangential peeve. I think that's a reasonable point of disagreement.

However, Devils Rancher rephrased Reenum's comment "a kid knocked the table over and the coffee into my lap" as "Someone very small bumped your table".

That's the mischaracterization Dip Flash is talking about.

There's a big difference between being offended by someone actually says / the actual context in which they choose to say something, and offended by what someone didn't say but you're sure they really meant.
posted by Bugbread at 10:52 PM on January 14, 2014 [12 favorites]


There is an entire MetaFilter thread to fight about reenum's comment in. This thread is about being ironically offensive and how toxic it is. It would be great to keep this thread on topic.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 10:57 PM on January 14, 2014 [13 favorites]


OmieWise has contributed a lot to the site since before I was a member, and is someone who I respect for often making rigorous and thought-provoking contributions to the site even when we disagree. I was really dismayed to see that comment and the subsequent non-apology, because even though it was clearly meant to be ironic, it was still careless and insensitive with other people's lived experiences in the way sweetkid and KathrynT described. I don't really know what else to say here other than that I hope OmieWise rethinks his position here and makes a more complete apology, though obviously that's up to him. Anyway, I think sweetkid and KathrynT as well as others make a very strong case that this type of ironic reference to real patterns of harm and discrimination should be "considered harmful" and deprecated on MeFi.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:02 PM on January 14, 2014 [3 favorites]


You're right, Elementary Penguin, sorry.
posted by Bugbread at 11:03 PM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


Drawing analogies, parallels etc. - ironic or otherwise - seems perfectly fine to me, so long as the analogies and parallels are sound, as opposed to absurdly false, as that particular one was.
posted by Decani at 12:41 AM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


"Discussions are way more interesting when you actually talk about the thing at hand, at not some weird other world no one is actually talking about."

There's a big distinction between these ironic, speaking-as-someone-else comments that are implicitly analogies, and making the comparisons themselves. The former is truly problematic in many different respects and should be killed by fire at the first opportunity. But the latter is valid.

Your objection is begging the question. It assumes that the comparison is "some weird other world no one is actually talking about" but I think very often when someone makes such a comparison, they truly and deeply believe that it's a valid comparison. That's why they are agitated about it, because the feel like behavior x, which is being defended, is quite like behavior y, which is (presumed to be) unacceptable.

Granted, making such comparisons as part of an argument is usually not productive, because then people just argue back-and-forth about its validity. The usual response is, no that's totally irrelevant because that's different. Personally, I find this perennially and intensely frustrating, because most of the time where the line is drawn is purely a matter of contemporary convention and if one waits a decade or so, suddenly things which all right-thinking people recognize as being totally unlike each other have suddenly become like each other. But until that happens, the response is always that you're a crazy person because those two things are in no way comparable.

It's usually not a productive line of argument. But that doesn't mean that those who utilize it aren't entirely sincere about it. I know I am. If I make such a comparison, it's precisely because I think it's a valid comparison and there's something very important at stake in recognizing this.

Which brings me to this ...

"...he was responding to a comment about behaviour, not ethnicity or gender or any other essential thing?"

I don't know precisely where this originated and how it's being promulgated, but the claim that various rights, such as the right to be treated with dignity, is dependent upon the distinguishing matter being an essential trait, is pernicious and has a lot of perverse consequences.

For one thing, it takes for granted that these things about which people are subject to bigotry, such as racism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia, are essential traits in individuals and are involuntary and, conversely, that if they are voluntary then they shouldn't be recognized as implying a protection from bigotry.

For another thing, it opens the door to statements like that one above, which contrasts behavior against an essential trait, as if it's necessarily okay to regulate any behavior. Like, say, the sexual activity between two people of the same sex. That's behavior, right? It's a false dichotomy between identity and behavior, as well as between identity and choice.

Saying that only those things which people simply are, and not what they choose to be or do, are the things which deserve protection from bigotry, is to both so impoverish the notion of what people are that it's an insult to the lives that people actually live, but also cedes vast territory to the bigots that should never, ever be ceded to them.

"OmieWise has contributed a lot to the site since before I was a member, and is someone who I respect for often making rigorous and thought-provoking contributions to the site even when we disagree."

He's not who he was back when we first joined in 2004. His comments were considered, even-handed, and usually generous. He was what we imagine the "voice of reason" to be; thoughtful, persuasive, and productive. Now, though, he's far more often just cranky. Comments like that one aren't the exception now, they're common. OmieWise has been frustrated by MeFi for a good while now, is my read of him, and he expresses it frequently.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:11 AM on January 15, 2014 [9 favorites]


I just want to thank you for a fair and forthright MeTa, sweetkid. I was on duty when that happened and to be honest I can't remember the last time I had to wade through so much over-the-top throwaway sarcasm. Of course jokes are usually fine, but here they were getting in the way of the ongoing conversation and just sort of sucking the air out of the room and they Just. Kept. Coming. The sheer amount of mod notes in that thread is a testament to that. Right after the comment in question I left a note about two entirely different derails.

So I can hardly claim I missed it, I was watching that thread like a hawk. On its own it would probably have stuck out like a sore thumb, and it would have been deleted right away. Here I must admit that amid the tasteless jokes and outright ad hominems this one at the time didn't even seem so bad, as in it made its point in an insensitive way but at least it seemed to have a point? Basically what gadge emeritus said:

There's a lot of comments that I dislike or disagree with that I don't flag, because I feel they still have merit or are on-topic enough that it should stay. But the redeeming features here were so outweighed by the inflammatory phrasing that it looked like nothing more than an attempt to make everything worse.

Except I never made it to the "inflammatory phrasing" part at the time. I saw a longer-ish comment that used stereotypes to make a point against what seemed to be the prevailing tenor of the thread and while I wasn't happy with it in the thick of it I sort of handwavily chalked that up as (maybe, possibly) "redeeming features". In retrospect I can only wonder what redeeming features I assumed there may have been. You're right, surely we have a higher bar than that. When in doubt I do try to err on the side of giving any given comment the benefit of the doubt, but here I think I gave more benefit than was warranted.

In some ways I am glad we're having this conversation so people get to speak out about this. Don't get me wrong, I'd prefer if we didn't have to go through this in the first place. And I hope saying I appreciate us talking about this doesn't make me sound patronizing: speaking for myself no matter how much we think we have this stuff internalized it always helps to hear people's direct, personal perspectives.

On that note I do think it's always worth flagging objectionable stuff: we check all flags and we do stay on top of contentious threads, but even if it doesn't necessarily apply in this instance there are always things we could have missed about a particular comment, and in general it's always nice to get a quick read of the room. It doesn't quite have the depth of, you know, an actual conversation with words (though you can always use the contact form) but especially in less clear-cut instances it's nice not to have to go "am I the only person who thinks this is not okay?".

So yeah, I'm mostly with cortex in my take: not an automatic delete but almost never a very productive debating tactic, and often indistinguishable from actual prejudice, if not simply perpetuating that prejudice. It's tough because maybe people don't realize how they're coming across, and sometimes the underlying point is fair and we have to in the end make a quick judgment call on those parameters.

But in this instance, surely the concerns outlined in this MeTa outweigh whatever point the commenter was trying to make. It is a diverse community, and there's more than enough othering as it is. For those reasons alone this type of comment doesn't do much to improve discussion. I know you're not complaining or demanding deletion, sweetkid, but I feel like I dropped the ball on this one and for that I'd like to apologize.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 2:26 AM on January 15, 2014 [38 favorites]


However, Devils Rancher rephrased Reenum's comment "a kid knocked the table over and the coffee into my lap" as "Someone very small bumped your table".

I was about to say the same thing about Devils Rancher's comment. Ridiculous.
posted by crossoverman at 4:00 AM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Regarding analogies, I've said this before, but I think it's a useful way to think about them, so:

Analogies don't work well as an argument. People like to try to use them to prove things or make persuasive arguments or provide evidence, and they're extremely bad at all these tasks because then the disagreement just shifts to the ways in which the analogy is and is not accurate. And of course one of the things with analogies is that they'll never be perfectly accurate: if they were, they wouldn't be analogies! This is why you get the "it's like [blah]," "no, it's more like [different blah]" back-and-forths.

Analogies work best when used to illuminate your point of view. If someone is just not getting where you're coming from and doesn't seem to have a conceptual framework to understand your perspective, an analogy can help them get there. So if you're talking about your job, or your childhood in a culture different from your discussion partner's childhood culture, stuff like that.
posted by kavasa at 4:18 AM on January 15, 2014 [8 favorites]


A thread that boils down to an argument over appropriate child rearing is not going to go well. People have diverse and strong opinions on the subject.
posted by humanfont at 4:22 AM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


A thread that boils down to an argument over appropriate child rearing is not going to go well.

It was more about people feeling they have an absolute right to certain experience, which always causes problems.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:39 AM on January 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


What would reenum's point have been if an adult had slowed down the line or knocked over his table? Kids are people. Sorry for the derail, but there was a general anti-small person tone to his comment that I detected, which struck me as a bit smug and self-righteous despite his disclaimer.

Getting pretty sick of "the battle lines are drawn -- get on a side" part of MetaFilter these days, myself, despite finding myself clearly on a side of the line here. It's a behavior I'm sorry to se me participating in, so I'll check out for a while until I can come back with a different perspective on how to participate. Cheers, y'all, from Tejas.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:13 AM on January 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


Well that line of argument is the path of least resistance for all of us, isn't it? It takes a lot more effort to go "Actually maybe you do have a point, my dear sworn enemy". That's easy to point out, hard to change, of course. I've tried and it gives me a headache, personally. And so we muddle on.

But seriously, do what you gotta do DR, you're welcome back anytime.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 5:25 AM on January 15, 2014


Yep, I flagged the comment and I think it wasn't too long after it was posted, but it stayed. C'est la vie.
posted by empyrean at 5:48 AM on January 15, 2014


I’m sorry for having made a comment that upset some people. I won’t try to defend it. I am convinced by the comments in this thread that it was a bad comment that I should not have made. I’ve been convinced by the readings of the comment that point out that it’s just not possible to make a comment that plays on bigoted tropes, in a space like this, without re-inscribing actual bigotry. This thread has given me a lot to think about. I apologize.
posted by OmieWise at 6:03 AM on January 15, 2014 [69 favorites]


can people stop debating reenum's comment in here? it feels uncomfortably like "yeah, yeah, sweetkid i know you have a point but what i really want to argue about is this other thing." which is how she was treated in the thread on the blue when she brought up her discomfort - people kept assuring her it was irony (as if she was incapable of realizing that or that it was some sort of barrier against offense), and then omiewise's faux-apology again focused on reenum's comment.

i agree that omiewise has a long and generally great history here, but that doesn't absolve him of critique for bad behavior in this instance. saying "hey, that thing you did is shitty" is in no way saying "you're a shitty person." good people can still be hurtful even if it wasn't their intent.
posted by nadawi at 6:05 AM on January 15, 2014 [10 favorites]


annnnd i wish the 1 new comment box had popped before i hit post.

OmieWise, thanks for coming in here and saying that.
posted by nadawi at 6:06 AM on January 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


Sometimes it's Hitler or Tyranny or Nickelback.

I never thought I'd fear for tyranny's reputation.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:23 AM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Actually maybe you do have a point, my dear sworn enemy

"To my dear-sworn enemy"
- A poem of the internet.


My dear-sworn's like a red, red rose,
That newly sprang one June in!
(Well, maybe not in all respects -
My dear-sworn might need prunin').

My dear-sworn's like a melody,
That's played on a sweet harp!
(Save, perhaps, that my dear-sworn
Is oft a little sharp).

Oh dearest-sworn, shall I compare
Thee to a day of summer?
(But then, you are not quite as bright,
And leave me somewhat glummer).

And dear, maybe you have a point,
A big point, or one littler.
Y'know who else made points like yours?
Adolf fucking Hitler.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 6:24 AM on January 15, 2014 [54 favorites]


Goddamn, I love vogon* poetry.


*My definition may vary from Douglas Adams' somewhat.
posted by h00py at 6:55 AM on January 15, 2014


Derail, my apologies. There are so many people on here from so many varying backgrounds, it's good to remember that we're not coming at things from a homogenous point of view. There should be no 'other' here, except maybe outright unrepentent arseholes who may very well have a scathing poem written about them.
posted by h00py at 7:01 AM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I see that OmieWise has apologized for the comment and that's great. Thank you, OmieWise. The rest of my comment shouldn't be read as a pile-on about OmieWise but about this commenting style in general (as per the subject of this MeTa) using the linked comment merely as an illustrative example.

Whenever I see a MeTa, I try to immediately click over to the post or comment in question to get my own impression of it first before coming back to the MeTa thread to read what other people thought of it. This time, I didn't realize that the linked comment was supposed to be satire until I came back to this MeTa thread because I have known people who genuinely thought and said those kind of things. I had a visceral negative emotional reaction to reading those words and I'm not even in any of the groups being targeted! I can only imagine how hurtful it might have been for the people being described in the comment to read it.

So I definitely support sweetkid's request that people not use satirical or ironic -isms to try to make their points. MetaFilter is a diverse enough community that we can assume that any group being targeted for satirical or ironic bigotry has members here.

Meanwhile, we can't assume that people will be able to tell that your comments are meant to be satirical or ironic on first read. Even if it should be obvious by the end of the comment, you're still hurting and angering people up until that point. Once someone's adrenaline is up, finding out that you were just kidding isn't enough to instantly clear those chemicals from their bloodstream and thus it affects their participation in the rest of the thread. Fucking with people's emotional equilibriums like that just to make a point isn't worth it.

So it would be nice if everyone would please put a little extra thought into finding another way to make points that doesn't risk making some segments of our community feel like this is just another place they have to keep their guard up against bigotry and hatred for people like them.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:23 AM on January 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


I don't think the point is that it's "shocking" necessarily, and think that characterization is as disingenuous as anything, beyond the original comment itself. I would think the kind of "white person" who is shocked by this might actually agree with the racist sentiments too, and be "shocked" that somebody said them. The point here is to shift someone's perspective if they embrace the whole "I hate children / babies / whatever because they act / smell / look / sound different" just like in Colorado there were many years where you'd overhear people get pissed off any time they heard Spanish being spoken, as if the language itself was an affront to their white human dignity.

I understand why people would personally take offense at being used as an example, just as many blacks don't like it when "their" civil rights movement is compared to "the gay civil rights movement," but I don't think we need to go around telling people what forms of sarcasm are acceptable, or concern trolling about people from other cultures who won't get the sarcasm but otherwise fit right in with MetaFilter's earnest culture of Saying Exactly What You Mean Because People Might Not Get It. And I know I've read plenty of sarcastic, snot-nosed comments from "sweetkid" and I understand the desire to defend India's Honor at All Costs but I just understand it, I don't embrace it.
posted by lordaych at 7:32 AM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


India's Honor at All Costs

I'm not from India and it wasn't a nationalist statement at all. Also it wasn't "no one can ever use sarcasm ever," uh, "lordaych."
posted by sweetkid at 7:43 AM on January 15, 2014 [15 favorites]


Defending the utility of ironically bigoted comments is a pretty sorry hill to die upon.

I just wrote that I agree that such comparisons can be valid (though not necessarily productive) and heartfelt; but expressing them in a provocative, ironic voice of someone else's bigotry is pretty much the worst way of making that kind of point.

It convinces no one not already convinced and causes large amounts of collateral damage among the very groups the comments were implicitly saying shouldn't be hurt. Which is grievously perverse.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:45 AM on January 15, 2014 [10 favorites]


just as many blacks don't like it when "their" civil rights movement is compared to "the gay civil rights movement,"

In a tread hinging on a dumb and insensitive set of analogies, adding more seems tonedeaf at best.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:48 AM on January 15, 2014 [23 favorites]


Man, how hard is it to understand that turning actual people, who are right here reading and talking and being a part of things, into a rhetorical device / prop is not only directly shitty, but just as othering and excluding as "real" racism?
posted by KathrynT at 7:53 AM on January 15, 2014 [9 favorites]

I understand the desire to defend India's Honor at All Costs
If you really think that saying "please don't say that people like me smell, even if you're only saying it to make a point" is the same as defending India's honor at all costs, then you've got some serious, serious issues.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:12 AM on January 15, 2014 [19 favorites]


sweetkid bringing up the issue of the racist statements, ironic or not, is not in any way concern trolling. she was very upfront that this is something she found personally offensive. continuing to slyly insult her and suggest she's just trying to defend india's honor at all costs as a prop to explain why ironic bigotry is ok because we're all on the same side or whatever bullshit was going on there is exactly what's being discussed in this thread - talking like you're in some big in group where no one could get offended at ironic racism that looks exactly like actual racism they encounter in their daily life.

and "snot-nosed"? for fucks sake, she's a grown woman, not a child having a tantrum.
posted by nadawi at 8:20 AM on January 15, 2014 [32 favorites]


lordaych: "And I know I've read plenty of sarcastic, snot-nosed comments from "sweetkid"

Snot-nosed? Seriously? There are many people on this site I could accurately describe as conceited, myself included. She ain't one of 'em. She comes across as intelligent, passionate and clever, without being full of herself -- and respectful of others even when she disagrees with them.

...and I understand the desire to defend India's Honor at All Costs

I think you're misreading her intent. Saying that an entire class of people smell is pretty much textbook racism. Doing it ironically can be problematic in a text medium, where emotional intent is difficult to discern.

Calling that out is not defending anyone's honor "at All Costs."
posted by zarq at 8:26 AM on January 15, 2014 [10 favorites]


nadawi: " and "snot-nosed"? for fucks sake, she's a grown woman, not a child having a tantrum."

Exactly.
posted by zarq at 8:27 AM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


There's a big distinction between these ironic, speaking-as-someone-else comments that are implicitly analogies, and making the comparisons themselves. The former is truly problematic in many different respects and should be killed by fire at the first opportunity. But the latter is valid.

Yeah. The other thing is, as jaqcqueline notes, the first response is the visceral one. And the first response is the "holy fuck racism, let loose the dogs of war" kind of one, which would often be justified if it was real racism. But it gets everyone into war-mode when maybe that is going to end with the rest of the world being burned down.

Ironic whatever is hard to convey in text, and probably shouldn't be conveyed at all. I do really respect OmieWise though, I don't think this is a usual thing, but the fact that ironic whatever exists all over the site may make people feel it's welcomed.
posted by corb at 8:32 AM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


With all due respect, corb, you don't get to tell me what "real" racism is. Stripping down my entire racial identity into an ironic prop between white people who mistakenly assume that they're allowed to say racist things jokingly by some imaginary self-justification of being "progressive" or "good" IS real racism. You don't get to gaslight my reaction to racism that way.
posted by Conspire at 8:36 AM on January 15, 2014 [29 favorites]


And the first response is the "holy fuck racism, let loose the dogs of war" kind of one, which would often be justified if it was real racism.

I don't feel like I totally understand your comment corb, but my point (a point others seem to agree with) is that the "ironic racism" construction as practiced on the site is indistinguishable from "real racism" in its effect, even if its intention is different.
posted by sweetkid at 8:37 AM on January 15, 2014 [14 favorites]


The point here is to shift someone's perspective if they embrace the whole "I hate children / babies / whatever because they act / smell / look / sound different" just like in Colorado there were many years where you'd overhear people get pissed off any time they heard Spanish being spoken, as if the language itself was an affront to their white human dignity.

