I am going to regret this January 25, 2020 4:53 AM   Subscribe

I made a comment about Stephen King's "The Outsider" referencing what I thought was a well known trope.

This is the trope in question.And its identification is bound up with King (specifically the Green Mile). My comment was deleted.

I've since referred to the trope as "problematic racist trope." That's not really specific. So I thought I'd look to the community about how to frame comments about deeply problematic tropes in a way that isn't offensive even if the name of the trope is. I really hate making this post, but hopefully it will help.
posted by miss-lapin to Etiquette/Policy at 4:53 AM (175 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

As I said in my note in that thread, "Using the phrase 'magical negro' to signify a real problem in cinematic depictions of PoC characters is the sort of brief shorthand that can work okay coming from "inside the house" (from a Black perspective), but can easily cause offense coming from a white person, especially in an offhand quick-take kind of way. If you, as a white person want to use the phrase to explain why a Black character is non-interesting, it would probably be better to contextualize that pretty carefully, including probably keeping in mind that this term originated in the Black community, and use of the archaic / offensive "negro" was deliberate as something recognized as having a specific meaning used in this way within that community. As with white people borrowing hip-hop lyrics, etc., some care should be taken."

The original comment was "I was also confused by the prisoner scenes. But I didn't find Gibney particularly interesting. She seems like a 'magical negro' character atm," and it was flagged by a Black member with a note objecting to a white person using the term this way. I realize it's has currency as a term of film criticism, but I do think if white people use it, it's best to add background that it comes from Spike Lee, and possibly explain more about why the character might fit that characterization, just to be careful not to be dismissing a Black character with a shorthand phrase that uses an offensive term, and which everyone may not be familiar with.
posted by taz (staff) at 5:06 AM on January 25 [9 favorites]


You're aware I hope that there is a comment using a reference to the same trope in an Outsider (books included) trope with no problem at all, right?

I so also find it problematic that a well known trope that is identified with King's work from the outset needs a whole introduction, but that's the point of the thread. Since you decided it needed one.
posted by miss-lapin at 5:20 AM on January 25 [3 favorites]


Going back to the point of the point, I would never use the n word. I used the name of a trope in quotation marks for a reason. If I thought it was necessary at the time I would have linked to the trope,but I had seen it used many times before on Fanfare.

But thank you for being a bit more detailed here and a bit kinder to me. I do appreciate it.
posted by miss-lapin at 5:29 AM on January 25


Also my account is disconnected to all of my social media for safety reasons connected to a stalker. So I'm not sure how anyone can see things like my race. I thought this account was safe.
posted by miss-lapin at 5:48 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]


You do have identifying information on your profile page, which you can edit here: https://www.metafilter.com/contribute/customize.cfm.
posted by taz (staff) at 6:09 AM on January 25


I'm followed the link nothing takes me to my social media and the only identifying thing I see is a photo of a white bunny in black shoes. If you can see anything else you should contact me PRIVATELY as maybe you missed the whole stalker thing?.!!!!!! (which is known to the fucking mods!!!!!!Jesus
posted by miss-lapin at 6:22 AM on January 25 [2 favorites]


I just doubled checked my account there is nothing about my: age, gender, or race attached to my account that I can see. Unless you count a picture of a small white rabbit.

If it's anything other than that contact me privately because it should not be on my metafilter profile and having checked it from some one else's computer I'm not seeing it.
posted by miss-lapin at 6:34 AM on January 25


Ok so there is nothing on my profile page that gives away any info. If people GOOGLE my name, yes, they my find some things.

What a surprise.

Not the same as saying it's in my profile.
posted by miss-lapin at 7:36 AM on January 25


I think taz is referring to your "identifying information" being your name, which, if Googled, leads to more information tied to your identity.
posted by avalonian at 7:40 AM on January 25 [3 favorites]


Having a moderately uncommon name listed and then other social media profiles with that name and basically identical usernames matches exactly what taz said of "You do have identifying information on your profile page".
posted by skynxnex at 7:40 AM on January 25 [2 favorites]


Or the social media name/screenname, so to speak
posted by avalonian at 7:40 AM on January 25


Hi miss-lapin; taz emailed you a screenshot of what's visible on your profile page.

But the general issues raised here are tough and I think the first especially could use community feedback.

This trope's name
The trope name uses an offensive term -- wikipedia explanation -- to point out an offensive way that media portray some black characters as one-dimensional magical "helpers" to white characters. So, it's a useful and important concept in media criticism, and one that people should be aware of and it's natural for people to want to refer to it.

BUT at the same time, it uses a term that's okay for people in that group to use, but not ok for people outside that group in most circumstances. I've generally treated this trope name as ok for anyone to use provided that it comes with some context to help unfamiliar readers understand what's being said. But maybe that's the wrong approach -- maybe it's something that non-black commenters should avoid using the name of? This is a specific term we could just set an explicit norm for, and I am very interested to hear from black members on this.

Incomplete information
A second point is, as mods when we receive a flag on this kind of issue, we can try to consider the identity of the flagger and the commenter. For example, if this were flagged by a member who's black and a commenter who's not, then we would generally give more weight to the flag. Whereas if it were a non-black flagger, and a black commenter using this term, the decision would go the other way. BUT this raises the obvious problem that we don't always know either of those pieces of information about flagger or commenter. Sometimes we know it because people have mentioned their race in discussions on the site. But sometimes we just have no information. It's a thorny problem that will be ongoing, and I don't really see a good way around it; we'll get it wrong sometimes and have to apologize.

miss-lapin, I very much apologize if you're a black member and we made a wrong assumption here; I know it's very hurtful to have people make that wrong assumption and I'm sorry if that's what happened.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:41 AM on January 25 [2 favorites]


You have to be kidding me. I've spent how many hours trying to find out what's visible on my profile page?
posted by miss-lapin at 7:56 AM on January 25


Interestingly a white dude also invoked this trope and there was no issue. (https://fanfare.metafilter.com/15367/The-Outsider-Dark-Uncle-Books-Included#239324)
posted by miss-lapin at 8:02 AM on January 25 [2 favorites]


Also a disabled woman (and if anyone wants my credentials since they felt the need to check other things out, I'm totally happy to share that) if anyone thinks something is ableist, I may not agree, but I'm willing to argue about it. I missed the point where mefi decided I can flag people able bodied people who make ableist comments.
posted by miss-lapin at 8:15 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]


It's tricky; the original deleted comment is above so people can compare the two. The original was just a little briefer and I think may have struck the flagger as more dismissive; whereas the comment that remained gives a little more context/explanation that this is a trope it's talking about. I know these are small differences, but small differences in phrasing can make a big difference to how a comment lands.

I do think it's useful to talk about the general question of what norms our black members would prefer be observed around this term, though.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:15 AM on January 25


Well I do hope in the future if I as a disabled woman flag something, I'll get the same sensitivity.
posted by miss-lapin at 8:20 AM on January 25


Yes - the same principle applies in general - that flags on an issue from people who're marginalized on that axis generally carry more weight. It doesn't mean anything happens automatically, deletion is always a judgement call weighing various factors, but yes - same principle applies.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:24 AM on January 25


That's not...generally been my experience here in 20 years. But as I said I find it slightly suspicious a white dude posts a similar statement and no problem since I was told it was the name of the trope. And that's why I made this post because after having my comment deleted, I saw a very similar one posted with noooooooooooo problem.
posted by miss-lapin at 8:31 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]


And honestly as a disabled person...if someone commented "inspiration porn" about well...anything, I wouldn't be upset by that. If a dude called something misogynistic and it wasn't I wouldn't flag it. If someone called something antisemitic and it wasn't (I'm jewish). None of these things would bother me. I wouldn't flag them. I would argue, but not flag. And I've never googled someone before flagging. Ever.

I agree it's a difficult call....sort of.
posted by miss-lapin at 8:39 AM on January 25 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure that it's fair to pin this on the member who flagged the comment. I hear that this moderation feels unfair, but I don't think that the original flagger necessarily googled you, for example. Maybe it would work better to focus on the moderation decisions vs. the person who flagged it.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:58 AM on January 25 [26 favorites]


In terms of mod decisions I noted that a white man made a similarly brief comment about the same episode and named the "questionable" trope. Lobster mitten dismissed it,

What else would you like me to do? Please join in because at this point I'm really done. I'm really done because WOW it's just such obvious bs.
posted by miss-lapin at 9:16 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]


Just as a data point, I'm a white dude who has used the term more than once in discussions around media criticism. It's pretty common in the circles in which I usually have those discussions and I've definitely both used and heard it used in discussion of Stephen King's work (because he relies heavily on the trope, i.e. in The Shining, The Stand, and Green Mile just off the top of my head, probably Talisman too come to think of it, certainly elsewhere). If I've never used it on Metafilter, it's not been because I was aware it was problematic. This is news to me. Not even 10am and I learned a thing.

I'll be aware of it going forward, and I'll be certain to add context if I do use it, but for folks who have only ever heard it used in film crit to describe a particular all-too-common trope, I think it'd be very easy to have never considered it problematic. It's describing something that's problematic, obviously, but until today I didn't realize the term itself was.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 9:20 AM on January 25 [14 favorites]


None of these things would bother me.

Good for you. The unspoken continuation of that sentence seems to be, however, "and therefore, black people shouldn't be bothered when I use the n-word." I think you should spend some time reflecting on that.
posted by Conspire at 9:25 AM on January 25 [38 favorites]


I quoted the name of the trope. I have not done so since but if the name of the trope is so offensive, why is there a similarly brief comment with the "n" word still up?
posted by miss-lapin at 9:31 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]


(can we at least acknowledge that there's a fair bit of daylight between the word 'negro' and the word we typically use an 'n-word' euphemism for? If folks on MF were casually throwing around the word-generally-known-as-the-n-word I would certainly expect a Metatalk pile on, and if we as a community are going to agree that 'negro' deserves the same level of avoidance, okay, roger that, but... geez. I think conflating the two as if anyone who uses either is equally deserving of condemnation is unfair to miss-lapin.)
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 9:32 AM on January 25 [47 favorites]


I may be incorrect, but it seems like the issue is less the phrase, and more using it as a simple shorthand reason to discount a black character without actually engaging with either the character and the term and what it signifies?
posted by ChuraChura at 9:34 AM on January 25 [17 favorites]


There is currently a comment on the same work by a white male that references that trope by name. It is 3 sentences long. And there is no problem.
posted by miss-lapin at 9:39 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]


I'd rather have stricter rules tbh.
posted by Mrs Potato at 9:40 AM on January 25 [5 favorites]


Flag that comment, with a note, and I am sure the moderators will give it the same consideration that they are giving to the front page.
posted by Mrs Potato at 9:41 AM on January 25 [3 favorites]


The title of this grey thread is very informative.
posted by Mrs Potato at 9:42 AM on January 25 [8 favorites]


Screw it, I'll just ask directly: miss-lapin, are you black?
posted by 23skidoo at 9:43 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]


Did you miss their explanation above for why it wasn't the same?
posted by miss-lapin at 9:43 AM on January 25


Maybe it would work better to focus on the moderation decisions vs. the person who flagged it.

Surely we ought not to dig through a commenter's profile to figure out how to evaluate a comment. Similarly, the flagger's profile should not be as important as the flagger's reason for objecting to the comment. Isn't working out terms of dissonance a function of the discussion?

It seems to me that this is happening in this thread. Flagging comments are a useful tool for the Blue, but they teeter at the edge of a slippery slope.
posted by mule98J at 9:44 AM on January 25 [4 favorites]


You mean you can't tell from my profile? I was told earlier people could tell my race from it.
posted by miss-lapin at 9:46 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]


There is currently a comment on the same work by a white male that references that trope by name. It is 3 sentences long. And there is no problem.

It also provides a link to an explanation of the trope. Did your deleted comment provide a link? That's a pretty big distinction.

Also, your comment was flagged. If you feel the other comment using the name of the trope should be deleted, flagging it is probably a much better way to have that happen. Dropping a non-clickable link to the comment in this thread is probably a really bad way to have that happen.
posted by 23skidoo at 9:47 AM on January 25 [6 favorites]


You mean you can't tell from my profile? I was told earlier people could tell my race from it.

