Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Not my fault! I was raised that way!

When my grandmother would tell a story involving a black person, no matter how insignificant the person or their color was to the story, she would always mentioned the “colored” person. For example, telling me a story about how she bought string beans for a casserole, she would drop in that the cashier was a “colored girl”… even though the actual action of paying for the string beans had absolutely nothing to do with the story, and the cashier certainly didn’t. It wasn’t snide. She honestly believed that it was crucial to the casserole story that I know her cashier was “a colored person”.

It became a running joke between my husband and me until she passed away. The thing is, had it not been my grandmother, I likely would have been appalled. Instead it was just one of those quirks that made her who she was. Her “colored man” drop ins were like a souvenir from growing up in the ’30s and ’40s. That’s how things were then.

My MIL, whom I’m quite fond of, if you remember, insists that she’s right about things because “that’s what I was taught”. In her mind, what she was taught is the truth, and you don’t question it because… I don’t know… you just don’t… because you were taught it.

As skeptics, we shun the default. But should we give passes to people who believe things because “that’s how they were raised”? Is that an excuse for racism or distrust of science? What are things that we’ve grown up with that our kids and grandkids might be shocked or appalled at?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.


Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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  1. I don’t think this question is as easy to answer as it should be :-/

    BUT my inclination would be to say that I think a lot of times it is laziness and refusal to make a life style change. Many things can happen from childhood and adulthood and I think it is only rational for one’s adeals to change as the times change. Mine have and will continue to do so. Even though I make an effort to be as fair as possible, I’m sure I will discover things later in life where I can say “Yikes, I can’t believe I DID/SAID that.”

    I tend to get pertubed any time my grandparents say something like: “We’re old, that’s how we were raised. It’s hard to change now.”

    I call BS on that kind of statement because change is the same whether you are old or young. It can be very hard, but sometimes you just have to except it and move on.

  2. This is truly a great conundrum. I used to just not say anything to someone when they would make these kind of statements. Then at some point in my life for no apparent reason, (basically when I came out of the closet about my atheism) I started calling bullshit on anything that was wrong, or I would demand the back data on something. I know I lost a few “friends”, but I have also seen a number of my friends now doing the same thing and questioning others and doing the same thing. I will no longer bite my tongue as someone makes a inaccurate statement as fact, etc. I think everyone out to do it.

  3. It depends. Your grandmother sounds a lot like mine. I don’t get into it with her because she is 82 and I don’t think she will be around for very many more years. She is very child like and always has been. Like so many people she grew old without growing up.

    I have heard that people are “getting past their raising” as an insult for people who have the ability to grow and change. Many peopled don’t seem to have the ability to grow and change. There are times that it feels like a lot of people stop maturing in the fourth grade and then just age.

    I don’t think it is an excuse for racism or anti-science views but it may be a cause.

    I was taught in school that gays were filthy disgusting people not fit to be treated as humans. My parents didn’t like that and told me it was a load of crap. They were so vehement and angry when they told me that it shocked me and made me question many of the views I took for granted.

    I guess you could be raised to believe the Earth was flat and balanced on the back of a turtle. Do we want to argue with everyone we meet about every crazy thing they believe? I don’t know. I know I am too lazy to do it. I won’t let racism slide in anyone but my grandmother and that is because she it my grandmother. And whenever she slides into it I do point out that her only grandchildren are all bi-racial. So that shuts her up for a little while.

  4. @Surly Nymph:

    If it were easy to answer we’d probably all agree that if you’re old it’s either okay to treat a sick newborn baby with coffee and whiskey or we’d be calling the cops on our grandmothers who suggest such a thing.

    It’s interesting that your grandparents admit that they should change and that they just don’t want to. My experience has been the I shouldn’t have to change. This is how I grew up. It was fine then, and it’s fine now. attitude.

  5. I give passes to those in their tenth decade of life; younger folks, no so much. One of the points of life is learning, IMO, and having a completely closed mind and excusing said sealed cerebrum with thoughtless explanations, well – if everyone clung to “that’s how I was raised, we’d still be painting cave walls and rejecting fire as too new-fangled.

    My kid would be appalled to know that girls couldn’t wear trousers to school and no one could wear jeans when I was a lass. He already knows about feminism in the 60s and is properly horrified that woman were expected to become wives and mothers, not doctors and politicians. [At one point, when he was about four, all of his doctors and my two med-school roommates were women. He asked me if “boys can be doctors?” and couldn’t understand why Mommy ended up laughing hysterically.]

