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On the Linguistics of Offense… (or, in defense of π!gg£® and ƒ@ggø†)

6a00d8341c730253ef01b8d1185632970c-800wiMy friend Rod posted a link today to this story of a high school teacher in Texas who resigned after she was suspended by the administration for using “the N-word” when chastising a black student. Now, if your first response is “good, that’s uncalled for. She should never work around children again,” then good. Welcome to the human race. But, of course there’s more to the story (otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about it, right?).

So, it appears what happened is the student, 17 year-old Isaiah Thomas, called another student “an offensive term to homosexuals.” The teacher, Gretchen Summers, told him that using such language in school was inappropriate, and how would he like it if someone called him “an offensive term to African Americans?” News outlets being what they are, both terms have been omitted from every version of the story I can find, but it’s pretty clear that the slurs in question are “faggot” and “nigger.” Now the story is a little more ambiguous.

Now for one thing, this is sort of my problem with over-politcal correctness. If you watch the video of the news reports, since the news doesn’t want to be offensive they never actually use either term. Instead they just refer to “an offensive term to [homosexuals/African-Americans].” Which sounds ridiculous and sort of makes talking about the story hard. Because if you take the story literally it sounds like the teacher said “How would you like it if someone called you an offensive term to African-Americans?” But she didn’t say that. If she had, it would have been fine. What she was “How would you like it if someone called you a nigger?” But since you can’t say that even to report on it, the entire thing just sounds really confusing.

Anyway, here’s my problem with the whole thing. People don’t handle offensive terms correctly. A few years ago (long before everyone realized that he maybe raped a significant percentage of the women on the planet) Bill Cosby did an appearance on Meet the Press with Alvin Poussaint where they spoke in favor of banning the word “nigger” because “too many died over that word” and using it, even casually and in rap songs, makes white people think it’s ok to use it. I disagreed with Cosby and Poussaint because no one ever died over the word nigger. They died because there’s a shit ton of racist motherfuckers walking around who kill people because they’re black. As I said then, I like the word. I like when white people use it. Because the best thing about a white dude standing on the street corner yelling “I hate niggers!!!! Go back to Africa you fucking niggers!!!!” is that he has made my life a lot easier. I know where he stands. Short of wearing a sheet and a pointy hat, he has done his best to let me know “hey everyone, I’m a huge fucking racist!” I now know that I should probably walk on the other side of the street… or if I’m feeling froggy, maybe walk up to him and punch him in the dick. Either way, he’s saved me a lot of the guess work that normally goes with playing “spot the racist.” So like… good on him.

The same goes with gay slurs.  Are they offensive? Yes! Absolutely. The problem is, in America we sort of love to treat the symptom. The problem with saying “you shouldn’t say this” is that it doesn’t really change anything about what the person is feeling. Do you remember when you were like 7 and there were bad words? You weren’t allowed to say “damn” so you said “darn.” “Shit” became “shoot” or “shucks.” “butt” gets used instead of “ass” and “friggin'” instead of “fucking.” The FCC continues to enforce this sort of thing on public airwaves to this day. So let me make something clear to you. If you’re against hearing the word “fucking” from a kid but you’re okay with the word “friggin” then you are a fucking idiot. They mean the same thing. The kid has the exact same sentiment in mind. He probably uses the word “fucking” around his friends. He is only substituting because he doesn’t want to get in trouble and he is smarter than you are.

My mother told me a story once. She was hanging out with my (then) 5 year-old niece and my mother called something “ugly.” Not a person or anything like that. She was referring to something she just didn’t like the look of. Like an ugly car or something. My niece immediately corrected her, because in school she learned that we’re not supposed to use “bad words” like “ugly.” It turns out that the school was trying to teach the kids not to refer to anything in derogatory terms. This is of course ridiculous. Sometimes something is ugly and you want to be able to express that. My niece knew the car was ugly. She certainly feels that some things are ugly. She was just told not to say how she’s feeling and never told why it was bad to feel certain ways.

The same thing happened here. Summers wasn’t really telling Thomas “it’s wrong to be homophobic.” She was saying “it’s wrong to express homophobia.” And she wasn’t suspended for being racist; she was expended for using a racist term. Maybe young Isaiah Thomas is a raging homophobe. Maybe he’s just ignorant of the connotation the word has. Same thing with the white kids I always hear calling each other “my nigga” today. But, no one is actually trying to teach them NOT to feel that way. You’re teaching them that it’s not ok to express it. That’s a dangerous lesson. If a kid calls another kid “a butthead” no one cares. If Summers had said “the N-word” no one would care. If Isaiah had called the other kid “a Nancy Boy” probably no one would have thought twice about him… and if they did, they’d probably go “what’s with the porch monkey using 18th century slang?” and moved on with their lives.

But that’s dumb. Why? Because I assure you, if I see the same old white man, sans pointy hat and sheet, standing on the street corner yelling “I hate N-words! Go back to Africa you friggin’ N-words!” I’m still either crossing the street or if I’m feeling froggy, punching him in the dick.

The thing is, I don’t rule America. One day I will, and it will be a much better country. But for now, I don’t. And that means that my logic doesn’t necessarily work. I swear a lot. At least when I write here, I do. And I know that I offend people the way I write. I do it on purpose. But I understand the risks. And more importantly, I can take a punch. So in the Maverick World Order, you’re going to have absolute freedom of speech. You’re going to be able to be as offensive as you want to be. But it comes with the caveat that it’s going to be completely ok to punch someone in the dick when they’re being offensive.