I'll ask again: Are you black? If you don't want to share that info, cool, but it's pretty damn relevant to this conversation.
posted by 23skidoo at 9:48 AM on January 25 [4 favorites]


whatever the context, forcing anyone on Metafilter to defend themselves by revealing information about themselves beyond what they've already offered through their profile seems to me like not a good direction for us to go.

(i'm also personally not super keen on deletion decisions being made on mod assumptions about information that mefites have specifically not shared with the community, but i am not a mod and i won't pretend to understand the best way to tackle those sorts of things.)
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 9:53 AM on January 25 [44 favorites]


whatever the context, forcing anyone on Metafilter to defend themselves by revealing information about themselves beyond what they've already offered through their profile seems to me like not a good direction for us to go.

Nobody is being forced to do anything. Let's take that language down a notch, please.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:02 AM on January 25 [8 favorites]


forcing

yeah, I'm not forcing anything. If they don't want to answer, they don't have to. The reason I asked is so that we all can stop with the assumptions and just deal with facts instead. I'm not going to keep asking, as I get the sense now they don't want to answer the question.
posted by 23skidoo at 10:03 AM on January 25




7 hours ago I was told my race was already obvious.

I'm fine with being asked the question, I'm kinda curious why I wasn't asked until now and my race was assumed.

But thanks 23 for assuming the worst on my behalf.
posted by miss-lapin at 10:07 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]


miss-lapin I have really found your comments insightful in other threads. Having one comment deleted, or not being able to use that specific term on Metafilter, don’t seem like particularly harsh or punitive measures. It might be worth thinking about why this came across as so strongly unfair to you that it was worth making this post. I also think this post started off on a pretty good note with you asking:

So I thought I'd look to the community about how to frame comments about deeply problematic tropes in a way that isn't offensive even if the name of the trope is. I really hate making this post, but hopefully it will help.

Which is a welcoming way to respond to a deletion. Instead this discussion devolved into you seeming to cast the flagger and the mods as wrong/unfair, even if you think avoiding offensively-named tropes is a reasonable thing. If you accept that the community might not want to see offensively-named tropes used without some context, then you can just accept that instead of litigating it by saying “you let other people do it”?

My 2 cents is I’d frame a reference to that term in the way taz suggested. For people who’ve never heard this term, it really can be unclear that it’s not being used as a slur, and I wouldn’t want anyone to take it that way.
posted by sallybrown at 10:08 AM on January 25 [61 favorites]


Oh and also for the record I'm about to go out to brunch so if I don't respond for the next few hours it's because I'm at brunch. ( live in nyc it's 1:10 pm)
posted by miss-lapin at 10:09 AM on January 25


I thought I'd look to the community about how to frame comments about deeply problematic tropes in a way that isn't offensive

Just to recenter this on your question: I think the way to do this is use more words and skip the ones likely to cause offense. Sometimes we guess at how to do this and are wrong, but it's always worth trying. I have had this problem in the past with an offensive term that I think is the perfect way to describe a thing but... the term is offensive (and ergo I don't want to use it). So there's friction in trying to say the exact same thing using different words, for me, and that friction can cause unease with me, but my feeling is, that unease is my problem and shouldn't become the community's problem.

And to your larger point about identity. You've been here a long time. You talk about MeFi on social media sometimes. It's possible people know more about you than your MeFi profile indicates.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 10:27 AM on January 25 [27 favorites]


7 hours ago I was told my race was already obvious.

I'm fine with being asked the question, I'm kinda curious why I wasn't asked until now and my race was assumed.

But thanks 23 for assuming the worst on my behalf.


7 hours ago, someone who WASN'T ME told you that your race was obvious. The reason I asked the question I did was because if the question I asked was answered directly, it would make this conversation about deleted comments containing the phrase "magical negro" a lot easier to have. You were the one who started this MeTa, if you hadn't started it, I wouldn't have ever known that you had a comment deleted which contained the phrase "magical negro", and I never would have had any reason to ask you the question I did.

I have no idea what "assuming the worst on my behalf means", but if you're trying to imply that I've assumed something about you, you're dead-wrong. The reason I asked the question I asked was because I *WASN'T* assuming anything about you.
posted by 23skidoo at 10:28 AM on January 25 [13 favorites]


I have to disengage myself, can't put off this packing any longer, but for the record: miss-lapin I also appreciate your comments and participation on the site. I think you're a little angry here and I get it. I'm glad you started the thread despite the friction because I learned something; if I haven't already offended someone with my use of the term, probably I would have eventually, but now I'll know to be careful.

Hugs to everyone who needs/wants them.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 10:29 AM on January 25 [9 favorites]


I don’t think I’d have realized that referring to this trope by name might be offensive, so I’m glad this thread is here. I’ll take special care if I need to refer to it in future.

I’m not sure it’s fair to expect the mods to decide every issue the same way in every circumstance. Given the workload and the diverse personalities in play, I expect a fair bit of noise/error (I guess that’s what a statistician would say, huh).
posted by eirias at 10:31 AM on January 25 [6 favorites]


Jessamyn, I know you're on my FB.

But that is not what was I told. I can read thanks. You should know that too.

And can you tell my race my FB pictures? I don't think I ever was clear about that.
posted by miss-lapin at 10:33 AM on January 25


I'm super disappointed in you Jessamyn.

But hey feel free to out me.
posted by miss-lapin at 10:48 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]


I don't know your race, and wouldn't be guessing. Just speaking to why people might think they knew you. Will bow out.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 10:52 AM on January 25 [3 favorites]




People always thinking they know who I am who haven't bother spending ten seconds to know who I am. What a surprise.

Yeah I'm fucking angry. As a disabled woman, I am angry.

And I am not apologetic for that. Because I am tired of people making assumptions.

You know who am without asking, kudos.

Let me know.
posted by miss-lapin at 11:00 AM on January 25 [3 favorites]


I'm still very sad that we've lost Mordax's participation in Fanfare because of racism, and I hope I'm doing my best in the threads that I start and/or comment in to be ones where there is no white-fragility-pushback when calling out racism.

But I was perplexed by the deletion (and thought about starting a metatalk, but chickened out, since so many of these kinds of metatalk threads end up with us losing valued members). In a media discussion site, I would have expected that tropes like 'women in refrigerators', or 'yellowface', or 'bury your gays', or 'whitewashing', or 'inspiration porn', or 'doesn't pass the Bechdel test' and 'the magical negro' are well-known enough and widely-discussed enough to be referenced by name by anyone, without having to include a definition of the term.
posted by oh yeah! at 11:02 AM on January 25 [51 favorites]


miss-lapin, at this point, you've had a lot of opportunity to make your case here, and now I'm gonna ask that you stop commenting in here for now, and let this thread be about the more general questions to the community.

If any of our black members has anything they'd like to add about the use of this or similar phrases, I'd be grateful to hear it. If not, I fully understand that too. But those are the members whose perspectives on the use of this phrase matter most.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:08 AM on January 25 [10 favorites]


As this MetaTalk originated with a concern over using appropriate terminology, I'll just note that using "outed" in reference to racial identity is a further misstep here. A facebook friend being able to see your ethnicity in pictures you have uploaded isn't the same thing as being identified with a marginalized sexual identity that can have severe homophobic consequences. For example - if someone is white - your parents aren't going to kick you out of the house and estrange themselves from you just because they have suddenly been made aware that you are white.
posted by rather be jorting at 11:09 AM on January 25 [50 favorites]


I think that there was possibly and interesting and useful conversion that could have come out of this Meta, but the OP is just sucking all of the air out of the room by arguing with every person in this thread about everything. Is there any point to leaving this up?

I just doubled checked my account there is nothing about my: age, gender, or race attached to my account that I can see. Unless you count a picture of a small white rabbit.

miss-lapin, the view of the profile page is different for logged in users than for the general public. The logged in view of your profile page does show your age as well as your birthday, email address and links to your previous comments. Your description seems to be of the logged out view.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 11:10 AM on January 25 [8 favorites]


If you search the term, you find a whole post referencing the trope and little else. Is that because this has been more or less policy for some time? I too would have used it in reference to something like 'The Legend of Bagger Vance' and think very little of it - but I'm from Spike Lee's generation and I always welcomed his often inflammatory and aggressive takes on racism and they certainly educated me, so using it feels more appropriate than not (my judgement/reference to Bagger Vance is informed by the critical takes of others - in essence, I feel like I would doing proxy work to keep that notion in the foreground of any discussion of the film). I understand that isn't the case here (it was an observation that might of might not be echoed by a larger community of critics so there is less of a 'I'm repeating what feels like critical consensus') but the framing of the mod note seems to encompass both situations.

As I've never seen push back based on the name construction, I would classify this as one of those evolving language/evolving standards situations, so maybe the framing of the deletion would work better as "this is a term that was used uncritically in the past, but going forward we are going to be monitoring its use more carefully [with remainder of taz's comment about own voices/etc.]." I don't want to speak as to whether or not the OP would have received it differently, but this we do regularly have discussions on the order 'huh, I didn't know that word/concept/framing had fallen into critical disfavor by X community.'

As a related matter, it would also be helpful to speak more broadly here or elsewhere about that evolution: is there a soft or hard ownvoices standard for discussing tropes, either those that have problematic framing/naming or the concepts themselves more broadly?
posted by 99_ at 11:21 AM on January 25 [2 favorites]


There's even a Wikipedia article about it. I think there's a bit too much policing in this instance and miss-lapin's comment didn't need to be deleted. It's definitely an issue with Stephen King. This dumb white boy thinks it was a bad call by the mods, though their hearts may be in the right place.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:36 AM on January 25 [17 favorites]


[I don't know what borked with my search; I wouldn't necessarily reframe my comment, just want to note I was incorrect about the history of the term on the site]
posted by 99_ at 11:42 AM on January 25


If a black person is flagging the use of the term as offensive, with a note explaining why it was offensive (which is what the mods said happened), maybe we should listen to them instead of "dumb white boys"?
posted by primalux at 11:52 AM on January 25 [54 favorites]


Fair enough.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:53 AM on January 25 [2 favorites]


It’s really gross how people kept asking information about her personally when she clearly said she was uncomfortable with it due to a stalker.
posted by Drumhellz at 11:59 AM on January 25 [29 favorites]


I think "it's a widely used term" doesn't cancel out "it's offensive".
posted by Omnomnom at 12:01 PM on January 25 [16 favorites]


I can’t really stand in for my entire race, and generally avoid being the voice of Blackness because we are not a monolith, but isn’t it enough that another person asked for you to not use that phrase?

It may seem hypocritical because I use it a lot, and have definitely used it in mefi-related spaces, but I am not only Black, I have an advanced degree in film studies so I feel pretty okay using it to critique the powers that be. I also do so because I know it sets off people in a place of privilege who are just dying to say something transgressive and want to do the “such and such said it, why can’t I?”

Because you can’t, and that should be enough.
posted by loriginedumonde at 12:13 PM on January 25 [74 favorites]


It’s really gross how people kept asking information about her personally when she clearly said she was uncomfortable with it due to a stalker.

It wasn't people, it was just one person (I think), and that person was me. I asked a question twice, then stopped when I realized that they didn't want to share that information. I disagree that it was clear, it certainly wasn't clear to me, but I stopped once I figured it out.
posted by 23skidoo at 12:50 PM on January 25 [5 favorites]


"Using the phrase 'magical negro' to signify a real problem in cinematic depictions of PoC characters is the sort of brief shorthand that can work okay coming from "inside the house" (from a Black perspective), but can easily cause offense coming from a white person, especially in an offhand quick-take kind of way. If you, as a white person want to use the phrase to explain why a Black character is non-interesting, it would probably be better to contextualize that pretty carefully, including probably keeping in mind that this term originated in the Black community, and use of the archaic / offensive "negro" was deliberate as something recognized as having a specific meaning used in this way within that community. As with white people borrowing hip-hop lyrics, etc., some care should be taken."