You are wrong, it was a bad analogy, and frankly you're being a bit of a dick about it.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:37 AM on January 15, 2014 [10 favorites]


I just wanted to say that while I think (and hope!) that this is not a tack I've used (referring to a group of people in a monolithic way to make an unrelated point), it hadn't really occurred to me how shitty it must feel to be used in this way. It seems kind of "noble savage"y, like, "you wouldn't say it about those poor, upstanding, people" and like the coopting of experience and ignoring individual identity to create an image of people as "long-suffering and oppressed" to fit a point you're making.

Anyway, I wanted to say thank you for bringing this up because it's NOT something I've experienced in this way and it's made me more conscious of another way in which people feel marginalized both on this site and in the general world. I really appreciate people taking the time to say that, especially because dealing with it is probably exhausting enough without having to teach well-meaning but ignorant people like me what is happening.

Really, thank you for taking that time.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:44 AM on January 15, 2014 [10 favorites]


I don't feel like I totally understand your comment corb, but my point (a point others seem to agree with) is that the "ironic racism" construction as practiced on the site is indistinguishable from "real racism" in its effect, even if its intention is different.

I'm agreeing with you, I think? Possibly in a badly constructed way. Essentially, I'm saying racism needs to be killed with fire, and if you are not a racist, then you should try not to put on a racist hat, because it's going to get killed with fire anyway, because racism should be killed with fire.
posted by corb at 8:45 AM on January 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


> He's not who he was back when we first joined in 2004. His comments were considered, even-handed, and usually generous. He was what we imagine the "voice of reason" to be; thoughtful, persuasive, and productive. Now, though, he's far more often just cranky. Comments like that one aren't the exception now, they're common. OmieWise has been frustrated by MeFi for a good while now, is my read of him, and he expresses it frequently.

Yeah, I suspect this is true. I've gone through a similar process, which is why I don't comment much any more; a lot of the time my reaction to the standard MeFi back-and-forth is grumpy and dismissive, so rather than stink up a thread with it I back out of the thread and go do something else. Someone talked about this as a natural evolution a decade or so ago; at the time I didn't really get it, but now I do. Enjoy the flush of MeFi enthusiasm while it lasts!
posted by languagehat at 8:51 AM on January 15, 2014 [13 favorites]


I'm agreeing with you, I think? Possibly in a badly constructed way. Essentially, I'm saying racism needs to be killed with fire, and if you are not a racist, then you should try not to put on a racist hat, because it's going to get killed with fire anyway, because racism should be killed with fire.

This type of binary conception and demonization of racist behavior is not helpful, does not in any way match up to my lived experience of racism, and does not help me experience less racism in my daily life barring exceptional bigotry. In a nutshell: if you think that you're somehow beyond holding racial biases or incapable of racist behavior, you probably are kind of racist.
posted by Conspire at 8:53 AM on January 15, 2014 [12 favorites]


"but my point (a point others seem to agree with) is that the "ironic racism" construction as practiced on the site is indistinguishable from "real racism" in its effect, even if its intention is different."

I don't think that's true at all. I'm pretty sure you could tell that OmieWise's comment was both explicitly satirizing Reenum's points and doing that through the implicit assumption that racism was deplorable. Describing it as "indistinguishable" seems overwrought, and since you favorited Reenum's comment, it's clear you read that.

I can understand being upset or offended at OmieWise's comment, but as the MeTa goes on, the complaints seem to be less reasonable and more exponential in force.
posted by klangklangston at 8:58 AM on January 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


And if you can deal with being kind of racist, and having that pointed out sometimes, without feeling it as a white-hot brand of shame being applied to your reputation, then you'll be much more successful in owning and then curbing that aspect of yourself.
posted by gilrain at 9:00 AM on January 15, 2014 [10 favorites]


Describing it as "indistinguishable" seems overwrough

Except Conspire didn't describe it as indistinguishable, Conspire described it as indistinguishable in its effect, which is different, and qualified.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:04 AM on January 15, 2014 [8 favorites]


Except Conspire didn't describe it as indistinguishable, Conspire described it as indistinguishable in its effect, which is different, and qualified.

It's actually even worse because whereas with "real" racism, a horde of white allies magically appears out of nowhere to jump on them and call them out (and then pat themselves on the back for being such good allies after), with ironic racism, the same allies turn on me, accuse me of being too sensitive and tell me I should be saving my energy for "real racists" even though it does literally the same thing to me.

Am I being too bitter and snarky about this?
posted by Conspire at 9:07 AM on January 15, 2014 [31 favorites]


Am I being too bitter and snarky about this?

Not in the least.
posted by Pudhoho at 9:26 AM on January 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


languagehat: "Someone talked about this as a natural evolution a decade or so ago; at the time I didn't really get it, but now I do. Enjoy the flush of MeFi enthusiasm while it lasts!"

9 years and counting. :) (Mostly)
posted by zarq at 9:27 AM on January 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


Also I'm adding Horde of White Allies as a random monster encounter in my D&D campaign now.
posted by Conspire at 9:31 AM on January 15, 2014 [25 favorites]


While OmieWise's comment seemed obviously sarcastic to me, I have also made the mistake of thinking actual racist or offensive comments were meant ironically, so I think the problem online is that one's background or expectations make an enormous difference.

Having been brought up in an environment both very liberal and very prone to ironic humor, I tend to see that as more likely than actual ignorance and insensitivity. People who've regularly faced real blatant discrimination and aren't familiar with the context can be confused even by over-the-top comedy shows. Text comments on a thread where serious conversation is taking place is an easy place for some crossed signals, so minimizing use of the style seems reasonable...
posted by mdn at 9:32 AM on January 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yeah, MetaFilter is responsible for evolving my opinion of ironic racism in general. I didn't used to have a problem with people whom I "knew" to not really be racist saying racist things "ironically," but after repeated discussions here about how a) when you scratch an ironic racist often the only thing that comes off is the irony, and b) it still hurts to read and hear such things even if they aren't meant sincerely, it's no longer something that sits well with me.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:43 AM on January 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


The irony exists only for those who don't have to live under the sharp end of racism.
posted by Pudhoho at 9:51 AM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


"Except Conspire didn't describe it as indistinguishable, Conspire described it as indistinguishable in its effect, which is different, and qualified."

That was sweetkid, not Conspire. But point taken; I'm certainly not going to argue with her about the relative amount of hurt she feels between the ironic racism comment and the actual racist comments elsewhere. I don't think it's indistinguishable in the broader effects, though it may be for her, personally.

"The irony exists only for those who don't have to live under the sharp end of racism."

Lordaych defended the irony and is black. I'd be careful about making sweeping pronouncements about who can recognize the irony; if I was lordaych that'd probably get my back up.
posted by klangklangston at 9:54 AM on January 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


Well, the good news is I made this far in America (and travel in the UK where South Asians are not always respected) without knowing that "smell like their food" is used by people who mean harm.

This may be the most inexplicable insult I've heard.

Is "your father smelt of elderberries" a play on this?
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:24 AM on January 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


I don't think it's indistinguishable in the broader effects, though it may be for her, personally.

I think I could make a really good argument that "ironic" racism has worse effects, because it's racism you cannot comment on because you're "too sensitive" and "it's irony, don't you get it?" While regular racism is at least mostly disliked in conversation.

I'd also like to thank OmieWise for reconsidering and apologising.
posted by jeather at 10:31 AM on January 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


Lesser Shrew: " Is "your father smelt of elderberries" a play on this?"

My understanding is that insult is calling the father a drunk. Elderberries are used to make cheap wine and have a distinctive odor.
posted by zarq at 10:33 AM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Well, made with elderberries alone it's cheap (low quality) wine. Wine made with elderberries as well as other fruit might not be.
posted by zarq at 10:34 AM on January 15, 2014


He's not who he was back when we first joined in 2004.

For reasons I can't quite put my finger on, this type of participation scorekeeping makes me very uncomfortable. I guess I would prefer that you raise this type of concern directly with the person you are critiquing, perhaps in the spirit of concern, rather than post such judgments as fact for group consideration.
posted by nacho fries at 10:39 AM on January 15, 2014 [8 favorites]


He's not who he was back when we first joined in 2004.

Neither are you. Few of us are. People change, particularly after having a kid.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:41 AM on January 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


Is "your father smelt of elderberries" a play on this?"

My understanding is that insult is calling the father a drunk. Elderberries are used to make cheap wine and have a distinctive odor.


It's neither. The joke in its original context is just a total non-sequitur, with maybe a hint of the idea that the phrasing is so bizarre because the speaker is a French guy communicating in a language he's not great with. He says, "Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries," and it's not funny because of any particular negative associations with hamsters or elderberries, but because it's just a completely absurd thing to say.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:42 AM on January 15, 2014 [11 favorites]


Hmph. I like my read on it better.

:D
posted by zarq at 10:43 AM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I understand the desire to defend India's Honor at All Costs

No, you don't.

sweetkid very plainly (and with remarkable restraint) told us why that particular part of OmieWise's comment was hurtful. It had NOTHING to do with Indian nationalism.
posted by nacho fries at 10:46 AM on January 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


I think I could make a really good argument that "ironic" racism has worse effects, because it's racism you cannot comment on because you're "too sensitive" and "it's irony, don't you get it?" While regular racism is at least mostly disliked in conversation

Ooh, ooh! And then cue "this other PoC I know is okay with not challenging the white supremacist status quo so why aren't you as cool as them" and "it's all about your own hurt feelings and in no way a systematic thing that undermines the validity of all PoC within our social circle but that's okay because we'll coddle your feelings while ignoring your point in the first place because aren't we such nice people."

I think I got a line on my racism bingo card now!
posted by Conspire at 10:52 AM on January 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


Well, the good news is I made this far in America (and travel in the UK where South Asians are not always respected) without knowing that "smell like their food" is used by people who mean harm.

It's a thing.

In reality, everyone smells a little like their food - or rather, has certain scents based on their regular diet that are different than the scents of people who have a wildly different diet. I've heard that middle-American white people "smell like milk" or "smell like beef/meat", in fact - and talking to some Vietnam vets, was told that the ones who went out on long patrols would try to adopt a more vegetarian diet, because Vietcong could tell from the smell of their feces left behind that there were American GIs around otherwise. I know that myself, if I've eaten a lot of some foods, particularly spicy or pungent ones, my sweat has a slightly different smell.

But racists/xenophobes use that "slightly different smell" thing to mean THEY ARE SMELLY AND DIRTY AND AWFUL. They never think that it might apply to them, too, that they also might smell like their food, because they are used to their own scent and think of it as normal. But they are taking a normal part of the human condition, and just using it for their own shitty purposes.
posted by corb at 11:17 AM on January 15, 2014


Since some people are saying "Oh, it was obviously sarcastic and not meant to be read seriously!", I'd like to point to what Jacqueline wrote above:
Whenever I see a MeTa, I try to immediately click over to the post or comment in question to get my own impression of it first before coming back to the MeTa thread to read what other people thought of it. This time, I didn't realize that the linked comment was supposed to be satire until I came back to this MeTa thread because I have known people who genuinely thought and said those kind of things.
Being able to say "Oh, obviously nobody could actually believe anything that horrible!" marks you as having been seriously sheltered in this regard. People who are in the groups targeted by statements like this have said, repeatedly, that people actually do believe those things and do say them sincerely and with intent.
posted by Lexica at 11:27 AM on January 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


Corb that your response to that is "yeah it's totally something we say to each other because it's true"

rather than "fuck I'm so sorry the particulars of how we treat each other in our shitty society has now been added to your consciousness for no benefit"

...makes me sad all around.
posted by danny the boy at 11:29 AM on January 15, 2014 [8 favorites]


In reality, everyone smells a little like their food

This is totally immaterial to the racist (ironic or no) angle of calling people out for not being clean enough or smelling like their food in an offensive or pungent way. We sort of don't need to go down the "Well some stereotypes are based in truth" path to talk about why it's not okay to make shitty comments that rely on stereotypes that are frequently used against people. Please maybe consider not going there and just wrapping up this line of discussion.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:42 AM on January 15, 2014 [10 favorites]


I assure you, I was in no way trying to say that shitty stereotypes are based in truth, because it is never true that people of any type or ethnicity, as a class, "are not clean enough" or are "smelly", regardless of whatever extremely mild and completely innocuous cultural or dietary differences may exist.
posted by corb at 11:45 AM on January 15, 2014


Then leave it alone, please.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:51 AM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


I assure you, I was in no way trying to say that shitty stereotypes are based in truth, because it is never true that people of any type or ethnicity, as a class, "are not clean enough" or are "smelly", regardless of whatever extremely mild and completely innocuous cultural or dietary differences may exist.

corb, it's a bit frustrating to me that we've just had a MetaTalk about how you phrase things and how what you say comes across to others and just now you've said something problematic and, when called on it, are once again backing off and saying you didn't mean to say the thing people are hearing in your comment.

Once again it feels like we're in a situation where you are, deliberately or otherwise, saying things that will hurt or upset people and get a negative response. If this is intentional, it sucks and you should stop. If this is unintentional, it means that it would be really great if you'd think more about what you're saying and how you say it. The fact that we've been down this road before, multiple times, including very recently, is making it super hard to give you the benefit of the doubt even if we want to. At this point what at least I am doubting is whether you want to make it better whether it's intentional or not.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:52 AM on January 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


Oh hell sorry, should have previewed -- didn't mean to derail this and I apologize.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:53 AM on January 15, 2014


tbh I was really hoping to find out what other MeFites lordaych has been harboring a bizarre grudge against, but that is probably also a derail.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:54 AM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


In reality, everyone smells a little like their food

This is why I drink lots of pineapple juice.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:12 PM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


"I think I could make a really good argument that "ironic" racism has worse effects, because it's racism you cannot comment on because you're "too sensitive" and "it's irony, don't you get it?" While regular racism is at least mostly disliked in conversation."

I don't think you could actually make that argument without so many qualifications about venue, types of irony and types of racism that it would be functionally useless to generalize from.

"Ooh, ooh! And then cue "this other PoC I know is okay with not challenging the white supremacist status quo so why aren't you as cool as them" and "it's all about your own hurt feelings and in no way a systematic thing that undermines the validity of all PoC within our social circle but that's okay because we'll coddle your feelings while ignoring your point in the first place because aren't we such nice people."

I think I got a line on my racism bingo card now!
"

I don't really have a problem with sarcastically adopting the persona of a conversational adversary and "ironically" advancing stupidity in their character. It appears you don't really have a problem with it either. I'm not sure how OmieWise's comment was a "systematic thing that undermines the validity of all PoC within our social circle" though. And I'm not sure I'd describe MetaFilter as having a white supremacist status quo either. Maybe you're fighting battles that aren't here?
posted by klangklangston at 12:14 PM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]



tbh I was really hoping to find out what other MeFites lordaych has been harboring a bizarre grudge against, but that is probably also a derail.


Yeah that was really weird. And what a weird way to show your prejudice to say that what I was doing was trying to "India's Honor at All Costs."

Really sincere thanks to the vast majority of people who engaged in this topic in good faith. I know it's a tricky one.
posted by sweetkid at 12:16 PM on January 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


And I'm not sure I'd describe MetaFilter as having a white supremacist status quo either. Maybe you're fighting battles that aren't here?

I think Conspire's using "white supremacy" in a more technical, less Klannish sense than it's usually used - in which the status quo in general is white supremacist - so this line of argument strikes me as pretty gross.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:44 PM on January 15, 2014 [7 favorites]



From before:


"The irony exists only for those who don't have to live under the sharp end of racism."

Lordaych defended the irony and is black. I'd be careful about making sweeping pronouncements about who can recognize the irony; if I was lordaych that'd probably get my back up.


I have close family members who think I make "too big a deal about race" and "why shouldn't there be a white history month" (and for context, as if it's not explicitly clear already I am Indian American) so. Takes all kinds.
posted by sweetkid at 12:52 PM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Your interpretation is correct, Rustic Etruscan. It is really disingenuous to dismiss concerns about racism just because you can find a counter-example of a person of color who doesn't feel harmed by said specific concern of racism. Especially recognizing that internalized racism and pressure by white groups and institutions to ignore and excuse racism is a major thing, and that racial experiences will dramatically vary.

And it is doubly disingenuous to claim that the person raising concerns is only doing so because of some kind of bullshit internal "relative amount of hurt" feelings instead of the concern being actually tangibly oppressive from an external perspective that extends well beyond the singular individual at hand. It is not oppressive for her "personally". It is oppressive, period.

Also? I "recognize" the irony perfectly fine. Do not try to imply that being a person of color somehow overrides my ability to read and comprehend the English language. I have a university degree in English writing, you realize. But just because I recognize the irony doesn't mean that I should ought to bend to the pressure to give it a free pass - especially when it still reduces me of my personhood and agency and reinforces my position at the end of the white status quo exactly like "real racism" does.
posted by Conspire at 1:15 PM on January 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


klangklangston: "And I'm not sure I'd describe MetaFilter as having a white supremacist status quo either. "

There is an argument to be made that mainstream American White culture diminishes and promotes hatred, fear and ridicule of anyone who is not White, while promoting Caucasians and white society as an ideal. thus making our culture a form of white supremacism.

Non-whites who are considered a threat are met with fear and fearmongering. Non-whites who are relatively non-threatening are portrayed through derogatory imagery and language. This is most noticeable in White depictions of African Americans over the last 100 or more years. In the 40's when we were at war with Japan, the Japanese were portrayed as the "Yellow Menace" -- vicious, bloodthirsty, murderous savages. These days, mainstream media just makes jokes about the size of their genitals and tries to feminize depictions of them.

Some racist ideas have become so widespread that they are now part of our culture and our language, and it takes conscious effort to weed them out. It literally took decades for American culture to drop the term "jap" as an epithet against Asians.

I believe Conspire's comment was speaking to that point, not to accuse Metafilter in general of being populated by KKK-style hooded White Supremacists.
posted by zarq at 1:17 PM on January 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


And not just anyone who is non-White. People who are in fact White but aren't mainstream enough. People who are White but aren't Christian, for example.
posted by zarq at 1:18 PM on January 15, 2014

It is really disingenuous
People can be wrong without being disingenuous or otherwise lying.
posted by kavasa at 1:24 PM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


I should expand on that: I would encourage you not to accuse people of lying unless you have really good reason to. "You're wrong for reasons X, Y, and Z" is great and can create good discussion. "You're lying" is a brick wall.
posted by kavasa at 1:27 PM on January 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


I don't really have a problem with sarcastically adopting the persona of a conversational adversary and "ironically" advancing stupidity in their character.

klangklangston, I really think that your debate style would improve if you would stop doing this. You are pretty smart and you can win debates without it. I think whenever people basically make up stuff here for the purpose of making someone look stupid, things don't go well and fighting and grudges increase. JMHO.
posted by onlyconnect at 1:31 PM on January 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


It was an unfortunate FPP, I felt, another topic (children, and the having of them) that can, bizarrely, be somewhat fraught on metafilter with stridency on both sides. The fact that the FPP was thin as piano wire - built on a tweet for goodness' sake, explicitly invites people to hold forth on their general opinions. It's like... chatfilter on the blue, or something, I don't know. But I do know that these kind of FPPs that remind me of talkback radio topics typically garner very talkback radio-like responses from mefites.

It is a shame when people post when they are really het up about something.
posted by smoke at 3:35 PM on January 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


But I do know that these kind of FPPs that remind me of talkback radio topics typically garner very talkback radio-like responses from mefites.

