An argument to reconsider words is not “thought policing”

How many people would use the k-word slur or a non-human animal species to describe persons of colour? Would any of you call me “camel-fucker”? Would you use “faggot” to describe a gay person? I imagine the answer to these is no – and it’s a “no” driven not by fear of police or lawyers, but some sense of morality.

Can you imagine anyone having to write an article today asking people not to use the k-word to describe black people? It seems ridiculous, because you probably don’t need to be convinced of that. If I had to blog about why you should not describe me as a “camel fucker” or “raghead” or “Paki”, I’d imagine you’d ask: Who the hell is this for? 

But let’s say there was someone, a white man,  who had never encountered these terms used in a bad way or himself used it as a term of endearment in an “ironic” way. Presumably such a person, who had never fully considered the impact on those it actually affects, would read my piece and reconsider his terms.

Whatever his conclusion, no one other than himself is preventing him from using those terms. I am not leaping out my blog to silence people who use “Paki”, I simply block them and conclude such people are not worth talking to. The entire Internet is available for Paki-bashers of the world to unite and use the term “ironically”.

That’s the end of it, really: Words on the internet ask you to reconsider using a term. Agree? Disagree? No one’s stopping you. Seems easy, no?

Well, judging from the way gamers responded to a similar suggestion about the term “Master Race”, maybe not. [Read more…]

Patton Oswalt fans and how to outrage properly

Famous comedian, Patton Oswalt, Tweeted this:

Rich straight white guy telling the world he’d appreciate “less outrage”. This notion doesn’t sit well with those who daily face various forms of outrageous and awful kinds of oppression or marginalisation. How exactly should people of colour show “less outrage” while responding to racism? How should rape survivors and targets of sexual assault convey “less outrage”, while daily exposed to men who think they own women’s bodies? How should gay rights activists threatened with death convey “less outrage” in countries where their existence is a crime?

I’m not sure and I’m not sure Oswalt is either. Oswalt is a smart, compassionate person, from a lot of what I’ve read; I’ve no doubt he’s genuine in his intent, even if, in this case, he’s unsuccessful in his delivery. Oswalt, respectfully, doesn’t get a free pass though – as I would not get a free pass if I said something awful but well-intentioned about transgender people (i.e. when I kept using “transgendered” for example), targets of sexual assault (“don’t wear slutty clothes!”), etc.

Writer Ijeoma Oluo was equally unimpressed.

It didn’t help that this was his response, though.

While it’s important to not dehumanise your opponent, sometimes you aren’t dealing with a group or response worth investing time in to convey pity. For example, when racists mock me, when sexists threaten women with rape, why should our first response be pity? Why should I take time to try understand when they’ve made things unsafer with violent threats? It might certainly be a response, and perhaps those not being targeted could demonstrate it (say, a rich white guy), but we don’t get to assert to targets of oppression how they should respond.

This doesn’t mean all responses to bigotry is justified of course – but when you’re merely asserting, and asserting from a place of privilege, it doesn’t help anyone. Indeed, it only helps the people who want to see marginalised people silenced: See, my hero Patton Oswalt says you persons of colour/women/etc. lack compassion and can’t even respond to your oppression right!

And, indeed, when Oswalt publicly responded to Ijeoma (putting a “.” before Replying so that all 2 million of his Followers could see), this made the situation worse.

I think this, above the initial Tweet, demonstrates a profound blindness constructed by good intention: Oswalt is good to acknowledge her and acknowledge her making good points. But, too, Oswalt must surely know that amidst his 2 million followers, as a comedian and white man, that he’ll have reactionary, “edgy” men willing to say horrible things to women online; he must know there is an imbalance of replying to a women of colour, who is a writer on these issues, in a public forum he can’t control, that it would work out worse for her. If he agreed she made good points, why not discuss it privately and perhaps blog it, thus putting it on a platform he can control? This a media ethics failing on Oswalt’s part, considering the size and scale of his Twitter platform.