I know you can't unring the bell that is this mod note, but I'll offer up this edit as a thought exercise so that mods can maybe phrase things extra-carefully in future situations when doing things like assuming someone's race in a mod note:
"Using the phrase 'magical negro' to signify a real problem in cinematic depictions of PoC characters is the sort of brief shorthand that can work okay coming from "inside the house" (from a Black perspective), but can easily cause offense coming from a white person non-Black folks or from people who choose not to share their race, especially in an offhand quick-take kind of way. If you, as a white person want to use the phrase to explain why a Black character is non-interesting, it would probably be better to contextualize that pretty carefully, including probably keeping in mind that this term originated in the Black community, and use of the archaic / offensive "negro" was deliberate as something recognized as having a specific meaning used in this way within that community. As with white people borrowing hip-hop lyrics, etc., some care should be taken.
posted by 23skidoo at 1:09 PM on January 25 [10 favorites]


I may be incorrect, but it seems like the issue is less the phrase, and more using it as a simple shorthand reason to discount a black character without actually engaging with either the character and the term and what it signifies?

I did not flag the comment, I am not black, and I am not much of a Stephen King fan. So having established my lack of bona fides, I will still say that sometimes name dropping a trope like this to dismiss a fictional character will really rub me the wrong way. I don't have any insight into whether the Holly Gibney character fits that trope, and I'm sure there's an interesting discussion to be had about that. But, it's also possible to apply a concept too broadly. And it could be frustrating to feel like every black character with some sort of magical or inexplicable element to them gets dismissed using that trope. (Not to imply that miss-lapin overuses the trope - I really appreciate her contributions in Fanfare - but it's easy to inadvertently contribute to a pattern of dismissive comments.)

The Wikipedia entry cited above references an essay by Nnedi Okafor on Stephen King's use of this trope that also goes into why other black characters written by King may not fall in this category. The Holly Gibney character isn't addressed, but
this web archive copy of Okafor's essay is an interesting perspective on what, beyond race and magic, contribute to the trope.

Anyway, if the consensus is we should avoid the trope altogether, I'd be fine with that. But I wonder if part of the problem is that because this trope is widely known, it becomes harder for black representation in fantasy/horror/magical realism to be appreciated in general.
posted by the primroses were over at 1:50 PM on January 25 [8 favorites]


The term itself can either be applied positively by acknowledging that the character doesn't have their own inner life, or negatively by erasing the character's agency. Given that and that half of the term has been used to deny people's humanity I don't think it's too much to ask that we specify which one we mean. I don't think it's out of line for this to be pointed out and a correction asked for.
posted by bleep at 1:55 PM on January 25 [5 favorites]


Lotta non POC opinions in here.

I wish more broadly we could get less het up about the deletion of comments, it's not a big deal and it's not a judgement on you /me /us as people.

In this particular case I'd much rather have a site that was highly sensitive to racial issues, than one that was under sensitive. And if that means some ambiguous areas where reasonable people can disagree I think that's fine.

This is a human space, and I don't think we can have bright line rules for everything.
posted by smoke at 2:11 PM on January 25 [56 favorites]


This really, really didn't go well, mods, (retired and active). I'm white, and if I make some comment that's seen as racist by a black member, I want that comment deleted. I wouldn't choose to make a MetaTalk about the issue.

That being said, I do expect a level of privacy and due diligence to be exercised by the mods here (again, retired and active) with the kind of not-public information they might be aware of. That includes even acknowledging the existence of profiles on other services. Is this really too much to ask for these days?

Yeah, in this specific case because of the user's username it's probably trivial to find out their race, (I'm not going to try, not my place) but it strikes me badly how much prying there might have been involved in this initial report and its handling.

Again, I am personally open about being white and being anti-whiteness myself on the site and I would support someone flagging a racist comment I made, and for it to be deleted. But I'm open about this fact on this site so I don't think there's an expectation of privacy for this axis for me. It seems like there should've been that expectation for this user, though.
posted by odinsdream at 2:18 PM on January 25 [10 favorites]


At the same time, if I'm making a MeTa about a judgement of racism, and someone who does not think my race is clear asks me directly what it is, going "WELL I GUESS IT'S OBVIOUS NOW, ISN'T IT" and refusing to answer the question is not a good look. Really not a good look. (FYI: it wasn't obvious to me, either.)

I am also white. I feel that if you do not want anyone to know what your own personal race and ethnicity is, you need to not be discussing race and ethnicity at all, and certainly not judgements on what racism is. Your lived experience informs your perspective, and I think it is reasonable for people to request that much information in discussion.
posted by sciatrix at 2:31 PM on January 25 [37 favorites]


I'm saying yeah, this spun way out and we're at a different point, but way back at the starting point of this, I am really uncomfortable with the level of personal digging or "oh I know who that is from X" went on here, both in private to make the moderation decision, and in public in this metatalk.
posted by odinsdream at 2:43 PM on January 25 [4 favorites]


It looks to me like the current mods' decision was basically to assume that miss-lapin was white until and unless there was a note otherwise in her profile--note that LobsterMitten apologizes in case she'd got the race wrong, for example. I agree with 23skidoo's reframe and note that explicitly not assuming race in cases where it isn't clear is probably a good tack to use going forwards, but I don't necessarily see any more personal digging or "I know who you are from X" than a) the assumption made, plus b) an attempt to explain how and why someone might make that assumption. This last is true of both users and mods--note that the original flagger apparently specified they were uncomfortable with a white person using the phrase.

In the absence of that information, when it becomes pertinent to discussion, people are going to check and see if they can find cues one way or another and then make a probability guess which informs their response to the topic. That's not a great habit for a number of reasons, but when you're trying to make a guess about the lived experience someone else's expertise might give them and trying not to ask directly what is your race/ethnicity (because that's often parsed as rude and can make the discussion even rockier, as we see!), people tend to indulge in it.

I still do not know how miss-lapin identifies on a race/ethnicity basis. I'm making my own assumptions, too! And in the absence of information, my assumptions are all that I have to go on. Note that miss-lapin herself also repeatedly makes assumptions about the race and gender of a poster based on a profile picture, not the comment of the user in that thread. Is that unreasonable?
posted by sciatrix at 2:52 PM on January 25 [4 favorites]


There might not have been much personal digging. I'm bad with usernames and even I know without looking it up that certain people are white, or male, or Deaf, or Australian, or whatever -- it's stuff that comes up.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:53 PM on January 25 [2 favorites]


I'm going to try to frame this delicately, but also strongly: if you are not Black, and you are creating the impression that you might be because you refuse to say that you aren't, that is only a step removed from pretending that you are, in my opinion. I understand the fear that comes with being stalked, I have been dealing with it for years at this point, but there has been far more identifying information shared from the poster on this site (workplace, location, potential locations to move to, going to meetups) that it's really setting off alarm bells that this is somehow the one thing that is too dangerous to share or answer affirmatively or negatively about. And to say that it's making me extremely wary and uncomfortable would be an understatement.
posted by primalux at 3:13 PM on January 25 [63 favorites]


Mods have asked a few times for a Black perspective on the original issue--which seems minimal in this thread--so I'll step up to bat. I consider the term well-known, widely-used, and broadly understood. I have never considered it problematic (though it is, of course, fair for others to think otherwise) and have never thought twice when hearing or reading it about the race of the interlocutor. I have never heard other Black folk respond negatively to non-Black folk using the term, whether actively in mixed-race spaces or in Black-exclusive spaces when relevant discussions are being had. There is a whole host of language that I feel uncomfortable (at best, but let me be brief) hearing from non-Black mouths and "magical negro" is nowhere near the list. I find the term useful; it is a critical, specific trope along the lines of the additional terms mentioned above by oh yeah!. I do not think "negro" should ever be referred to as "the n-word" and that being done in this thread was confusing. I think it is weird to assume or reason out the race of any user who has not offered up that information directly. I do not think use of the term on MF should require additional contextualizing.

My empathy goes out to the person who flagged the comment--I truly am sorry that you encountered a comment that felt like Yet Another Problematic Thing Today--as well as miss-lapin and the mods. We are all out here trying our best. Hugs and wishes for better media and characters that doesn't require any of us to even think of the term.
posted by youarenothere at 4:28 PM on January 25 [135 favorites]


Yeah, I don't think there's consensus from the Black delegation about this term. FWIW, I appreciate white people using it because I am in favor of more white people recognizing the trope instead of telling me how much they love shit like Bagger Vance or the Help because it shows the races getting along, or whatever. But I do think that this site probably needs to spend more time in discussion about how to view terms that get flagged by users that have a very wide range of responses. There was a similar issue some months back when a term that is a nasty racist slur in British English and is also a common, non-derogatory word for a store in regional Aemrican English that had people upset and confused about how to use it.

That said, this thread showed very early on that the OP didn't really seem to be in a good space for responding to comments and I'm really disappointed in the mods for letting this one spool out. It seems cruel.
posted by TwoStride at 4:50 PM on January 25 [43 favorites]


How about warning users in advance that you’re going to reveal their personal information? It would have been easy to warn them while the post was in the queue.
posted by michaelh at 4:55 PM on January 25


(i'm also personally not super keen on deletion decisions being made on mod assumptions about information that mefites have specifically not shared with the community, but i am not a mod and i won't pretend to understand the best way to tackle those sorts of things.)

I stopped posting for a pretty long time because of a related issue that I had.

It seems to me that there is an assumption on MeFi that anyone who doesn't make a point of saying otherwise is white. White being default mode is really nice for white people most of the time. In this case, it is less so, since mods have said that their takes will weigh less in moderation decisions.

In my case, I said something that a POC disagreed with. They said that they assumed that I was white, but that I could clarify if I wanted. I didn't clarify and they then used me as an example of an ignorant white commentator in the big race discussion thread and smacktalked me there.

There was one problem, though. My opinion may have been wrong and I would have phrased it differently in retrospect, but I'm not white. I mean, I'm mixed. I found it offensive that I was supposed to give my racial credentials to help people decide whether I was allowed to have the opinion that I had. I've had both white and non-white people call my racial identity into question in real life because, as someone who can pass, I'm apparently not X enough to anyone in any group. Having a place where it's not a focus was previously beneficial for me.

Mods then ultimately deleted some of my comments with a critique because they were seemingly trying to privilege non-white commentators due to prior wrongs. (The conversation also wasn't going anywhere good or non-repetitive, but I was the only one admonished.) I don't hold it against them. They were doing their best. While trying to do the right thing, wrongs sometimes transpire. If we're rating the credibility of comments on, not just stated race, but perceived race, things are going to get messy.

I would suggest that, at the very least, if users don't opt to make their racial identity obvious, people should not ask them to whip it out. It's offensive to do so, and it's not just an offense when a white person does it. There should be a site rule against anyone doing it.
posted by bootlegpop at 5:44 PM on January 25 [42 favorites]


Honestly the comment irked me because Holly isn't even black in the book and her actress being black in the adaptation doesn't suddenly mean her character is automatically an example of the Magical Negro trope due to writing that predated the (awesome) casting.

(I am black if that matters)
posted by Freeze Peach at 5:44 PM on January 25 [24 favorites]



Mods then ultimately deleted some of my comments with a critique because they were seemingly trying to privilege non-white commentators due to prior wrongs.

Respectfully, they were pretty clear about what was going on, and that's not what they said. I would hesitate to dig into that stuff but if you're using it as an example for why a sitewide rule should be laid down, it's worth being accurate.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:04 PM on January 25 [5 favorites]


Respectfully, they were pretty clear about what was going on, and that's not what they said. I would hesitate to dig into that stuff but if you're using it as an example for why a sitewide rule should be laid down, it's worth being accurate.

Eponysterical?

You're right. I could have phrased that better. That's why I added seemingly, because it was a matter of my perception, not stated intent. They have elsewhere said that they are doing so, in general, in appropriate cases. Personally, I am of the opinion that if it was two people both stating that they were not white, it may have been handled differently. I could be wrong.

I do not consider the way that the mods handled things to be a case for or against the aforementioned hypothetical rule, nor is my assertion predicated upon it. It is offensive, to me, when someone asks my race. I know that I'm not the only one, but if I am the only one here, it can be thrown in the bin with other bad suggestions.

Intra type conflicts are always going to be harder to police. Unfortunately, especially when it comes to mixed people (I think), the issue is often coming from within the tent.
posted by bootlegpop at 6:24 PM on January 25 [2 favorites]


In my case, I said something that a POC disagreed with. They said that they assumed that I was white, but that I could clarify if I wanted. I didn't clarify and they then used me as an example of an ignorant white commentator in the big race discussion thread and smacktalked me there.