Another meaningless analogy.
posted by crossoverman at 4:00 PM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Should I be clearer? Thin posts based on very limited, headline-like information, on topics that people are sensitive about, tend to generate a lot of aggrieved, emotional, and frequently one-dimensional comments that produce more noise than light.

I thought the link to talkback radio was pretty explicit.
posted by smoke at 4:03 PM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


"I have close family members who think I make "too big a deal about race" and "why shouldn't there be a white history month" (and for context, as if it's not explicitly clear already I am Indian American) so. Takes all kinds."

Yeah, and I would still assume that those family members have experienced racism. The point wasn't that those are good arguments, but rather that generalizing them to people who have never experienced racism is at best sloppy, and at worst pretty insulting.

"It is really disingenuous to dismiss concerns about racism just because you can find a counter-example of a person of color who doesn't feel harmed by said specific concern of racism. Especially recognizing that internalized racism and pressure by white groups and institutions to ignore and excuse racism is a major thing, and that racial experiences will dramatically vary."

That's not what I was doing. With reference to lordaych, I was saying that arguing that the only people who would object to this current round of anti-racism were people who had never experienced racism themselves is a poor, unproductive line of attack. I'm not being disingenuous with that, and implying that I am is insulting.

"And it is doubly disingenuous to claim that the person raising concerns is only doing so because of some kind of bullshit internal "relative amount of hurt" feelings instead of the concern being actually tangibly oppressive from an external perspective that extends well beyond the singular individual at hand. It is not oppressive for her "personally". It is oppressive, period. "

Ah, so you're not actually arguing against anything I said. It does get confusing when you invent quotes. And I don't think I've seen those arguments stated anywhere here, which again leads me to believe that you're more upset about the general state of the world than this particular issue.

"Also? I "recognize" the irony perfectly fine. Do not try to imply that being a person of color somehow overrides my ability to read and comprehend the English language. I have a university degree in English writing, you realize. But just because I recognize the irony doesn't mean that I should ought to bend to the pressure to give it a free pass - especially when it still reduces me of my personhood and agency and reinforces my position at the end of the white status quo exactly like "real racism" does."

Am I mistaken in thinking this is still addressed to me? Was I mistaken in thinking that any was? Because if it was, it's a pretty baffling claim.
posted by klangklangston at 4:08 PM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Reading some of that thread reminds me how much happier my metafilter experience has been since I "hid favorites" in my preferences. I know it shouldn't bother me, but people favorite some stupid shit sometimes.
posted by exogenous at 4:13 PM on January 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


Reading some of that thread reminds me how much happier my metafilter experience has been since I "hid favorites" in my preferences. I know it shouldn't bother me, but people favorite some stupid shit sometimes.

I did the same thing. Love it. Consider this as me favoriting your comment.
posted by MoonOrb at 5:10 PM on January 15, 2014


We should form a club. Favorite this comment if you agree!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:17 PM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


We should club Brandon Blatcher. Favorite this comment if you agree!
posted by gman at 5:23 PM on January 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


No need to get snippy.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:49 PM on January 15, 2014


Conspire: "It is really disingenuous to dismiss concerns about racism just because you can find a counter-example of a person of color who doesn't feel harmed by said specific concern of racism."

Yeah, that sucks, but as far as I can see, nobody's done that. You said "The irony exists only for those who don't have to live under the sharp end of racism," and Klangklangston pointed out that the irony also exists in some cases for those who do have to live under the sharp end of racism. He didn't say "and therefore it's okay", or "and therefore any concerns can be ignored", or anything else like that. I think you're reading a whole lot into his comment that isn't actually there, and getting angry at what you imagine him to be insinuating, not at what he's actually saying.
posted by Bugbread at 5:49 PM on January 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


Upon discovering that she was dating an Indian-American, an ex-friend of my ex-girlfriend's first and only sneering question was, "so, does his junk smell like curry too?"

That was in the before-time, the long long ago, also known as around a year ago in the totally not racist no not us liberal Mecca of Seattle. The only reason you have racist tropes to be ironic about for effect is because you have heard them so often, so sincerely, that, whether you realize it or not, you have internalized those tropes as inextricable from consideration of those people. It doesn't matter in the slightest that you don't mean it. You are telling me that it is still such a pervasive belief that you can refer to it to me, a person thousands of miles away and with whom you've barely ever interacted, and rest assured that I will know what you mean, because I've heard it too. You are telling me that not only is this one of the first things you think of when you think of people like me, you're confident it's also one of the first things I think of when I think of me. Your ironic racism doesn't deconstruct tropes, it reifies and re-instantiates them.

There is absolutely no way for you to make this joke so easily, just rolling right off the tongue, and not also make me think you're an enormous asshole. Your previous good works don't gain you credit; this bullshit makes me question your sincerity about any previous good faith efforts.

Fuck. I'm really angry right now. I wish I hadn't seen this. I'm so over this bullshit. OmieWise, I appreciate that you've apologized. I wish I could say it was forgiven. Maybe it will be later. But it isn't right now. sweetkid, Conspire, y'all are the best. Thanks everyone for trying. I'm taking a walk.
posted by Errant at 6:26 PM on January 15, 2014 [37 favorites]


I'm pretty sure you could tell that OmieWise's comment was both explicitly satirizing Reenum's points and doing that through the implicit assumption that racism was deplorable. Describing it as "indistinguishable" seems overwrought

I'm not a stupid person and enjoy satire as much as the next person, and I definitely read it as a serious (and offensive) comment when I saw it. Rereading it, I can see the attempt at satire, but it's pretty clumsy and generally just not cool.

But I think Errant makes good points just above, such that even if it is meant as and is understood as sarcasm or satire, it's still going to be taken as hurtful by a fair number of people. There are definitely ways to make racially-charged or edgy jokes, but this wasn't one of them.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:40 PM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Usually the advice is, "don't post when you're really angry." But Errant, I feel like you should ALWAYS post when you're really angry, because that is seriously one of the most incisive posts I've ever seen on this site.
posted by like_a_friend at 7:18 PM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's an outstanding comment. I read it several times.

Especially this:

The only reason you have racist tropes to be ironic about for effect is because you have heard them so often, so sincerely, that, whether you realize it or not, you have internalized those tropes as inextricable from consideration of those people. It doesn't matter in the slightest that you don't mean it. You are telling me that it is still such a pervasive belief that you can refer to it to me, a person thousands of miles away and with whom you've barely ever interacted, and rest assured that I will know what you mean, because I've heard it too. You are telling me that not only is this one of the first things you think of when you think of people like me, you're confident it's also one of the first things I think of when I think of me. Your ironic racism doesn't deconstruct tropes, it reifies and re-instantiates them.

Yeah. I mentioned the Jason Bateman preview before in this thread, where he tells a kid to cut his curry hole - it's so hurtful because these days I feel like I'm like "Oh yay! Representation!" Oops but no it's not, it's another gross caricature, and this also reminds me of when I was a little kid and adults, rather than being friendly to me, would say racist things about cows, curry, dots on foreheads, child brides...when I was about the age of the kid in the movie. The whole joke seems to be what an asshole Jason Bateman's character is, and I guess he enters spelling bees or something (which the kid is good at of course, being Indian. We're disgusting, smelly and backward but also smart).

Like I just don't get it - "curry hole!" Wow, you TOLD that little kid! It didn't make me think Jason Bateman's character was a subversive asshole, it made me think that Jason Bateman, the people who put that movie and the trailer together are all probably racist assholes.

Also I totally identified with that kid and I doubt Jason Bateman or the white people who laughed in the audience could. Because "shut your curry hole, kid."
posted by sweetkid at 8:49 PM on January 15, 2014 [8 favorites]


Also, I got a ton of very nice and appreciated MeMails about this thread and plan to answer every one.

Thanks again, most of you.
posted by sweetkid at 9:11 PM on January 15, 2014


Lordaych defended the irony and is black.

is he now
posted by kagredon at 11:37 PM on January 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


Just because it seems to have been left to the side amidst all the talk of the original comment's racism: For the record, blind folks who take transit every day sail right the fuck through it and know exactly where to go and don't fumble with things. And you will too, if you lose your sight, because humans can solve problems and have good memories. When you make up shitthatdidnthappen.txt about people with disabilities you really just reveal your own fears and insecurities.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:47 PM on January 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


Lordaych: "I remember getting into Pantera, NIN, and Marilyn Manson before finding the Scandinavian metal scene and having my mind blown"

Okay, so he's black metal...that's a kind of black, right?
posted by Bugbread at 11:48 PM on January 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


I think Klang was thinking of a different member with a somewhat similar name.
posted by taz (staff) at 3:17 AM on January 16, 2014


The only reason you have racist tropes to be ironic about for effect is because you have heard them so often, so sincerely, that, whether you realize it or not, you have internalized those tropes as inextricable from consideration of those people […] You are telling me that not only is this one of the first things you think of when you think of people like me, you're confident it's also one of the first things I think of when I think of me.

I am going to try to do something that I hope I am successful at, but which I realize requires walking a very fine line. I want to repeat that I will not defend the comment I made, and I am specifically not saying in this comment that it was not hurtful or that it did not reinscribe racist tropes. I understand both of those things to be true, which is what prompted my apology above.

But, Errant, I would like to reply to your comment. Let me make clear that I’m not trying to shape your emotional reaction to my comment, nor am I suggesting that it is in any way incorrect. But your comment suggests that there are things revealed about me by my comment that I think do not logically follow from what I wrote. My comment was not a joke of any sort. It is not comparable to the “joke” with which you introduced your comment, nor is it comparable to the Jason Bateman “joke” that sweetkid has quoted (although I understand that the effects might be the same.) What I wrote was a satire*. It was written to mock views I found objectionable by implicitly comparing them to other views I take to be objectionable. Yes, I am familiar with those objectionable views, but I was parroting them, not presenting them with a wink and a nod. I can also parrot statements that might be made by the extreme right wing, or someone who thinks mental illness is a moral failure, or an abusive parent. I am none of these things.

The distinction here, I think, is where the in-group/out-group lines are drawn. In the jokes quoted by you, and by sweetkid, the in-group is those who in some sense agree with the mocked trait, while the out-group is those to whom the trait (supposed or invented) is attributed. In what I wrote, the in-group is the people who find the views I parroted odious, and the out-group is those whose views are (unconsciously) consonant with what I wrote. I understand why the distinction I was trying to draw does not hold up, and why it was harmful and racist (and abelist) nonetheless; but it was not racist because it reveals me to really believe what I wrote, it was racist because it reveals me to have not thought through the full implications of how the comment would resonate with people harmed by things like this said with sincerity (among other reasons.)

None of this is to claim that I don’t have my own measure of reflexive racism. I take it to be axiomatic that this is true of everyone. However, I think this distinction is important because it actually lessens the power of this thread to look at my comment and suggest that it implies a deepseated belief in the tropes I was satirizing. For me the opposite assertion, that things done without any link to overt or covert racist feelings can be harmful and racist in their effects, is much stronger. It doesn’t obviate the truism that racist jokes are racist, that truism just doesn’t apply here. I hope I’ve also been clear that I’m not drawing a distinction between what is racism, or “real racism,” and my comment. I just think the racism in my comment is different in kind from one which believes (even in some deep, dark, secret place) the tropes that I deployed.

I want to be very clear that I don’t think any of this lessens the offensiveness of my comment, nor should it necessarily mitigate any particular person’s reaction to it. So what I’m NOT saying is that my explanation above should change how you feel about what I wrote, or, necessarily, about me. I’m not really asking for forgiveness, mostly because that isn’t something that I particularly understand in instances like this. I apologized because I regret what I did and the pain that I caused people.

I also want to say at the close of my comment that I do not anticipate debating what I wrote here, in the sense of defending it. People may well disagree with me, and I will read other people’s responses, and I am not saying that I absolutely won’t comment on any of them, but I want to be respectful to the people who have been commenting in this thread and talking about this issue, and I want to be very careful about not reflexively slipping into a defensive stance.

*I’m not debating whether it was good satire, or effective, and I understand that some people read it as representing my real views. But I take it that we would be having a very different conversation were this deemed to have been a comment representing my true views on these issues. The existence of this thread, and the mod response, seem to me to make it clear that as a general proposition my comment was taken to be satirical.
posted by OmieWise at 5:55 AM on January 16, 2014 [9 favorites]


Just because it seems to have been left to the side amidst all the talk of the original comment's racism: For the record, blind folks who take transit every day sail right the fuck through it and know exactly where to go and don't fumble with things. And you will too, if you lose your sight, because humans can solve problems and have good memories. When you make up shitthatdidnthappen.txt about people with disabilities you really just reveal your own fears and insecurities.

Yes, it has been a surprise to me that the ableist nature of my comment has gotten so much less attention than the racist nature of my comment. Please be assured that what I have written here about my comment's racism applies equally to its ableism, as does my apology for that. But please see my comment above for why I do not believe that this is the same as having revealed something fundamental about my "own fears and insecurities."
posted by OmieWise at 5:58 AM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh dude, please stop! This is a comment from someone who likes you!

No good can possibly come of this!
posted by Wolof at 6:08 AM on January 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


Lordaych: "I remember getting into Pantera, NIN, and Marilyn Manson before finding the Scandinavian metal scene and having my mind blown"

Okay, so he's black metal...that's a kind of black, right?


maybe... Although the Scandinavian metal scene most likely refers to the Gotherburg sound, not the Norwegian black metal acts.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:25 AM on January 16, 2014


Lordaych defended the irony and is black.

is he now


Yes, it's the one neighborhood rule.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:29 AM on January 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


"...but it was not racist because it reveals me to really believe what I wrote, it was racist because it reveals me to have not thought through the full implications of how the comment would resonate with people harmed by things like this said with sincerity (among other reasons.)"

Right.

I, for one, thought OmieWise's comment was extremely thoughtful and sensitive and in no way attempted to excuse his original comment.

On both sides of that interaction, we can see how unproductive it is to make explicit or implicit claims that someone is a racist (or similar) or that "underneath" they "really" are. Those claims are about someone's character, and there's never anything more provocative than to say that someone is a bad person, as opposed to saying that they did something bad, which is much less provocative.

As OmieWise repeats what others wrote critically of his comment, the racism and ableism of his original comment is the racism and ableism that permeates our culture, where all the things that have been pointed out as being wrong with that comment are not immediately understood to be wrong, and those types of comments are common. It's not just those who aren't in the groups ironically targeted in such comments who might make such a comment, I can easily imagine myself making an ironic ableist comment, even though I'm disabled.

We're all capable of making mistakes like this. That doesn't make it any less hurtful, or the outrage in response any less justified. But it means that the focus should be on the mistake, those who feel hurt by it, the unexamined biases that make it possible, and not on the character of the person who made it. When we focus on character, which is what we're doing when we say that someone is "racist", or circuitously imply that underneath they're racist, we are actually being counter-productive because that reinforces the totally false (and comfortable) idea that these things are the product of "bad people" and that controlling the behavior of those bad people will solve the problem. But it won't, because it's not about bad people, it's about the structure of society and how we all do things that reinforce the injustice.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:11 AM on January 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


klangklangston, I really think that your debate style would improve if you would stop doing this. You are pretty smart and you can win debates without it. I think whenever people basically make up stuff here for the purpose of making someone look stupid, things don't go well and fighting and grudges increase.

I agree. You seem pretty well educated and put together. Even if I disagree with you about almost everything, I am frequently pleased by the quality of the discourse that I'm disagreeing with. But there are a few times it goes off the rails but doesn't have to. I realize this may be the pot calling the kettle black, but I'm offering it up anyway.
posted by corb at 7:23 AM on January 16, 2014


it implies a deepseated belief in the tropes I was satirizing.

I think this misses it just a bit. It's not that you're secretly or unconsciously supportive of the tropes you're deploying ironically, it's that you've internalized them even though you don't believe them. They're there, they're ready, they're part of the basic cultural language you use to communicate. They lurk. It's less an issue of 'real' belief than the fact that a certain set of *ist weapons are always ready, and using them ironically serves to keep them ready.
posted by fatbird at 7:55 AM on January 16, 2014 [20 favorites]


I was trying to think of a way to put exactly what fatbird just said, but they went ahead and nailed it. Perfectly put.
posted by sweetkid at 7:59 AM on January 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


Well, OmieWise, thank you for characterizing my response as an "emotional" response, as though it was devoid of any reason or rationale. Let me assure you that what I wrote was not what I wanted to write, and had I written out my emotional reaction, I would have been rightfully banned long before you were or will be. Indeed, when my emotions began to get the better of me, I peaced the fuck out. At the beginning of this comment, let me pray for the wisdom to have the same insight in this one.

I'd also like to thank you for explaining to me what satire is, and the nature of in-group/out-group references. At first I thought that you were relying on the ubiquity of contemporary racist tropes such that that racism gave your comment its necessary basic intelligibility, but I am pleased to discover that it was just satire instead, which of course exists utterly devoid of reference to or validation of social mores. I'm also pleased to discover that you have learned how to code-switch, and that you have the ability not only to parrot an atmospheric white supremacy, but also an essential patriarchy and a central heteronormativity. Congratulations?

I don't give two fucking shits about what your comment reveals or doesn't reveal about you. You will have observed, in your utterly objective and completely dispassionate view, that I only used the term "racism" or "racist" with regard to the general nature of tropes and irony, and that I did not call you racist once. Know why? Because I don't give a shit if you're racist or if you're not. It doesn't matter to me, at all. I have no ability to determine that and I have no inclination to try. I also happen to know that calling people racist is the surest, most effective way for them to abnegate anything one happens to say.

Now, I am pleased to learn, I don't even have to call people racist anymore for them to reject anything I say, because now it's good enough if it just sort of sounds like I might somehow have "circuitously implied" that someone might maybe be racist. That's good enough for Ivan Fyodorovich to come storming in here, all white-hot in his righteousness, and remind us in stentorian tones not to do what no one has done and focus on the person instead of the message. You're right, Ivan, I've been very counter-productive in my analysis of the the social and cultural underpinnings that make racism possible. Oh, that's what you were saying we should be focusing on? It's a good thing you came in here to remind us of that then, because I definitely was not already focused on what really matters and I'm, as I should be, very grateful for your guiding hand.

There's just no message that won't get co-opted, is there? Jay Smooth was being nice to you. He wasn't saying "don't think of people as being racist or not racist", because he knows as well as anyone that there are some racist-ass people out there. He was saying "when you talk to people who are being racist, don't call them racist-ass people, because as immediately satisfying as that might be, it doesn't lead to especially productive conversations". But now you guys have turned that into "don't think of people as racist-ass people, just think of racism as a social atmosphere that permeates everything we do without actually attaching to any individual or action". Let's be clear: racism exists because y'all act racist as fuck. You can stop anytime you want, not that you really want to. Let's also be clear: nobody really fucking cares whether or not you, yourself, are racist. Seriously. It doesn't matter to anyone except you. We're just trying to survive all your bullshit. We don't have time or energy to worry about whether or not your heart is a secretly-gnarled stump or expansive as the horizon. You're the only people who think that that matters to us, which is why you keep twisting the conversation around to "but, I'm not really like that! Or maybe I am really like that, but aren't we all kind of really like that?" It's not fucking about you. No one cares. Get over yourself.
posted by Errant at 8:01 AM on January 16, 2014 [29 favorites]


Don't believe them Klang, you're perfect just the way you are and as long as you change shirts every now and then.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:20 AM on January 16, 2014


He's not who he was back when we first joined in 2004. His comments were considered, even-handed, and usually generous. He was what we imagine the "voice of reason" to be; thoughtful, persuasive, and productive.