  6. Like most of you, I give the oldies a pass – oldies being those 80 and above. People my parents age – 60, I don’t and I certainly don’t give a pass to anyone my age or younger. There is no excuse for most people not to educate themselves about social issues.

  7. My first thought is, “Homeschooling: So your kids will never be smarter than you are.”

    I think everyone deserves one get-out-jail-free for social transgressions based on ignorance. People have cut me slack in this way more times than I can count. Once the ignorance has been replaced with knowledge then repetitions of original offense are the responsibility of the offender. Habit is not excuse for not learning.

    What are things that we’ve grown up with that our kids and grandkids might be shocked or appalled at?

    – Wired anything

    – LOL Cats

    – Making beds and mowing lawns

    – Tattoos (Oh how they will point at our sagging tats and laugh.)

  8. Growing up, my father’s family all resided in Louisville, Kentucky (they still do actually). So naturally there was and still is a heavy amount of racism that runs thru most of my southern relatives. My Grandfather and Grandmother even had a servants of colour and one one occasion was told that certain slurs were used around said servants. This really upset me, and when I addressed it, the answer I would always get back was, “That was just how your Grandfather was raised”. Naturally, this pissed me off to no end, as despite the fact that I spent a good majority of my life living in a predominantly white town Grand Forks that did and still does house it’s own racial bigotry towards Native Americans (so much so that some people have even changed their names to “assimilate” into more typical conservative culture), any time someone uses a racial slur I cringe. I have never, nor will never accept the simple answer that any slurs are okay to say. The same reason that I find the now-mainstream use of the word “gay” to be offensive when kids/people go around saying it to things they do not like (I mean, come on people, just say something is dumb or lame instead of calling it gay). Personally, I found it amusing when Skepchick dELYSEious would put up pictures of to men having homosexual sex around everytime someone would use the word gay to describe something, childish in a way yes but also makes a good point.

    But back to my Grandfather, something that shocked me a year ago was when he said he would vote for Hilary Clinton to be the next President. I was shocked because he himself is conservative and catholic. His reason was was troubled me more though, that he would rather see a woman as president than a black man. Now I was left with two options: either I could respond and get into a verbal sparring match with my Grandfather who is stuck in his ways & opinions, or I could just walk away. I chose the second option.

  9. My grandmother is in her late 70s. She still says “colored” though not because she’s racist (she’s not). It’s just what they were called and she was a kid. Otherwise she’s pretty progressive (she’s an actress and in theater, so it comes with the territory), so I let it pass.

    My grandmother is all kinds of nifty.

    My other grandparents are all dead, so I dunno.

    My YOUNGER SISTER likes to say the N-word. Ugh, I fucking hate it. The problem is if I call her out on it, she just says it louder. She also likes to say “fag”, which you know pisses me off.

    It’s weird that she and I are related.

  10. Hi there!

    I remember the first time in my life I was talking to an old person and she used the term: “colored” in a pejorative sense. She was talking about the time her eldest son asked if his friend Sam could come over for dinner, and he talked about what a great guy Sam was, and how he was going to be in town, and would it be okay if he came for dinner. “And when Sam came over, you know what he was?”, she said with a scowl, “Colored!”. She didn’t even say: “Colored”, she said: “Coluhed” like it was it was a curse word.

    But anyway, it’s strange, because my wifey is Catholic, and she’s always grown up believe certain things about God, religion, and the universe. When I was taught religion, it was always: “Some people believe one thing, some people believe another, and who can really say which of us is correct?”. My wifey was taught: “This is the truth, but some people believe wrong things”. The tenets of the Roman Catholic Church aren’t “beliefs” so much as: “Things that are true”.

    Intellectually, my wifey KNOWS that bread doesn’t generally change into the body of 1st century Jewish men just by saying a few words in Latin and asking really nicely. But she believes that during the act of communion, the host DOES in fact become the body of Jesus Christ. No, it doesn’t taste like human flesh, and I’m sure she’s agree that if you tested it with scientific instruments, it wouldn’t show up as: “2,000 year old dead guy”. But she believes that in a deep, spiritual, metaphysical sense, this IS the Body of Christ. It goes beyond, “That’s what I was taught”, it’s just TRUE for her. It is literally: “The Gospel Truth”.

