Beep-Boop Is A Slur Too September 16, 2020 5:54 PM   Subscribe

I have to say that this post on the removal of slurs from the Scrabble word list is really ticking me off. I think Jessamyn's reference to Scrabble players having a "beep-boop approach" to people is a slur against the neuroatypical, which is a group I belong to. (I'm on the autism spectrum.)
posted by jonp72 to Etiquette/Policy at 5:54 PM (36 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

Heya, just wanted to note this seemed worth putting through and letting folks talk about. I won't speak for Jessamyn as far as that choice of words (and I don't know when her next shift is off hand so probably better not to make any assumptions about her specifically following up in here on any particular time scale), but I agree with the general sentiment that it'd be good for folks to be thoughtful about avoiding language that could be offensive toward or dismissive of neuroatypical folks. It can be a pitfall that folks fall into pretty easily because of casual language habits and is totally worth talking out as a community together.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:58 PM on September 16


When I first saw that "beep-boop" reference, I was a little ticked off & might have shrugged it off, if I hadn't looked at who posted it. If I hadn't realized that it was Jessamyn, an official moderator on this website, who posted that reference, I wouldn't have been so pissed off. It makes me feel like the site is against me (paranoia is a part of the "mind blindness" that autism creates), and this is especially scary as the site gets more inclined to censor people's comments (not making a judgment on it, just making an observation). As an autistic person, I do much better in "low context" situations (where 1. either the rules & guidelines are explicitly spelled out OR 2. if the rules aren't spelled out, you can make mistakes & then correct yourself if you unwittingly offend somebody) than in "high context" situations.
posted by jonp72 at 6:09 PM on September 16 [1 favorite]


I see your point, jonp72, but I read Jessamyn's intent as shielding the people who have a "boop-beep approach" from blame because that approach might make it harder to pick up the negative effects of using those words in the context of a game where you strive to maximize your score by doing everything the rules allow.
posted by jamjam at 8:19 PM on September 16 [2 favorites]


I just want to get in early on this thread because I also didn't feel too great about "beep-boop", but at the same time, I'm afraid that the title of this thread, "Beep-Boop Is A Slur Too", seems to be trying to draw an equivalence between "beep-boop" and the slurs discussed in the Scrabble thread. I am afraid that this thread could easily turn into an ugly argument over the appropriateness of this equivalence, rather than the harmfulness of using "beep-boop" to describe how certain people think and understand other people. I am also afraid that this thread could turn into yet another round of argument about the appropriateness of slurs on this site, how we should deal with slurs, which slurs are OK and which aren't, etc.

Just to be clear and to have it stated from the outset, I consider myself to be neuroatypical, and I think it is a bad idea to try to draw an equivalence between "beep-boop" and the slurs removed from the official Scrabble word list. Many people have said it more eloquently than me, but many of these slurs have a long history and association with widespread hatred, violence, and oppression. That is not to suggest that likening neuroatypical people to robots and machines is not also harmful or associated with violence, but I think that the scale here does not even begin to compare. I also want to make it clear that I am in favor of banning slurs from Scrabble play because, as others in the thread mentioned, the official Scrabble wordlist is an arbitrary list anyway, so we ought to be perfectly free to change that list in order to mitigate the possibility of unnecessary harm to marginalized people caused by someone playing a slur in a game.

There's a lot else I could say about why I wasn't happy seeing "beep-boop" in that thread, but I'm going to stay quiet for now and let other people get their views in. However, I do think we should avoid language comparing neuroatypical people to robots, even if we also use such language to describe ourselves, as Jessamyn does, because such language has been and is used to hurt, insult, and bully people, and it is not always clear from context whether such language is intended sympathetically or hurtfully.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 8:30 PM on September 16 [14 favorites]


I think we can talk about how things contribute to abelism without escalating to calling things slurs. As an autistic person who has definitely been hurt by AND used words like “beep boop” to describe myself and also had legit straight up slurs screamed at me from cars? This is a pretty unnuanced approach to saying that this language was hurtful to you. It’s entirely valid to be hurt by things that aren’t slurs, and this isn’t one. Language can be thoughtless and a poor choice and also not be a slur, and lumping it in with slurs muddies those waters and makes it difficult to talk about the issue without getting drawn down a lot of fighty paths.