This is not a comment on OmieWise, because I don't know him from Adam, but the first few people on this site who come most immediately to mind when I think of self- or externally-styled "voices of reason" are all kind of super annoying; either desperate people-pleasers or subtle trolls who always want to have it all ways.
posted by threeants at 8:22 AM on January 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


"That's good enough for Ivan Fyodorovich to come storming in here, all white-hot in his righteousness, and remind us in stentorian tones not to do what no one has done and focus on the person instead of the message. You're right, Ivan, I've been very counter-productive in my analysis of the the social and cultural underpinnings that make racism possible. Oh, that's what you were saying we should be focusing on? It's a good thing you came in here to remind us of that then, because I definitely was not already focused on what really matters and I'm, as I should be, very grateful for your guiding hand."

Yeah, the thing is, his comment was ableist among other things and that matters to me. You don't have a monopoly on the right way to respond to OmieWise's comment and, also, I'm pretty certain that it's totally unnecessary to psychoanalyze him in order to talk about what was wrong with it. Furthermore, the man unambiguously apologized for it and in this most recent comment he did not in any way do the whole "non apology" thing. I feel there was tons of good-faith and self-examination in his comment and that going nuclear on him at this point is, well, I don't know what it is.

And I wasn't remotely "white-hot" in my righteousness, nor stentorian. In fact, I removed two paragraphs at the end of my comment which expressed some things that I do feel strongly about because of the disability aspect of his comment and about how some people are interacting, in relationship to that, in this thread. There's some folk at whom I really want to aim a comment like yours, but I didn't and will not because I'm pretty clear on what the important issues are here and it's that ironic speaking in the voice of a bigot is really bad thing to do, which people do all the time, and we should come out of this thread with a better understanding of why we shouldn't do it and a strengthened community ethos to not do it or tolerate it.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:32 AM on January 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


Your third paragraph, which is the only part I quoted, doesn't mention ableism once. It mentions racism twice. If you meant it to refer to ableism or circuitously calling OmieWise ableist, you should maybe have said that.

If you think me saying "I don't care whether or not you are actually or secretly racist" is me professing a desire to psychoanalyze someone, well, to quote you, I don't know what that is.
posted by Errant at 8:45 AM on January 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


I liked your comment, Errant, I favorited it, and I think it made important points in a justifiably forceful way. But it also included this paragraph:

"There is absolutely no way for you to make this joke so easily, just rolling right off the tongue, and not also make me think you're an enormous asshole. Your previous good works don't gain you credit; this bullshit makes me question your sincerity about any previous good faith efforts."

...which I think crossed the line separating "this is a bad thing you shouldn't do" from "you're a bad person and what you wrote demonstrated that you're a bad person".

So, yeah, I think that in fact you did do what you say no one has done.

OmieWise didn't make a joke, and you used an example of someone making a joke, so I'm pretty sure that you had that other person in mind when you wrote what I just quoted, and not OmieWise. But you ended your comment specifically addressing OmieWise and it really seems to me that the overall effect of it is to include OmieWise as part of that larger group of people.

I mention the ableism stuff because you addressed me with quite a bit of vitriol and as if I didn't have a stake in OmieWise's comment, but I do.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:54 AM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


OmieWise's defense, such as it is, is that his comment was satire. If you have discerned a way to execute satire without making jokes or employing humor, I would be curious to discover this new tradition. I mean, his argument is that his comment was a satire that wasn't a joke in any way, which is fascinating, but that's sort of why I'm unmoved by any of his apologies, such as they are. If it wasn't a joke, then it's what he means; if it wasn't what he means, then his joke was shit. I'm not sure what the third "not a joke and not what I mean" mode of discourse is, but I will welcome the education.

I would argue that the best way to parse what I said would be to read it as "you can't do this without causing this effect", and that "you're making me think you're an asshole" is not quite the same thing as "you're an asshole" or "you're one of the very bad no-good people with intrinsic evil inside of you", but whatever.

I think you have a stake in his comment, as you have a stake in any comment on this site, being a member here. I don't think you have to be a racial minority or disabled or whatever else to be invested in its problems, and I don't think you have to be normatively abled or white to overlook them. I don't appreciate, at all, your implication that I wasn't focused on the mistake, the people who are hurt by it, or the unexamined biases that make those comments possible. I think I was pretty close to entirely focused on that, and when I started getting too angry to continue, I admitted that and walked away. That's a pretty far cry, in my mind, from attacking the person instead of the issue, and your implication that I was doing the latter sucks, as does the fact that we're now discussing my methodology in calling out some bullshit instead of the bullshit. But what else is new.
posted by Errant at 9:29 AM on January 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


The way I look at these sorts of behaviors like taking a shit: Whether you purposefully dropped your pants and shat on the floor, or you have a stomach bug that made you do so, either way, there is your stinky, messy shit all over the floor.

This is not the time to try and 'reason' that your shit is different than other shit, that since the smell doesn't bother you that people's complaints are 'emotional', and DEFINITELY not that in some self-aggrandizing fantasyland, your fetid discharge is a witty social statement.

Don't explain to the people who you got your shit on their clothes and skin that they aren't as disgusted or upset as they think they are, don't explain how early you were potty-trained, how you were really aiming for the toilet, and how people (especially people you enjoy the company of!) should meet you half-way, because cultural norms and scat porn exists and hell, in some cultures, people shit on the floor all the time!

You shit on the floor. Apologize and clean it up. Full stop.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 10:04 AM on January 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


But what if it was really the restaurant's policy that made you shit on the floor by not accepting refunds?

(Oops wrong thread)
posted by en forme de poire at 10:23 AM on January 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


Look, if someone says, "Hey, Errant, you racist fuckwit, stop doing this utter garbage," there are basically two responses that advance the ball, so to speak:

1. "Oh shit, sorry, that's my bad and I apologize."
2. "Hey, I'm sorry that hurt you, but I don't think it was racist because of reasons."

Both of those are actually fine. One's probably better more often, but they're both ok.

"Wait, I'm not really a fuckwit, I'm actually a pretty nice makelovemind if you get to know me" is not useful. It is not useful for two reasons:

1. If I did that shit, then I was actually being a racist fuckwit at that moment. If I didn't, then their being wrong about the racism also means they're wrong about me being a fuckwit.
2. The point of them saying that to me wasn't to call me a fuckwit, it was to point out a problem. Focusing on the insult is not listening to what they're actually saying.

If I want to live in the same world as you, I should try to avoid insults whenever possible. But, by the same token, if I want to live in the same world as you, I should also try to ignore the insults that accompany a genuine issue. Staying focused on the issue is not solely the responsibility of the person calling someone else out, and we far too often put all of that onus on them and give the recipient every excuse to punch out or stop listening as soon as they hear some name-calling. Sure, the insults shouldn't happen, and it's not an excuse. But it's equally important to teach people how to shrug off the occasional jab and stay locked down on what matters. That communication is a two-way street, and anything other than that tends inexorably to favor the patterns of privilege.
posted by Errant at 10:32 AM on January 16, 2014


I wish more apologies would include this simple add-on:

"I've hurt you. What can I do to help make it better?"
posted by nacho fries at 10:36 AM on January 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


You shit on the floor. Apologize and clean it up. Full stop.

To my mind, that's what OmieWise did right here.

Maybe he should have just left it at that and not followed up, but then we wouldn't have gotten to this ...

but it was not racist because it reveals me to really believe what I wrote, it was racist because it reveals me to have not thought through the full implications of how the comment would resonate with people harmed by things like this said with sincerity (among other reasons.)

Which is a rather complex point, succinctly made.

I personally learned my big lesson about "careless satire" when I was a much younger man and, in one particular situation, talking way too loose about gays. A guy called me on it (he was gay). But I intended no harm, I tried to explain, I was making fun of homophobes, not gays. He didn't care. I didn't back down. It got heated to the point of violence -- almost. Because. He. Did. Not. Think. What. I. Said. Was. Funny. In. Any. Way. Shut. The. Fuck. Up.

I finally did shut up. But I didn't apologize. I just walked away, avoiding a fight. But the emotional violence of the moment lingered for me. The other guy (call him James) was not a bad guy at all, not a bully. Clearly, I had blown it. I had set him off even if I had no intention of doing so. Clearly, I had to rethink a pile of assumptions about what freedom of speech entailed (ie: accountability for what that freedom might incur).

Long story, short. I have grown to be magnitudes more sensitive about such stuff over the years. Not that I don't slip up occasionally, because it's in my nature to look for humor in darkness. But I have definitely learned to listen better, to "read the room" better. Because to me, it's not about censoring ourselves, declaring vast chunks of discourse forever off-limits. But it is about NOT OFFENDING PEOPLE WHO DON'T DESERVE TO BE OFFENDED.

Which is where ... "I've hurt you. What can I do to help make it better?" comes in.
posted by philip-random at 10:46 AM on January 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


"I think you have a stake in his comment, as you have a stake in any comment on this site, being a member here. I don't think you have to be a racial minority or disabled or whatever else to be invested in its problems, and I don't think you have to be normatively abled or white to overlook them."

Given that this is in response to me saying that I felt that I had a stake in OmieWise's comment because I'm disabled and his comment included ironic ableist bigotry, I feel both patronized and dismissed by this.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:18 AM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


reenum's comment was one I rolled around in my head quite a bit. I think it starts from a place where I'd nod my head (that there is a weird sense of entitlement many parents feel about how much of their kids' bullshit the world needs to deal with), but as a parent, yeah, it had a bit of anti-breeder/anti-kids sentiment to it that sort of pulled it off the rails. In particular, the bit about "little Suzie counting pennies" or whatever was kind of horseshit, and I said as much.

I have a tendency to sort of formulate opinions/rants over time and I'll be probably be continuing to work on my "Why is it okay to view every delay of even a few seconds as an outrage to your person?" speeches for the foreseeable future.

Anyway, coming back around to the main point, I can see what spurred OmieWise to getting rankled. But as has been said many times above, the "this is something a shitty person would say" ironic argument is not a good tack for MetaFilter.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:20 AM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Staying focused on the issue is not solely the responsibility of the person calling someone else out, and we far too often put all of that onus on them and give the recipient every excuse to punch out or stop listening as soon as they hear some name-calling.

I think the problem with this is that basic civility is not just frosting on a cake. It's more like a narrow footbridge over a pit of poisonous snakes. If you remove the footbridge, no one is, or should be, under any obligation to walk into the snakes.

It's okay to punch out. It's okay to walk away. It's even okay to stop listening, if what you're listening to is personal insults that have the risk of escalating a conflict. Because that is what civility is designed for - so that even if we disagree, even if we hate each other, we're not all killing each other in the street. A thin veneer of civility over some pretty basic murder-instincts.

Just because these conflicts take place online doesn't mean that the impulse to walk away when someone is spewing insults that in person could lead to a fistfight is a bad idea.
posted by corb at 11:29 AM on January 16, 2014


the bit about "little Suzie counting pennies" or whatever was kind of horseshit

Actually, I totally sympathized with that. I've gotten stuck more than once behind a parent and little kid doing the "paying for this small item with a fistful of change and counting each coin carefully because this is a learning experience" thing. Sometimes the parent has chosen that moment wisely, and they're doing it in a store during a not-busy time when there's not a huge line behind them. Sometimes, though, the parent has chosen unwisely, and it's lunchtime rush at a Subway in the business district and ten people are lined up behind the parent and kid. If you work at a job where you get half an hour for lunch, and every second that you're late is tracked and counted against you in reviews, then yeah, it actually is a major hassle to have that extra speed bump thrown in. It's not the kid's fault, it's the parent's fault, but if any inconvenienced person expresses their exasperation with the situation they automatically become a child-hating asshole. And you can see that all through that thread -- annoyed by anything a child does, ever? Then you're an asshole, and you're an antisocial crank to boot. (The "you're doing it wrong" crack was extra great. Yay, I have limited time to accomplish something and I'm annoyed by an unexpected and truly unnecessary slowdown! Obviously I am to blame! Gross, dude.)
posted by palomar at 11:35 AM on January 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


palomar, I think you're arguing why it's annoying, which I wouldn't disagree with. My point is that no matter how annoying it is, a thirty second delay is not an outrage.

Seething and mentally shaking your fists at the sky because a minor inconvenience has cost you precious seconds of your life has somehow gotten to be normal.

I'm saying it really ought not be.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:40 AM on January 16, 2014


Well, the extra annoying part really kicks in when you express your annoyance later, and someone decides that what you're really saying is that you hate children. Which is what you and many other people did. I feel like that was kind of a dick move.
posted by palomar at 11:46 AM on January 16, 2014 [17 favorites]


"I think you have a stake in his comment, as you have a stake in any comment on this site, being a member here. I don't think you have to be a racial minority or disabled or whatever else to be invested in its problems, and I don't think you have to be normatively abled or white to overlook them."

Given that this is in response to me saying that I felt that I had a stake in OmieWise's comment because I'm disabled and his comment included ironic ableist bigotry, I feel both patronized and dismissed by this.


I'm sorry. I think it is very possible that I don't understand what you mean by "stake in his comment" and that I'm using the phrase in a different sense. If you mean that you also felt targeted by that comment, I wasn't reading you to be saying that and so I can definitely see how my response would have been jarring and off-putting. You're correct that there hasn't been a great deal of emphasis on the ableism in his comment. I don't consider myself qualified to speak to that aspect and so I haven't except to acknowledge its presence.

I was taking you to be asserting your right to speak in this conversation. In that sense, what I meant was that, in my view, you would have a stake in his or any other comment even if there was no ableism aspect and only a racism aspect, just as I would have a stake in his comment even if there was no racism aspect and only an ableism aspect despite my lack of disability, just as I think a white non-disabled member has a stake in it now. That you would have the right to speak with authority in this conversation was never in question to me and in my view has no reliance on minority status, and so it seemed like a strange interjection from my point of view. But, again, it occurs to me that you were probably saying something different than I read you to mean, which would explain it.
posted by Errant at 11:55 AM on January 16, 2014


Well, the extra annoying part really kicks in when you express your annoyance later, and someone decides that what you're really saying is that you hate children. Which is what you and many other people did. I feel like that was kind of a dick move.

Did you actually read my comments in the thread, though? I started off by applauding the better part of reenum's rant, noting that yeah, entitled parents are kinda assholes. I didn't accuse anyone of hating kids, I just thought the one part went over the line.

I said that considering delays that can be counted in seconds as some kind of major outrage (whether they're kid-related or not; I gave examples of such delays that are not) is an aggressive and entitled way to view the world. I also noted that I do this, too, and am working on it. So I'm not sure how hard I really came down on anyone there.

We could all at least have enough grace and patience to be able to weather thirty seconds of inconvenience without getting pissed off.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:56 AM on January 16, 2014


I agree that it's probably psychologically healthier to use that kind of situation as an opportunity to practice being compassionate. But even if you're not "pissed off," you can certainly still say that you think it was inconsiderate.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:59 AM on January 16, 2014


If I came off as accusing people of hating kids, I'm sorry.

Again: my entire point was that even nice people are on a hair trigger these days, ready to get pissed off because of literally momentary hassles. It's weird, no?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:59 AM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


We could all at least have enough grace and patience to be able to weather thrity seconds of inconvenience without getting pissed off.

We also could all at least have enough grace and patience to not tell people who say they found an experience annoying that they're "doing it wrong" and assuming that because they said afterward that they are annoyed, that they must have been a giant rageball in person instead of just quietly being annoyed and venting about it later. Come on, man. Have the grace and patience you demand of others.
posted by palomar at 12:01 PM on January 16, 2014


palomar: "Well, the extra annoying part really kicks in when you express your annoyance later, and someone decides that what you're really saying is that you hate children. Which is what you and many other people did. I feel like that was kind of a dick move."

It's a long damned thread and I might have missed it, but I saw only one person whose response could possibly have been interpreted that way if you were to take the worst possible bad faith interpretation of their comment and that was here. Am I wrong?
posted by zarq at 12:01 PM on January 16, 2014


And for the record, when I say I do this myself, I'm not being magnanimous. Probably very few people outside of incarceration or long-term psychiatric care get pissed off over tiny things more times per day than I do. I'm only recently realizing how pointless that is and I'm working on it.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:01 PM on January 16, 2014


zarq, there's also this one. I'll pick through the thread later, but right now it's my alloted lunch break and I have to go out and attack children for inconveniencing me even slightly, because evidently that's how I roll.
posted by palomar at 12:04 PM on January 16, 2014


I think I understand where you're coming from, DOT, and I agree that it's great to work towards not sweating the tiny stuff. Certainly I could do a lot better there too. But I think you might also be overinterpreting based on this one example from reenum's comment, which was meant to be illustrative of a broader pattern of behavior, not necessarily as something definitive in isolation.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:05 PM on January 16, 2014


I also suddenly realize that maybe this side-discussion should go back in the original thread since it could be seen as kind of a derail here.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:06 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


"I'm sorry."

Okay. Apology accepted!

We agree on pretty much everything, but I see OmieWise's long comment in a much more positive light than you do.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:07 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Even the comment palomar linked as evidence of me accusing people of being anti-kids contains things like this:

I'm with you that Alinea isn't a place for kids. I'm with you that parents need to accept that there are certain places they cannot go. I'm with you that people with kids often feel an insane sense of entitlement. These are fantastic points and well said.

And that's before it abandons the questions of kids entirely and muses on how we treat momentary hassles.

I feel like I'm being drafted to be the stand-in for a contingent I'm not even comfortably part of here.

I liked reenum's comment. I also commented my approval of it. I had the one issue with the one part because it reminded me of something more general that bugs me. I feel like I'm being drafted to be the stand-in for a contingent I'm not even comfortably part of here.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:10 PM on January 16, 2014


palomar, I didn't take Dirty Old Town's comment as calling reenum a child hater. I took it as a lament against people stressing unnecessarily over minor inconveniences.
posted by zarq at 12:20 PM on January 16, 2014


Thanks zarq. Yeah, that's what I'm saying.

I pretty much come down on the side that part of being a good parent is making sure that your kid isn't a pain in the ass to the world at large. They're little people and deserve some respect, sure. But they can also be taught consideration at any age.

Complain about kids all you want. Complain about my kid, if he's being a pain.

People ought to be able to go out into the world and not have their day-to-day business soured by someone else's sense of entitlement. Entirely true.

But it is because of that last statement and not in spite of it that I think that people getting hostile because OMG seconds of my life wasted is a bit over the top.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:25 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


> I said that considering delays that can be counted in seconds as some kind of major outrage (whether they're kid-related or not; I gave examples of such delays that are not) is an aggressive and entitled way to view the world.