    I don’t hold any of these beliefs against her, and really, she’s not any kind of wacko, wingnut, believer in every kind of woo that comes down the pike. She doesn’t believe that the Virgin Mary makes appearances on grilled cheese sandwiches, and she always rolls her eyes when some crazy televangelist claims to have spoken to God personally. But within the context of the Church, certain things are just “true” to her in ways that they could never be true to me.

    I believe in the truth of gravity, in the truth of evolution, the truth of the quadratic equation, and the truth that every woman on the planet totally wants my body, but in my case, any one of those “truths” could potentially be disproven by scientific evidence to the contrary! (except that last one, of course)

  11. I was raised by Mormons who use homeopathy. I’m going to say that since I corrected my world view to be in line with reality, everyone else should be expected to as well.

  12. I don’t think you give them a pass. You can be nice about it, but giving it a pass can lead to those teachings being passed on. My grandparents were the same way, except the word they used was worse. Because of that, and because of how close my grandparents were with their grandchildren some of my cousins are now that way, simply because that’s the way they were taught. Racism is something that is most often taught by your family, so if you want to fight it, it starts with the family. Even though I’m pretty sure I never changed my grandmothers feelings on it, I eventually got her to change those habits around me and my family. By kindly explaining to her that yes it was the way your were taught, but its wrong and it feeds the hate into the next generations, and by persistence she eventually respected my stance and modified her behavior.

  13. wow, i suck at typing today. sorry for all the errors (where is that blasted edit button?!). excellent and deceptively-deep question this week elyse

  14. @sashapixlee: LIKE!!

    I don’t let it pass very far. Most of the people we hang around with are about the same age as we are, so I can scold them good-naturedly while ensuring they realize I’m serious and won’t tolerate that kind of crap in my house.

    My grandfather used to tell racist stories to my mother, but out of respect for me he would stop the story whenever I came into the room because “Lauren doesn’t like it when I talk about The Blacks.” It’s a small step, but at least it’s a step.

    Now, though, most of my older relatives are dead. And I think it depends on the person who says the thing. I don’t let very much slide, but the way I react differs depending on to whom I am speaking.

    That said, “oh, it’s just the way I was raised” is a bunch of b.s. and would be laughable if it weren’t so pathetic. That is never okay with me.

  15. @marilove: When I was growing up in the 80’s “Coloured” was the nice term and we used “Nigger” as freely as we would “French” or “Dutch” to describe someone. I must have been well into my twenties before I spoke to indian/black person in terms where I wasn’t giving them orders of some kind. I wouldn’t be suprised if 90% of the white people in my hometown have never spoken to a member of the black/asian minority except to give them orders of some kind.

    When it’s 10am in London it’s 1950 in Batley.

    @Tim3P0: Grandparents can be weird. You think that surviving the camps, escaping postwar east-germany and having to change you’re name from Schwartzmann to Sugden to avoid prejudice that you’d know all about the awfulness of racism. Not a bit of it.

  16. @tim3po: ” (I mean, come on people, just say something is dumb or lame instead of calling it gay).”

    considering the origins of the two alternative tou mention, that,s a bad argument.

    @ everyone… The last time my dad said something racist, I asked him if he would have said it in front of the two little kids he was talking about. He said he wouldn’t because it would be hurtful. I told him their presence didn’t change the meaning so don’t do that when you are in my home. He hasn’t said anything like that again. My mom on the otherhand… that is a losing battle

  17. @russellsugden: Great name Russel… Blackman… perfect for this thread. our name was Bethe when gramps moved from Deutschland… the ppl on ellis island said that was too …. so they lopped the ‘e’ off of the end and we went from being related to Nobel laureates to being a jewish house. :)

  18. Yeah, only my grandma and other ancient people get the pass on saying things like that. My grandmother would tell that story, except her use of “colored” would be a detail like calling someone tall or blonde.

    Of course how anyone who could still use that word today still baffles me.

    On the other hand, I absolutely do not accept that excuse for say, a friend’s husband who’s a homophobe. I don’t give a flying fuck that he was “raised that way.” He needs to get the hell over it.

  19. “What are things that we’ve grown up with that our kids and grandkids might be shocked or appalled at?”