But we’re not there yet. And that’s where Summers made her big mistake.

The great philosopher Artie Lange once said in response to the claim that “calling a little person a midget is just like calling a black person a nigger” that he did an experiment. He walked into a room of little people and yelled “Midget” and then walked into a room of black people and yelled “Nigger” and trust him, they’re different. And right now they are. “Nigger” and “faggot” are different too. For better or for worse, “nigger” is basically the most offensive term in American English right now. So much so that it’s almost always abbreviated to “the N-Word.” When someone says it you say “don’t say the N-word.” When someone says faggot you say “saying faggot is like saying the N-word.” People won’t even use it to talk about how it’s wrong. The thing with faggot is people WANT it to be that offensive. Because the IDEA behind it is offensive, so we have an active push to give the word that offense too.

But “nigger” is already there. And Summers, as an educator —and moreover as a citizen of the United States at some point in the last 100 years or so — should pretty much realize that. That was her mistake. Her sentiment was 100% correct. But she lives here and her response just isn’t. Not yet. And if the push to make both words equally offensive ever happens, it will still be wrong (in her position).

Of course, in the Maverick World Order she won’t have to say anything to Thomas at all. She could have just punched him in the dick.

89 comments for “On the Linguistics of Offense… (or, in defense of π!gg£® and ƒ@ggø†)

  1. avatar
    May 26, 2015 at 3:35 pm

    Can I substitute throat punch for dick punch? My upper cut has seen better days…

  2. avatar
    May 26, 2015 at 3:39 pm

    Mav, I love you. Dick punches for everyone

  3. avatar
    May 26, 2015 at 3:44 pm

    Also, people really need to learn the use/mention distinction. Oughta be taught in schools.

    • avatar
      May 26, 2015 at 9:56 pm

      Robin: So are you proposing that 101 now has a unit on “when it’s ok to use the N-word?”

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 7:48 am

      Just the use/mention distinction would be fine. White Duquesne students should have to deal with race, but that’s probably not the most pedagogically effective way into the topic. I would hate to be the one black kid in a class having that discussion.

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 7:52 am

      ok serious mode on:

      yeah… its sometimes oddly inescapable. I’ve had a lot of discussions where the group think of out students is clearly opposed by the one student (usually minority or lower socioeconomic class) who has an alternative viewpoint because of life experience.

      I think those are important skills to develop (on both sides) but yeah, it’s not worth exacerbating. At least not in an uncontrolled manner.

  4. avatar
    May 26, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    I’m buying a cup and heading to the street corner as soon as the MWO takes effect.

  5. avatar
    May 26, 2015 at 5:37 pm

    “The problem with saying “you shouldn’t say this” is that it doesn’t really change anything about what the person is feeling.”

    The real problem is thinking it is up to you to change what someone is feeling or thinking. People should feel and express whatever they like and as you said suffer the consequences accordingly…

    “The same thing happened here. Summers wasn’t really telling Thomas “it’s wrong to be homophobic.”

    Because that is not her job, nor her place. Her place is to educate him on how he can and can not behave in a social space like school. She could have easily done that without making the same mistake that he did.

    • avatar
      May 26, 2015 at 10:06 pm

      Vic: It sort of is her job. This country’s educational mandates state that part of the job is supposed to be to assist in the development of conscientious citizens. The educator is supposed to work to instill good american values.

      The problem is the mandates don’t actually specify what this values are, because they’re not as universal across the country as we sort of assumed they were. So we do things like teach the pledge of allegiance because *for the most part* people agree that patriotism is an amiable quality for the next generation of Americans to have. Similarly we teach things like “racial discrimination is wrong. We must celebrate the teachings of MLK” (at least in most jurisdictions). But we don’t necessarily agree on other things. So some jurisdictions teach that discrimination on terms of sexuality is wrong, whereas others teach that it is moral to do so. Similarly we teach varying messages about birth control depending on where we are.

      Anecdotally, it seems that the more the message has to do with gender, sex or sexuality the less able to come to a nationwide consensus we are.

      So the problem is, it’s a catch-22 of sorts. It IS her job to teach proper behavior. But she doesn’t really have the tools to do so. And in fact, is hampered by the tools in many occasions.

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 5:23 am

      The “country” is not mandated to educate the children.

      Her job is to teach math/English/pottery and enforce the rules, not to instruct children on how they are supposed to think or behave beyond the walls of the school. That is the parents job, not the school, not the state, and certainly not the country.

      There is no universal set of values. Societal norms? Of course. Generally accepted behavior? Absolutely. But these should be learned through experience and interaction, not indoctrination.

      She need not impart her ideology when teaching a class or enforcing the rules. In this case she did. She took something that SHE finds offensive and used it in an attempt to teach tolerance. That is not her lesson to teach.

      “Outward expression of prejudice is against the rules, go to the office.”

      That is all the lesson he needed to learn. Not how horrible the word “faggot” is, not how she thinks it is comparable to the word “nigger”. Here are the rules, you broke them, you will be punished. That’s it.

      I am in no way trying to be contrary. I just do not believe that it is anyone’s job to dictate thought. Action should have consequence, thoughts should always be free.

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 6:29 am

      The country’s EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM, not the country. (I acknowledge that I left out the word system before, it was late and a typo)

      The important thing though is where you say: “I am in no way trying to be contrary. I just do not believe that it is anyone’s job to dictate thought. Action should have consequence, thoughts should always be free.”