There was one problem, though. My opinion may have been wrong and I would have phrased it differently in retrospect, but I'm not white. I mean, I'm mixed. I found it offensive that I was supposed to give my racial credentials to help people decide whether I was allowed to have the opinion that I had. I've had both white and non-white people call my racial identity into question in real life because, as someone who can pass, I'm apparently not X enough to anyone in any group. Having a place where it's not a focus was previously beneficial for me.


I hope you don't take this as me discounting your feelings about this, because I really don't want to do that. I'm with you that assuming someone who thinks a certain way must be white is a problem, and pointed language like "I will assume you are white unless you prove otherwise" sucks. I'm going to be honest though, if the thread you're referencing is the one that internet fraud detective squad station number 9 linked to, I don't see anything that pointed in that thread.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:26 PM on January 25 [1 favorite]


I hope you don't take this as me discounting your feelings about this, because I really don't want to do that. I'm with you that assuming someone who thinks a certain way must be white is a problem, and pointed language like "I will assume you are white unless you prove otherwise" sucks. I'm going to be honest though, if the thread you're referencing is the one that internet fraud detective squad station number 9 linked to, I don't see anything that pointed in that thread.

Thanks for being cool about it, since my action item was in reference to your post, but not meant to be a personal diss. I may have been better off leaving out a proposed rule change and just giving my take as to how it made me feel.

I haven't gone back and read anything but the mod notes since the experience. I have done so now, and I'm not trying to call someone out, nor do I hold any residual ill will towards the poster because they were trying to defend a position that was important to them, but I would call some of this pointed:


"you clearly have no idea just how much you've shown yourself to be part of that white snowblindness with those comments."


if you're not a poc, maybe you shouldn't just rush out and say "we do anti-racist stuff good here" because how the fuck would you know?

My recollection is that I was directly asked afterwards, but that could have been in some of the deleted comments. Either way, I was put in a position where I could have laid my identity out like cards on the table to try to prove something, and it didn't feel good to me. I can only speak for myself, but I have known other mixed people who also don't appreciate being asked.
posted by bootlegpop at 6:42 PM on January 25 [8 favorites]


Adding my black voice here, I agree with youarenothere. I have never heard that non-black people shouldn't use the term "magical negro" nor have I witnessed anyone referring to negro as the n-word.

It wasn't the most delicate comment but I don't think it should've been deleted.
posted by girlmightlive at 6:53 PM on January 25 [18 favorites]


I am also white. I feel that if you do not want anyone to know what your own personal race and ethnicity is, you need to not be discussing race and ethnicity at all, and certainly not judgements on what racism is.

I have spent enough of my life being told by white people that I am not white enough that I have no desire or intention to qualify myself to white people that I am brown enough.

There are any number of reasons that someone posting on site full of pseudonyms wouldn't want to disclose any number of personal details.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 7:01 PM on January 25 [25 favorites]


(1) This video was published by Key & Peele to their YouTube channel yesterday.

(2) If I'm reading the Wikipedia article correctly, the use of the word being discussed here is purposeful: "Critics use the word 'Negro' because it is considered archaic, and usually offensive, in modern English. This underlines their message that a 'magical black character' who goes around selflessly helping white people is a throwback to stereotypes such as the 'Sambo' or 'noble savage'." The source listed for that sentence is Race, Sex, and Suspicion: The Myth of the Black Male, written by D. Marvin Jones, who is African-American.

Also potentially relevant to this thread: "Stephen King's Super-Duper Magical Negroes," Nnedi Okorafor, Strange Horizons, 25 October 2004.
posted by WCityMike at 7:08 PM on January 25 [11 favorites]


[One deleted. For the sake of transparency in a tricky thread: A user who, earlier today, quit after they had a comment that was dismissive of racism deleted in an unrelated thread, chose to come in here with a sockpuppet and complain that moderation should ignore racism, without disclosing any of that leadup. The user + sock have both been banned.]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 7:54 PM on January 25 [19 favorites]


It's a technical term and was used as such, albeit without enough context for someone unfamiliar with the term to be guaranteed to understand. In my view, it wouldn't be problematic to delete it pending the addition of clarifying context.

At this point I'm a bit confused as to what, if anything, is being proposed from a policy or community standards point of view. If the idea is that the term should only be used with more context, that seems like a good tweak to make going forward. But if there is serious thought of banning the term or restricting its use to only members who have publicly identified as black, that seems very poorly considered for a number of reasons.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:58 PM on January 25 [9 favorites]


Heya, checking in. It's a night off for me me but it seems like this is something where having an additional mod voice stepping in to offer some thoughts might be helpful given some of the complicated ways this intersects with current moderation efforts to be more responsive on issues tied to PoC experiences on the site:

1. We're in a complicated place with moderation where we are trying to be a lot more attentive to the subtle ways in which default-white assumptions about language and boundaries have traditionally been negatively affecting PoC members and readers on the site. One specific part of that is the way in which language that originates in specific cultural contexts, including in particular context of cultural critique from a specific marginalized in-group perspective, tend to migrate outward in the flow of pop culture and pop criticism to broader culturally indiscriminate and cultural-default language. This is something you see on the one hand with things like digital blackface in twitter meming, and on another hand with the generalization of things like "magical negro" as a critique by black authors of white treatment of black characters in white-facing media into a shorthand used by white critics or conversants about black characters.

And the thing is, "magical negro" is a different thing from people invoking "n-----" in either genuinely racist or ironic/referential ways. Collapsing the distinction between the two does not make sense to me, and to my knowledge no mefi mod has referred to "negro" as "the n-word"; miss-lapin used that phrasing in email and in here but it's not our phrasing. That said, "negro" is hardly without charge in 2020, especially by non-black folks, and as a word being used now needs some contextualization and depends significantly on who the speaker is to not come off as kind of a "what?" bit of usage. The fact that "magical negro" has been established in the early 21st century by critical commentary by black authors as a recognizable and problematic trope in media makes it understandable that people would reference it thereafter; the fact that it in the best case is being referenced as mention rather than use makes the choice to do so more understandable, especially specifically in a media criticism context, than it otherwise would be; neither of those makes it casually and definitively unproblematic for a non-black person to toss it around, nor erases the chargedness of throwing around "negro" without a lot of careful thought.

So, as a moderator, looking at someone using "magical negro" more as a casual dismissal of a character than as a carefully qualified and on-point criticism in a media thesis, I'm inclined to think this isn't the best call. Seeing that usage specifically flagged by a site member with concern about that usage, I'd be inclined to err on the side of caution and nix it and/or have a conversation with the commenter about a different framing. That's basically what happened here; the commenter didn't take that in stride and basically insisted on a public conversation about it after some back and forth, and here we are.

I think it's a bit complicated; the intersection of the chargedness of "negro" as an out-of-context usage and the within-criticism trope label of "magical negro" as shorthand creates a situation where I can see both interpretations coming to bear. I think it's legitimate to feel like this specifically isn't the most problematic usage in the world in general, and that deletion was in principle unnecessary; I also agree with the original moderation call on this specific usage that it seemed needlessly dismissive as actually used, and feel like if we're in a spot with a "this either could be, or could not so much be, seen as racist and insensitive", that erring on the side of deleting and letting the user come back with a rephrasing (as we tried to do in this case) is probably the better call overall. But in the end, it's making a call and working from there. It's a call we might get wrong sometimes. These days we're trying harder to err on the side of action rather than inaction.

2. Phrasing of the mod note: 23skidoo, I appreciate your work with the edit here. Part of where we're at as a mod team is making an effort to be more specifically communicative about deletion and moderation stuff—not just deleting comments, which remains a key part of what we can do here to help threads not go sideways, but also adding some mod note context about what happened and why—and in the course of that we are likely to stumble sometimes with the specific phrasing in the moment as we try to respond to a situation. There are going to continue to be opportunities for us to find better and clearer and more appropriate ways to nail down the specific issues and concerns with these things, and I and the rest of the mod team find this kind of detailed feedback on what feels appropriate very useful. So, thank you, and folks in general who have taken this kind of constructive and additive approach to helping this stuff work better.

3. For concerns about whether this should have been a metatalk thread at all: we have been trying to reevaluate how folks feel about MetaTalk, the existence of and perception of the MetaTalk queue, and the role this part of the site plays in a sense of community agency and membership ownership over how concerns on the site are examined. That's a big work in progress, but part of it is that we've been trying especially hard to make sure we're not quelling stuff that in the form of genuine user concerns even if it's stuff we as mods don't necessarily agree is the ideal approach to a given discussion. So we're opting to try and mediate framing and timing of posts where we have active concerns about a given post, but also trying to let folks go ahead when they feel strongly about doing so.

I feel the two poles of our options are taking a fundamentally top down approach where the only threads that go through are ones we are 100% confident of the viability and stability of, and letting everything through without intervention. And the reality has been somewhere in between; the latter is my idealized state but has a lot of problems tied up in it, the former is what I feel is sometimes perceived to be the state of things even though we are not trying to do that at all, and in practice we've been trying to find a compromise where we manage to preempt outright disasters based on past history but we manage to avoid keeping too tight a grip on people's posting instincts.

Which is a bit, uh, meta, and a topic for future conversation mostly, but: either we sometimes let folks make posts we have misgivings about, or we don't. And I feel like the balance with the current status quo is sometimes expressing those misgivings clearly to a poster and then letting them make up their own mind about whether and how to continue. This is a good example of this difficult grey area: I don't personally think this MetaTalk was a very good idea, but I also don't really feel comfortable asserting that this conversation can't happen in public. So letting it happen and letting people talk out how they feel about various aspects of it is where we are. I don't think everybody is going to agree about whether that was the right call, but I also don't know that there's an outcome here everyone would agree with, so.

It matters to me a great deal that we can talk stuff out on the site, and I think trying to continue to find a good path toward doing that where possible in a way that will serve the overall community is important. I doubt that will ever not be bumpy, and I'm certain that as mods we will fuck it up sometimes, and tonight I don't really even know how to evaluate this specific instance! But that we can talk about it, and talk about whether and why and how folks have concerns about every aspect of it, is a good and I'm going to go so far as to say remarkable thing, and part of why I care about and believe in this place.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:02 PM on January 25 [40 favorites]


Thanks cortex and mods. I appreciate the transparency and goof faith efforts to navigate this area in an inclusive and supportive way. I feel like the changes you are making are visible and I appreciate them.

On the meta stuff, my experience both here and in working with online communities (albeit in a work context), would be to nix more MeTas and/or close them up more frequently once they are "resolved" - as the bad ones (it feels like) have a marked tendency to go right off the fucking rails lately and everyone ends up angry and no one feels better.

This one for example, I feel like you could have closed up after your comment with no loss. I realise I may be an outlier in this respect but I don't think having long MeTas over deleted comments for eg, just so everyone can have a say, is a net good (he says, having a say). The site updates have been great with comments off.
posted by smoke at 8:18 PM on January 25 [11 favorites]


[And, y'know, I was with misgivings opting for a literal invocation of "n-----" given the confusion up thread about what "n-word" was referring to, but as much as I think it may be necessary to make unambiguous mention of problem words sometimes I still don't really feel like that's a solved problem and I figure people can put two and two together for the purposes of discussion, so I've gone back and edited that now. Apologies to anyone hurt by that, I'm still trying to settle my mind on some of the necessary crossings of the use vs. mention threshold and I feel like I made more of an older-internet call there initially.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:28 PM on January 25 [9 favorites]


I appreciate the mods efforts here, it's not easy and I don't disagree with their tack on this particular case but if the site is going to get better regarding nuance and race and whatever then there's going to be fuzzy and/or borderline items to deal with. This is one. I appreciate folks staying on an even keel while discussing.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:30 PM on January 25 [8 favorites]


cortex: we've been trying especially hard to make sure we're not quelling stuff that in the form of genuine user concerns even if it's stuff we as mods don't necessarily agree is the ideal approach to a given discussion

If that is the strategy, cortex, then I applaud it. My specific experience was literally the reverse, but perhaps the above is an intended change in strategy.
posted by WCityMike at 11:34 PM on January 25


LB asked me not to comment and I did say I was going out and wouldn't be commenting. So, I didn't.