No. In general, I like what you've been saying and appreciate the distinctions you've been drawing, but you're wrong about this. It's possible, of course, that someone outraged about what seems to you a minor delay is aggressive and entitled, but it's at least equally possible that they're already running late and their boss has been giving them shit about taking too much personal time and they're worried about losing their job. I understand that you're equally, maybe primarily, aiming your wrath at yourself ("Probably very few people outside of incarceration or long-term psychiatric care get pissed off over tiny things more times per day than I do"), but you need to save your wrath for yourself and not let it spill over onto others, because you're the only person for whom you can be absolutely sure in any given case that the being-upset-over-a-delay is unjustified.
posted by languagehat at 12:33 PM on January 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


I think that putting yourself in a position where a delay of a minute or less can ruin your day and then getting pissed off at the person in line in front of you because their business took seconds longer than you deem necessary is pretty much textbook entitlement.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:40 PM on January 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yup. Textbook entitlement. I'll remember that the next time I'm working my shitty, shitty job where people on the phone treat me like an idiot, and then when lunch time rolls around I find that someone's stolen my frozen meal out of the kitchen so I have to run down to Subway and get a sandwich as quick as I can, but then a dad ahead of me in line decides that's the best time ever to let his kiddo pay for their juice with dimes and nickels, counting out each one and glaring at me as I let out just the tiniest sigh because I'm trying to keep from crying.

Yup. I sure am entitled. Textbook, even.
posted by palomar at 12:48 PM on January 16, 2014 [10 favorites]


I'm definitely entitled.
posted by philip-random at 12:53 PM on January 16, 2014


The lesson here is not to put yourself in a position of needing to conserve time, at least not in public.
posted by rhizome at 12:53 PM on January 16, 2014


Actually, it seems more like the lesson is don't ever vent your frustration later, when you're far away from the source of the frustration, because someone's going to decide that you were "over the top" and "hostile" and exhibiting "textbook entitlement". What a crock.
posted by palomar at 12:57 PM on January 16, 2014 [12 favorites]


Needing to conform to the rules and regulations of one's job in a shitty economy where many fulltime workers are struggling to make ends meet is perhaps not an area in which should be categorized as "positions one has put themselves into".

There is nothing entitled about expecting a little mindfulness from fellow members of society.
posted by elizardbits at 1:00 PM on January 16, 2014 [18 favorites]


The lesson here is not to put yourself in a position of needing to conserve time, at least not in public.

People with half-hour lunch breaks may not take this comment in the light spirit with which I don't doubt you meant it.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:02 PM on January 16, 2014


Why are the arguments from that thread being recapitulated here?
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:02 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yes, sorry, that was absolutely sarcastic.
posted by rhizome at 1:03 PM on January 16, 2014


The problem to me with reenum's comment wasn't the validity or lack thereof of any of his specific complaints, it was that the examples he brought up (kid running amok at a grocery store, kid knocking into his table at a Starbucks, waiting behind a slow penny-counting kid at a sandwich shop) had fuck all to do with the topic of the post*. To me, it came off as the parenting topic equivalent of an "INVISIBLE SKY WIZARD" remark in a religion thread, in that his comment was not apropos to the particular topic at hand and felt more like, "Oooh, great, here is a chance to share with Metafilter my very loosely related, mostly off-topic list of general grievances about horrible parents and their bratty children". I thought it was a classic derail, so it was surprising to see it so heavily favorited.

*And I realize you could make the argument I am doing the same thing in this thread, so I guess this is a "Judge not, lest ye be judged" situation
posted by The Gooch at 1:17 PM on January 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


Why are the arguments from that thread being recapitulated here?

Because of this comment by DirtyOldTown.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:37 PM on January 16, 2014


ok but can we not?
posted by sweetkid at 1:39 PM on January 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


Yeah, this is a good MeTa, and it was weird seeing it turn on a dime from the discussion among Errant, IF, and so on, to the discussion among palomar, DOT, and so on. Could that latter group please move your debate back to the huge thread about kids in restaurants? It doesn't have much to do with ironic Xism, the subject of this thread.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:47 PM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I tried to stay on topic in that comment, but drifted a bit. I should have had enough sense to realize that maybe we don't need to take every tiny opportunity to get pissed off was inherently a bad line of debate for the bottom half of a MeTa. Apologies, sweetkid.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:06 PM on January 16, 2014


Either I set bait for an argument or took the bait. I'm not sure. But either way, my bad.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:28 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


At the very least, taking every opportunity to get pissed off about people taking every opportunity to get pissed off is...ironic....or something.
posted by neroli at 2:32 PM on January 16, 2014


I wasn't pissed. I was misguided about universal my complaint was though. Anyway... Enough outta me.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:40 PM on January 16, 2014


I was glad that we moved away from me and Errant arguing because I really like Errant and don't like arguing with him, but, yeah, this digression belongs in the original thread and not here.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:48 PM on January 16, 2014


Ha, same and same.
posted by Errant at 2:51 PM on January 16, 2014


This is another MeTa thread that has proven that no matter how much care you put into expressing yourself, and how sincerely you apologize, there will be someone who takes a microscope to each individual word to create a narrative in which your apology is actually a hidden attack.
posted by Bugbread at 3:47 PM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


i dunno - i think a lot of people took the (second) apology pretty much at face value and continued to discuss the original issues, which still included the original comment/1st apology. then after the second apology omiewise came back and qualified it a bunch, but still said some things people felt worthy of discussion, so they discussed it. this isn't about rejecting the sincerity of the apology. apologies don't erase all the other stuff, especially the stuff that comes after.
posted by nadawi at 3:54 PM on January 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm not saying that everyone is rejecting the sincerity of the apology, just that no matter how careful you are, there will be at least one person who takes any comment to be some form of crypto-attack. It's just human nature, I guess, but it's very frustrating.
posted by Bugbread at 4:29 PM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


definitely. it's human nature to want some identifiable other to be as bad-intentioned as possible. I guess it simplifies the world, allows evil to be "over there". I like to think I save this for sports events, my side being inherently good, the others BAD. Which makes trades weird. Suddenly player-you-hated is on your team and those insane-making things he was doing to your guys, he's now doing to the other side.

Go Canucks Go.
posted by philip-random at 4:38 PM on January 16, 2014


I'm starting to feel like the last couple comments have been about me, so if that's not the case, I'd like you to say so, and whether or not that's the case, I'd prefer it if you just mentioned whoever you're talking about by name instead of dancing around with "some people" and "there's always one" kind of stuff.
posted by Errant at 4:54 PM on January 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


Errant, apologies if you took my comment as a personal rip at you. I'm honestly not that on top of who's been saying what. But I do think there's substance to what Bugbread said about apologies and microscopes.
posted by philip-random at 5:16 PM on January 16, 2014


"I'm starting to feel like the last couple comments have been about me, so if that's not the case, I'd like you to say so, and whether or not that's the case, I'd prefer it if you just mentioned whoever you're talking about by name instead of dancing around with 'some people' and 'there's always one' kind of stuff."

This comes up a lot, but I'm convinced at this point that directing a criticism by name toward someone is almost always a worse thing to do than to refer to them indirectly and/or ambiguously.

I previously felt very strongly otherwise because I greatly dislike passive-aggressiveness. But I've come around to the view that while sometimes this is passive-aggressive, very often it's just being more discrete and less provocative. For example, if you had made the point you made in your comment critical of me without aiming it directly at me, and by name, I would have felt much less aggrieved by it.

It's just human nature. In a discussion like this, we're going to want to talk about things we think are bad or good participation, but singling out a specific person is so much more likely to cause fights.

So insofar as I think someone does this because they want plausible deniability and to get away with insulting me without seeming to, that really pisses me off. But insofar as I think someone does this because they want to make a valid point without unnecessarily singling me out as an example and getting all in my face, because they don't specifically want to provoke me and, also, they know that confrontation makes everyone else uneasy, then I think, oh, that's actually wise and considerate of them. I've come to believe that the latter is true much more often than the former.

And partly because, as you can see from philip-random, people are much less aware of exactly who said what than we might think and they often don't have a clue that they're talking about me or you, anyway.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:03 PM on January 16, 2014


This is another MeTa thread that has proven that no matter how much care you put into expressing yourself, and how sincerely you lay bare your soul in engaging with a problematic comment, there will be someone who will totally ignore your words to create a narrative in which your feelings are sports-like tribalism.
posted by kagredon at 6:03 PM on January 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


I've been really busy today and didn't get the chance I wanted to comment, but I didn't like OmieWise's extended second comment in this thread much either. I thought the first one was great and seemed thoughtful.

But coming back to explain again that his comment was satire was really insulting. Also to try to redraw the lines of in group v out group behavior in this instance to exclude himself. Errant and I were both sharing our experiences with the specific racism that Indian American people often share (which is very distinct from racism toward 'nonwhites," the popular framing of which I don't often identify with).

In my opinion, OmieWise saying all this:

In the jokes quoted by you, and by sweetkid, the in-group is those who in some sense agree with the mocked trait, while the out-group is those to whom the trait (supposed or invented) is attributed. In what I wrote, the in-group is the people who find the views I parroted odious, and the out-group is those whose views are (unconsciously) consonant with what I wrote.


is just another way of saying "I don't believe those things, OTHER people believe those things and I was just talking in their voice." Which is what this whole thread is about - it doesn't matter, the effect is the same even if the intention is different.

I'm really serious about this. Most people in the thread understand this but some seem to think it's a gotcha game, or the effect is not really the same, or we're just trying to take a microscope to OmieWise. But the first apology left me thinking OmieWise was doing some thinking, and the second one again attempted to explain satire and to take my and Errant's examples as an invitation to say we're misunderstanding and to explain there's a difference between him and the people who honestly say exactly the thing he ironically said.

The thing about this, that Errant said:

You are telling me that not only is this one of the first things you think of when you think of people like me, you're confident it's also one of the first things I think of when I think of me. Your ironic racism doesn't deconstruct tropes, it reifies and re-instantiates them.

really hit me because I don't think people realize how pervasive that is. I run up against a handy set of stereotypes all the time, and they're reinforced by media. I've mentioned this before, but you almost never see a character on a Law and Order/crime of the week type show who is Indian American without their ethnicity being important to the story - honor killing, cabbie/7-eleven related, whatever. They're never just "a guy." In real life, I'm never just a woman living life when people are asking about my ethnicity. It's always central to what they think about me, and again, people pepper in a bunch of lazy assumptions, no matter what "in group" they think they're in.

It's funny, I was thinking about this over the holidays, because my friend's little sister, who is also Indian American, came over to our house and we had a little chat about how she likes the city she lives in, life after college, what have you. She mentioned that people at her office asked if they could shorten her Indian name ( like, say, "can we call you Jane?") because they couldn't remember how to pronounce it. She said, "no, sorry, you can't." We then talked about identity and how important it is, and then segued back to talking about how she's planning to buy new jeans.

It's just like, when I have talked to some white friends or coworkers, or people who are just not of the same ethnic background about , they say things like, "wow, you're so PASSIONATE about this," or "this is really important to you," even if they're being generally positive.

But this thing is so pervasive, so constant, that when I talked to my friend's little sister it was a casual blip in the conversation. I don't spend much time with other Indian Americans so I was a little unfamiliar with how it can be like that. Errant's comments in this thread definitely reminded me.
posted by sweetkid at 6:15 PM on January 16, 2014 [14 favorites]


This comes up a lot, but I'm convinced at this point that directing a criticism by name toward someone is almost always a worse thing to do than to refer to them indirectly and/or ambiguously.

I previously felt very strongly otherwise because I greatly dislike passive-aggressiveness. But I've come around to the view that while sometimes this is passive-aggressive, very often it's just being more discrete and less provocative. For example, if you had made the point you made in your comment critical of me without aiming it directly at me, and by name, I would have felt much less aggrieved by it.


Huh. That's interesting. Conversely, if I had thrown that out there without addressing you directly, I think (although don't know, because counterfactual) that I was being unnecessarily shady. My criticism being as strong as it was, it would have felt weird to say something that intense into the ether, as it were, like some kind of unfocused aggression. Addressing it to you directly at least hastened the direct engagement process, so that we could talk some part of it out, or that's how it seemed to me anyway. Having just reread the Ask vs Guess culture thing, I wonder if this is some variant of it.

Anyway, for my part, I would generally prefer that people who have criticisms of things that I've said address me with them, because I'd prefer to talk about it. I know from experience that I'm capable of disengaging from a fight without needing the last word, so I'm less worried about that possible outcome. For my part, I will also try to keep in mind that other people may have a different view and reaction and adjust accordingly.

I run up against a handy set of stereotypes all the time, and they're reinforced by media.

So, so this. I've lost count of the number of times some person, upon meeting me, will say, "So, you're probably in IT, right?" with that fucking know-it-all grin. And I'll say to them, "That's kind of fucked up, dude, that you'd just assume that." And they'll say some version of, "Ok, [sorry], then what is your job?" And I'll sigh and say, "I'm a software tester." And then I'll have to try very hard not to wipe the re-emerging smirk off their face with my pint glass.

And it's like, liberal arts education in New Orleans, gone. Punk rock and hardcore adolescence, vanished. Failed relationships, successful friendships, family alcoholism, concerts, poetry readings, deaths, births: poof. I'm the Indian who works in IT. Box closed, job done. Just one more question for the witness, your honor: "So where's a good place to get Indian food around here, anyway?" Holy shit, fuck you so much.

People ask to shorten my name too, or find it incomprehensible to pronounce. It's in my profile, I invite you to take a look; that's a stronger argument for American laziness than anything else I can think of. So yes to everything you said, sweetkid. It's everywhere, all the time, and these days pointing it out just gets me bored eyerolls or into fights. The point of even talking to people at all escapes me some days.
posted by Errant at 6:40 PM on January 16, 2014 [13 favorites]


People find 'Alok' hard to pronounce?

Thank the fucking nonexistent god that I grew up in a (relatively) integrated multicultural city. I had kids in my class in like grade 3 named Srinavasnan.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:04 PM on January 16, 2014


Shorten it?!!? Oh. To "Al"? Because Alok is so long and difficult. Christ.
posted by rtha at 7:11 PM on January 16, 2014


Yeah, see this comment I made a few months ago about my last name, which comes from Sanskrit, and a bunch of pushback about my wanting people to at least try to pronounce it correctly, rather than dismiss it as "whatever" or "random letters."

I didn't even say what my last name IS (MeFites have found me on twitter, I don't mind if people know, MeMail me if curious) but just a comment about it being from Sanskrit made people reflexively clam up and be all, you can't EXPECT people to just PRONOUNCE that, like a "pop quiz"...

No, I don't expect them to PRONOUNCE it properly at first try, but I expect them to try.

Oh and then the fact that I tied it to a reflexive racism or othering...I mean how dare I, people have the last name "Chan" after all.
posted by sweetkid at 7:17 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


My first name is English so people don't have trouble with it. It actually translates well to speakers of most languages.

Thanks Mom N Dad! (They saw it on Charlie's Angels and liked it. I share a name with an original Angel).
posted by sweetkid at 7:19 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Shorten it?!!? Oh. To "Al"? Because Alok is so long and difficult. Christ.

And then I say, "Only if I can call you Betty!" Ha. Ha. Ha. Fuck.

People find 'Alok' hard to pronounce?

You would not believe it. (For the record, because I do understand that it's not necessarily immediately obvious: short 'a', long 'o', like 'a locomotive' without the motivation.) There are about 3 versions that I just accept, because it's just not going to get any better than that. For a while, when I was younger and angrier(!), instead of the 'locomotive' thing, I would tell people "It's like 'cactus'. Well, not really." just to watch their eyes glaze over. That was fun.

But, as shitty and frustrating as those woeful attempts at pronunciation are, at least they're sort of vaguely trying in a half-assed, partial-credit kind of way. I had a teacher who refused to call me "Alok" and would only call me and allow others in my class to call me "Alex", because, and I quote, "You're in America now, so you need an American name."

That was my 1st-grade teacher, in Massachusetts. I was 5. I was born in Manhattan. When sweetkid says that it is pervasive and constant, my only worry is that she's somewhat underselling it.
posted by Errant at 7:25 PM on January 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


"You're in America now, so you need an American name."


My brother's soccer coach tried that (unlike me my brother has a traditionally Indian first name) and he came home furious. He was about 7. He said no.

We learn to stand up for identity or not early and we never get a break.
posted by sweetkid at 7:34 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I got congratulated for speaking such good English, coming as I did from that foreign nation....of Hawaii.

Sigh.
posted by rtha at 7:43 PM on January 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


My mom and dad belong to this semi-large circle of Chinese immigrant parents who came to Canada in the range of 20~30 years ago. All of them had to endure so much racism about their Chinese names and then racism in general that when it came to naming their kids, they all chose the most basic, basic and old-fashioned English names for their children in desperate bids to shelter us from racist attention, because they were taught the only way to assimilate into Western culture was to bow down their heads and not make waves. There's about twenty of us kids now, and all of us, without a single exception, are named things like "Dora" or "Tom" or "Tina".

Compare to that to white trend of worrying over how to name their kids so that they'll stand out and be unique.

It's even more ironic because names in Chinese are supposed to reflect what you hope and aspire for the child. So what does my name, following Chinese tradition? It means that my parents, having suffered and internalized so much racism, passed that legacy onto me by hoping that I could be as hidden as possible from racism.
posted by Conspire at 7:45 PM on January 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


This whole discussion reminds me of this, which showed up on my twitter feed today.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:46 PM on January 16, 2014 [7 favorites]




My mom and dad belong to this semi-large circle of Chinese immigrant parents who came to Canada in the range of 20~30 years ago.


Your comment is interesting, Conspire, in the differences between Chinese and Indian immigrant culture (broad strokes here of course). In my parents' circle of Indian immigrants who came 20-30 years ago, most of the kids have traditionally Indian names, most of which were tough growing up for non Indian people to pronounce.

My name is English partially because they liked it and partially because I come from a few generations back line of women with English names on my Mom's side, because that side of the family has relatively recent English and French cultural background and it's a nod to those people.

Culture, such a complex thing.
posted by sweetkid at 7:51 PM on January 16, 2014


We learn to stand up for identity or not early and we never get a break

Okay so, I am not a person of colour. I am as white as white can possibly be. And I have a name that has two variations from my full name. I vividly remember telling someone, when I was four, that the variation they used was not my name.

I ask seriously: was that privilege as a white middle class cismale? Or was that a human being asserting their preferred nomenclature?

because they were taught the only way to assimilate into Western culture was to bow down their heads and not make waves.

Which is why I ended up in junior high with first-generation immigrant Asian friends with names like, dead serious and actually true, Hubert and Franklin.

Funny thing: I am a first gen immigrant too. But I have the privilege of parents who immigrated from the UK, so my assimilation was nonexistent. It is profoundly humbling to realize how lucky I was by birth. Which, I suppose, is the definition of privilege.

This may be hard to believe. I understand it's hard to believe. But I want to give up that privilege. I just can't think how.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:51 PM on January 16, 2014


In my parents' circle of Indian immigrants who came 20-30 years ago, most of the kids have traditionally Indian names, most of which were tough growing up for non Indian people to pronounce.

Only for grownups. If I reach back into the dim and distant past, my kindergarten to grade 1 classes had kids with names from all over the globe. And you know what? We were kids. Your name is Theo? Okay, that's your name. Your name is Emily? Okay, that's your name. Your name is Srinavasnan? Okay, that's your name.

Kids don't give a fuck about that shit. Adults do. And sometimes that infects the kids.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:56 PM on January 16, 2014


Well in my experience, fellow kids could not pronounce "Priya," "Bharati," "Milind."
posted by sweetkid at 7:57 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Your name is Theo? Okay, that's your name. Your name is Emily? Okay, that's your name. Your name is Srinavasnan? Okay, that's your name.