      Are you arguing that YOU don’t think it SHOULD be that way? That the teachers shouldn’t be teaching ideology? That’s a fine opinion to have. But that’s not how the system is set up. Not at all… Not on any level from kindergarten through PhD.

      A lot of people will certainly argue that it it should be the job of the parents, just like you’re saying. But a lot of people will also say that the school shouldn’t teach evolution or the big bang. Those people are all wrong. And by wrong, I don’t mean subjectively… I mean objectively. The educational system was set up to do exactly that. Thomas Jefferson wrote TONS about this. So much so that he wanted a federally controlled university system to continue a consistent ideological education well into adulthood.

      Just because people misunderstand the system, that doesn’t mean that it’s not the system.

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 6:29 am

      The country’s EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM, not the country. (I acknowledge that I left out the word system before, it was late and a typo)

      The important thing though is where you say: “I am in no way trying to be contrary. I just do not believe that it is anyone’s job to dictate thought. Action should have consequence, thoughts should always be free.”

      Are you arguing that YOU don’t think it SHOULD be that way? That the teachers shouldn’t be teaching ideology? That’s a fine opinion to have. But that’s not how the system is set up. Not at all… Not on any level from kindergarten through PhD.

      A lot of people will certainly argue that it it should be the job of the parents, just like you’re saying. But a lot of people will also say that the school shouldn’t teach evolution or the big bang. Those people are all wrong. And by wrong, I don’t mean subjectively… I mean objectively. The educational system was set up to do exactly that. Thomas Jefferson wrote TONS about this. So much so that he wanted a federally controlled university system to continue a consistent ideological education well into adulthood.

      Just because people misunderstand the system, that doesn’t mean that it’s not the system.

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 6:29 am

      The country’s EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM, not the country. (I acknowledge that I left out the word system before, it was late and a typo)

      The important thing though is where you say: “I am in no way trying to be contrary. I just do not believe that it is anyone’s job to dictate thought. Action should have consequence, thoughts should always be free.”

      Are you arguing that YOU don’t think it SHOULD be that way? That the teachers shouldn’t be teaching ideology? That’s a fine opinion to have. But that’s not how the system is set up. Not at all… Not on any level from kindergarten through PhD.

      A lot of people will certainly argue that it it should be the job of the parents, just like you’re saying. But a lot of people will also say that the school shouldn’t teach evolution or the big bang. Those people are all wrong. And by wrong, I don’t mean subjectively… I mean objectively. The educational system was set up to do exactly that. Thomas Jefferson wrote TONS about this. So much so that he wanted a federally controlled university system to continue a consistent ideological education well into adulthood.

      Just because people misunderstand the system, that doesn’t mean that it’s not the system.

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 6:29 am

      The country’s EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM, not the country. (I acknowledge that I left out the word system before, it was late and a typo)

      The important thing though is where you say: “I am in no way trying to be contrary. I just do not believe that it is anyone’s job to dictate thought. Action should have consequence, thoughts should always be free.”

      Are you arguing that YOU don’t think it SHOULD be that way? That the teachers shouldn’t be teaching ideology? That’s a fine opinion to have. But that’s not how the system is set up. Not at all… Not on any level from kindergarten through PhD.

      A lot of people will certainly argue that it it should be the job of the parents, just like you’re saying. But a lot of people will also say that the school shouldn’t teach evolution or the big bang. Those people are all wrong. And by wrong, I don’t mean subjectively… I mean objectively. The educational system was set up to do exactly that. Thomas Jefferson wrote TONS about this. So much so that he wanted a federally controlled university system to continue a consistent ideological education well into adulthood.

      Just because people misunderstand the system, that doesn’t mean that it’s not the system.

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 6:29 am

      The country’s EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM, not the country. (I acknowledge that I left out the word system before, it was late and a typo)

      The important thing though is where you say: “I am in no way trying to be contrary. I just do not believe that it is anyone’s job to dictate thought. Action should have consequence, thoughts should always be free.”

      Are you arguing that YOU don’t think it SHOULD be that way? That the teachers shouldn’t be teaching ideology? That’s a fine opinion to have. But that’s not how the system is set up. Not at all… Not on any level from kindergarten through PhD.

      A lot of people will certainly argue that it it should be the job of the parents, just like you’re saying. But a lot of people will also say that the school shouldn’t teach evolution or the big bang. Those people are all wrong. And by wrong, I don’t mean subjectively… I mean objectively. The educational system was set up to do exactly that. Thomas Jefferson wrote TONS about this. So much so that he wanted a federally controlled university system to continue a consistent ideological education well into adulthood.

      Just because people misunderstand the system, that doesn’t mean that it’s not the system.

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 6:29 am

      The country’s EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM, not the country. (I acknowledge that I left out the word system before, it was late and a typo)

      The important thing though is where you say: “I am in no way trying to be contrary. I just do not believe that it is anyone’s job to dictate thought. Action should have consequence, thoughts should always be free.”

      Are you arguing that YOU don’t think it SHOULD be that way? That the teachers shouldn’t be teaching ideology? That’s a fine opinion to have. But that’s not how the system is set up. Not at all… Not on any level from kindergarten through PhD.