In terms of whether or not I am white, it's actually not a simple question to answer. So I didn't. I'm not inclined to write a whole paragraph explaining why I can't just answer yes or no. I will say one of the most common questions I get asked when people meet me is my racial background/identity. If you wish to draw conclusions from that, ok.
posted by miss-lapin at 12:44 AM on January 26 [1 favorite]


Cortex

I do appreciate your detailed comment. I do take exception to this part, " the commenter didn't take that in stride and basically insisted on a public conversation about it after some back and forth, and here we are."

I "let this go" until I saw a similarly brief comment on the topic that was apparently fine. The mod who made the call on my comment said a MeTa was the way forward for further discussion so... I decided to make the MeTa. Framing this as simply a failure on my part to process and move on is uncool.

I will say I have avoided MeTa for several years based on experiences on (what I realize now) are experiences from a decade ago. Based on your comment about how you and the mod team are working on this part of the site, I will come back here more often.

I actually don't regret making this post which is a huge indication of how MeTa has changed already.
posted by miss-lapin at 1:20 AM on January 26 [17 favorites]


One thing I've tried to learn to do more here over the years is give myself a time-out when something someone says evokes in me a big flare-up of anger and —especially — righteous indignation. Sometimes, I'm absolutely, completely correct to feel that way and to respond accordingly. Sometimes, not so much. But, either way, my participation usually turns out to be counter-productive when I post immediately in response.

As it happens, I read both the threads in question and, when, in the second thread I saw the term used and not deleted, I thought it was odd — but, more to the point, given the exchange in the thread where miss-lapin's comment was deleted, I worried that something exactly like this post and resulting thread would happen. Not the least because I've taken notice of and enjoyed miss-lapin's participation in FanFare. There are not that many of us over there, after all.

My general sense is that most of the principals involved in this have made a few minor missteps and they've all added up to something that is far more upsetting and potentially damaging than it ought to be.

Say, if I were to order delivery cupcakes or a Popeye's chicken sandwich for everyone here, would that induce a gustatory feeling of well-being such that we'd all be especially generous and kind to each other? Because I'm totally up for that. I'll do it; I'll reach deep into my bank account to make it happen.

"I feel that if you do not want anyone to know what your own personal race and ethnicity is, you need to not be discussing race and ethnicity at all, and certainly not judgements on what racism is."

I get where you're coming from and what you're aiming for, but the problem with your proposed standard is that it ironically would silence the less-privileged more than it would the privileged — because POC have a lot more at stake when publicly identifying themselves as such in a racist society.

Yes, it would make white people uncomfortable and keep some of us from blundering into conversations involving POC and hurtfully throwing around our white privilege. But many white people simply wouldn't mind self-identifying as such because they have white privilege and are not nearly as socially vulnerable in a white supremacist society as a POC is. As such things sadly go, I don't doubt some of them would subsequently defend their "right" to say hurtful things because they had the "courage" to self-identify. As if they had anything more at stake than their white fragility — which they don't.

Meanwhile, the price-of-entry for POC into public conversations about issues most important to them and about which they are most socially vulnerable would be to wear that vulnerability on their sleeve, so to speak. Usually, in most of the offline world they have no choice about this, of course. But online, they do. And in a place like this, if they choose to do so, it becomes a matter of record.

More to the point — and I'll say this as gently as possible — such a proposal from a white person itself demonstrates white privilege because it doesn't account for the very real asymmetric risks of publicly declaring one's race. Risks that a POC would naturally be aware of, but which white people could easily overlook.

Of course I'm writing this a white person with white privilege and before and while writing this comment I've continually asked myself if I should not do so because of that white privilege. The answer I've come to is that my privilege is precisely why I, a white person, should point this out to another white person. If you or anyone else is upset with me for doing so, I have that white privilege to insulate me. When a POC goes out on a limb like this and explicitly points out to a white ally that their well-intended proposal itself is problematic, more often than not they're going to find themselves unfairly having to deal with white fragility in response. Not that I think you, sciatrix, would have behaved so — I feel pretty confident you would have said, oh, wait, I'm sorry, I didn't think of that. (You're especially good at accepting criticism. A quality I admire and aspire to.)

Also, I'm posting this as sort of an example of how those of us who are white really have to work at being aware of our privilege and double- and triple-checking our reasoning before we engage in something like this. It's not easy and we'll inevitably screw up occasionally but getting better at this will mean that discussions of the acceptability of terms like was used, or about normative arguments concerning self-identification, will involve fewer hurt feelings and more productive outcomes.

Does anyone have strong donut preferences? I hate strawberry. Well, I'd go for the chicken sandwich. It really is quite good.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:44 AM on January 26 [15 favorites]


“In terms of whether or not I am white, it's actually not a simple question to answer.”

But the pertinent question isn’t whether you are white. It’s whether you are black. Because no one but black people gets to decide what’s offensive to black people. Full stop. Not white people OR other POC. I’m not black, so my opinion about it flat does not matter. I can have opinions about the moderation style and other aspects of how this has played out, but I don’t get to argue about whether the term is offensive.

Making this a complicated thing about identity is radically missing the point. Because it doesn’t matter if you are POC or white. It matters if you are black. And, frankly, making this All About You and your identity means that the question you raised hasn’t really been discussed and I don’t think it can be, the well is poisoned.
posted by stoneweaver at 8:37 AM on January 26 [51 favorites]


TBH I feel really uncomfortable with the way this convo has gone. I feel like there has been a lot of catering to whiteness and to white-passing people. I am one and we do not really need this level of kid-glove white-fragility handling. Being white-passing is 99.9999% of the time not a bad thing for me and definitely not something that requires this level of "how dare you" kind of response--if that is even what is going on here (which I'm still not clear about). And the existence of white-passing POC is also not a reason to make whiteness some kind of mysterious private fact.

Nobody needs to tell anyone their race here just to go about their business, but at the point at which personal identity is being used as a shield against criticism, and race is being heavily implied...then it does not make people shitty, nosy, or insensitive to white-passing POC to be curious.

I am posting this realizing that it is recentering the convo, again, on white-passing POC (or white people?), which I regret, but it needs to be said.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:17 AM on January 26 [14 favorites]


Oh are we complaining about deletions because I think it's bullshit that comments have been deleted in this thread while one user has been allowed to be inane and casually hurtful for hella comments. I never thought I'd be one of those MeTa deleted comment griefers and idk if there's some sort of allowance for an OP but people posting jokey comments are just responding to what seems to be a mod decision to let this thread be the wild west and it feels like a double standard for POC. Btw this is my first comment in this thread, but this is exactly why POC felt like they needed their own space to alert each other to stuff here, so that we see things like this go down and don't each think we're seeing things alone.
posted by sunset in snow country at 10:32 AM on January 26 [11 favorites]


I feel like something that miss lapin has been saying is being overlooked here.

It appears that Miss Lapin has been pointing out that her comment which referenced the term got flagged and was deleted, but that another poster's comment which also referenced the term was not deleted, and still stands. It is further assumed that this other poster happens to be white.

It strikes me that therefore miss lapin's own racial makeup - however she chooses to define it, or not define it - is kind of ignoring the observation that someone else - someone else who presents as white - got to use that offending term with impunity, whereas someone who does not self-identify as 100% white had their use of the comment deleted.

If that is indeed the complaint, then I also would like to better understand how that happened as well. (I'm white, if it matters.) If it's something as simple as "the other comment wasn't flagged", then so be it, but if it was flagged, then I'm curious as to what it is about that other comment lead to it remaining.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:44 AM on January 26


LM's comment above discusses that, EmpressCallipygos.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 10:50 AM on January 26 [1 favorite]


Ah, apologies, I missed that. Will shut up.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:01 AM on January 26 [1 favorite]


They are pretty different comments. The deleted comment is brief and dismissive and could easily be read/misread as an attack on the character's blackness. The comment that was left up is clearly stating that they have a problem with King's persistent use of the trope and includes 2 links describing what the trope is and why it is a problem.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 11:05 AM on January 26 [8 favorites]


I'm peeved at the way a huge chunk of the thread, ostensibly about the way we should handle a racially charged comment, is all about whether the commenter subsequently got treated badly.

I'd ask what the hell happened, but the dynamic is frustratingly familiar.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:36 AM on January 26 [28 favorites]


I feel like what a lot of people are missing here is that POC can definitely be racist towards other POC not of their specific ethnicity/experience and even sometimes towards POC of their own background. I think Andrew Yang making jokes about how he "knows a lot of doctors" is racist, for example. If the behavior is racist, the commenter being a poc working through their own feelings about race in a less than nuanced way can provide an explanation but not an excuse. I also really don't think non-Black people have the right to specifically use charged words about the Black experience (or in recent fpp terms, non-Mexican Latinx people don't necessarily have the right to write about Mexican migrants). It's not just about the box you tick on the census form or a binary distinction between white and not, it's about your specific heritage and experience and whether you're speaking about it in a good-faith, nuanced way.
posted by storytam at 12:58 PM on January 26 [11 favorites]


"will say one of the most common questions I get asked when people meet me is my racial background/identity. If you wish to draw conclusions from that, ok."

Yeah the conclusion I draw from that is you're not black. So if a black person says they are hurt by your use of a term but you continue to want to use it, well you're being an a--hole.
posted by jj's.mama at 12:59 PM on January 26 [32 favorites]


And your defense that a "white dude" said it but wasn't deleted doesn't hold water. It doesn't make it right if a person says it's hurtful.
posted by jj's.mama at 1:01 PM on January 26 [3 favorites]


Seriously, this coyness about how the poster identifies is really starting to piss me off. First she won't say she isn't black, leading people to think she might be black. If it turns out she isn't, that's gross, COMPLETELY out of line especially in this context, and should not be tolerated. Now there's this "well people are always asking what I am" which is trying to make it *seem* like she's a white-passing POC or mixed-race. If that's ALSO not true, that is ALSO gross, completely out of line, and should not be tolerated.

There is no need to co-opt and appropriate the actual struggles and issues of non-white people so that you can get to say whatever fucking words and phrases you would like to, and if it turns out that's what's happening here, there had better be some kind of serious discussion about how the site is supposed to handle this.
posted by primalux at 1:09 PM on January 26 [14 favorites]


Also POC can still be assholes. The whole focus on OP's ethnicity just shows that this site is so ignorant of race that we have to use people's ethnicities as a proxy for actually evaluating who is in the wrong in a situation like this. Either the comment was hurtful/ added nothing to the discussion or it wasn't. Funny that now all of a sudden we're invested in protecting feelings though
posted by sunset in snow country at 1:14 PM on January 26 [18 favorites]


I'll also note that making an FPP about Stephen King being treated as if he were a Latina writer, but then busting out yet another comment about the trope sparking this MetaTalk, even though the topic of the FPP was not about black characters in King's stories and the FPP specifically addresses flipping the script on how Latina authors are treated, reads very much like a pretext to have yet another arena to post the trope, regardless of its relevance to the topic the op's FPP was even about in the first place.
posted by rather be jorting at 1:25 PM on January 26 [7 favorites]


Yeah I am a white passing POC who gets asked about her ethnic identity whenever people meet her (so only kind of passing lol) and I have said/done/thought anti-black things, anti-indigenous things, anti-my own cultural background things. Me being mixed/bi/having mental illnesses in no way makes those things not racist.

There are cases where context and identity of the speaker matter - me choosing to self identify as "crazy" is very different from someone else not in the community calling me that. Reasonable people within a community can disagree on preferences for terminology, the effect of impact, etc. C.f. conversations about the reclamations of slurs. There are cases where it does not. My Jewishness would not make it suddenly ok for me to serve cheeseburgers at a kosher oneg. It certainly would not make it ok for me to wear redface.

In this case, the ostensible question of the Meta could have been a chance for us to have a community dialogue about where to land on using controversial terminology. I have been in communities, for instance, where we decided within that community that no one could use "crazy," regardless of their self-identification. This allowed us to protect those who were injured by its use without requiring anyone to out themselves as having mental health struggles in order to "justify" their use of the term. That's one option, there are other equally reasonable ones to take.