    I love this question. We think of ourselves as enlightened and egalitarian but so did our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents. We’re doing and saying things today that people a few generations from now will find offensive and barbaric. The thing is, there’s no way to know what those things might be. I just hope that when I’m old and someone tells me what I did/said was offensive, I woun’t say, “that’s how they were raised”.

  20. @Elyse: If it were easy to answer we’d probably all agree that if you’re old it’s either okay to treat a sick newborn baby with coffee and whiskey or we’d be calling the cops on our grandmothers who suggest such a thing.

    True, true.

    Yeah, it’s funny because they recognize and refuse to change in some respects but they are completely open and accepting of my sister being a lesbian, which is great (although my grandmother admitted to her she thought that her being a lesbian was the work of the devil. Not because he was influencing her to do something “perverse” but because he made her life more difficult having to face the challenges

    On a more humorous note — my grandfather used to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer and upon seeing the love scene between Willow and Tara exclaimed:

    “That was just in poor taste! Who wants to see THAT?”

    I sort of chuckled a little bit and explained “Uhhh, Papa . . . .”

  21. I think whether I’ll give and older person a pass on using a term like “colored” would depend on how they use it. If that”s just how they describe someone and it’s a hold over of how they grew up I’ll give it a pass. If they are using it to demean someone deliberately, not a chance.

    My grandfather often said things that would make me cringe. However I was never more proud of him as when he fully accepted my cousin’s biracial stepson as his grandchild. There was never even a question about it and they were very close up until my grandfather passed away. It’s a cliche but actions speak louder than words.

  22. I tend to give people passes when I know that arguing with them will be trying to teach the proverbial pig to sing. Or, to put it another way,

    “What we have here is a failure to communicate. Now, some folks, you just can’t reach… I don’t like this any more than you do.”

    If they’re still worth hanging around, I’ll overlook it like I overlook a lot of things that annoy me about friends. If they’re not, then fuck ’em with a big rubber dick.

  23. I was raised by very progressive parents in a very conservative, mostly white, upper-middle class town in Michigan. I was taught by my parents not to be racist, but somehow the message didn’t quite sink in for my brother. He believes that he is not racist, but he has made it a point to let me know that he thinks that foreign women are the worst drivers, or that it’s OK to racially profile Arabs at the airport, because if they didn’t want to be discriminated against, they wouldn’t have flown planes into the World Trade Center. I call him out every time, and he says something like, “It’s not racist, just an observation.” What gets me the most about this is that I KNOW that’s not how he was raised.

  24. Oh and:

    @Noadi: I think whether I’ll give and older person a pass on using a term like “colored” would depend on how they use it. If that’’s just how they describe someone and it’s a hold over of how they grew up I’ll give it a pass. If they are using it to demean someone deliberately, not a chance.

    THIS. Definitely.

  25. Unless it’s something trivial like how much garlic to put in tomato sauce or whether to wear socks with sandals, it’s never an acceptable excuse to do something just because that’s how you were raised.

    I figured this out as a young teenager, so I have no sympathy for people who go through their entire lives without ever thinking more deeply about how they’ve been trained. When people do things because that’s what they were taught to do, that’s how we end with horrible things lasting far longer than they should.

  26. What are things that we’ve grown up with that our kids and grandkids might be shocked or appalled at?

    Well, I hope that my kids will be appalled that gay people don’t have the right to get married, men are still looked down on for being stay-at-home dads, and rape is not taken very seriously unless it’s an extreme case. Oh, and illegal marijuana.

  27. My mother is in her mid 70’s and I’ve never heard a racial epithet from her my whole life. Her father, who is deceased, would occasionally let lose with a derisive description of an African American/Black person. Everyone, including my grandmother, would let him have it in a somewhat playful but serious way. Times change and it should be expected that people will change when their outdated and silly ways of looking at those who are different and the world are disproved or found lacking by their family and peers. Overcoming how we were raised takes some effort; but that effort is required should never be an excuse to not make changes.