      A lot of people will certainly argue that it it should be the job of the parents, just like you’re saying. But a lot of people will also say that the school shouldn’t teach evolution or the big bang. Those people are all wrong. And by wrong, I don’t mean subjectively… I mean objectively. The educational system was set up to do exactly that. Thomas Jefferson wrote TONS about this. So much so that he wanted a federally controlled university system to continue a consistent ideological education well into adulthood.

      Just because people misunderstand the system, that doesn’t mean that it’s not the system.

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 7:07 am

      No, teachers should not “teach” ideology. Obviously they will have their own opinions and bias, but it is not their job to teach such things.

      The definition of educate(as per google) is:

      “give intellectual, moral, and social instruction to (someone, especially a child), typically at a school or university.”

      Now, I am not suggesting that you do not know the definition, not at all. I post that to illustrate the point that a math teacher’s job is to teach math. An English teachers job is to teach English. A philosophy teachers job is to teach philosophy. To instruct, to impart information, not opinion.

      If there is a class on etiquette, then by all means that teachers task is to teach a curriculum of etiquette, whatever has been accepted and approved as appropriate. But just like that teacher has no business explaining calculus, someone teaching science has no business imparting their take on theology, or imparting their beliefs on the subject of creation vs evolution. Present the information, give it context and allow the children to learn. That is their job.

      Conversely, parents who think Jesus is king, God is great, or whatever, are absolutely free to disagree with evolution, but so long as they send their kid to a public school, where it is part of the curriculum, they have no right to push those ideals on anyone else. If they don’t like that their kid is exposed to those concepts, they should be(and are) free to school them elsewhere.

      The schools are in fact used to push ideology. That doesn’t mean it is right. And based on the general level of knowledge being imparted to high school graduates it can be argued that the “system” is broken. Too much time wasted on trying to teach behavior and not nearly enough time spent imparting information.

      All I am saying is that you do not need ideology to teach people. Methodology and examples do just fine. How one person comes to a conclusion is not as important as their ability to reach the correct(as is measured by whatever criteria is relevant to the subject) conclusion.

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 7:10 am

      And just because there is a “system” that does not mean it is the best way of doing things. There is no law mandating teachers impart their personal beliefs in the classroom that I am aware of…

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 7:13 am

      FYI, just to get this out there early. I am not here to go back and forth with you endlessly arguing in circles. You asked a question, I answered it. I will reiterate that I am not simply being contrary or obstinate.

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 8:02 am

      Certainly systems can be changed… that’s why I said clarify. You’re saying “here is how I want it to be” not “here is how it is.”

      That’s different and that’s fine.

      You can be the most brilliant scientist in the world (this woman was a science teacher), but if you happen to run a skinhead website that says “I believe that even though they’re genetically identical, blacks and jews should be treated as inferior because I’m white and I got a good thing going here” your chances of getting a job teaching at a public school in almost any jurisdiction in America are suddenly really low. Because it is the mission of the educational system (currently) to impart an ideology that is (more or less) universally agreed on. At least in theory.

      If you’re being observed one day…. say you’re teaching the theory of relativity… and you say “what does C represent?” and one kid says “the speed of sound” and then another kid says “that nigger faggot is wrong…. it’s the speed of light” and you DON’T admonish the kid for saying that you’re likely going to lose your job or at least get a very bad review.

      That’s part of the institutionalization aspect of school. We even have a phrase for those times. They’re called teachable moments.

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 8:27 am

      Also, people who are anti-gay usually have a range of factually incorrect beliefs about gay people and it is a teacher’s job to challenge that. If you think things which aren’t true, then yes, your teacher should be telling you not to think that.

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 8:32 am

      Consider your example of the skinhead teacher. Suppose they have those thoughts but do not mix them with work. Granted that type of hate would be difficult to contain, but consider that it is possible.

      How they feel or think is not relevant to teaching the class. They can choose to keep their ideology to themselves while still being a good science teacher, their colleagues and students none the wiser .

      I would use a more realistic example based on the personal experience of someone I know, but I don’t feel it appropriate to share their experience even in passing. Suffice it to say, it is possible to separate ideology from instruction.

      Sure, someone who outwardly expressive of something that goes against what their community deems appropriate, would generally have a hard time finding work in that community, that said, what they do in their spare time, how they live, interact, etc, would have no bearing on their job UNLESS they chose to make it so. And for the sake of argument let’s consider that what they do in their spare time is not in violation of the law, nor is it directly harmful to anyone else.

      So to say that teaching ideology is part of the system seems odd to me. I would agree that there are teachers who do in fact impart their beliefs and ideals, but I do not see it as a requirement of the “system” for them to do so.

      Can we agree that the system allows for ideals to be conveyed but that it does not specifically require such things to create “teachable” moments?

      I mean, sending the “that nigger faggot is wrong…. it’s the speed of light” kid to the office with a clear reason for doing so as it applies to the schools code of conduct teaches the same lesson(these terms will not be tolerated) without imposing an educators personal beliefs on the child. Correct?

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 8:33 am

      Keith: Exactly… and that’s regardless of subject. So if you’re in an English class and for some reason you say something like “2+2=5” or the “the human body has 3 lungs and 7 hearts” the teacher should correct that. And if you’re in a computer science class and you say “Java are the programming language I is used” the teacher should correct that too. In social studies class if you say “of course this doesn’t apply to the jews because they’re sinners and going to hell so they don’t deserve freedom of speech” the teacher must correct that. And in any class “fuck the niggers and faggots” is pretty much out.