Oswalt is one thing. The flood of men telling Ijeoma to “take a joke”, “get a sense of humor”, and so on – i.e. please shut up and stop insulting my hero – was nauseating.

I’ll summarise their Tweets in italics.

Humourists get free pass to say whatever they want. I realise you just said being told to lighten up is awful, but I’m going to repeat it.

I can’t really offer a response, so I’m going to make a baseless comment on your character.

How dare you be so self-centered as the kind of person who faces regular oppression to tell a rich white man how to be a better ally?

Anything said or done in jest gets a free moral pass, Part 534.

Let me explain how satire works…

And on it goes.

Everything you do is wrong because of your race and gender – not because you misused your privileged position to tell marginalised people to be less outraged, instead of men like yourself to be less dickish.

“Male’s”. No straight white male has ever had opportunity to voice their opinion, including you, a celebrity comedian with 2 million Followers.

The mythical creature, the SJW, feeds off the need to be offended – there’s no way racism, sexism, etc., exist to such degrees, everywhere that warrants marginalised people to be responsive to those who should be helping.

Oh yes, nothing like wanting an ally to do better to convey how much marginalised people hate him.

Pwned. I’m a great guy.

Patton Oswalt is god because he makes me laugh, Part 3,344.

I’m going to make a slave joke at a black person. That should go down well. 

Please notice my boredom. Please. I am the spiritual sequel to Oswalt’s inital Tweet.

Until white men are in positions of power – like presidents, Nobel prize winners, scientists, head of bushinesses – we must keep defending them.

Marginalised people love bigotry. Persons of colour have to search far and wide to find racism; women really struggle to encounter sexism. 

So what do we notice,

1. Lots of men love explaining to marginalised people how to handle oppression. They can’t imagine maybe they don’t know what they fuck they’re talking about because this is a world designed to be a blank page for men – especially white men – to make their mark. “I’m a white man! You must listen to me!”

2. Humour doesn’t have any moral baggage to such people. Here, Oswalt isn’t being comedic, but he is a comedian. For some reason, that gives him moral immunity to say what he wants. Humour is a way of speaking, not an automatic free pass to say what you want. Just because humour makes people laugh doesn’t make it right all the time. We can criticise it as we do cartoons caricaturing Jewish people, white people who blackface, etc.

3. This was also telling.

As I’ve said before: nothing insulates bigotry more than thinking my friends/fans/followers can’t possibly be bigots! Indeed, the idea that the only bigots online silencing persons of colour is white supremacists is obviously false: but it’s a helpful picture to draw so you have neat moral boundaries. If you can say “only white supremacists silence people of colour”, it means you can get away with saying anything and never think “Maybe I’m being a bit racist”. Because, hey, you’re not a white supremacist, so you can’t possibly be doing something bad to people of colour!

As I say, Oswalt is a good person I admire. My issue is his fans’ responses and his media ethics failure, in making this public on an unequal platform (his +/- 2m million Followers versus 1) over which he has no control.

I can only hope he does better. We all fuck up.

 

So you see a racist Tweet…

How should we respond to awful posts on social media? Spoiler alert: I don’t know, but I think we can do better – overall – if we don’t always reply quickly, grounding our responses with what is best for others. Not what feels right at that moment. In my latest post for TBD, I use the example of a Tweet that directly targets people like me – “foreign-named”, darker skinned, etc. – and reflect on what I’d actually like to see more of.

Spoiler: It’s not abusive messages sent to the random kid who made the racist Tweet.

Read it at The Daily Beast

“So what if you’re offended”

You’ve seen this, no doubt.

If I never have to see this quote or picture again, I think the world would be a better place.