I mean this was 100% not my experience, and I am not that old. I don't think kids are like that, we just want to think so. Even in so called multicultural places.
posted by sweetkid at 8:00 PM on January 16, 2014


I dunno. I always find it a little weird when white people especially talk about kindergarten and primary school being an "innocent" time when kids didn't know about race and were all diverse and inclusive and everything. It's not like colorblindness is a good thing. And it doesn't really match up to my experience either - and I'm significantly younger than most of the other PoC here.

I mean, maybe even if you weren't personally racist to people in elementary school, I doubt you were really in a place to notice all the other kids who were?
posted by Conspire at 8:03 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm Canadian in a big city, Maybe we were different then.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:03 PM on January 16, 2014


I'm a Canadian in Vancouver. Things weren't different for me.
posted by Conspire at 8:04 PM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah, while we could sing You've Got To Be Carefully Taught all the day long, the elementary schoolers in my white-as-picket-fences New England hometown definitely "tripped over" the names of the one Lebanese girl, the two Vietnamese girls, the Indian boy, and so on, far longer than could be justified by phonetic novelty.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:05 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I ask seriously: was that privilege as a white middle class cismale? Or was that a human being asserting their preferred nomenclature?
Yeah, I think there's a difference between someone calling you by the wrong name because they guessed wrong about which nickname you use, on the one hand, and someone calling you by the wrong name because they consider your name weird and alien and don't think they're required to make the effort to get it right, on the other. And I think it's probably easier to say "I prefer to be called Theo rather than Teddy" than to say "no, you may not call me Minnie, you're just going to have to learn how to say Mrinalini, even if you think it's weird and alien and you shouldn't have to make the effort," because the stakes are really different.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:05 PM on January 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


"This whole discussion reminds me of this, which showed up on my twitter feed today."

That was wonderful. Thanks for linking it.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:10 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


the elementary schoolers in my white-as-picket-fences New England hometown definitely "tripped over" the names of the one Lebanese girl,

I had an Irish American best friend all through childhood (we're still close) and an Indian American family friend named Bharati (we also are in touch).

My best friend COULD NOT say "Bharati." She just could not. When we played together, when we were all very small (about 5). my friend called her "Birdie."

Now, my friend is all grown up and has been working in human rights and social justice causes for years and years. She speaks excellent Spanish and has lived in South America. She's extremely racially aware.

I don't think she was being racist at all that she had to say "Birdie." But she was also a really little kid and once she had some awareness she could say the name correctly. She didn't have the awareness before she met us, though, because she didn't need it. That's privilege.

She realizes that very acutely, and that's what white/straight/cis etc people in privilege positions need to do.
posted by sweetkid at 8:13 PM on January 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


Fair enough, I grew up in a pretty hippie neighbourhood. (Riverdale, for any Torontonians watching)

I mean this was 100% not my experience, and I am not that old. I don't think kids are like that,

It really sucks (and that, I fully understand, is the biggest understatement ever) that was not your experience, but that was in actual fact my experience. Kids' names were their names. There was, as I recall, nothing more to it. One dude was named Alex, one girl was Georgina, another kid was Theodopolous. For us, and I am not extrapolating that experience to others, there was just no difference. Our arguments centred over who got the sandbox today, and ethnicity had zero to do with it.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:16 PM on January 16, 2014


My mom and dad belong to this semi-large circle of Chinese immigrant parents who came to Canada in the range of 20~30 years ago. All of them had to endure so much racism about their Chinese names and then racism in general that when it came to naming their kids, they all chose the most basic, basic and old-fashioned English names for their children in desperate bids to shelter us from racist attention, because they were taught the only way to assimilate into Western culture was to bow down their heads and not make waves.

Yeah, that's why all the now-Jewish names of kids born in the 50s or so tended towards the very-not-Jewish/British names (they now of course are considered Jewish names, think Irving). I think that it's pretty common for second generations of immigrants to have that experience.
posted by jeather at 8:17 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


ethnicity had zero to do with it.

I sincerely appreciate this effort, but consider that people you grew up with who were not "white as white can possibly be" probably have a different memory of this.

I really don't believe ethnicity ever has zero to do with anything. Your situation may have been more multicultural than most, but cultural assumptions always apply.

I mean I made them as a kid! I remember doing it. Kids are just not that innocent. See the Toast article ArbitraryandCapricious posted. It is really outstanding and has lots of examples of "this name is funny/foreign" coming from all angles.
posted by sweetkid at 8:22 PM on January 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


"She didn't have the awareness before she met us, though, because she didn't need it. That's privilege."

I'm inclined to think that the privilege was something else.

What I'm thinking is that young children must encounter names that are unfamiliar and difficult (for them) to pronounce and yet some of them they will end up pronouncing correctly and some of them they won't. The privilege is that other people are somehow giving them messages that some names (i.e., "foreign") aren't expected to be pronounced correctly while others are.

I'm not sure where kids get these messages, but considering that there are countless examples of adults who think that sufficiently "foreign" names don't need to be pronounced correctly and can be either mangled or casually anglicized, it seems certain that even in the social milieu that five-year-olds live within, they probably will pick up on what the social expectations are.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:23 PM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Well, she had never encountered an Indian name before. Her parents were from Irish American enclaves in New York and we grew up in Virginia. I don't think her parents were like "that name is weird," they just didn't know.

But she was five and her parents were and are pretty down with learning new things.

I'm inclined to think that the privilege was something else.

I don't know what this means. The privilege was what then? She had an easy to pronounce for white Americans name (not even very Irish) and had gone through her extremely short thus far life not knowing people had names that were "hard" to say. My friend "Bharati" had known this since she first encountered any non Indian people (and this was the 80s, in a white area, so this happened before she was three probably.
posted by sweetkid at 8:28 PM on January 16, 2014


Okay so, I am not a person of colour. I am as white as white can possibly be. And I have a name that has two variations from my full name. I vividly remember telling someone, when I was four, that the variation they used was not my name.
This is also my experience, except that it continues. When people first contract my name, I'll casually mention that I prefer to be called by my full (ie actual) name. I don't make a big deal about it, but it annoys me a little bit every time they do it. I think it's the same people that refuse to be able to pronounce 'unusual' names and refuse to be able to understand anyone with a strong accent.
posted by dg at 8:43 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


What I mean is that I believe that Theodopolous was pronounced correctly, pretty quickly, even though it's a difficult name to pronounce. Any five-year-old is going to stumble over that name at first. But the teacher and everyone else is going to pronounce it correctly and it will be obvious to that child that they're expected to pronounce it correctly. Bharati in your environment apparently didn't carry a similar social expectation and your friend got away with mispronouncing it.

All sorts of names in the US are difficult to pronounce and are going to be unfamiliar to a young child. But children usually learn to pronounce them correctly, because those are the names and they're expected to. But just from the examples of many adults, it's clear that many sufficiently "foreign" names are considered by those adults to be exempt from that social expectation. What we've been talking about is that those double-standards are out there. I think that kids will pick up on that, and that will be the difference between them learning to pronounce it correctly, or not. It's not necessarily going to be their parents, it will be the sum total of how other people (adults and children) react to that name and what the general social pressure is among the other kids to pronounce it correctly.

The privilege is that some kids, but not others, have difficult to pronounce names that everyone is expected to pronounce correctly, even other little kids.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:44 PM on January 16, 2014


I definitely think that is true. People had no problem with kids named "Siobhan" and "Thais" in my high school.

That doesn't invalidate my story though, that my friend had privilege she wasn't even aware of at the age of five because her name is "easy" by Western standards. My first name is, too, so I had similar privilege even though I could pronounce Bharati.
posted by sweetkid at 8:52 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also, yes I'm aware Bharati did not have the social expectation of other names where I grew up. I live in NYC and doubt a lot of the people I know could say it correctly.

I'm aware Indian names are weird and our cultural stuff is weird.
posted by sweetkid at 8:55 PM on January 16, 2014


Bharati, also comes from Bharat, the ancient Sanskrit name for India. "India" came from a slow corruption of "Sindhu" across various foreign cultures, so. Basically an ancient version of not wanting to pronounce something correctly.
posted by sweetkid at 9:00 PM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


An example from my experience is that I had a Venezuelan friend at university named Claudio and no one in our group of friends except me pronounced it as he pronounced it. And that was because I picked up on his irritation and we talked about it.

But the point is that even after I began pronouncing his name correctly, no one else did. Even after I mentioned to them that he didn't like the anglicized version, no one did. And I got the distinct impression that they were uncomfortable that I did.

If he hadn't been foreign, and had been an anglophone who just happened to pronounce his name that way, everyone would have accepted his pronunciation and followed it. But, instead, there was this presumption that merely by virtue of his (and its) apparent foreignness, that social convention didn't apply, especially since there was a anglicized pronunciation.

And that's fucked-up. Whatever the difference was between the Claudio I knew, and my hypothetical "American" Claudio, is where the privilege is found.

"I'm aware Indian names are weird and our cultural stuff is weird."

I don't think so and I certainly didn't intend to imply that I thought so. It's plain bigotry that Siobhan is pronounced correctly while Bharati is not.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:03 PM on January 16, 2014


One is my name, the other is not
posted by asok at 7:23 AM on January 17, 2014


sweetkid, I just read through the thread you linked a few comments ago, which is good because I find unadulterated rage to be a wonderful morning stimulant. What a pile of bullshit. I'm sorry that happened, although I wish I could say I was surprised.
posted by Errant at 7:29 AM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


There's a lot to unpack around the pronunciation of names. It is similar to the pronunciation of foods and other vocal indicators in the way it helps reinforce which social group you identify with. Also some people genuinely have trouble pronouncing some words because they have not learned the phonemes at the critical stage.
Babies learn phonemes by using their computational skills, as Meltzoff points out. They are able to put together hundreds and thousands of "mouth sound" experiences and to extract from them reliable information about their native language's phonemes--- doing this without intention or awareness, of course. As they get a little older, they will use the same computational skills when they mentally divide a stream of speech into the separate words that make it up, a task that they can do even when there are no pauses between the spoken words.
posted by asok at 7:34 AM on January 17, 2014



I don't think so and I certainly didn't intend to imply that I thought so. It's plain bigotry that Siobhan is pronounced correctly while Bharati is not


I didn't think you thought so - but I feel like you were trying to explain to me that Indian names are just default more weird to white Americans than other (Polish/Irish/etc) ones and therefore even if both are more technically difficult it's more culturally acceptable to feel like you need to absorb and learn Siobhan. But I know that, I don't need it explained to me.

And it's also separate from my point about privilege, which is about not even needing to know something - if you're a five year old blond white girl with a simple to pronounce name and you live in a place where there are many blond white girls with also simple to pronounce (for generations-back White Americans of course), then cultural identity around naming, race, and culture is something you confront at some point from the outside, and you get to decide if you want in, "I'm not going to say Birdie, I'm going to learn how to say "Bharati" or out "I CAN'T say Bharati, I am an American, I'm saying Birdie."

Whereas if that's your name and you're not a blond girl, you have to stand up for yourself and your right to not be Birdie basically since you can talk.
posted by sweetkid at 7:37 AM on January 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


"Whereas if that's your name and you're not a blond girl, you have to stand up for yourself and your right to not be Birdie basically since you can talk."

Yeah, but I think that it's not just that, because little blonde girls are named strange and difficult-to-pronounce things that other little five-years-olds will mispronounce and the little blonde girl will have to stand up for herself, too. I see the privilege that you're talking about, but I think the other privilege is that the little blonde girl with a difficult name has majority cultural support in standing up for herself in her pronunciation of her name, whereas the other little girl does not because of the arbitrary cultural delineating of what's culturally alien or not.

And so the privilege you're talking about is the blonde girl with an easy name or a difficult name, either one, who just assumes that people pronounce other people's names correctly and has never examined the fact that this isn't true — there are classes of people with names that others aren't expected to pronounce correctly.

"Also some people genuinely have trouble pronouncing some words because they have not learned the phonemes at the critical stage."

This is entirely true, but it should be pointed out that this isn't restricted to cross-language examples. It's true within dialects of the same language. Some anglophones have Canadian raising. Many anglophones don't. Those who don't will have trouble with certain diphthongs, substituting the nearest available phoneme for the one they can't quite hear correctly. So those of us without Canadian raising notoriously think that those who do are saying "a boat" for "about", when actually that's not their pronunciation.

At the moment, I can't think of any examples of names with the Canadian raising phoneme in them, but of course there must be many. Those of us without it are unlikely to get those names right, at least without practice (I was married to an Ontarian, so I can hear and say it, but it took me a while).

This sort of thing marks limits of how much people can reasonably expect others to pronounce correctly. And I think that's fine because the things we're talking about typically don't even approach that — people refuse the correct pronunciation even when there are no foreign phonemes and in forms that are close with the exception of the phoneme. They don't even make that much effort. I suspect most people with phonemes that are absent in someone else's native language don't really expect those people to get it exactly right. They'd just be happy if they made the attempt to get it close.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:05 AM on January 17, 2014


Errant: " Just one more question for the witness, your honor: "So where's a good place to get Indian food around here, anyway?" Holy shit, fuck you so much. "

I get that the question can have racist overtones and assumptions, but in my experience it's also an extremely common, widespread phenomenon. I live in an extremely diverse city (NYC) and pretty much everyone I know does it, regardless of the ethnicity of the asker. A few Asian friends and acquaintances have actually gone out of their way to call me or my wife and ask where the best Jewish delis / kosher restaurants are.

New York literally has dozens of densely populated ethnic communities, and we're a city with a very high immigrant population, so we're quite possibly unique in that regard.

But if you asked me the question I wouldn't assume you were being racist or antisemitic unless it was in a different context, attached to other, more disturbing questions.

I'd just assume you were hungry for a knish. :)
posted by zarq at 8:11 AM on January 17, 2014


I didn't say it was "just that" and I largely agree with you. I feel like you're trying to point out to me that you have this whole other level of privilege in your mind that applies to the situation I described but I'm talking about in this particular instance, with this particular person, this small child had never encountered anyone in her life who had difficulty fitting in for name and race related reasons, and she adjusted to it, not because she was a little kid and kids are innocent, but because she was interested in other people's cultures and that's something that continued throughout her life. And that's a choice that she made, to learn about others' identities and what's important about them, that she didn't have to make, and that's what privilege is.

the little blonde girl with a difficult name has majority cultural support in standing up for herself in her pronunciation of her name, whereas the other little girl does not because of the arbitrary cultural delineating of what's culturally alien or not.


I mean yes, I know. Indian things are "culturally alien," Celtic names are 'cultural heritage' for a lot of people so they learn how to say Siobhan and Niamh. I've known this all my life. Very well acquainted.

My story was still not about that.
posted by sweetkid at 8:13 AM on January 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I get that the question can have racist overtones and assumptions, but in my experience it's also an extremely common, widespread phenomenon. I live in an extremely diverse city (NYC) and pretty much everyone I know does it, regardless of the ethnicity of the asker. A few Asian friends and acquaintances have actually gone out of their way to call me or my wife and ask where the best Jewish delis / kosher restaurants are.
Hmm. I think that this works differently for white ethnic people, at least in New York, because they're not as likely to be seen to be defined by their ethnicity. So friends may ask you for the name of a Jewish deli if they're looking for a Jewish deli, but people are less likely to meet you, immediately slot you into the category "Jewish person", and immediately ask you for a deli recommendation because they think one of the characteristics of a Jewish person is that he will know where to get a good knish. They will see "zarq who happens to be Jewish," rather than "a Jewish person who is named zarq." And even in New York, Indian-American people don't necessarily have the same luxury.

(I live in the non-big-city Midwest these days, and I sometimes feel like Jewishness is a little more defining here than I'm totally comfortable with. But that's another discussion.)
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:43 AM on January 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


I only learned how to say Siobhan a couple months ago, because there's a MeFi member by that name. I'm still dicey on it.

I can count on one hand the number of times my last name has been pronounced correctly by people on the first try, and it's not that hard, just German.

I grew up in the Midwest, and I can tell you that Polish (especially) and other Slavic names, as well as other "foreign" (most of these folks are at least second-generation immigrants, often older) are routinely butchered. (Two doors down from us, we had Zbigniew Robakiewicz, and his kids Kamil and Agnushka went to school with us. They gave up pretty quickly on any hope of having their names pronounced correctly.)

This isn't to say that mispronunciations aren't often tied up with racism or bigotry, but I do kind of feel that having your name be unfamiliar and mispronounced is part of the American experience for everyone who's not a WASP. New York might be cosmopolitan enough to get around some of that, but everywhere else, the mispronunciation and unfamiliarity isn't itself bigotry or prejudice.
posted by klangklangston at 8:48 AM on January 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


New York might be cosmopolitan enough to get around some of that, but everywhere else, the mispronunciation and unfamiliarity isn't itself bigotry or prejudice.

Not to pick on anyone specifically, but no New York is not a mecca of tolerance and acceptance, despite its diversity. I have friends who are culturally aware, of course, but lots of random acquaintances, coworkers, etc, have said stunningly insensitive things and dismiss trying to pronounce names of many ethnicities.
posted by sweetkid at 8:54 AM on January 17, 2014


"And that's a choice that she made, to learn about others' identities and what's important about them, that she didn't have to make, and that's what privilege is."

Yeah, I see that. I didn't understand that you were talking about that at first, but I figured it out from your later comment. I just got caught up in really thinking about the strangeness, and how objectionable it truly is, that X difficult name little kids are expected to pronounce correctly while Y difficult name, they're not and how that one, simple thing so clearly delineates what our culture accepts as itself, or sees as alien.

And you're right! I'm caught up in thinking about this because I'm privileged, I've not lived with the reality of it from early childhood. Even though I chose long ago, because it just seemed natural and right, probably very much like your friend, to pronounce people's names as they want them pronounced, my privilege is revealed in that I never really had to think about this very much and that I had, as you say, a choice about it.

This is so very close to what we've been discussing in that other thread and what I was trying to get at in my comment about language and power. Cisnormative culture see trans* as essentially other and unilaterally decided on terminology, which trans* folk were expected to accept. When you've been labeled by people unlike yourself and you're expected to accept that label, that's a profound act of oppressive power via language. But for cisgendered people, and cisnormative society, this doesn't feel like any sort of coercive act in any way ... it's just normal, right? And then when trans* folk come along and say, wait one goddamn minute, no, we get to decide what labels we use and are applied to us, and cisgendered people are all, whoa, why are you trying to impose your language on me? Because they were unaware of the invisible privilege they exist within that hides the coercion of others under the veil of convention.

This is exactly what's happening with people's names.

"This isn't to say that mispronunciations aren't often tied up with racism or bigotry, but I do kind of feel that having your name be unfamiliar and mispronounced is part of the American experience for everyone who's not a WASP."

Yes, but you're just proving the point. Siobhan isn't a good example, there are lots of names which really are weirdly spelled and not anglophone that are common in the US that are almost always pronounced correctly — that's because they're seen to be inside the circle. In some parts of the US, some names will be inside that circle and in other parts those names will not. Growing up in New Mexico and then living for a while in Texas, demonstrated this very clearly to me. In New Mexico, hispanic names are generally minimally anglicized, the pronunciation is pretty close. In the parts of Texas I lived in, this was much less true and many hispanic names were much more aggressively anglicized.