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 8:39 am

      Vic: Its not that I don’t understand what you’re saying. I do.

      SURE… a skinhead who is a brilliant chemist SHOULD be able to impart that knowledge to a his students regardless of their color, creed, gender, sexuality, whatever…

      But that’s not the system in place. In the system in place, the skinhead pretty much is excluded from teaching at MOST institutions. This comes up all the time at the university level because people who have ideologies that are no longer socially acceptable (say that women are inferior and don’t belong in college) might have achieved tenure BEFORE it was an issue and so they stick around. And it’s problematic. The system TRIES to make sure its teachers fit the ideology that it wants to convey.

      Again, if you want to argue it shouldn’t. That’s a different issue. What I’m saying (and what Keith is saying here now too) is that the system isn’t currently built that way. Some people assume it is. But it’s not. Almost every teacher, kindergarten through graduate school is told to look for teachable moments and utilize them. It’s like a fundamental aspect of modern pedagogy (the philosophy of teaching).

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 8:41 am

      I find it interesting that you combined provable facts(2+2=5,etc.) with subjective opinions(of course this doesn’t apply to the jews because they’re sinners and going to hell so they don’t deserve freedom of speech).

      Not suggesting such opinions should not be commented on, or discussed, but a mathematical truth is not quite equivalent to an erroneous opinion.

      However, I can agree that correcting inaccurate information is an important aspect of a teachers job. Though I do believe this can be done objectively and does not REQUIRE someone impart their own ideals as part of the lesson.

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 8:59 am

      I combined them intentionally, because the system does.

      We teach both sciences and humanities in the curriculum. And pretty much up until about junior year of college, give or take, we require students to take some combination of both.

      I’d actually argue that humanities are provable as well (just in a different way), but that’s a huge rabbit hole that isn’t really necessary for this discussion. All that is necessary is the acknowledgement that the system currently requires both. Some would argue that it SHOULDN’T and that only the sciences (including math) are important, but I think we can agree that currently it DOES require both.

      it requires both, because it fundamentally believes that in order to create the society that we want, and thrive in said society, people need some bare level of instruction in both. So we study history to look at social injustices that have existed over time. We study literature to look at how people have responded to those injustices. The system values that instruction.

      So yes… I’d say it’s possible to be a teacher who has an ideology in opposition to the system. And in fact, I’d say that frequently a teachers ideology is at odds with the system.

      For instance, I personally believe not only in gay marriage but polygamy. I’m also for the abolishment of ALL drug legislation. And as said above, I’m a fan of punching people in the dick for being racist or sexist…. BUT those are not things I teach in my lit class. I do on the other hand often have discussions about racism, sexism, gender, etc as they relate to whatever book it is I happen to be teaching. “What are the Montagues discussing at the beginning of Romeo and Juliet? Oh, they’re making rape jokes. Let’s talk about that.”

      But Summers’ situation is much more cut and dry than mine. She was in a situation where a kid used an inappropriate epithet in school. I basically dare you to find an educator who says that the correct thing for her to do was to ignore that. NOW, her mistake was in the way she handled it, because culturally she should know better than to think that was inside the rules of conduct for a teacher in 2015… even in Texas. But it was absolutely her job to correct the behavior.

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 9:26 am

      I think we are in agreement that the behavior was inappropriate and that her job was to correct it. I feel that our only real disagreement is on how she SHOULD have done so. We seem to agree that what she actually did was foolish and ultimately unnecessary as a means of admonishing the students actions.

      Whether he was chastised by the teacher or simply punished for an inappropriate action, the lesson, as it applies to being in that school(do not use that phrase as a reference to another student) would have been taught regardless.

      I believe that society imparts these rules for conduct and that it does not require a teacher, legislator, pastor, or whatever to do so.

      The guy yelling “I hate niggers” on a street corner will only do so as long as society permits. Oh, he may still “hate niggers”, but a couple of ass beatings or being ostracized publicly will most likely give him pause when considering how to express those views, thus is the power of the people.

      In my opinion.

  6. avatar
    May 26, 2015 at 5:41 pm

    *please read with complete sarcasm*

    I find dick punching offense. I don’t have a dick (except the one I’m married to), half of the population doesn’t have a dick. I think the proper term should be genital punch.

  7. avatar
    May 26, 2015 at 5:55 pm

    Thank you for raising one of my biggest pet peeves in this spiel. I am dumbfounded that Battlestar Galactica got away with use “frack” (and derivations thereof) for the entire run and nobody blinked an eye, but if you say “fuck” on the air, the show better be on HBO or Cinemax. The hypocrisy of that makes me want to strangle people.

    • avatar
      May 26, 2015 at 10:11 pm

      Strauss: Yeah, that’s a separate rant, and one I still want to get to, but it seemed less topical. So I touched on it here, but Galactica is a prime example. The “fracking” thing was clearly a euphemism for “fucking” and in fact, was used in exactly the same multitude of ways from just being an expletive, to a term for sex to a term for screwing something up or killing them. It worked in the context of Battlestar Galactica because diegesis of the show allowed for it. It was a different world and the sci-fi element allowed it to sort of make sense. When that happens on other shows, be it Law & Order or Days of Out Lives, it just seems really “fracking” dumb.

  8. avatar
    May 26, 2015 at 7:07 pm

    Dick punching would solve a lot of my problems.