Now, it’s not because it’s false. It’s not because Fry isn’t spot on about this being a sometimes correct reaction to, say, wide-eyed religious conservatives who want to ban books, censor science, etc. Indeed, the context was in conversation with Christopher Hitchens about the pernicous way “offense” from religious people was seen as sufficient reason to censor – it was about the idiot notion of blasphemy as still regarded as legitimate in secular, civil society. (South Africa couldn’t distribute a book some years ago because it offended some members of the Muslim community. That mindset, years ago, is also why I heard about and wanted to read The Satanic Verses; and one-two-skip-a-few I’m now an ex-Muslim. Streisand Effect leading to atheism.) [Read more…]

So I watched an Avril Lavigne music video…

This one:

It’s called “Hello Kitty” by one Avril Lavigne. I believe she’s famous for having trouble with skateboarding children, who she would see at a later point?

So, the music video starts off with this young woman speaking with a thousand voices in Japanese and pointing at me.

Why is she pointing?

Why is she pointing?

I don’t know what I did, but she’s quite excited.

Then she’s morphed into a room accompanied by disapproving, silent Japanese ladies. This will be their face and general demeanour throughout the entire parade of American teen-pop diabetes-inducing shitstorm the video is.

Come play with us.

The colours made my eyes crawl inside my skull to die in pleasant darkness.

Then the music skips tragically on her saying “Ka”, so she says, “ka-ka-ka-kawaii“. And that’s when my brain shook its head, put on its hat and left via my nostrils. It knew the actual music would start.

SPIN FOR NO REASON, AVRIL! SPIINNNNN!

SPIN FOR NO REASON, AVRIL! SPIINNNNN!

She plays a guitar which apparently contains the trapped soul of Skrillex.

DO SOMETHING WITH THIS FLUTE OR WHATEVER MUSIC PEOPLE CALL IT!

Help! I’m trapped in the body of a shittily programmed guitar!

Then she does this weird… “dance” thing?

I can move my kneeeeeeeeeeees

What is she holding? Why is she now wearing candy spectacles? Why is she dancing with that… thing? It looks like the Staypuff Marshmellow Man’s aborted child.

KEEP YOUR EYES ON IT, AVRIL!

Screen shot 2014-04-23 at 12.47.15 AM

And on it goes.

This blistering, glittery-nailpolished middle finger to music; this blackboard scraping called vocals; the music sounds like the someone throwing a small angry police car around. It’s not so much music as it is glorified white noise, allowing this pop-star to use the colour palette of Candy Crush as a weapon against common decency.

And where the fuck is she? It’s like a racist’s fever-dream of Japan, after taking too much LSD. Everything looks like it takes place in Willy Wonka’s sweatshop.

This would, of course, be nothing without the lyrics. WITNESS THESE GRAND POETICS TO MAKE EVEN DANTE ALIGHIERI WEEP.

Mom’s not home tonight [1] [2]
So we can roll around, have a pillow fight
Like a major rager OMFG [3]

Let’s all slumber party [4]
Like a fat kid on a pack of Smarties [5]
Someone chuck a cupcake at me [6]

It’s time for spin the bottle [7]
Not gonna talk about it tomorrow
Keep it just between you and me [8]

Let’s play truth or dare now [9]
We can roll around in our underwear how [10]

Every silly kitty should be

My thoughts correspond with the notes above:

1. Where is your mother?

2. It’s not night-time at all in this music video.

3.  What is… nevermind.

4. You can “party” and “slumber”; and you can have a “slumber party” – but you can’t “slumber party”. You are not using those words correctly.

5. OK, now I don’t know what you mean by slumber party. Is this only something “fat kids” can do? Do thin kids not enjoy Smarties?

6. Dear god, who else is at this daytime event where you slumber party that “someone” must throw dessert at you? Won’t your poor mother on her night duty have to clean up?

7. OK, now I’m convinced there’s more than one other person at your day-time event.

8. But now this reads as though no one other than the person you’re singing to is there. Who else would the bottle spin toward? I’ve never played, but I did see attractive people play it in high school.

9. Wait, is spin the bottle finished?

10. Is that before or after truth or dare??

And so on.