I would also like to note that Jessamyn using language to refer to herself and her manner of interacting with people should be her choice in a fairly broad way. People shouldn’t have to disclose more than they’re comfortable with to use descriptive language about themselves *in good faith*. And I think it would be a stretch to say that wasn’t in good faith.

We can be hurt by things and ask people for changes in behavior without making things into something they’re not.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:48 PM on September 16 [87 favorites]


Came here to say pretty much what stoneweaver has already said better than I could anyway.
posted by Dysk at 11:11 PM on September 16 [2 favorites]


I wasn't irked by jessamyn's comment. I have been irked by occasional comments on MeFi that label people as nerds so as to belittle their beliefs as crotchety preoccupations. These comments don't pop up very often and I'm always confused when they do, because this is generally a pretty nerdy place...? Anyway: not a slur, definitely lousy though.
posted by aws17576 at 11:47 PM on September 16


I actually took jessamyn's comment to be an intentional disavowal of the stereotyping of neuroatypical people. As in, people can just be mathy and literal-minded about game rules and that doesn't mean it's okay to pathologize this into some armchair (outdated) Asperger's diagnosis (or other neuroatypical stereotypes) to dismiss anyone's capacity to participate in a critical discussion.
posted by desuetude at 12:03 AM on September 17 [9 favorites]


I’m autistic, I dislike the framing of this post, but I agree that references to people being like robots in terms of their social interaction with other people brings up negative and hurtful stereotypes about autistic people. I’m sure it’s not intentional but it’s a dynamic that’s there. Regardless of framing, talking about people’s social skills in ways that references robots is going to evoke that stereotype and be hurtful. It wasn’t just “people who are beep boop” it was “people who are beep boop about other people” which is explicitly about social skills and not just them being analytical minded.

I’m sure it wasn’t intended to be about autistic people. But because “autistic people are robots” is a stereotype that autistic people are faced with (which jessamyn may not have known about!) it becomes hurtful by association.
posted by brook horse at 5:06 AM on September 17 [4 favorites]


This meta pisses me off. I’m so fucking sick of this place and it’s circular firing squad mentality.

Also Jessamyn said this in the same thread:

“Yeah I should be clear, I am also primarily a person with a beep-boop interpersonal approach...”
posted by terrapin at 6:07 AM on September 17 [87 favorites]


Stoneweaver has mostly covered what I would have said as someone who is neuroatypical.

"Beep boop about other people" actually struck me in a very "oh, yeah, what a great descriptor for me, I may adopt it" way, but also is something I would not use broadly to describe people other than myself for exactly the reasons pointed out here - autistic people as robotic is a stereotype that gets used in hurtful ways all the time.

This strikes me as falling into one of those areas where several terms around disability and queerness* live, where the terms you get to wholeheartedly embrace for yourself are not necessarily the ones you get to apply broadly to others. Maybe especially in situations where you have some sort of role that puts you in a position of speaking for a group/entity, like moderating. I know that I can get sloppy around that sometimes in ways that can be hurtful to the very people I identify with and care strongly about not hurting. I appreciate the reminder to be careful about it, even if I wish the "slur" framing weren't there.

*presumably other areas of marginalization too, but I'm sticking to what I know here
posted by Stacey at 6:39 AM on September 17 [10 favorites]


I don't think the language was meant disparagingly. But it's also not a commonly used phrase -- I think I am understanding it correctly based on the context there and the comments here, but it's not language I have encountered often at all.