  9. avatar
    May 26, 2015 at 11:07 pm

    Brenadine Humphrey commented on ChrisMaverick dotcom:

    Dick punching would solve a lot of my problems.

  10. avatar
    May 26, 2015 at 7:37 pm

    This is a very well written piece. Kudos Mav.

  11. avatar
    May 26, 2015 at 7:41 pm

    It’s a really interesting case you make.

    I believe that, in policing our language, we are attempting (whether naive or plausible) to police our thoughts. If we eliminate a language of distinctions, perhaps the next innocent generation will not see toes distinctions as a focal point. In essence, if there is no word for a concept, it is not culturally relevant.

    But I don’t think this line of thinking entirely addresses your argument that we are fighting the symptom rather than the sickness.

    Personally, I favour in-crowd linguistics. I can call myself a homogay lesbidyke and that’s okay. I can also call my lezzerly friends as such. But the moment someone who doesn’t know me catches me using my insider language, and given that absolutely no one reads me as a member of this special club, I become the enemy. The words twist from affectionate to aggressive, even threatening. …already we see the issues with this system, and yet I still want my words…I suppose to take their power back from actual haters?

    • avatar
      May 26, 2015 at 10:33 pm

      Brigid: Oh, I totally think you’re right about the idea behind it… at least the genesis of the idea, but I think you’re also right to suggest that that is naive and implausible. Furthermore, I think the idea has been lost. I don’t for a minute think that “nigger” is banned from TV (more or less, it’s not on the FCC 7 dirty words list… and in fact, during the 70s was quite common on prime time television) to end racism. It’s banned because at this point we’ve decided that it is just too foul a term to use on TV. You can say spade, jiggaboo, jungle bunny, spear chucker and darkie all you want. Similarly, you don’t run into the word “faggot” very often on TV, but there’s no shortage of carpet muncher, butt pirate, dyke, or fruit.

      The thing is, I don’t think it’s really a chicken and egg problem. Discrimination predates language. The assumption that if we remove the terms people will grow up without a concept of difference has no bearing in science or history. When we find something we want to describe we invent a word to describe it. Hate is a very powerful emotion and it’s one that is going to find a way to be expressed.

      This goes to your in-crowd linguistics issue. I certainly see your point with being able to say “dyke” around your friends. Same point with black people using “nigga.” And I certainly see why you might take me saying dyke as an insult where a lesbian friend might not feel that way (well, actually, you know I love you, so you’d probably assume something else from me as well… but I mean in general).

      But outside of that group, even if you can force the word out of existence, it doesn’t actually do anything to the emotion that is being expressed. In Moose Finklestein’s example above, someone was insulting a person with the term “N-word.” Even though they didn’t use the word “nigger” the intent was clear. If you could somehow remove the word’s “dyke” and “faggot” from the vocabulary of every homophobe in America, they’re either going to dig deeper and go with “muff diver” or they’re just going to start inventing stuff. You’ll suddenly be an “L-woman” or something. “All those L-women are going to burn in hell for their sinful ways.”

      If malice is there, the actual word doesn’t matter. The best example I can think of is the word “feminist.” It’s a term that was chosen for entirely positive reasons. Many people are proud to self-describe as feminists. BUT for the opposition it is used in an entirely derogatory manner. “Of course SHE would say that. She is nothing but a dirty, stinking FEMINIST!”

      Another example is the way both democrats and republicans use the words “conservative” and “liberal” to describe the other side. During the Kerry campaign it got to the point where the Rs were running ads calling Kerry “the most LIBERAL democrat in the senate” and Kerry actually started refuting it! He’d go out and say “no, I’m not liberal!!!” and liberal democrats were left going “what the fuck dude?”

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 4:36 am

      Hah I was gonna say when I lived I DC, all the girls in the convent thought Liberal was a denouncement. Le sigh.

  12. avatar
    May 26, 2015 at 8:32 pm

    Chris, feel free to use my punch in a dick button/image any time you want: http://tinyurl.com/flips-facebook-buttons

    • avatar
      May 26, 2015 at 10:34 pm

      Philip: I think actual dick punches will get the point across so much better!

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 3:56 am

      but until all internet devices are fitted with Wammo’s Remote DickPunch 2000 (patent pending) we maybe have to compromise.

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 6:30 am

      Oh… I see what you’re saying. Yeah, there might be needs for virtual communication. I was only concerning myself with real life offenders right now.

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 6:30 am

      Oh… I see what you’re saying. Yeah, there might be needs for virtual communication. I was only concerning myself with real life offenders right now.

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 6:30 am

      Oh… I see what you’re saying. Yeah, there might be needs for virtual communication. I was only concerning myself with real life offenders right now.

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 6:30 am

      Oh… I see what you’re saying. Yeah, there might be needs for virtual communication. I was only concerning myself with real life offenders right now.

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 6:30 am

      Oh… I see what you’re saying. Yeah, there might be needs for virtual communication. I was only concerning myself with real life offenders right now.

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 6:30 am

      Oh… I see what you’re saying. Yeah, there might be needs for virtual communication. I was only concerning myself with real life offenders right now.

  13. avatar
    May 26, 2015 at 9:58 pm

    Moose: “I want to insult you by lessening your value as a human being, but I don’t want to be derogatory when I do it!”