Instead, I think this conversation is pretty reflective of the inability of MeFi to have that kind of nuanced, complicated discussion. Rather than people from the affected community discussing the impact of a term's use, a discussion on what kind of harm might be caused by its use/banning/some 3rd option, we've devolved into "well we assess merit of an argument based on self-reported identity, so if the OP of the comment might not be white (regardless of if they are black), they are entirely justified to post whatever they want." It's a very reductive way of understanding how racialization and racism actually work.
posted by arabidopsis at 1:40 PM on January 26 [30 favorites]


And as the OP dodges around the question of whether she identifies as black or not, she has also referenced her disability in almost ten separate comments here. What is the point in bringing it up so persistently? We are talking about race, not disability here. It reads to me that the OP expects her marginalization on axes of disability to insulate her from any critique about anti-blackness. To be clear, this behavior utterly disgusts me. As a disabled PoC, it makes me never want to share space with you: you've made it plenty clear that even within the context of disability community, you're completely willing to toss disabled people of color under the bus.
posted by Conspire at 1:41 PM on January 26 [38 favorites]


In this case, the ostensible question of the Meta could have been a chance for us to have a community dialogue about where to land on using controversial terminology.

Yeah, I really wish that was the focus of the conversation we had had here, as I think that conversation would have been more beneficial to the site than discussing whether/how mods erred in assuming a Mefite's race in a mod note.
posted by 23skidoo at 1:46 PM on January 26 [31 favorites]


Taking a step back to examine the broader view of how this thread has gone:

The prompt for this MetaTalk thread queries how to address a problematic trope without invoking a name that in and of itself might offend. I would suggest simply using more words to describe what you mean. So what if you have to use more words to avoid using a problematic shorthand? If it's so easy to write multiple comments about personal offense, what exactly makes it so difficult to write more words to avoid oversimplification? Sometimes you just need to put a few more words of thought into the communications you put out there in the world for others to see.
posted by rather be jorting at 2:15 PM on January 26 [30 favorites]


So what if you have to use more words to avoid using a problematic shorthand?

I think a lot of the initial turbulence in this thread, by the OP, distracted from this pretty simple point. The mods deleted one comment and requested that a term containing an archaic, racist word be given more context in the future. That’s not a big ask, nor unreasonable, but it was treated as akin to being silenced and then a whole chain of other accusations against the mods were added. It blew up into the kind of conflagration that is typical of a white fragility response, where someone feels humiliation and rage for being questioned by a POC or about a racial issue.
posted by sallybrown at 2:23 PM on January 26 [85 favorites]


I strongly agree with youarenothere's comment.

Also, I am the only one who thinks it's completely absurd that the mods are doing racial investigations of people in order to determine whether it's okay for them to use a specific term in a specific way or not?

This feel like some reverse one drop rule nonsense. 'Oh, so sorry, only three of your grand parents were black so you can't talk about this'. Jesus.
posted by brandnewday989 at 5:59 PM on January 26 [12 favorites]


I don't have much to add about the main (ostensible) topic of this thread, except that I would much rather the mods err on the side of making too many deletions when it comes to potentially offensive stuff than not enough. It's not really a big deal to have to rephrase and repost a comment.

However I'm super disappointed by how this thread has evolved into another example of fragile responses. I understand that the poster may or may not identify as white (I think she mentioned being Jewish above and one thing I've learned from metafilter is that some Jews do not identify as white). But the responses are still running a white fragility script.

I have to say I'm also disturbed by miss_lapin's name in her profile and it didn't make me inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt in this thread. As I understand from this discussion, it's not her real name, and so I have to say it looks like an attempt at a joke, and using pseudo Thai or whatever spelling to spell out offensive English words is only a step or two removed from making fun of Thai people and language more broadly. It seems kind of like doing the pseudonym equivalent of blackface.
posted by lollusc at 6:10 PM on January 26 [22 favorites]


Also, I am the only one who thinks it's completely absurd that the mods are doing racial investigations of people in order to determine whether it's okay for them to use a specific term in a specific way or not?

That would indeed be absurd, if it had at all happened. That whole thing is a massive derail. Thread should have been closed after Cortex's clarification, i.e. if you want to throw around terms like that, be sure to put in the relevant context, end of story.
posted by smoke at 6:23 PM on January 26 [23 favorites]


mods are doing racial investigations

It really could just be that the mods assumed someone is white, and I think that's much more likely than the idea that mods are doing racial investigations. There's really no evidence at all that mods were doing racial investigations, come on now.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:28 PM on January 26 [5 favorites]


It would be so much easier if we could just see comment deletion as less of a big deal.

Metafilter's like this big magazine that we all write for. Publication's pretty easy. Nearly all submissions are accepted! But every now and then there's one that, for whatever reason, doesn't fit the needs of the magazine. It's a distraction, or it leads the conversation in a weird direction, or maybe it's just confusing. So that entry doesn't make it into the final publication. It's no big deal. It's not a referendum on the poster or even the content of the comment itself. It just doesn't fit right in that one spot. But that's okay! The magazine is constantly publishing, and you can just keep writing.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:05 PM on January 26 [64 favorites]


Also, I am the only one who thinks it's completely absurd that the mods are doing racial investigations of people in order to determine whether it's okay for them to use a specific term in a specific way or not?

This feel like some reverse one drop rule nonsense. 'Oh, so sorry, only three of your grand parents were black so you can't talk about this'. Jesus.


Something I think we've all agreed here recently is that we need to help raise the voices of POC mefites, and try to listen harder. If the comment has been flagged by a POC, then it would be hypocritical of us not to listen hard to that.

I feel like making it about "reverse one drop rule nonsense", is also ignoring the bigger picture. POC's experience has to be central to the discussion. So if POC are flagging the comment, and/or coming to this thread and saying, "my experience has led me to not enjoy this word/phrase or use of it", then that is important. Whatever the ethicity of the original commenter, it doesn't make it ok to ignore the feelings of POC whose experiences have been different to theirs.
posted by greenish at 2:30 AM on January 27 [9 favorites]


Mods asked for black people’s input but haven’t commented since so I’d like to know what they think of what has been said so far.

Also while I appreciate the site’s attempts to be more inclusive I am already seeing it play out as it usually does, with the more active/vocal commenters become unofficial spokespeople which, ironically, makes me want to participate less.
posted by girlmightlive at 7:13 AM on January 27 [14 favorites]


I think I'm likely one of those vocal commenters you mention, and I apologize for anything I've said that has alienated you. But I also agree with you - MeFi policy shouldn't be driven by a handful of outspoken users. I also think that's what will naturally happen if mods continue to reactively respond to POC criticisms and rely on us to point out problems instead of hiring POC mods or educating themselves outside the context of MeFi. (It's tricky because "listen to POC" is one big criticism, but I think that has to be balanced with outside perspectives.)

And so as not to derail too much, I would also like to hear what the mods think of the comments by black users on the topic of the post.
posted by sunset in snow country at 8:44 AM on January 27 [3 favorites]


Sunset in snow country, you don’t have to apologize. I really appreciate everyone’s efforts, I just hope the mods are aware that listening to POC perspectives isn’t as always as straightforward as we’d like it to be.
posted by girlmightlive at 9:03 AM on January 27 [10 favorites]


I have to say I'm also disturbed by miss_lapin's name in her profile and it didn't make me inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt in this thread. As I understand from this discussion, it's not her real name, and so I have to say it looks like an attempt at a joke, and using pseudo Thai or whatever spelling to spell out offensive English words is only a step or two removed from making fun of Thai people and language more broadly. It seems kind of like doing the pseudonym equivalent of blackface.

It's French. It's really obvious that it's French, especially if you pop the words into a Google search, and then with the added context of the fact that her MeFi username is also a French word, it's just... not a hard leap to make. "Pseudo Thai or whatever", however, is a real weird leap, especially since from your commentary it seems pretty clear that you understood what those words mean (how else would you know that translated into English, it's an obscenity?).

In the context of this entire discussion, this specific comment is really alarming. It's okay to not like everyone or to disagree with comments a poster makes here, but... wow, this comment seems specifically intended to whip up as much enmity as possible toward miss-lapin by baselessly accusing her of anti-Thai sentiment. Surely we can have this discussion in a productive way without doing whatever this was?
posted by palomar at 9:24 AM on January 27


Palomar, up until recently, their name in their profile was 'Phuk Ye'.
posted by sagc at 9:29 AM on January 27 [28 favorites]


Ahhh, then that changes things, doesn't it? Thank you for letting me know. It's too bad that our profiles don't show "last updated on" information because I wouldn't have bothered trying to defend her on that point had I known the current name was a very recent update.

Apologies to lollusc, as I was operating under bad information.
posted by palomar at 9:32 AM on January 27 [11 favorites]


Anyway, if the consensus is we should avoid the trope altogether, I'd be fine with that. But I wonder if part of the problem is that because this trope is widely known, it becomes harder for black representation in fantasy/horror/magical realism to be appreciated in general.

As casting for shows tries (a little bit/baby steps) to be more diverse, I hope that we don't automatically dismiss them when they try inclusiveness. So I'm for way more explanation if the term is used.
posted by Gyre,Gimble,Wabe, Esq. at 12:43 PM on January 27 [5 favorites]


Palomar, up until recently, their name in their profile was 'Phuk Ye'.

And just for the avoidance of doubt and in the interests of clarity, 'Baise Toi' has a very similar meaning in French to the English phrase referenced by her previous appellation.
posted by Chairboy at 1:19 PM on January 27 [9 favorites]


I really appreciate that miss_lapin changed the name without getting defensive about the call out.
posted by lollusc at 1:59 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


Palomar, up until recently, their name in their profile was 'Phuk Ye'.

And just for the avoidance of doubt and in the interests of clarity, 'Baise Toi' has a very similar meaning in French to the English phrase referenced by her previous appellation.


Also, for even more clarity, while both "names" were meant to invoke the same thing, this is an example of the same trope being used in two ways, where the first way was more offputting than the second, in a way that is IMHO relevant to the original topic of this metatalk.

"Baise Toi" is an actual French phrase with a certain meaning, and is used by people who speak French. If it is meant as a joke, then it is a joke that is understood by the people who speak the language that it's written in.

In contrast, the implied meaning of "Phuk Ye" comes from the way it sounds in English. And making fun of the way "foreign" names sound in English happens often, but as a "joke" that is made at the expense of the people who speak the language it's supposedly written in.
posted by photoelectric at 2:00 PM on January 27 [21 favorites]


Since this is now a thing

My original name was my name as it's been for about 20 years. If you missed it for the 20 years before friday, my apologies. I changed it friday. It was meant to be phonetic scottish. I changed it again to French, a language I clearly know better.

So I've changed that more in 2 days than in 20 years. Thus is the price of aMeTa.

Meanwhile you can still enjoy my email address which takes you to an old flickr account and an ravelry account.

Because this is clearly the most important thing.
posted by miss-lapin at 2:22 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


OK I feel like we're being old school metatalk with this attitude so I'll respond in kind. This is all a lot of drama, caused primarily by you and by the mods deciding to let you embarass yourself at length, to the detriment of the community. No one cares about your flickr or ravelry or whatever; no one cares if you know french. None of the people in here are googling you. The mods know you, you have been here for 20 years, they were not investigating you or whatever and it's kinda shit to treat your friends that way, including jessamyn who was very patient with you.

If you want to be bored and start fights and throw tantrums, try twitter, instead of continuing to strain the good graces and patience of your friends. There are a lot of people who have been in here trying to defend you or steer the conversation without pointing out that you're showing your ass (myself included) and you are not making it any easier for anyone. You are showing your ass, and you should reconsider.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 2:50 PM on January 27 [50 favorites]


girlmightlive, to just briefly reply to your question (link) -
As I said above my core interest in this thread is what black members think about how the trope name should be used here. (I.e. whether the flag on the original comment reflected a wider sentiment or was more of that person's own view.) I really appreciate the black Mefites who've spoken to that question (and again I understand fully if there are people who prefer not to identify themselves or prefer not to weigh in). Thank you. It sounds to me as if the replies so far run toward the "it's okay to talk about this by name" side of things (simplifying for brevity), and that's useful for us to calibrate our approach. Still very open to hearing from other black Mefites on this, and again thank you.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 2:59 PM on January 27 [7 favorites]


And to amend that - the replies are above and I don't want to shorten them or act as if I'm speaking for anyone. Just to say the gist I'm hearing is, this isn't a term that needs to be avoided entirely by non-black speakers -- it's something that people are okay with being used in the right context with the right clarity etc.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 3:07 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


Also my account is disconnected to all of my social media for safety reasons connected to a stalker. So I'm not sure how anyone can see things like my race. I thought this account was safe.