I suspect that the quoted sentences would be both clearer (without room for potential multiple readings) and unambiguously inoffensive if they were rewritten with clear language rather than a coded phrase.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:50 AM on September 17 [1 favorite]


As I understand it, a slur is an insulting or disparaging term or comment about a person or group. The whole point of a slur is to be hateful and dismissive. I absolutely understand why the OP might have found that language hurtful. I have read the comment three times and I just don’t see how one could characterize jessamyn’s comment as even an unintentional insult. That said, I am a different flavor of neurodiverse. My ex-therapist wanted me to stop calling myself crazy because many people rightly consider it an insult. She thought I was being self-denigrating but I was not. So I’m gonna keep calling myself crazy because it works for me. I absolutely don’t call other people crazy. I think jessamyn should keep using that phrase about herself if she likes. But it also sounds as though this phrase, which I had not heard before, should be used by people only to characterize themselves. Why be hurtful, if this phrase may be painful to others?
posted by Bella Donna at 6:51 AM on September 17 [2 favorites]


I bailed on that thread for unrelated reasons before seeing Jessamyn's follow up, which gives it context and I wouldn't tell anyone how to describe themselves. I can still see how the standalone comment about other people was hurtful, though.

I also think everyone here has been polite and bringing up something that makes them uncomfortable without attacking anyone. Maybe I'm reading wrong, but I don't see any "circular firing squad" (except maybe in relation to the title of the post, which most people here have acknowledged they disagree with).
posted by brook horse at 7:37 AM on September 17 [3 favorites]


At no point in Jessamyn's comment did she say that she was describing neuroatypical people, nor indicate that Scrabble players are primarily neuroatypical people or vice versa. "People who play Scrabble competitively" is about as pure a self-selected social grouping as you can get.

If someone had said "autistic people are so robotic" or responded to someone describing their struggles with social interaction by laughing and going "beep boop" at them, sure, report that post and expect moderation. This is not that.
posted by Scattercat at 7:42 AM on September 17 [30 favorites]


Beep-boop?
posted by Lynsey at 7:49 AM on September 17 [2 favorites]


I am autistic. Personally I am not offended by jessamyn's comment in its context, but that doesn't invalidate the OP at all and I am in favor of people being more sensitive to things that hurt others. We will never be perfect at this, but we must continue to work on it. We have lost many good members who didn't feel safe on this site because of microaggressions. One person's microaggression is another's neutral comment, but that never invalidates the person who got hurt. It's not "political correctness" or "censorship" (as I've had to argue on Facebook, though I realize no one has brought it up in this thread) for people to be considerate of others. Different things trigger different folks.

I know people who have thrown up their hands and given up because "you can't please everyone," but this is a matter of doing the work of being kind. As an Aspie, I have to work very hard not to step on the toes of allistic and other autistic people, and I know how much I appreciate the same consideration from others. It seems a form of fragility when people get defensive about being called out on something hurtful. A warm apology is often all that is needed for the hurt party to understand that you did not mean to hurt them. That's something it took me many years to learn and I hurt a lot of people before I did, and it's hard, but worth it.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 8:28 AM on September 17 [10 favorites]


if taking offense is the coin of the realm at Metafiler, then you can better damn believe that I will spend that coin.
Between this and the title, something feels off in the assumptions feeding into this post.

That said, as has borne out above, there's good things to be said on the matter.
posted by CrystalDave at 8:28 AM on September 17


if taking offense is the coin of the realm at Metafiler, then you can better damn believe that I will spend that coin.

I thought something might have been deleted from this thread, but it's from this comment in the source post.
posted by zamboni at 8:32 AM on September 17 [1 favorite]


It's not "political correctness" or "censorship" ... for people to be considerate of others

I thought being considerate of others is exactly what political correctness is, and it's only maligned because some people don't want to have to do that.
posted by aubilenon at 8:44 AM on September 17 [5 favorites]


Just a person stepping in here to say, I am consistently amazed at what I learn about people with perspectives different from mine on this site. Thank you to the people with the courage to step up and share their experience, it helps people like me to understand. I assume it’s difficult and personal and exasperating to take on a burden that shouldn’t be yours.