  28. As a pastor’s kid converted to skepticism, I’ve noticed a lot of similarities between the most angry, close-minded of the two, especially regarding each other.
    A woman that works for me is about as close-minded and unwordly as anyone I ever knew back in the church, and her thoughtless comments constantly ruffle my feathers, and the feathers of those around me (are we all cocks? I’m not sure where to go with that).
    But lately I’ve been remember how I felt the same knee-jerk reaction she does when I was “in the church,” and more importantly that I see the same intolerance in many of my less-than-religious contemporaries.
    So while we see bigotry and anti-intellectualism in the world and want with all we have to force a change, we have to keep in mind that their “golden rule” is really a pretty sensible one.
    Their overwrought logic and knee-jerk reactions only server to drive us even further from them, why would we expect anything different from our strong rebukes?
    If we’re really trying to affect change, we have to be patient and inviting, not force our beliefs down there collective throats.
    Unfortunately, that will often mean letting some people’s ignorance go unchecked.

  29. @Tanstaafl56: My mum’s from polish catholics and when my dad brought her home to visit my grandparents (by which point I was three months away from being born), my grandma said “Ooy vay, a Goy” and fainted, came around, looked up saw my mum said “Goy” again and fainted again. Now that is racism.

  30. I always thought that giving someone a free pass was a condescending thing to do.

    At the same time, raining down contempt on my grandmother because she’s gone a bit batty doesn’t feel good either.

    I’m usually happiest with a firm but gentle rebuke: “I wish you wouldn’t say things like that, Grandma. It really bugs me.”

  31. I’m fairly open-minded about personal choices, races, etc… but there are things I can imagine that would still shock me, that I would have a lot of problems internalizing, being okay with, etc.

    For example, marriage to animals – that’s just never going to sit right with me. I suppose I could try to be okay with it, but it would be really, really tough.

    My mom (who’s in her late 70’s) is the same about gay marriage. In her own words, she has no roadmap to get to that place from where she is now. It’s completely foreign to her. And while I’m not happy about it, I’m at least pleased that she understands that she’s a product of her upbringing, rather than believing she’s right ’cause she thinks she’s right.

  32. @Zoltan: For example, marriage to animals – that’s just never going to sit right with me. I suppose I could try to be okay with it, but it would be really, really tough.

    *shudders* This will never be okay mainly because animals can’t give consent. It’s on par with pedophilia in my mind.

  33. @marilove: I know you don’t care what I think, but honestly, I’d threaten to stop talking to your little sister. Family is supposed to be there for support. Make her realize that her actions have consequences. If you are American and she claims “First Amendment,” tell her to reread it. She has the right from the government, but not from you.

  34. @marilove: My YOUNGER SISTER likes to say the N-word. Ugh, I fucking hate it. The problem is if I call her out on it, she just says it louder. She also likes to say “fag”, which you know pisses me off.

    Speaking as a little brother I salute her. We younger sibs exist to push buttons and it sounds like she’s upholding the tradition proudly! Mind you I don’t endorse what she’s saying, but I know I’d say almost anything to get a rise out of my (fat, gangly, stupid) brother.

  35. @Zoltan, but if aliens of human intelligence arrived tomorrow, would you really still have a problem with inter species marriage? The deal with animals is that they cannot consent, and that you cannot have the same kind of emotional connection and understanding you can have with another human. I don’t really think it’s just a “I was raised that way” unless you really WOULD be against inter species marriage where there wasn’t a difference in intelligence and emotional capacity and consent. So I think you and your mother are fairly different in that regard.

  36. @jemand: but if aliens of human intelligence arrived tomorrow, would you really still have a problem with inter species marriage? The deal with animals is that they cannot consent, and that you cannot have the same kind of emotional connection and understanding you can have with another human.

    Exactly. My husband had a crush on Helena Bonham Carter in the remake of Planet of the Apes and everybody freaked out. Who the hell cares?! She was an intellegent person who could consent to a meaningful relationship.

    Now, if Abe Sapien walked up to my door and asked me out on a date I’d have to give my marriage a second thought ;-)

  37. @mog: COTW. I know it’s only Monday, but there is a lot of wisdom in that post, typos and all. We really need to be thinking about our relationships with others as well as the need to set them straight.

  38. I think this is a case of the Two Laws being of use:
    1) Thou shalt not offend.
    2)Thou shalt not be too easily offended.

    Of course we need to give people a degree of leeway when it comes to their reflexive, deep-programmed responses. We all have an untold number of ragged edges made of our unfounded assertions that stand contrary to someone else’s better researched facts, or archaic descriptors, and we all need to navigate around these small scale incompatibilities, most of which are cemented by the simple voracity of the young mind.