And I really think that this kind of thing very powerfully draws lines dividing "us" from "them". If people don't think they need to make an effort to pronounce a non-WASP name correctly, the question that should be asked is "why?"
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:57 AM on January 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


ArbitraryAndCapricious: " Hmm. I think that this works differently for white ethnic people, at least in New York, because they're not as likely to be seen to be defined by their ethnicity. So friends may ask you for the name of a Jewish deli if they're looking for a Jewish deli, but people are less likely to meet you, immediately slot you into the category "Jewish person", and immediately ask you for a deli recommendation because they think one of the characteristics of a Jewish person is that he will know where to get a good knish. They will see "zarq who happens to be Jewish," rather than "a Jewish person who is named zarq." And even in New York, Indian-American people don't necessarily have the same luxury. "

True. That makes a lot of sense. I'm a minority, but (especially in NYC) not visibly so. People who see me probably just think "white guy." It was different when I lived in an area of the country where with curly dark hair I stood out because the majority of people were WASPs.

(I live in the non-big-city Midwest these days, and I sometimes feel like Jewishness is a little more defining here than I'm totally comfortable with. But that's another discussion.)"

I lived in a small town in the the Southwest and know exactly that you mean. Hell, when I visit family outside of New York some things have happened that were a little weird.
posted by zarq at 8:59 AM on January 17, 2014


I think "Siobhan" is a fine example, especially of what you were talking about separate from my point, IF. In the thread I linked to upthread about people trying to tell me I shouldn't expect people to try to pronounce my last name because it's not from the same "cultural background" as most people I meet, one person said that people don't have the skill or time to attempt a "polysyllabic, seemingly arbitrary collection of words" or somesuch (keep in mind they don't even know what my last name is to see if even they could try it).

The correct pronunciation of "Siobhan" theoretically would match this description. To a person trained in English speaking and pronunciation, they would never get close to the correct pronunciation unless they were told. Sounding it out would get you nowhere. Same with "Niamh."

It's just that the cultural context of those names, at least in my experience on the Eastern seaboard, is "oh cool! my grandpa's grandpa came from Ireland, so that's like my heritage!" instead of "I'm not even gonna TRY this, and you shouldn't expect people would. Can I call you Abernathy?" (trufax, people suggested changing our last name to something like Abernathy). Or would call up and ask to speak to "Mrs. Abernathy." Well, one, that's "Dr. Abernathy," and two "No, because there is no Dr. Abernathy at this address."
posted by sweetkid at 9:12 AM on January 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


What I mean is that I believe that Theodopolous was pronounced correctly, pretty quickly, even though it's a difficult name to pronounce. Any five-year-old is going to stumble over that name at first. But the teacher and everyone else is going to pronounce it correctly and it will be obvious to that child that they're expected to pronounce it correctly.

Ahahahaha, no.

Through the military, I learned that it doesn't matter what ethnicity you happen to be, if your name is non-Anglo and three syllables or more, people want to shorten it. Every Polish guy in all of my units tended to have their names shortened to "Ski", regardless of the actual name. Greek names got shortened to the first syllable.

Which is to say, people don't always expect people to pronounce things correctly and often shorten last names - which is what happened at Ellis Island. So I don't think it's unique to any one ethnicity, but does apply to everyone not of pure British descent.
posted by corb at 9:20 AM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


On the subject of names... I'm an obsessive baseball fan and it's been interesting in my life to hear the evolution in the treatment of non-Anglo names by announcers and commentators. Fifteen or so years ago, ESPN didn't even use the tilde or accents when displaying names. Worse yet, play-by-play guys would often use the most clumsily Anglicized versions of names. I remember an Atlanta player from Cuba named Jorge Fabregas. The TBS announcers would call him "George Fabbergass." These days, Hispanic players fare better, with even the most dyed-in-the-wool good old' boys trying earnestly to say "Yasiel Puig." We're not all the way there though. You can still hear the eye rolls and stifled groans when they have to stumble through names like "Koji Uehara." But it's been interesting to see this all unfold.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:26 AM on January 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


So I don't think it's unique to any one ethnicity

I don't think anyone's saying it is - I'm speaking to my own experience though, because that's my frame of reference.

And IF's point is right - some names, like Irish ones that come from Gaelic, don't have the same "burden" for people (to follow the reference in the Toast article linked upthread) as ones that are really "other" in some minds.

Really, that Toast article could be its own FPP. It's so good.
posted by sweetkid at 9:39 AM on January 17, 2014


"Really, that Toast article could be its own FPP. It's so good."

Yep. I expected that it already had been, or would be.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:43 AM on January 17, 2014


Which is to say, people don't always expect people to pronounce things correctly and often shorten last names - which is what happened at Ellis Island.

There was a good FPP recently which included a link to this interesting article about this common perception that names were changed at Ellis Island during migration (I was told that my surname was too; not shortened, but slightly Anglicized. Now I wonder).
posted by MoonOrb at 9:46 AM on January 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


This isn't to say that mispronunciations aren't often tied up with racism or bigotry, but I do kind of feel that having your name be unfamiliar and mispronounced is part of the American experience for everyone who's not a WASP. New York might be cosmopolitan enough to get around some of that, but everywhere else, the mispronunciation and unfamiliarity isn't itself bigotry or prejudice.

I think the point of isn't the mispronunciation, it's the continued mispronunciation and refusal to try to say it correctly. I mean, I've got a Polish last name, and growing up in Colorado Springs, if you looked it up in the phone book you'd find my parents and adult brothers. It often got and still gets mangled, but almost everyone worked to correct it. After the first couple times, they've got it right.

I've never been told that I shouldn't expect people to learn to say it right. I mean mistakes happen, but trying to say other people's names right is just basic courtesy. Deciding that YOU get to decide what to call someone is just a way to show you're higher on the social ladder. Which is why it's so incredibly crappy that it's so ingrained in our culture that some people don't deserve to have their names said right. EVERYONE deserves that.
posted by Gygesringtone at 9:52 AM on January 17, 2014 [8 favorites]


Well said.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:55 AM on January 17, 2014


Plus the idea that for white people like me, whose families have been in the United States for generations, when someone mispronounces my last name--and it's misprononouced more often than not--I feel completely appropriate and empowered to say "No, it's this way," because my expectation is that they should pronounce it correctly, and that never in a million years would they take some kind of attitude like "Meh, unfamiliar name, too hard." Which is to say that it's never a big deal to ask, because I never have to worry about getting push back on it.

I'm a little less sure about how I feel about my first name, which is a completely common Scottish-English type name, but not one that was widely popular in the United States when I was born in the 1970s. I went an entire year in second grade where my teacher (and many of my classmates, following her lead) mispronounced my 3 letter first name. I just gave up correcting them, and it felt really shitty. Even though I was an upper middle class white kid in an upper middle class white area. So I wonder if there was even a "Meh, unfamiliar name, not gonna try" vibe going on. Which I think is bizarre, really.

And it's not like this ruined my second-grade year or was even that big of a problem, because even if I found it irritating, I never had to deal with any other kind of implications repeated mispronunciations would have had for a person of color, or from a recently immigrated family, who would have found themselves in a similar situation.
posted by MoonOrb at 10:07 AM on January 17, 2014 [3 favorites]


Our Hungarian cousins Lehel and Imola have been dubbed "Larry" and "Melinda" by their coworkers in Toronto because their real names are "too hard." Five syllables. Ten letters. No unusual phonemes. Whatever.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:27 AM on January 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


Which is why it's so incredibly crappy that it's so ingrained in our culture that some people don't deserve to have their names said right.

So I don't think it's unique to any one ethnicity, but does apply to everyone not of pure British descent.

But it's not even that. I have French friends who have long been in the Americas who still call me Pheelip, with no consciousness that I'm aware of that they're getting it wrong. One of them just calls me Phillipe, which is cool. I like how she says it. Bottom line. They have French accents. My real last name is Irish (ie: not random). Good luck getting anyone who's been in the Americas for more than one generation to pronounce it the correct Irish way ... including me.

there are lots of names which really are weirdly spelled and not anglophone that are common in the US that are almost always pronounced correctly — that's because they're seen to be inside the circle.

There are two ways to read this and I suspect both are accurate in certain situations. A. There's an underlying xenophobia that informs it (ie: there is an inner circle). B. It's the same thing as my French friends; if your name contravenes someone's accent or background, good luck having them get it rig, no disrespect intended (conscious or otherwise).

It's easy for me to say this because I am of the dominant English/Irish/Scottish background, but I generally choose to go with the latter interpretation. Because the former runs the risk of being uncharitable, of looking for a slight where there isn't one ... or if there is, it's so deeply ingrained, it's akin to being critical of how somebody spices their food. At some point, I think it's best just to surrender to the fact that "that's how they do it here".

Final thought goes to my mom. "The one thing you should go to the trouble of pronouncing correctly is the name of someone's country."
posted by philip-random at 10:43 AM on January 17, 2014


At some point, I think it's best just to surrender to the fact that "that's how they do it here".

Who gets to be the "they" that decides how it's done? That's what people are talking about as an "inner circle."
posted by kagredon at 11:03 AM on January 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


In the context of the analogy (the spicing of food), I'd say the "they" is the cooks in the kitchen who are just doing what their moms and dads and teachers taught them, as their moms and dads and teachers taught them. In other words, it's the dominant culture -- the folks who've been around for generations and come to think of themselves as "the norm".

I'm not saying they're right. Indeed, I think typical White-Anglo cooking is about the dullest thing on the planet, but I'm going to really have to get know somebody (and their sensitivities) before I tell them they're not using enough garlic in their chicken soup.
posted by philip-random at 11:23 AM on January 17, 2014


I get that the question can have racist overtones and assumptions, but in my experience it's also an extremely common, widespread phenomenon. I live in an extremely diverse city (NYC) and pretty much everyone I know does it, regardless of the ethnicity of the asker. A few Asian friends and acquaintances have actually gone out of their way to call me or my wife and ask where the best Jewish delis / kosher restaurants are.

New York literally has dozens of densely populated ethnic communities, and we're a city with a very high immigrant population, so we're quite possibly unique in that regard.

But if you asked me the question I wouldn't assume you were being racist or antisemitic unless it was in a different context, attached to other, more disturbing questions.


So there's a few things I want to unpack here, zarq, because I get where you're coming from but I have some issues with the way you've put this. Or, maybe more accurately, the way you've put this illustrates some prevalent assumptions I find to be problematic.

First, there's a very key phrase in there that you might not have even noticed, and that's "friends and acquaintances". So you're describing an interaction between you / your family and people who already know you / your family, and therefore know that you are culturally Jewish (and not, say, light-skinned Arabic or otherly Semitic), that you have an interest in Jewish cuisine, and that you have some level of knowledge about that subject. Those aren't things it takes a lot of time to learn, to be sure, but you're describing an interaction between yourself and people who have some or all of those facts.

I was fairly clearly describing an interaction between myself and someone who doesn't know me, who has no idea whether or not I even like Indian food, who actually has no idea whether or not I'm even Indian. The equivalent conversation isn't an Asian friend asking you what your favorite local deli is. The equivalent conversation is:

Brand new idiot: "Nice to meet you. So you probably work in the media, huh?"

zarq: "Uh, what? Why would you just assume that or say it out loud?"

BNI: "Ok, ok, sorry. So what do you do?"

zarq: "*grumble* Public relations."

BNI: "Yeah, that's what I thought. Hey, you should tell me where your favorite bagel place is."

Which brings me to point 2. I didn't introduce it as a question devoid of context. It was part of a conversation which was already kind of fucked up. It's not, like, hey, don't ever ask me about Indian food, oppressor. It's that when the conversation exists to a) justify some fucked-up stereotypes, and then b) utilize my minority so that the fucked-up stereotypes are made to serve the questioner's whim, that's a problem, and it happens like that quite a lot.

And that brings me to point 3, which also dovetails with the "just because people can't pronounce your name doesn't mean they're racist" thing. I know when things are racist towards me and when they're not, and I'm much, much better than y'all at determining that, because of both instincts and a literal lifetime of practice. I'm not saying I'm always right, or that I always react appropriately to that, but I'm pretty damn sure that I know what an interaction was like better than y'all do from my anecdotal recounting. Minority experiences are often reintepreted post facto, and I get that there's some good intentions there, like, "hey, if I can illustrate a way in which that wasn't racist, maybe it won't bother you anymore". But the effect is to sublimate a firsthand and subjective experience to a secondhand adjudication which claims dominance. It is another way in which the small parts of a minority's life must pass muster.

Minorities are often called upon to represent their class in every aspect. A less-discussed version of this is the assumption that when a minority says "this thing that happened was racist/sexist/homophobic/etc.", they are pronouncing that all things that look anything like that are oppressive to all people who look like them everywhere. So well-intentioned people parse that, and then say, wait, I've mispronounced a name before and I wasn't being racist, so you shouldn't assume that mispronunciations are racist. We don't, yo. sweetkid didn't say that mispronunciations are racist. She said that repeated mispronunciations or flat refusals to engage outside of the dominant bubble are racist.

Seriously, if you're not being racist, there's very little danger of people thinking that you're being racist. You can trust yourself. Even if you are being racist, if you have a track record of not freaking out and shutting it down when that's pointed out, you're much more likely to get people pulling you aside and saying, uh, hey, that's not awesome, and because *you* are awesome, you will say, oh shit, sorry, thanks for letting me know, and then beer.

But I don't "assume" things are racist. I don't want things to be racist. I find it nearly impossible to communicate how much benefit of the doubt I give people, or how often that benefit of the doubt is required by the kinds of "surrender" that phillip-random suggests which occur more often than it's maybe possible to realize. You should see how many battles I don't fight. You should realize that when I'm finally engaging, it's not because I ran out of things to call racist and need to make uncharitable assumptions or lose my race card. You would not believe how charitable most minorities already are.
posted by Errant at 11:38 AM on January 17, 2014 [13 favorites]


Well, okay, sure, if you insist in the metaphor. You're allowed to make your soup, and pronounce your own name however you want. But when I'm making my soup and you come over and scoop the ginseng out of it because "that's just too weird", I'm going to get pissed. Especially if someone comes over to my house and tries to do this every time I make samgyetang.
posted by kagredon at 11:40 AM on January 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


Postscript: I made a switch in there to the general "you" which I had originally called out explicitly, but appears not to have made it into the final comment. Please consider all use of the word "you" from "point 3" onward to be referring generally and not to zarq or anyone else specifically except as noted.
posted by Errant at 11:46 AM on January 17, 2014


You know, it seems like every time we start discussing racism, there always seems to be some white dude out there to barge into the conversation to tell us "but you know, this one time this thing happened to me too so it's not racist!" Then it always ends up in this screed on how we should be "treating all humans right", implicitly derailing the conversation on how poorly PoC in North American culture are treated to focus on the narrative of white people as default all over again.

I mean, I don't deny that white people can also end up on the receiving end of weird hang-ups over names. But at the same time, they don't have the framework of having their race tint and bias literally every single interaction in their life. There is literally not a minute in my life where my race does not impact me; there is literally not a single interaction in my life where I can ignore the inherent dynamics that my race carries. It may be the same isolated action - but these actions get filed into a completely different system and pattern for me than it does for white people.

The incident itself is not inherently racist; it becomes racist in a system of countless microaggressions against people of color. You can try to explain away each of these little cuts as "not racist" - but you ignore the grand picture that grants these incidents their racist power. Meanwhile, I'm still sitting here covered in cuts and wondering what your point in raising "but white people!" in the first place was. Are you somehow saying that I should be excusing every single little cut - or to put it less charitably, blinding myself to the patterns of racism, as if that actually resolves the fact that I'm constantly being bruised and battered?

Well, like Errant also does, I already DO charitably interpret and let go most incidents that fit into this racist framework of experience of mine's. And yet when I get mad at the one straw that does break the camel's back, I get piled on as irrational and gaslighted for my reaction - as if I were reacting to that singular cut instead of the thousands more that I bit my lip on and kept silent.

Maybe instead of telling me that my racist anecdote doesn't matter and wasn't racist, you should be considering that I understandably do not filter these incidents the same way as white people do. And I don't know, maybe not add another microaggression to my daily load by trying to erase my experiences of racism?
posted by Conspire at 12:20 PM on January 17, 2014 [10 favorites]


I was fairly clearly describing an interaction between myself and someone who doesn't know me

You know, this does happen, but it doesn't always have to be racist. It's like Spanish-speaking people coming over to me and talking to me first in Spanish (and yes, even asking me where good (Spanish) places to eat around are). Which, I will note, happens to me all the time. Are they racist for seeing my skin is kind of like theirs and my name fits into appropriate naming conventions and making the assumption?

At the same time this is totally different from a stranger coming up and saying something like, I don't know, uh, "So, I am planning bedrooms for my five kids, can you tell me about that, because you look like the kind of person that would know."

I'm not really even sure I can clearly define the boundaries, but I think "people asking for innocuous help" is in the first category, and "people assuming negative things" is in the other.
posted by corb at 12:27 PM on January 17, 2014


Okay, but that first situation is not what Errant was talking about, and he's been pretty clear on that point.
posted by kagredon at 12:28 PM on January 17, 2014


"You know, this does happen, but it doesn't always have to be racist."

You're right, I sure wish I'd said something about that. Oh wait!

Minorities are often called upon to represent their class in every aspect. A less-discussed version of this is the assumption that when a minority says "this thing that happened was racist/sexist/homophobic/etc.", they are pronouncing that all things that look anything like that are oppressive to all people who look like them everywhere.

But you make a good point about there being a difference between people asking innocuously and people exposing a racist ideology, and it being so very hard to determine the boundaries. I sure wish I'd said something about that. Oh wait!

I know when things are racist towards me and when they're not, and I'm much, much better than y'all at determining that, because of both instincts and a literal lifetime of practice. I'm not saying I'm always right, or that I always react appropriately to that, but I'm pretty damn sure that I know what an interaction was like better than y'all do from my anecdotal recounting.

Still, it's true that "assuming negative things" is a problem. I sure wish I'd said something about that. Oh wait!

But I don't "assume" things are racist. I don't want things to be racist. I find it nearly impossible to communicate how much benefit of the doubt I give people, or how often that benefit of the doubt is required by the kinds of "surrender" that phillip-random suggests which occur more often than it's maybe possible to realize. You should see how many battles I don't fight. You should realize that when I'm finally engaging, it's not because I ran out of things to call racist and need to make uncharitable assumptions or lose my race card.

There is not a single part of your stupid, thoughtless comment that isn't illustrative of how y'all can't wait for people of color to stop talking so that you can just say the same shit but in a white voice for mucho tolerance plaudits. If you're not going to read a single thing I say, do me a favor and at least don't quote me first. I'd prefer not to be insulted while I'm being ignored.
posted by Errant at 12:47 PM on January 17, 2014 [11 favorites]


Errant: "First, there's a very key phrase in there that you might not have even noticed, and that's "friends and acquaintances". So you're describing an interaction between you / your family and people who already know you / your family, and therefore know that you are culturally Jewish (and not, say, light-skinned Arabic or otherly Semitic), that you have an interest in Jewish cuisine, and that you have some level of knowledge about that subject. Those aren't things it takes a lot of time to learn, to be sure, but you're describing an interaction between yourself and people who have some or all of those facts.

True.

I was fairly clearly describing an interaction between myself and someone who doesn't know me, who has no idea whether or not I even like Indian food, who actually has no idea whether or not I'm even Indian. The equivalent conversation isn't an Asian friend asking you what your favorite local deli is.

Also true. The nuance of it escaped me. When ArbitraryandCapricious replied to me above I realized that there's (obviously) a difference between being a visible minority (your experience) and mine, at least in NYC, where I blend in and am just another white guy.