I just want to express empathy with you for this, being a victim of off-site harassment. It's a difficult problem and not one that will be acknowledged or solved easily. I'm sorry that this happened to you.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 3:26 PM on January 27 [3 favorites]


(It feels like this is a textbook example of the ways conversations about a specific racist thing ... become about soothing the hurt feelings of the person who may have done something racist rather than preventing future racism. This is not great.)
posted by ChuraChura at 3:41 PM on January 27 [62 favorites]


I was confused by the original deletion, but I do see now that it was a good deletion in the big picture view of swinging the pendulum in favor of putting the benefit of doubt on the POC mefite side of things instead of on the status quo. I hadn't thought about how the phrase could be weaponized in bad faith to be dismissive of a black character (like the way MRA trolls will label any heroine a Mary Sue), I'm so used to seeing it used accurately. (Not to say that the original comment was in bad faith, just that I can understand why it was flagged, which I didn't before, and I'll bear it in mind for future comments.)

Should this thread be closed up soon though? I fear we're into the fruitless section of a Metatalk where things get re-hashed and uglier and accounts get disabled.
posted by oh yeah! at 3:54 PM on January 27 [27 favorites]


I agree that this should be closed up. The specific point that was raised has been addressed, there is pretty widespread agreement about the handling of the comment, and there are multiple open threads regarding the more generalized issues. We are now basically alternatively dunking on and feeling bad for the OP, which isn't productive.
posted by Mid at 4:54 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]


If anything, closing this now after miss-lapin has been allowed to be a perfect example of white fragility feels shitty to me. People have bent over backwards to accommodate her. It was a deleted comment, which is not worthy of the defensive way her comments have gone, with a lot of deflection (privacy concerns, playing coy about racial identity as a distraction, having a disability: none of those things were relevant here). And now, miss-lapin, you say you don’t regret making this Meta, but I think you should regret how you’ve acted here.

No one is dunking on you, as Mid says in the comment above me — people are trying to educate you. Getting the original comment deleted is such a non-issue that this thread shouldn’t exist. You had a chance to learn and accept that maybe the deletion wasn't a great mod decision but overall you and the mods are trying to make Metafilter more inclusive and we can talk about how to do better going forward, not a big deal. Instead you left many defensive comments which are a much larger issue than your deleted comment. This thread went poorly because of your actions and you should take responsibility for that.

miss-lapin, you’ve been on Metafilter long enough to know how to contact mods to discuss safety concerns in your profile. I also have a fairly low-key profile because of an abusive person I need to keep myself safe from, but it's my responsibility to figure out how that works on my own time, not to use it as a distraction or to gain sympathy for a mistake I made here. You’ve been a member long enough to know that having a comment deleted isn't always going to be just and fair. It was a comment on FanFare which is not exactly the most prolific area. The mods are always quick to respond and talk through issues.

I am a white person who has reacted in very similar and shitty ways when I feel my status with a group like Metafilter threatened by a mistake I made. I have sympathy for how you reacted because I understand the impulse but we have to do better and hold each other accountable.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 5:22 PM on January 27 [56 favorites]


This MeTa sucks in every way.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:41 PM on January 27 [15 favorites]


And I will not be posting another MeTa if that comment gets axed.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:42 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


This MeTa is wildly relevant and is an organic and important conversation. The fact that it is happening in a public space and that certain MeFites are embarrassing themselves is par for the course.
posted by chuntered inelegantly from a sedentary position at 9:34 PM on January 27 [14 favorites]


I'm not sure I agree with LobsterMitten's conclusion. I mean, the majority agreed that it's okay for non-black people to use the term with context. But it seemed to be the mostly white or not black majority. While opinions of those who identified as black were split between "sure" and "never".

I don't have a conclusion (and I, too, am not black). But I caution against assuming we have the buy in of black mefites into this as a good faith thread and that it actually produced any meaningful result where the original question is concerned.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:49 PM on January 27 [7 favorites]


Fragility response. It's a thing. It's very difficult to recognize in oneself and, even when recognized, it's difficult to manage or admit to, even to oneself.

I think we all need to internalize what we've perhaps understood mostly academically, and just deal with the fact that the fragility response is compelling and insidious and very challenging to recognize and manage in oneself, but it absolutely fucking must be done because, if you think of yourself as an ally, your (or mine, I struggle with this) fragility response badly undermines that and is simply very hurtful, in an all-too-familiar way, to the people you believe yourself to be allied with. It is hard work, but it's among the most effective work we can do as allies.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:32 AM on January 28 [65 favorites]


I would like to purchase some additional favorites and put them on Ivan's comment, please.
posted by Frayed Knot at 6:23 AM on January 28


Omnomnom, I definitely appreciate your caution here but just to be clear, I already meant to only be paying attention to black Mefites' responses in what I said. Honestly, it doesn't much matter what other Mefites think on this question about the term, so I was not including other people's responses.

Again I don't want to flatten the individual variation in responses among black Mefites, but I thought girlmightlive wanted to know what our general takeaway was from those responses so far, and so I wanted to just give that briefly. I don't mean to be taking it as speaking for all black Mefites, but just responding to that question.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:23 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


To say a bit more about my own reading, my first broad concern has been whether the standard should be roughly:

A. non-black people can use this phrase and concept freely, when it's appropriate, without taking special care
B. non-black people can use this phrase, but with care to contextualize for the reader, and taking special care not to use the concept dismissively
or
C. non-black people shouldn't use this phrase, but it's ok to use the concept in media criticism
D. non-black people shouldn't use this phrase or concept

I was most concerned to know if black Mefites feel the standard should be C or D. That would be a biggish change from the pre-existing standard, and if that's where we need to be, I want to know.

But it doesn't sound like that's where people are with this. The responses from black Mefites in here strike me as more in the A or B range. That's broadly in line with where the standard has been, that it's an ok phrase to use given some level of appropriateness. People have differed in exactly where they are with it, and I don't mean to flatten those differences.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:43 AM on January 28 [11 favorites]


This sucks and I feel sad. Not sure why I read it. Bows down to Mods. Don’t forget to breathe people. Deep ones.
posted by pipoquinha at 10:00 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


It really could just be that the mods assumed someone is white, and I think that's much more likely than the idea that mods are doing racial investigations. There's really no evidence at all that mods were doing racial investigations, come on now.

> Also my account is disconnected to all of my social media for safety reasons connected to a stalker. So I'm not sure how anyone can see things like my race. I thought this account was safe.
posted by miss-lapin at 5:48 AM on January 25 [1 favorite +] [!]

> You do have identifying information on your profile page, which you can edit here
posted by taz (staff) at 6:09 AM on January 25 [+] [!]

This exchange made it look like the mods were. (Also, anyone remember what titles were initially for and how the metatalk queue was totally only for holidays.)


So if POC are flagging the comment, and/or coming to this thread and saying, "my experience has led me to not enjoy this word/phrase or use of it", then that is important. Whatever the ethicity of the original commenter, it doesn't make it ok to ignore the feelings of POC whose experiences have been different to theirs.

Sometimes people's feelings are stupid. And yeah, of course, respect everyone's feelings but that means listen and take the feelings seriously. It doesn't mean that another person has to act on them or take actions to make that person feel better.

It's bothers me that the mods clearly have no black friends and zero knowledge of black culture and so are depending on the flags of random poc Metafilter denizens to decide if something is racist/offfensive or not. (It was only one flag!). It's cool that they don't know, but start reading some blogs or r/blackpeopletwitter, or actual black twitter, instead of depending on one person. Black culture is not a monolith, etc. The shouldn't be making decisions like this after only listening to one person.

Like what if misslapin had never opened this metatalk? Would the mods have just gone on thinking 'magic negro' is totally some divisive term when it's not? Would it have killed them to open up a meta themselves about the term before deciding to delete anybody's comment? They could have just said "We respect your feelings about this, and we think use of the term by nonblack people is something that should be discussed by the entire black community on this site before we make an policy decisions, so we will open up a Metatalk."

(And what was that thing with calling the negro, the n-word, with Consipre and cortex? I've read those comments a few times and still have no idea what that was all about. There is no use vs mention problem with negro. Don't call black people one. That's the only issue there.)

Now, I'm worried what random things I could post that would get deleted because they got flagged by some random outlier and the mods think that they are actually offensive - picnic, peanut gallery, call a spade a spade?

Also, I have zero interest in specifying my race if I'm in a conversation about whatever and race pops up. If someone I'm talking to asks, fine. But I'm not going provide 'racial bonafides' to some third party. And I am never going to start my comments with "as a black women i..." Fuck all of that. I leave sites where that is an expectation. And if that's the place metafilter becomes, then it'll be time for me to bounce again.
posted by brandnewday989 at 10:02 AM on January 28 [25 favorites]


It really could just be that the mods assumed someone is white, and I think that's much more likely than the idea that mods are doing racial investigations. There's really no evidence at all that mods were doing racial investigations, come on now.

> Also my account is disconnected to all of my social media for safety reasons connected to a stalker. So I'm not sure how anyone can see things like my race. I thought this account was safe.
posted by miss-lapin at 5:48 AM on January 25 [1 favorite +] [!]

> You do have identifying information on your profile page, which you can edit here
posted by taz (staff) at 6:09 AM on January 25 [+] [!]

This exchange made it look like the mods were.


No, that exchange didn't. Not at all. miss-lapin was expressing confusion about how ANYONE can see things like her race. taz pointed out that there was identifying information on her profile page (specifically, in the Name field) which ANYONE could use to find things that might imply miss-lapin's race. taz didn't say that mods used the identifying information to find things that might imply miss-lapin's race, taz just left a comment explaining that the information on miss-lapin's page could be used by ANYONE to find things that might imply miss-lapin's race.
posted by 23skidoo at 10:17 AM on January 28 [6 favorites]


Because if you think this was the exchange that happened, go back and read the exchange more closely.

Here's the exchange that didn't happen:

user: Also my account is disconnected to all of my social media for safety reasons connected to a stalker. So I'm not sure how mods can see things like my race. I thought this account was safe.

mod: You do have identifying information on your profile page, which you can edit here.
posted by 23skidoo at 10:18 AM on January 28


It seems very dismissive to describe people who flag comments as 'some random outlier'. Also consider that once a comment is deleted, others don't have an opportunity to give it additional flags. Number of flags is not relevant to this issue.
posted by FishBike at 10:20 AM on January 28 [9 favorites]


brandnewday989, it's a balancing act, for sure. Mods need to make judgment calls based on the best (offsite and onsite) info they can, and sometimes we'll get it wrong or lean too much to one source of input. As a necessary part of the job, we need to weigh individual user inputs, sometimes deciding that one person is an outlier (and so their sole opinion shouldn't pressingly dictate our actions)... but then also we need to recognize when we have potential areas of ignorance and really stay humble there and not write someone off at first glance. Not just for this issue, but for lots of areas where some members have more direct experience/stakes/knowledge etc. This is always going to be true, no way around it -- and it'll be true for the new person we hire too. We do the best we can and stay open to feedback.

To be clear, my feeling right now isn't "do whatever any single [relevant marginalized group member] says", but it's definitely "stay humble and really give such flags serious consideration/deference even if my first thought is this person's reaction is probably at one end of the continuum of relevant-group-member reactions." The Metatalk came in quickly and it seemed like a good chance to put it out there for input from black Mefites as to whether this flag represents a widely-desired standard on this phrase. I have appreciated the input from black members including the people like yourself who've said, no this was a bad delete.

I agree with you that nobody should need to share their racial or other identity information. I feel very strongly that one of our great strengths as a text-only site is the opportunity to interact without having people know one's identities, especially marginalized identities, if one wants.