This is one of the few places on the web where rational discussion and assumption of positive intent sometimes trumps offense and venting. I’m not blaming anyone who takes offense, like I said I don’t have the perspective to know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of *this* particular slur. I just appreciate being able to come to a place with an open mind and learn and not taking a reflexively defensive posture. Posts like this that allow me to understand ways I can personally bring down the level of grar are good.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:47 AM on September 17 [6 favorites]


Life would be so much easier if we could just divide everything into that which is good and that which is bad. Then we could use all the good things and shun all the bad things without worry. Nuance only makes me tired.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:23 AM on September 17 [2 favorites]


Yep, I should have been a little more careful with my initial wording especially in a thread about how words can be hurtful. Not everyone understands how I self-identify or how I interact with other people and I, of all people should understand that context collapse is real.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 9:38 AM on September 17 [24 favorites]


At no point in Jessamyn's comment did she say that she was describing neuroatypical people, nor indicate that Scrabble players are primarily neuroatypical people or vice versa.

I don't think this is a very strong argument. The traits of being "mathy" and having a poor theory of mind about other people are commonly associated with neuroatypical people, and it's natural to assume that these traits are all included in the description in order to call to mind one's typical concept of neuroatypical people. If I say "People in group X often use the word 'youse' and enjoy cheesesteak sandwiches," you can probably tell that I'm talking about Philadelphians even though I didn't say the word "Philadelphia". Moreover, people are naturally sensitive to language that could be insulting towards them, and many neuroatypical people are used to being insulted for their nerdiness and for being robotic. I certainly don't think Jessamyn intended her comment to be insulting, but I think it's easy to see how the same descriptors could have been phrased in a clearly insulting way, even without explicitly mentioning neuroatypicality (e.g. "Well, you know what those Scrabble players are like. They can't spend a day without obsessing over boring, abstruse math problems, so it's no wonder they approach other people the same way.").

(Pleeeeeeeaaasse do not quibble over whether the example I gave exactly matches the semantics, nuance, attitude, intent, etc. of Jessamyn's or your comment. It's just illustrative.)
posted by J.K. Seazer at 10:04 AM on September 17 [3 favorites]


Chiming in to add I am not really a fan and would appreciate people avoiding any sort of parallels between neuroatypicality and roboticness/lack of empathy/poor theory of mind as most of that is simply ableist stereotypes and/or assumptions made by ableist researchers. But saying something offensive or hurtful and then apologizing for it is generally fine.

That being said, I think people are maybe also reading things into this post that weren't intended. "Slur" may not be the perfect descriptor for evoking ableist stereotypes, but I think we all understand jonp72 's point, right? It's probably a good idea to try and avoid it but if you accidentally trip a harmful wire, quickly apologize, empathize and try to understand why it's hurtful. I'm just reading this as a community PSA that describing people as robotic or maths-oriented and baffled by social relationships is...pretty much a negative stereotype of autistic people, so best to avoid as a generalization even if you're not referring to autistic people.
posted by Lonnrot at 11:57 AM on September 17 [8 favorites]


Also, I think jonp72's description of functioning better in a "low context" situation with explicit rules and guidelines carefully laid out is true for most people on this site regardless of neuro a/typicality, but unfortunately it's a high context world and a lot of the big fights here could probably be mitigated some by empathizing more and learning to better recognize axes of oppression as they occur in different aspects of life, not just textbook examples.
posted by Lonnrot at 12:03 PM on September 17 [4 favorites]


Metafilter: I’m so fucking sick of this place and it’s circular firing squad mentality.
posted by pyramid termite at 2:57 PM on September 17 [15 favorites]


> I don't think this is a very strong argument. The traits of being "mathy" and having a poor theory of mind about other people are commonly associated with neuroatypical people, and it's natural to assume that these traits are all included in the description in order to call to mind one's typical concept of neuroatypical people.

Yeah, and also no? It's incorrect to presume that mathy people are neuroatypical, it's incorrect to assume that people who come off as socially awkward are neuroatypical, it's incorrect to assume that neuroatypical people are mathy or awkward, it's inaccurate to interpret someone's friendly self-description of their own personality as a veiled callback to a hurtful stereotype.
posted by desuetude at 7:34 PM on September 17 [47 favorites]


it's inaccurate to interpret someone's friendly self-description of their own personality as a veiled callback to a hurtful stereotype.