    Simultaneously, there is no a priori reason why attitudes acquired in childhood count as any sort of privileged knowledge immune to amendment or scrutiny, nor do archaic moral opinions excuse one from the evolving moral zeitgeist.

    I realize the above doesn’t actually pass any kind of specific judgement, but I think this is one of those cases where guidelines are more important than rules. If an old woman says colored when the preferential term is black, but was colored years ago (neither of which in my mind fundamentally overcome the fact we are categorizing people with a term that references an external and not cultural feature,) that probably can earn a pass. If that person throws around the race of people as relevant to stories where they aren’t, they probably earned a screwed up face and a “why does them being black matter?” And if they say they wouldn’t vote for a black person, they’ve probably earned something a little stronger.

    I think of it like water- if you can go around smoothly, do it. If the water foams…

  39. “@davew: – Tattoos (Oh how they will point at our sagging tats and laugh.)”


    In truth, though, when we were kids it was shocking and strange to have tatoos. Now it is shocking and strange to have highly visible AND offensive tatoos AND a college degree. Any two of the three is par.

  40. One of my oldest sister’s ex-husbands used to use the n-word around my niece and nephew. A very quick stop was put to that once people were aware it was happening. The man was an all-around asshole and the epitome of what gives southern whites a bad name. He’s well out of the picture now, thank goodness.

    My dad’s parents (in their mid-80’s) seem uncomfortable around Africans and African Americans but they don’t say anything about it. My mom’s mom (75) uses the word “Oriental” to describe East Asians, which, as I understand it, is not only inaccurate but also rather offensive. She clearly has no idea though; she’s a very sweet woman and not racist in the slightest. I tried explaining it gently to her but I’m not sure if it stuck…

  41. My grandmother was a very open and loving woman. But she persisted in calling black people “schvartzes,” which is a derogatory Yiddish term. I remember having a conversation with her where I tried to explain that the term was seen as offensive today, but she really didn’t get it. I don’t think even at that time people considered it an insult, based on my reading of the casual racism of many older Jewish people.

    Eventually I gave up on trying to keep her from saying it. The funny thing is she would have been fine if, say, I’d married a black guy. But I don’t know if even then she’d have stopped using that word.

  42. Another thing. I am of that generation of old farts that you are all talking about. I think I have adjusted and adapted pretty well over the years. Just today I was really jazzed by the new Google Droid navigation app and am going to look into that befuddling piece of new-fangled whizbang technology that us addle-pated fools probably can’t deal with.

    The thing that impresses me most about all of the above posts is the fact that nearly everyone is under 50 and sits here in 2009 with no context for living and learning in 1940. For example, having grown up in the 40’s I know that the term “colored” was used as a polite term. It was what you said because you were offended by the term “nigger.” I know that people of that era were sternly taught that you do not “sass back” or try to correct your elders. To have some “youngster” in his/her 20’s or 30’s correct a person of this older generation would just be rude! It certainly would not be the route to lasting friendship.

    Whether you give a pass to someone of that generation seems, to me, to revolve around how just how much you value the relationship you have with them. People of our generation really have a problem with the word “fuck.” It is, to some people, as vile or more so than “nigger.” So, do we want a society where everyone is calling out everyone else for their politically and socially incorrect terms, or do we recognize the “no harm no foul rule?” What’s more important to you, sitting at Grandma’s table or setting Grandma straight?

    I would be disgusted by anyone calling anyone else a nigger, fag, asshole or some similar epithet. OTOH I can clearly understand that some people use these terms as simple descriptors in their conversation and nothing I say is going to change that. Thus, I have given up trying to teach everyone else what is “right” and what is “proper.”

    Moving on, I think your grandchildren are going to be appalled that you called someone “black” or “Afro-American” because, by then, there will not be the need to set people aside by describing their heritage. “Gay Rights” will be a laughable term similar to “Women’s Suffrage.” Women today do not yet have all the rights that are shared by men. But you just don’t see women in America campaigning for the right to vote. As people become more integrated into mainstream society the terms that set them apart become either disgusting or silly. One can only hope that your grandchildren will think you are just as prejudiced and silly as you think people of our generation are.

    I won’t be around to see it.