  14. avatar
    May 26, 2015 at 10:08 pm

    Moose: Right. But I actually think that that message becomes too much of a shroud for the real idea to get across. Ideally, you’d teach people “don’t assume others are money-loving kikes” but we tend to settle for “don’t say it out loud”

  15. avatar
    May 26, 2015 at 10:14 pm

    Moose: The funny thing is, Galactica wasn’t bound by FCC regulation since it (mostly) didn’t air on broadcast TV. You’re actually allowed to swear all you want on SyFy… their own internal standards and practices make the regulations. That said, I think that robot chicken is pretty much spot on. I think the FCC (and for films, for instance, the MPAA) really do sit around say “oh he said frack… so that’s not offensive. And that woman is naked but for six square inches of tape that perfectly cover her nipples and vaginal opening so they’re good too!”

  16. avatar
    May 27, 2015 at 12:02 am

    Nice channelling of George Carlin. Bravo.

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 12:06 am

      Cryo: I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m “channelling” Carlin, but he is certainly a stylistic influence of mine and has been for years. But so are a lot of people.

      That said, I certainly take it as a compliment. So thank you.

  17. avatar
    May 27, 2015 at 12:47 am

    After reading through all this, it occurs to me that I lack a certain context for really evaluating this. Namely, for reasons that can most accurately be described as “White privilege” (as a side bar, I think that term gets misapplied about half the time, for reasons that I will be happy to expound on if anyone cares), I have no idea what the emotional impact is of hearing a racial epithet. “Cracker” just doesn’t elicit a severe emotional response from me.
    But, I would imagine that using the term as this teacher did would have no educational value, because it’s use would cause too much of an emotional response to allow rational thought in a teenager, while literally saying “N-word”, because words are a funny thing, would maintain the point, while keeping the emotions to a reasonable level. And the teacher, because she is an adult who is supposed to be an expert in communicating with teenagers, should know this. Now, sure, everyone makes mistakes. And, of course, I’m not an expert in the field, so my analysis could be way off. But should that really result is the loss of a job? My gut inclination is no, unless there are sufficient corroborating errors in judgement.

    Well, except for one thing: If you’re a white person in the US, you should have enough sense to not go around and say racial epithets. You shouldn’t even say words that sound similar to racial epithets if there’s a reasonable chance that you will be misunderstood, and you should use euphemisms like “N-word” when you’re talking about the epithets, because of the associated history of unfathomable violence and oppression, and because those words have no reason to exist except to express disdain towards, and the desire to violently oppress, people in minority groups. It’s the price we pay for not being subject to such epithets, and a very small price to pay at that.

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 6:45 am

      Jeff: There are alternate lines of thinking on that.

      In one line emotional learning is very powerful. It is often more effective to demonstrate the manner in which something works rather than explaining it and demonstrating a feeling is certainly a lot more doable with the real insult than the euphemism. But it’s also socially out of line. Particularly in that instance with that word.

      The other line of thinking is that it’s exactly the opposite. That it’s hard to learn anything when you’re emotionally resistant to it. By using the word “nigger” she basically shut the door to reason and ruined any chance she ever had of getting through to the kid. By using “N-word” she would have been able to discuss it in the abstract and he would have understood.

      Which is the right way? Who is to say, but as you say, she certainly should have known better in either case.

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 6:45 am

      Jeff: There are alternate lines of thinking on that.

      In one line emotional learning is very powerful. It is often more effective to demonstrate the manner in which something works rather than explaining it and demonstrating a feeling is certainly a lot more doable with the real insult than the euphemism. But it’s also socially out of line. Particularly in that instance with that word.

      The other line of thinking is that it’s exactly the opposite. That it’s hard to learn anything when you’re emotionally resistant to it. By using the word “nigger” she basically shut the door to reason and ruined any chance she ever had of getting through to the kid. By using “N-word” she would have been able to discuss it in the abstract and he would have understood.

      Which is the right way? Who is to say, but as you say, she certainly should have known better in either case.

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 6:45 am

      Jeff: There are alternate lines of thinking on that.

      In one line emotional learning is very powerful. It is often more effective to demonstrate the manner in which something works rather than explaining it and demonstrating a feeling is certainly a lot more doable with the real insult than the euphemism. But it’s also socially out of line. Particularly in that instance with that word.

      The other line of thinking is that it’s exactly the opposite. That it’s hard to learn anything when you’re emotionally resistant to it. By using the word “nigger” she basically shut the door to reason and ruined any chance she ever had of getting through to the kid. By using “N-word” she would have been able to discuss it in the abstract and he would have understood.

      Which is the right way? Who is to say, but as you say, she certainly should have known better in either case.

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 6:45 am

      Jeff: There are alternate lines of thinking on that.

      In one line emotional learning is very powerful. It is often more effective to demonstrate the manner in which something works rather than explaining it and demonstrating a feeling is certainly a lot more doable with the real insult than the euphemism. But it’s also socially out of line. Particularly in that instance with that word.

      The other line of thinking is that it’s exactly the opposite. That it’s hard to learn anything when you’re emotionally resistant to it. By using the word “nigger” she basically shut the door to reason and ruined any chance she ever had of getting through to the kid. By using “N-word” she would have been able to discuss it in the abstract and he would have understood.

      Which is the right way? Who is to say, but as you say, she certainly should have known better in either case.

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 6:45 am

      Jeff: There are alternate lines of thinking on that.

      In one line emotional learning is very powerful. It is often more effective to demonstrate the manner in which something works rather than explaining it and demonstrating a feeling is certainly a lot more doable with the real insult than the euphemism. But it’s also socially out of line. Particularly in that instance with that word.