I didn't introduce it as a question devoid of context. It was part of a conversation which was already kind of fucked up.

From the way you phrased it, ("one more question for the witness, your honor") my impression was that you were saying, "and this is also a question I have to deal with" I thought I understood the context, but didn't read it properly. Sorry about that.

And that brings me to point 3, which also dovetails with the "just because people can't pronounce your name doesn't mean they're racist" thing. I know when things are racist towards me and when they're not, and I'm much, much better than y'all at determining that, because of both instincts and a literal lifetime of practice.

I know you said you're not directing this at me directly, but I'd like to respond it anyway. My experience living as well, a different kind of minority, is not the same as yours, but I would hope that by contributing to this thread by asking questions and presenting a perspective from personal experience you don't think that in doing so I am trying to dismiss or deny your experiences. That wasn't my intention.
posted by zarq at 1:01 PM on January 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


There is not a single part of your stupid, thoughtless comment that isn't illustrative of how y'all can't wait for people of color to stop talking so that you can just say the same shit but in a white voice for mucho tolerance plaudits.

Well, except for the part where I'm not white. Does that mean I hate myself?
posted by corb at 1:08 PM on January 17, 2014


Are they racist for seeing my skin is kind of like theirs and my name fits into appropriate naming conventions and making the assumption?

Correctly identifying another fellow member of your own race or ethnicity is not racist.
posted by elizardbits at 1:12 PM on January 17, 2014 [7 favorites]


Well, except for the part where I'm not white. Does that mean I hate myself?

The best response to a comment pointing out that you ignored another comment's substance is of course to ignore its substance completely.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:27 PM on January 17, 2014 [8 favorites]


In other words, it's the dominant culture -- the folks who've been around for generations and come to think of themselves as "the norm".

"Dominant" is pretty fraught terminology but ok, I guess most of us can concede that there is a specific ethno-cultural group that has literally physically and financially dominated the rest of the population for most of US history. However, equating those people with "the folks who've been around for generations" in anything but that group's collective mind is extremely ahistorical at very best.
posted by threeants at 1:29 PM on January 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


(Sorry, maybe I shouldn't have said US history, as we appear to be having a mostly US and Canadian discussion here.)
posted by threeants at 1:33 PM on January 17, 2014


Right, but part of the weirdness of the "norm" is that more and more groups seem to get pulled into "whiteness," famously the Irish and Italians, previously considered not white or not the right kind at least, Jews, Polish, etc.
posted by sweetkid at 1:36 PM on January 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


Sure; my family "became" white sometime in the mid-20th century, establishing themselves here well after many Japanese-American, Chinese-American, Mexican-American, etc. families-- and I have never been asked "where are you from/really from".
posted by threeants at 1:41 PM on January 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


I know you said you're not directing this at me directly, but I'd like to respond it anyway. My experience living as well, a different kind of minority, is not the same as yours, but I would hope that by contributing to this thread by asking questions and presenting a perspective from personal experience you don't think that in doing so I am trying to dismiss or deny your experiences. That wasn't my intention.

I don't think that at all, no worries. I didn't say "I know when things are racist and when they're not better than you do", I said "I know when things are racist at me and when they're not better than you do", and I think that's a phrasing that asserts my authority over my own experience without claiming an authority over yours; while I might not be saying that as well as I want to be, that's the assertion I mean to make.

In my attempts to be a more understanding feminist and to get at the roots of sexism, I would listen to women tell stories of sexist encounters. Then, because I have a fairly classical pedagogical background, I'd start examining the story and performing a kind of differential diagnosis on it: "well, what if he actually meant this? well, people can say that without being sexist; one time I said..." In my mind, I was playing devil's advocate. I didn't think I was saying they were wrong about their experiences, but I thought if I tried adding it up in different ways, I would understand how that social calculus works and would thus understand my friends better.

As far as that goes, I wasn't wrong about that idea of practicing unfamiliar modes of thinking. The mistake I was making, though, is that I was stumbling my way through, for lack of a better metaphor, equations that my conversation partners were extremely adept and lightning-quick at, so I'm doing kiddie math with Ph.D's and trying to find holes in their work. It's not impossible that I might, but that's always going to be obnoxious. I can practice my thinking later. Right now, I should believe the experts. In this math, it's better practice to start from the conclusion and work backwards to the person who concluded it.

So that's something I've tried to carry with me not just into race relations, but also into discussions of homophobia, gender bias, and other places where experiential differences result in complex skill sets of which I know little, despite similarities of experience. My minority status actually makes me more likely to reinterpret other people's experiences through my own lens, because I have a well-developed framework for interpreting certain kinds of experiences and I also have a lightning-quick instinct for it. But it's not always applicable, and even where it is somewhat applicable there are, as you astutely say, nuances that get easily missed.

The tl;dr version is: no, of course that wasn't your intention, no problem there, and I didn't feel dismissed or denied, really. But I think people with similar experiences, in the very understandable and human quest to find the ways in which we are similar, can get so excited to find commonality that we miss the differences, and the differences are important too. That's not exactly a world-shattering problem or anything, but I find that when I remember to look for both similarities and differences, my overall understanding is greatly improved.
posted by Errant at 1:55 PM on January 17, 2014 [9 favorites]


White people sometimes do get stupid reactions about their names, but even those tend to come from xenophobia, which people of color typically get along with racism.

I wouldn't pretend to know what that's like, but I get a sidelong look at it occasionally. A few times a year, someone will stop themselves mid-rant about immigration and tell my partner (who is an Eastern European immigrant) that "I don't mean people like you, of course..." and we both look at each other and get queasy. Because yeah, asshole: we know exactly what you mean.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:39 PM on January 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


Totally not a content complaint, but Errant, you confused the hell out of me for a moment with your italicizing your own quotes in the reply to Corb.
posted by klangklangston at 2:41 PM on January 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I know. I put the first one in quotes to try to differentiate it from the others, but if I had it to do over again, I'd have italicized corb as per convention and put my repetition in unitalicized quotation marks. Third drafts aren't just for suckers, people.
posted by Errant at 2:50 PM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Thanks Klang - I am now marginally less confused.
posted by philip-random at 2:53 PM on January 17, 2014


White people sometimes do get stupid reactions about their names, but even those tend to come from xenophobia, which people of color typically get along with racism.

yes!

I have a very old family name that is extremely uncommon. People stumble over it all the time and kind of laugh about it. I know that the first thing someone will say to me on being introduced informally will be a question about my weird name.

But no one in my entire life has ever, EVER, said no, they were just going to call me by some other name not mine. They might have mocked it, but they used it. They acknowledge my identity and don't seek to replace it with one they chose.

And the issue of racism around names isn't about not having been exposed to the sounds. People try to pronounce my name. They screw it up, but they try first. My friend Venkatesan? People will sort of giggle and shrug about it without bothering to try. That is just laziness and racism, and I immediately note a person as a racist jerk when they do it. It's not about being flawlessly correct. It's about having the courtesy and valuing the other person enough to try.

Also, and this is irrelevant, Indian names might be long, but they're straightforward enough once you try. There is nothing stopping a person from being just as quick to say Venkatesan as Alexander other than lazy racism.
posted by winna at 4:06 PM on January 17, 2014 [5 favorites]


Giving it 30 seconds of thought reveals that the claim of "can't pronounce your name" should be, in 98% of cases, bullshit. Unless the name requires use of a phoneme nonexistent in one of their spoken languages, like, say, a retroflex consonant for a monolingual English speaker, there should be no difficulty in pronouncing a new-to-them name. Do these people have constant trouble wrapping their tongues around dubstep or Pawlenty or instagram or other words they had to become familiar with? In the majority of cases we're looking at the phenomenon of "can't be bothered to pronounce your name", which is a whole other thing completely.
posted by threeants at 8:29 PM on January 17, 2014 [3 favorites]


It's frustrating because I will spell it out for people and they still get it wrong, like badly wrong. If people ask me my name, i say, First Name and then, my last name "let me spell it for you" and they will repeat it back and it's just all over the place. Someone, as I said upthread, gave me shit about that in the thread about privilege where I was talking about people stumbling on my name. But it's important. I've had insurance cards spelled with the wrong name. My prescriptions will have been filed under the wrong letter. When I was a kid, one teacher gave us all pencils with our names on them, which was really nice of her, but my name was butchered and I didn't want to use them. It has nine letters in it, if they are spelled for you or written down you can at least write them down in order and if you can't what is wrong with you?

Oh and also, I do come across "difficult" Polish names and try to remember how they're spelled and pronounced. I say them out loud to try to get it in my head. It's hard but I work on it.

Just because I do think in my experience these things are related to race, doesn't mean I don't make an effort for anyone who's not me or from a similar background.

Also! I have trouble with other Indian names as well, ones that come from a different region than the ones my parents and their friends immigrated from. Much like everyone doesn't eat curry, the last names are different, languages are different, clothing, customs...

In conclusion, India and its diaspora is a land of contrast.
posted by sweetkid at 8:41 PM on January 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


Also,

I get that the question can have racist overtones and assumptions, but in my experience it's also an extremely common, widespread phenomenon. I live in an extremely diverse city (NYC) and pretty much everyone I know does it, regardless of the ethnicity of the asker. A few Asian friends and acquaintances have actually gone out of their way to call me or my wife and ask where the best Jewish delis / kosher restaurants are.

Attitudes towards this sort of thing surely differ a lot. I am Jewish and I would be quite offended if anyone asked me this, if I hadn't stated having a particular interest/knowledge in kosher delis (which I wouldn't, because I don't).
posted by threeants at 8:53 PM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Funny story, I was in a cab with my Indian parents and the Indian cab driver, and this totally random Indian kid ran into the street, knocked on the window, and asked the cabbie where to get Indian food around there (midtown). The guy was startled and then made a recommendation.

I was like, "The hell?!!" (also, it was kind of scary at first). The cabbie laughed and shrugged.

The whole thing still sort of pissed me off, even though everyone involved in the story was ethnically Indian. I dunno. It was weird. Like dude, look on Yelp.
posted by sweetkid at 9:00 PM on January 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


One of the goalkeepers for Arsenal FC is named Wojciech Szczesny. Fans have affectionately nicknamed him "Kenny Chesney", which is hilarious and has his amused thumbs up. But when I talk about him outside of the fanbase, I make sure to say Szczesny and to pronounce it as best I can. Just to write this comment, I had to look it up about four times.

So fucking what? You look it up four times, five for quality assurance. You learn how to say a word you've never seen before, because it's not like you're intimately familiar with every word in your native tongue either. That's just being a person. Plus, chasing away a decent goalkeeper by fucking with his name is just about the last thing we need.

I appear to have begun talking about something else, forgive me. Sure, Polish names can be difficult, as can Welsh names, as can any unfamiliar configuration. The thing that is hilarious to me is that Indian names, being transliterated into English from a non-Roman alphabet, are basically phonetic in English. The first time I tried to pronounce "Sean", the owner of that name put me into the opposing wall.

Just take a deep breath and sound it out, guys. There's no trick. I know you're expecting one, because your native language is a sadistic feast of exception-based cruelty. It'll be ok.
posted by Errant at 9:00 PM on January 17, 2014 [8 favorites]


Indian names, being transliterated into English from a non-Roman alphabet, are basically phonetic in English

Yep. Mine has a bh in it, like "Bharat," which comes from Sanksrit letter sounds, and it's the only part I think is understandable that people might get wrong in pronunciation (not so much in spelling). But people get the first letter wrong, basically the whole thing wrong. Break it up into two parts with a hyphen, basically whatever they want. It's crazy. It's a miracle my passport, birth certificate and credit cards have come out OK. The insurance card thing caused a bunch of hassles.
posted by sweetkid at 9:08 PM on January 17, 2014


I always tell people, if you run into an unfamiliar Desi name, mentally insert an "h" after every vowel. This is because Sanskrit has an extra vowel quality called aspiration which doesn't exist in English. Sanskrit vowels are aspirated or unaspirated. The English vowel-following "h" approximates this tendency (so "S_iva" becomes "Shiva" or "Sihva", for example). That exertion won't get you all the way there, but where it won't credibly approximate it, the mental effort will gain you time to read the rest phonetically and will give you an easy breakpoint for separating the right syllables.
posted by Errant at 9:28 PM on January 17, 2014


True but not all Desi names derive from Sanskrit.
posted by sweetkid at 9:30 PM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


I keep wanting to pronounce "Bh" as "V." Damn Irish orthography.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:32 PM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's kind of like "Bhuh." I'm not a linguist but that's my shot at explaining it.
posted by sweetkid at 9:37 PM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh no, sweetkid, of course they're not. What I meant to say, which obviously didn't come across, was: if you're having trouble with a phoneme in an Indian-seeming word or name, aspirating the vowel may help close the comprehension gap. I thought I'd made my view clear that that won't solve all the issues, but I appear not to have, so: if you try aspirating seemingly Sanskrit-derived vowels in names or words, you may not get a name or word right the first time, but you will certainly be giving it your best effort in the absence of further instruction. My point wasn't "all Indian-language vowels are breathy like that", it was intended to be "if you think that some vowels and phonemes are tough, try aspirating the vowel, because even across language drift that might help".

My bad for not making that more clear. My point wasn't "breathe your vowels or else", it was, "if you're finding the derived vowels difficult and alien, breathing the vowels may help you get closer to what was meant".
posted by Errant at 2:55 AM on January 18, 2014


Giving it 30 seconds of thought reveals that the claim of "can't pronounce your name" should be, in 98% of cases, bullshit

I am not sure what the statistics are, but some people are just not good at languages or mimicry, just like some people are tone deaf. I have spent time with people who have been living in a foreign country for 6 months where they don't speak the language and they had picked up next to nothing. They couldn't even get the subway station names right even though they heard them announced twice a day every day on the work commute. The name appeared on the display and the speaker announced the station.
I have been in English speaking countries where people fail to understand my run of the mill English accent, but if I imitate a local accent (probably very badly) then they understand what I am saying. There is something about familiar cadences and rhythms that people prefer. Slim Galliard travelled the world mimicking these, without learning any languages he could communicate (according to him).

Privilege and power does play a part in this a lot of the time, but occasionally it isn't a cause. I have a friend with a strong regional accent that has been away from home for ten years or more and yet sounds exactly like their twin sister who still lives in the area. Some people don't adapt their language to their surroundings (like the mother in the link ArbitraryAndCapricious posted). In the example sweetkid made about her friend refusing to pronounce Barati correctly this could have been because she was a bit anxious that she was out numbered two to one by children who could pronounce the name and wanted to reinforce her dominance by showing that she was the boss of the situation.

Correctly pronouncing words is often a sign of education and cultural sensitivity, awareness and respect for others. Sometimes those qualities are not valued by a social group because they feel under threat themselves, it is not simply because of ignorance.

I dunno. It was weird. Like dude, look on Yelp.

Some people (I know) prefer personal recommendations even though they have access to the same internet I do. They literally wont go anywhere or do anything that they haven't heard about from a friend or someone they think should know about whatever it is. Whatever you do, don't tell them you heard about it on the internet, just say it was a recommendation from a friend and they'll go along with it.
posted by asok at 3:47 AM on January 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


Annnnnnddddd.... already we're doing this again. The intent of the comment isn't hard to read, so I'm not at all saying the commenter is a Bad Person Who Should Feel Bad. But there are better ways to make the same point.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:59 PM on January 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


My read, considering that it's a thread about a difficult situation, is that prefpara was trying to make sort of a lumpy analogy to tack on to her comment before that comment which seemed more spot-on. Not disagreeing that it didn't work, just saying it seems to be a somewhat different animal to me, but folks here can certainly let us know how they feel about it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:14 PM on January 18, 2014


I tried to make it clear I wasn't calling out prefpara in particular. And yeah, her earlier comment was good.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:21 PM on January 18, 2014


I guess I'm of the opinion that it's not a valuable enough rhetorical gambit that it's worthwhile to carefully parse each instance of its use. It seems to make more sense for nice people who were trying to make a valid point to simply try a different way of saying the same thing.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:25 PM on January 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


I hear what you're saying. I just see a few different kinds of this sort of thing.

- "what if it were the jews, then what would you think?" sort of gotcha games
- "would it help if I made an analogy to something you're more familiar with?" attempts at clarity

The former we'll often delete or leave a "quit doing this" comment. The latter we're more likely to leave alone. So from a community standpoint, I think it's a good idea to raise awareness to try to get people to realize that this is a clunky tactic at best. From a mod standpoint I'm just sor tof explaining why it didn't fall into our insta-delete category.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:34 PM on January 18, 2014


I hear you. I also may kinda have my hackles up since we just discussed this.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:36 PM on January 18, 2014


I didn't react negatively to it because (after consideration) I think that one-eighth AA heritage isn't something that is much stigmatized these days. Maybe I'm wrong. But that example seems to me to be very anachronistic in its bigotry and thus not as likely to inadvertently carry a contemporary punch and also to make the writer's transphobia to be similarly anachronistic and absurd.

But it's not my place to evaluate that, of course. If others think the comparison has the same problems as what we've been discussing, then it does.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:40 PM on January 18, 2014


For my part, I perceive a distinction between ironically adopting the persona in total and paraphrasing or rephrasing someone else's words. I don't love the second one, which is too "fixed that for you" for me, but there's a difference between saying the same things as an overt racist and assuming we'll know you don't mean it, and claiming that someone sounds like an overt racist. I don't love prefpara's strategy in that comment, but "the author sounds like the kind of person who goes INDIANS SO SMELLY OMG" is different than "I know, and Indians are also so smelly, right?" I think those things are structurally different, and one of them is less painful to me though not without its own problems.
posted by Errant at 2:00 PM on January 18, 2014


I just tried to memail sweetkid and noticed that she's closed her account. Hopefully not as a result of this thread, which I thought was going reasonably well. :(
posted by zarq at 12:01 PM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


fuck, yeah, I'll miss her and I hope she's still lurking. I don't want to get into speculating why she deactivated, though - if she wanted us to know she would have said something, and I'm often uncomfortable with how these decisions get dissected in MeTa. (Not that you were doing that, zarq, just wanted to make my feelings clear.)
posted by en forme de poire at 12:15 PM on January 23, 2014


Oh, no. I hope there is no connection. I really like her contributions here.
posted by onlyconnect at 12:21 PM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


She mentioned to me about two weeks ago that she'd been considering taking a temporary break for a while, but had been putting it off because she wasn't sure what kind of steps would be necessary to reopen her account in the future. That's all, no drama.
posted by elizardbits at 12:41 PM on January 23, 2014 [9 favorites]


I'm glad to hear it's temporary, however long it turns out to be. She's a good egg.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:52 PM on January 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah, closings can be a bit bittersweet, when they're closing because they have so much going on in real life that they don't have time to be here. Like when one of your coworkers quits because they got a better job. It's a bit sad, but it's not like you can begrudge it.
posted by klangklangston at 1:12 PM on January 23, 2014


I'd be really sad if she left; she's one of my favorite mefites. But I know from experience it can be really helpful to take a break.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:16 PM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


YOU KNOW THE FOLLY OF RESISTING THE MEFI! SUBMIT!
posted by klangklangston at 1:49 PM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


All the best to you, sweetkid, from another of your army of appreciators.
posted by Wolof at 6:15 AM on January 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


« Older Looking for a link in a comment   |   Big Number Celebration? Newer »

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