  43. @SJBG: I’ve mentioned this before, but I will again. I was in a discussion with an Asian teen who said that we (resort management) were picking on him because we were prejudiced not because he was skateboarding in traffic. I pointed out that my son was married to a Japanese woman whom I really loved so I was not prejudiced against oriental people. He became enraged and said, “We Asians hate it when you White People call us Oriental!” I replied that we hate it when you call us white people. He couldn’t see that both were OK to the speaker but pejorative terms to the listener.

  44. I have a great uncle who is South African. He has told me on more than one occasion that he was raised with the belief that apartheid was good and right and natural. I’ve also never heard him actually say apartheid was a good idea so if he still supports it he’s wise enough to keep it to himself. So I think its pretty clear that people, including old people, can change their ways.

    On the other hand sometimes its just easier to let things slide, you can’t fight every battle. Mind you, I’m and economist and when you study economics you learn to get used to people around you being seriously, dangerously wrong. Either that or you buy a high powered rifle and climb up the nearest clock tower.

  45. There seems to be a need to make a distinction between habits and beliefs. Someone who as a matter of habit always adds when someone in a story is “colored” or simply uses that term despite the term being archaic and offensive is a substantially different category from someone who believes something because they were raised that way and refuse to change it or think about it otherwise. The first deserves much more of a pass than the second.

    However, Dawkins and others have suggested that human tendencies to believe what we are told may be deeply ingrained since for most of human history doing so would have survival value. So we should be somewhat understanding that for some people they may have deep instincts against going against what they’ve learned. But that really shouldn’t be a very good excuse: there are evolutionary reasons humans would have tendencies to engage in rape and infanticide. We don’t consider that acceptable behavior just because it has evolutionary roots.

  46. Glad this got asked because this gets on my nerves. Some people will use these words and claim that it’s because of the way they were raised but really it’s not. I was raised a Catholic and I’m sure as hell not one now. So that excuse is complete bs. A girlfriend of mine went to a Michael Jackson party the other day and she and just about everyone there was blacked up. I told her that I thought that was racist. She disagreed and didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. She might have been brought up in an environment where it was ok to do things like that, but it doesn’t make it acceptable. It’s offensive to do that and the fact that she didn’t think it was really showed off a side to her I didn’t think she had. People need to be brought to task for being ignorant, old or young. Whether it’s racism, sexism, homophobia etc etc. NO MERCY!!!!

  47. @Old Geezer: If/when the term “African-American” grows to be offensive, the idea is to stop using it. The idea is to be time-period appropriate. I don’t think most people get offended when reading a mention of “nigger” from a document in 1650 when, to the best of my knowledge, there wasn’t any other terms which the english-speaking world had for folk of such lineage., though the slavery and racism would be found offensive.

    Deprecated words should be fazed out and replaced with contemporary vocabulary, especially when they will be interpreted as slurs. I’m not picking a fight, but using the word “oriental” is a lot more offensive than “white people”, though both are still racist. A closer equivalent would be the term “cracker” for white folk, which, if called on the street, I would be very offended at. If folk can learn to say “CD”, “DVD”, and “Blu-Ray” instead of “Record”, they can learn to use a different term than “colored” or “nigger”, and most of the time know that they are being offensive.

    Which is a segue to…
    @Skulleigh: The usage of words like “dumb”, “stupid”, “retarded” is something which is less clear to me. I suspect there are orders of magnitude of offensiveness, and I’m not sure where the lines are. The point, obviously, is to insinuate someone is acting in a way which is demeaning to themselves or others, and to be offensive. The argument can be made that you’re accusing the person of not speaking when they should (“dumb”), not being anything near as clever as they should (“stupid”), or not as developed as they should (“retarded”). But similar arguments could be made for things which I do regard as Words-Which-Must-Not-Be-Spoken, such as “Nigger” (“Oh, it’s just is from the Spanish word for the color”), or “Oriental” (“Oh, it just means “Eastern”). I have a feeling that whether a word is acceptable to use or not is connected to whether or not it applies to a large portion of the connected group being offended by it’s usage. “Dumb” and “stupid” are both so engrained in the vernacular that I don’t think that any but the most hyper-sensitive identify enough with them, which I could be mistaken about. “Lame” and “retarded” refer more specifically to people, though “lame” seemingly less so than “retarded”. I’m really not sure where those stand. I know in my own speech I use “lame” and “stupid”, but I prefer to use more descriptive words, such as “I’m such a pedant about proper terminology!”