      The other line of thinking is that it’s exactly the opposite. That it’s hard to learn anything when you’re emotionally resistant to it. By using the word “nigger” she basically shut the door to reason and ruined any chance she ever had of getting through to the kid. By using “N-word” she would have been able to discuss it in the abstract and he would have understood.

      Which is the right way? Who is to say, but as you say, she certainly should have known better in either case.

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 6:45 am

      Jeff: There are alternate lines of thinking on that.

      In one line emotional learning is very powerful. It is often more effective to demonstrate the manner in which something works rather than explaining it and demonstrating a feeling is certainly a lot more doable with the real insult than the euphemism. But it’s also socially out of line. Particularly in that instance with that word.

      The other line of thinking is that it’s exactly the opposite. That it’s hard to learn anything when you’re emotionally resistant to it. By using the word “nigger” she basically shut the door to reason and ruined any chance she ever had of getting through to the kid. By using “N-word” she would have been able to discuss it in the abstract and he would have understood.

      Which is the right way? Who is to say, but as you say, she certainly should have known better in either case.

  18. avatar
    May 27, 2015 at 6:35 am

    Sorry, couldn’t help but think of this.

  19. avatar
    May 27, 2015 at 6:35 am

    Sorry, couldn’t help but think of this.

  20. avatar
    May 27, 2015 at 6:35 am

    Sorry, couldn’t help but think of this.

  21. avatar
    May 27, 2015 at 6:35 am

    Sorry, couldn’t help but think of this.

  22. avatar
    May 27, 2015 at 6:35 am

    Sorry, couldn’t help but think of this.

  23. avatar
    May 27, 2015 at 6:35 am

    Sorry, couldn’t help but think of this.

  24. avatar
    May 27, 2015 at 6:52 am

    I’m just going to stick to the dick punch. I’m old fashioned that way

  25. avatar
    May 27, 2015 at 6:52 am

    I’m just going to stick to the dick punch. I’m old fashioned that way

  26. avatar
    May 27, 2015 at 6:52 am

    I’m just going to stick to the dick punch. I’m old fashioned that way

  27. avatar
    May 27, 2015 at 6:52 am

    I’m just going to stick to the dick punch. I’m old fashioned that way

  28. avatar
    May 27, 2015 at 6:52 am

    I’m just going to stick to the dick punch. I’m old fashioned that way

  29. avatar
    May 27, 2015 at 6:52 am

    I’m just going to stick to the dick punch. I’m old fashioned that way

  30. avatar
    May 27, 2015 at 7:23 am

    This post got me pumped.

    I agree with you 100% when it comes to racists who wear their racism on their sleeve — no guesswork on my part. But, as the late, great Patrice O’Neal says, there’s this new type of racism, “this shit I can’t prove.” And when EVERYONE (racists and non-racists alike) are censoring themselves, it makes it impossible to distinguish who is who…it takes away the context.

    It’s also just annoying for someone like me, who believes that there are no bad words, just bad intentions, bad people. I have to censor myself in certain areas…and I hate it. Aside from white folks correcting me when I say black (you mean AFRICAN American!), the one that bugs me the most is “retard” — I just can’t stop saying it. Guess that means I’m the worst person ever…

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 8:12 am

      and I 100% agree on the bad words vs. bad intentions issue. I don’t even get mad when I see white kids running around saying “where my naggers at?” I think they sound ridiculous, but I’m not against it. Insisting that the word only be appropriated by the inside group reinforces the distinction that causes the split in the first place. Replacing one hegemony with another doesn’t really fix anything.

      But there is also the mandate that as educators it is as much our job to teach students to exist within the system that is in place as it is to teach them to replace it with another one.

  31. avatar
    May 27, 2015 at 7:27 am

    I still have issues calling things gay, faggot I’ve almost eliminated completley

  32. avatar
    May 27, 2015 at 8:42 am

    I actually think that what you’re describing is a part of a bigger problem. The term “racism” originally was used to mean “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race” (definition from Miriam-Webster). We don’t tend to use that word in that way that much any more and we don’t really have a replacement word which means the same thing. I think that’s a shame, because, in that usage of the word, I think that racism is still really abundant in this country. I think that people have learned that 1) people of all races should be treated equally and 2) publicly expressing the idea that people of all races are not equal is socially improper and not allowed (which ties into use of the n-word, for example). But I don’t think that most Americans actually believe that people of all races are the same. Anyone who believes that blacks are inherently better at sports and asians are inherently better at math subscribes to that idea. Or at least a strongly similar idea. I think that if we tweaked that definition just a little to say “a belief that race is a primary determinant of human traits and capacities” (instead of ‘the primary determinant’) and took out the part about superiority, I think that a very sizable percentage of Americans would agree with that (although they may not admit to it). So it’s not just that we’ve learned that certain words are to be avoided, we’ve also learned that certain ideas should not be expressed. But that doesn’t mean that we’ve stopped believing in those ideas.

    • avatar
      May 27, 2015 at 9:05 am

      Oh totally. Racism isn’t always a negative idea. I often hear people say exactly what you’re saying “no no no, it’s not racism… I said Asians are BETTER at math!!!”

      That’s why I said treating the symptom. The message behind the way we deal with it (don’t say that word) isn’t “correct your thinking” it’s “don’t talk about that!” And that not only doesn’t fix the problem you’re pointing to. It makes it worse.

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