This bizarre explosion of “culture” has some racism going for it, too, with its portrayal of everyone who isn’t the white American woman as mindless Japanese drones. So yay for integration. Or whatever.

Conclusion

Whoever decides whether humanity should continue or die will surely be yearning to push the red button after hearing this – because afterward they won’t be able to hear anything else like “Please, no!” Imagine we sent this off as part of a collection that constitutes who we are as a species; imagine intelligent aliens found it. I think it would be immoral for them not to destroy us, as the sound of a cat getting its tail stepped on screeches lyrics about bottle-spinning and day-time slumbering partying. If you’re not diabetic after this, I admire you: the twee and candy-coloured hatred for all things humanity has built in its long march away from oppression makes avoiding sickness difficult.

But whatever. Don’t watch it. Just know it exists. And I watched it for you because I’m apparently a masochist.

Justine Sacco wasn’t the biggest problem about her Twitter storm UPDATE

Over at Big Think, I argued that Sacco’s apparent racism – or rather, her racist Tweet – was probably the least worrying part of her whole “Twitter storm”. What worried me and continues to worry me are our default responses to people and how we caricature, so we can attack, convey pure bile, and do little to actually advance cause or thought.

I didn’t see evidence of rape or death threats at Sacco, though I did look. If you know of any, please let me know below.

I’d like to see more silence than noise online, especially when something makes us angry. That default to convey that anger publicly should be considered: you don’t get a free pass to say and do what you like just because you’re justifiably angry: I argued this about the Elan Gale case. We should stop this being our default and, if there’s a competition for response, it shouldn’t be about who’s the nastiest or most “hardcore”: it should be who’s the smartest and most effective in combating the mindset causing you (justifiable) anger.

I would be terrified of being the target of a Twitter storm: we mess up in various ways and there’s no one to actually shut off or calm down the masses of the moral march. Even if you said something stupid or idiotic, the response is disproportional as you are one person and they are legion. This is inherently unfair. And that’s another reason I worry.

Updated: Thanks to commenter “oolon” below for links showing threats.

Please note my comment policy before commenting, unless you love the taste of Banhammer.

Follow me on Twitter.

Go to JustineSacco.com

This

Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!

— Justine Sacco Tweet (@JustineSacco) December 20, 2013

…led to someone taking time to not send threats to Ms Sacco or merely complain to their friends about how nasty racists are (who would disagree?) and do this: http://justinesacco.com/

Using attention, current focus and intense emotions and funneling it properly. Excellent. Truly excellent. Want to do something about people like Sacco? Go donate to Aids charities, encourage others to, and don’t send that threatening Tweet or yell about more obvious moral standing (“racism is bad!”).

I will write something on this later. For now, it’s a little too fresh.

Criticism of Islam and Islamophobia

My super smart frenemy Kenan Malik has a new post up, examining the blurry, grey landscape that is the no man’s land between the criticism of Islam and Islamophobia.

Islamophobia is a problematic term. This is not because hatred of, or discrimination against, Muslims does not exist. Clearly it does. Islamophobia is a problematic term because it can be used by both sides to blur the distinction between criticism and hatred. On the one hand, it enables many to attack criticism of Islam as illegitimate because it is judged to be ‘Islamophobic’.  On the other, it permits those who promote hatred to dismiss condemnation of that hatred as stemming from an illegitimate desire to avoid criticism of Islam. In conflating criticism and bigotry, the very concept of Islamophobia, in other words, makes it more difficult to engage in a rational discussion about where and how to draw the line between the two.

I tried tackling this in relation to Sam Harris – who I like but Kenan isn’t such a fan of – some time back, myself.

I find, for example, Murtaza Hussain’s criticisms of Harris misguided, though I’ve not yet formulated a good enough response. Anyway, Kenan’s articles are always incredibly nuanced and thoughtful (compare that to anything Hussain writes about Harris).

I hope you’ll read Kenan since he’s one of the smartest people you’re likely to encounter, whose topics are broad yet consistently insightful. Even The New York Times recognised this recently.