I'm honestly confused by your response. We seem to be talking about two different things. You seem to be talking about Jessamyn's second comment where she described her own personality, but I am talking about her first comment about Scrabble players, before that additional context about her own personality was made clear. Moreover, I am talking more about how people might perceive her comment, not about how it should be perceived or how it was intended. Technically, it is incorrect to assume that if you fall out of an airplane, you will die. After all, the plane could be on the ground, or you could have a parachute, or you could just get really lucky. But if you ask people, "If you fall out of an airplane, will you die?" most of them will say "Yes", or "Almost certainly", or something along those lines, because they'll tend to jump to the assumption that you are talking about the typical context where you are a passenger without a parachute on a plane that is currently flying. Likewise, although it is technically incorrect to assume that mathy or socially awkward people are neuroatypical, those traits together in combination with the context where we were talking about Scrabble players tends to call to mind for some people, particularly those people sensitive to that characterization, a particular stereotypical image of a neuroatypical person. I think that the fact that multiple people independently thought that Jessamyn's comment could be insensitive toward neuroatypical people backs me up on this point. They all recognized that her words could be interpreted in a certain way, even if it is not strictly logically justified to do so.

As I said before, I certainly don't think Jessamyn intended any offense with her comment, and for that reason I also don't believe that she intended to make a "veiled callback to a hurtful stereotype". Nevertheless, I sense from the tone of your comment, and the fact that at least 35 people have favorited it, that I've said something offensive or crossed the line somewhere. I really hope I haven't been hurtful with my words, but I honestly don't understand where I have been hurtful. I would be grateful if you, or someone else, could point out to me what that was.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 12:51 PM on September 18 [4 favorites]


> You seem to be talking about Jessamyn's second comment where she described her own personality, but I am talking about her first comment about Scrabble players, before that additional context about her own personality was made clear.

Well, she made that clarification less than an hour after her first comment, which was prior to this MeTa being posted.
posted by desuetude at 7:21 PM on September 18


You seem to be talking about Jessamyn's second comment where she described her own personality, but I am talking about her first comment about Scrabble players, before that additional context about her own personality was made clear.

You can't really isolate those two comments. Or if you do, someone will come along and note there was later clarification that gave context to the first comment.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:25 PM on September 18


Personally, I am saddened that a mefi mod admitted to playing slurs that don't apply to them. I expected better.
posted by daybeforetheday at 9:15 PM on September 18 [1 favorite]


I thought being considerate of others is exactly what political correctness is, and it's only maligned because some people don't want to have to do that.

in my experience, and this goes back at least thirty-five years, "politically correctness" has unfortunately felt more like a weaponizing of being considerate. Which sounds hyperbolic now, seeing it written down. So maybe just say it's difference between a request and demand. As soon as you choose to politicize something, it becomes a demand*. And as soon as something becomes a demand, yeah, you can bet that some folks are going to get their backs up about it. Not the thing itself, but how it's presented.

* doesn't it?
posted by philip-random at 8:47 AM on September 19 [1 favorite]


I thought being considerate of others is exactly what political correctness is, and it's only maligned because some people don't want to have to do that.

This is a cartoon of both the pro and anti-PC stances. "Political correctness" is nothing more or less than a demand for adherence to orthodoxy, whatever that orthodoxy may be, in the face of one's own convictions. There are an awful lot of "politically correct" positions that one is obligated to take in America (like how gosh darned great the country is) to be taken "seriously" that have absolutely nothing to do with being "considerate of others".
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:29 AM on September 19 [2 favorites]


> Personally, I am saddened that a mefi mod admitted to playing slurs that don't apply to them. I expected better.

For truth. It does reveal exactly why we’ve had such a hellacious time getting any traction on POC issues here. I’ve been holding on, but frankly, this has been on my mind since those comments were made and left entirely unchallenged in the thread. And then having a MeTa about that thread that addressed “beep boop” rather than the same mod straight up saying that she uses slurs and the lack of response. I’m really not sure that I can continue here knowing this.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:00 AM on September 19


the same mod straight up saying that she uses slurs and the lack of response

Maybe the lack of response is because most people don't think playing a word in a game of Scrabble is the same as "using" that word? Saying someone "uses" a word generally means they deploy it conversationally, not that they put some tiles down on a board game spelling out that word.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:20 AM on September 19 [3 favorites]


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