But then, there are some cases where it becomes pretty important on a common sense basis. There are some terms for example that are not ok for outgroup people to use, and where it's not really the place of anyone outside the group to dictate whether ingroup people can use it. Or claims/criticisms that are ok from an ingroup member but not from someone else. (Like, I can criticize my family members, but it's different if you do.) It sometimes ends up mattering. It's a work in progress how to thread that needle, moderation-wise.

I definitely appreciate the feedback that there are black members who don't want to be asked for racial bona-fides and don't want a lot of weighing of who's allowed to make certain points.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:10 AM on January 28 [12 favorites]


I just want to leave a record of my impressions re: the OP's interaction with the mods and site norms.

The OP appeared genuinely puzzled and in distress about not understanding what was expected of them. The OP felt singled-out and could not understand why. I felt empathy for the OP.

The OP's feelings are important. I don't think this detracts from the issue: that the expression in question is offensive and that black people's thoughts, experiences, feelings and preferences about its usage should be heard loudly and clearly, and given priority in establishing site norms surrounding it.

I just think the OP's feelings are important. I felt their hurt feelings in their first few comments and I wish we'd (as a culture) always manage to dial back our own intense responses when that hurt rises to the surface, regardless of who is right or wrong about an issue. When the (justified) anger and call-out feel like unfair punishment, can we (as a culture) do better to mediate the exchange between those at fault and those hurt by their words?

It's not criticism of the mods, or anyone in particular, it's just a wish I have. It's also not something I know how to solve. I certainly don't want to tone-police anyone, least of all the usual targets of such policing.

This probably sounds shallow and "why-can't-we-all-just-get-along"-like and I admit, that sentiment is at the bottom of this. But I also have great sadness and little optimism that things can truly change in that respect. OTOH, I'll bring this up every chance I get because I've seen too many good friends tear each other to shreds over our inability to talk. It's just sad, guys. I'll say anything you need me to say, just, *sigh*.
posted by ipsative at 2:29 PM on January 28 [4 favorites]


Being hurt doesn’t justify the kind of response that miss-lapin had — you can be hurt about having a comment deleted and want to understand what happened without ignoring the feedback she asked for.

I understand how often a fuck up can lead to a pile on that’s entirely about making a person feel virtuous, a white knight situation. I see that happen too often in communities that I’m in and I also hate it. But I strongly disagree that happened here. People were very kind and helpful. She wasn’t ripped to shreds, though when you’re feeling that fragility response it might feel that way. Sitting with that discomfort is so hard but as many folks above have said better than me, it’s essential.

It’s okay that miss-lapin was angered by the deletion (I’ve felt similarly at comment deletions) but at the same time that anger doesn’t get to lead to hurting other members. People went out of their way to answer in good faith how they felt about the phrase, but miss-lapin’s replies thread makes it pretty clear the most important thing is her feelings and not theirs. If it was me and I had taken the time to weigh in here, I’d be less inclined to bother in the future. That’s a really frustrating outcome.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 3:16 PM on January 28 [28 favorites]


I don't think any kind of hurt ever justifies hurting others back. I just wish we had good ways of empathizing with that fragility as well. Just so we're not ever asking any human being to be alone in their pain, regardless of how justified we think it may or may not be.
posted by ipsative at 3:31 PM on January 28 [4 favorites]


But a lot of people, myself including, do have empathy and have expressed it in this thread! I also wouldn’t be surprised that those who are closer to miss-lapin reached out via memail, which is a kind thing to do. I’m not telling you what to do but I do think that would be a good way to go instead of centering the fragility response when the stated purpose of it was to look to the community about how to frame comments about deeply problematic tropes in a way that isn't offensive even if the name of the trope is, not how she felt about the deletion.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 4:06 PM on January 28 [11 favorites]


What not have a way to do a “spoiler shadow”? The offensive term can be darkened by mods but if you click on it, you can read the word/phrase? Lots of site have this sort of function.
(I don’t know what the tech term is.)
posted by Ideefixe at 4:16 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


I don't think any kind of hurt ever justifies hurting others back. I just wish we had good ways of empathizing with that fragility as well.

I do too, but once enough people smell blood, it becomes a free-for-all. It's been a problem here for a long time, and it seems unlikely it will ever change.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 4:51 PM on January 28 [4 favorites]


We're also fighting this problem where PoC have said they feel like in these threads they're left to do all the hard work. Some of what might come across as a 'free-for-all' could be due to more people making an effort to be better allies. That said, we have an enormous way to go in that regard in terms of engaging in a useful way, or even at all.
posted by FishBike at 5:05 PM on January 28 [12 favorites]


There was some pushback against what the OP said, but all I'm seeing is disagreement, not attack. I don't actually think it's possible to empathize with fragility enough to make keep the person from suffering. I mean, that's why it's called fragility -- it means that something mild, that shouldn't break you, breaks you.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:31 PM on January 28 [26 favorites]


I don't think any kind of hurt ever justifies hurting others back.

Always instructive to see whose anger and aggression gets characterized as "hurt" or weakness and whose anger and aggression gets characterized as "forcing," "ripping to shreds," revenge for being hurt (rather than a response that happened to be hurtful), etc.

Also yeah this is pretty much classic tone policing, sorry.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:08 PM on January 28 [43 favorites]


I wasn't characterizing anyone's pain separately.
posted by ipsative at 10:56 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


to empathize with fragility enough to make keep the person from suffering.

I didn't say not suffering, I said not being alone with that suffering.
posted by ipsative at 11:00 PM on January 28


Sorry, to some extent I think I misread you. At the same time, your comments were part of a pattern in the thread. There is a sort of lipservice to both sides being upset, and then intense focus on hurt, confusion, vulnerabiity on one side, and perceived aggression---described with violent diction---on the other.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:27 PM on January 28 [7 favorites]


I'd just thought of myself as taking a break before this. The defense of white fragility taking over the discussion of how actual POC feel about anything here is just... look, I'm done. I'd already cut back to just reading rather than commenting. I don't think I can keep doing even that without feeling ill every time I load this stupid website. Look, all of you, at some point you have to choose whose feelings matter, and time and again we've gotten the feelings of noisily upset white people over others. The coy "I could be black how dare you" shit should have gotten some kind of disciplinary action immediately. Not because there's a problem with the comment but because there's a problem with the user and the rest of us have to share a community with that person. With everybody who now thinks it's acceptable to behave this way.

But we don't, I guess. I don't, anyway. Not anymore. Bye.
posted by Sequence at 5:34 AM on January 29 [51 favorites]


The coy "I could be black how dare you" shit should have gotten some kind of disciplinary action immediately. Not because there's a problem with the comment but because there's a problem with the user and the rest of us have to share a community with that person. With everybody who now thinks it's acceptable to behave this way.


+100
posted by lazaruslong at 5:42 AM on January 29 [43 favorites]


PoC mefites have put in a lot of effort to try and make this community a better place, and to do so they have had to share more about their identities than they might otherwise have. We've all benefited from the work they've done--look at the amazing posts under #poctakeover! To try to allude to being PoC when convenient for winning an argument and to do it NOW is disrespectful of the work that our fellow mefites have put in. And they've put it in at risk to themselves.
posted by tofu_crouton at 7:14 AM on January 29 [25 favorites]


Also I know the racial identity of a lot of people here without ever having looked at their profile and social media. And I'm not even a mod who is being paid to read every comment. I'm sure mods have pretty fleshed out ideas of our identities without resorting to snooping.
posted by tofu_crouton at 7:15 AM on January 29 [5 favorites]


MetaTalk: Sorry, to some extent I think I misread you. At the same time...
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:18 AM on January 29 [8 favorites]


I can now add Sequence's buttoning to the list of reasons why this meta is a flaming trash pile. "Y U DELETE MY COMMENT" should be on the list of metas that are never, ever approved. It centers the (likely problematic) OP from the get go, and in this case resulted in some truly nauseating back-and-forths about @&^%@#@ racial bonafides.

IMO this meta should be nuked from orbit, and if people want to have a good-faith discussion about the perils of white fragility, they can do that without making non-white people feel awful.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:19 AM on January 29 [14 favorites]


I think this meta is making pretty much everyone who reads it feel awful and that includes the OP. And even they did not expect it to go well. I wonder why they still went ahead and posted it. It would honestly have been better to hash this out in a private conversation with a mod.

The only good thing that's come of it is that I (and several other people) now realise that the mentioned trope can be offensive and should, if at all, only be referred to in a thoughtful way, and with context. That's... something. But not a lot.
posted by Too-Ticky at 8:26 AM on January 29 [12 favorites]


I've stayed out of this thread because I thought the white fragility meltdown spoke for itself. It sure was educational for me to watch that textbook reaction out here in the "wild" and I had hoped that it would be educational for the OP (in retrospect) and for others, too. Does that make up for all that it stirred up? I dunno, probably not, but that's not really for me to judge anyway -- the reaction is here, even if in an ideal world it wouldn't be, so might as well use it as a learning opportunity. But ugh...when am I going to stop being so naive?

If you are sitting here feeling guilt/shame/fear/rage/whatever and having your own (fragile) reaction, then accept it and use it as a wake-up call. Don't smother it or try desperately to soothe yourself -- it is OK to be distressed. You just learned something distressing about yourself here in this thread, that you've some white supremacist reactions/assumptions in you. So fix it! That's good information to have, and it's great to learn it here, in a kind and respectful space, rather than out in a wider world that is often much more brutal.

Don't know how to fix it? Come to the white allies thread and ASK and we will work on it together. That is basically the entire point of that thread and why everybody in that thread is there.

Honestly, in the beginning I was happy that this MetaTalk had been created because I thought both the discussion about the trope and watching white fragility in clear action were educational...but again, apparently I was extremely naive. Jeez Louise.
posted by rue72 at 8:54 AM on January 29 [20 favorites]


On "how do you know I'm not x" -
This is bullshit behavior for sure. I've been hoping that after a cooling-off period and hearing what other Mefites have to say, that miss-lapin would recognize as much and walk it back. But I think giving that space has ended up being more harmful so I'm done with that now.

As we're trying to move on some of these more complicated dynamics of how race (and other categories of marginalization-in-a-given-conversational-context) plays into conversations here, some aspects of people's identities are more salient for mod decisions. That has its positives but also has its pitfalls, and obviously one of those is, we don't always know and making assumptions risks repeating x-ist harms when we get it wrong. We're trying to navigate all that and have really appreciated that overwhelmingly most people are willing to work with us in a pretty straightforward way... either stating their relevant identity or choosing not to, but not dancing around it.

Only a couple times have we had this evasive "but how do you know I'm not x" stuff. I see how it feels like a tempting move in the defensive heat of the moment -- but now we've given more than a little time to reflect and change your approach. It's not innocent and it's not okay. It's a form of griefing in order to "get around" a guideline, to claim priority that isn't really yours to claim, and as said above it's disrespectful to the people who've participated in earnest. It does make sense to draw a public boundary here.

We haven't really discussed this publicly because it's come up so rarely, but let's make it official. Game-playing "am I or aren't I" b.s. around identity stuff in this kind of context (trying to justify having "standing" where you don't, trying to muddy the waters to skirt a guideline) is going to be something that can result in a ban. Don't do this. Going forward this is policy and miss-lapin, if this happens again it will be a ban.

On why post the Meta-
A couple reasons. One is like I said, wanting to get input from black Mefites on whether we needed a major norm change around this term. We still want that input, thank you very much to those who offered it, and if anyone's out there who has thoughts they want to share, please reach us at the contact form.

Two is, we've talked behind the scenes about moving back toward a less controlled Metatalk posting approach. In recent years we've tried to prevent people posting Metatalks where they'll show their ass and get told as much by fellow members -- because often it feels unkind to let people bring criticism on themselves, and because such threads would often involve relitigating some hurtful behavior or remark and why allow that repeating of hurts. But the result has been a lot of aggrieved people who view this as mods silencing their legitimate complaint, because they never get a reality check from the rest of the community; and the community doesn't get a space to push back on certain kinds of harmful behavior. Creating spaces for these two important community needs is something we'll be thinking more about how to manage, but in the interest of not allowing more of a spiral here, I'm going to close this up now.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:23 AM on January 29 [54 favorites]


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