  48. Upon reflection, it could also be related to how much the word has been used to deny folk rights because of what they are. “Pennsylvania Dutch” it generally not thought of as offensive; “Oriental” and “Nigger” were used quite a bit to signify someone didn’t get basic rights; “dumb”, “retarded”, and “lame” haven’t been used so much to, for example, block people from voting; “gay”, in my experience, tends to refer to homosexuality with a certain amount of flamboyance, where “fag” is almost always used in a negative fashion – it’s still the 1940’s “colored” v. “nigger” in modern vernacular, but following the rule of contemporary sensibilities could be more acceptable.

  49. @Old Geezer:

    I pointed out that my son was married to a Japanese woman whom I really loved so I was not prejudiced against oriental people.

    Do you have any idea how racist that sounds? It’s sort of like that guy in the south who wouldn’t marry an interracial couple, but said he’s not racist because he has black friends and even lets them use his bathroom.

    Plenty of people have a friend of another race but are still racist. You probably aren’t racist personally, but having a Japanese relative doesn’t prove that.

  50. To the days my respective grandmothers died, we had to tell them that it was NOT polite to say quite loudly “Good Chinks!” in the middle of our favorite, excellent Chinese restaurant.

    We didn’t give them a pass, but we did ultimately recognize we were never going to change them and ordered takeout…

  51. @jreedgt: She’s not that smart. She won’t claim the first amendment. Not talking to her because of one word won’t do any good. It’s not like she’ll stop because I scolded her. Besides, it doesn’t happen often – the right circumstances have to be in place. It always makes me cringe and I generally tell her to shut up, but she’s a loud mouth and doesn’t “get” it – she thinks it’s hilarious. It’s best to just roll my eyes and walk away and then come back later. (Or hang up the phone, which is usually the case nowadays.) And if I continue talking to her, I can maybe influence her (and I have; she stops herself before saying “fag” when she’s around me – it’s small progress, but it’s progress!).

    Of course, she’s out of state now, so whatever. I just don’t see her often enough for me to “tsk tsk” her. Plus she’s kind of in her own little world. It kind of works better if I TALK to her about stuff, instead of scolding her like she’s a child. Like the “fag” stuff, it might eventually get into her skull. If I just scold her, she’ll stomp her feet and do it *more*.

    But no, I’m not going to stop talking to my sister because someone on the internet told me to. She’s been through a lot and recently moved to another state with her child, where she knows only one person, to get away from her extremely abusive ex-bf. I’m proud of her, even if she can be a racist ass sometimes.

    Sometimes you DO have to give certain things a pass. I don’t give her a 100% pass, and I try where I can, but I’m not going to just stop talking to her.

  52. @davew: LOL! She’s good at it, I must say.

    Oh and one of my ex boyfriend’s is black. I’ve dated other races, but that was the first time I introduced a boyfriend that wasn’t white to my family. My little sister handled it well, all things considering. God, she’s so embarrassing sometimes. She just doesn’t have a filter, like, at all. And she’s not all that intelligent, and doesn’t quite *get* the race thing. Yes, she’s racist, but it’s not malicious.

    She’s just kind of a dumb hick, to be perfectly honest.

  53. @Old Geezer:

    Whether you give a pass to someone of that generation seems, to me, to revolve around how just how much you value the relationship you have with them. People of our generation really have a problem with the word “fuck.” It is, to some people, as vile or more so than “nigger.”

    The problem is that “fuck” and “nigger” aren’t really comparable. Fuck isn’t a nasty descriptor of an entire race. It’s offensive for wholly different reasons that have nothing to do with describing an entire race. While I won’t get on (most) older people for saying “colored” (it’s offensive now, but not nearly in the same way as the “n-word” and even the “n-word” never had the ‘polite’ history that “colored” does), but “nigger”? No. For the most part, no. Unless of course there was no point (and with some people, there isn’t), but “nigger” and “colored” are NOT comparable.

    And this whole, “Don’t sass someone older than you!” is bullshit. I don’t care if someone is 28 and you’re 72, people ave every right to point out you’re being a racist asshat if you’re using the “n-word”. Don’t want someone to point that out? Then stop using that word!

    This is the kind of “giving a pass” that I can’t agree with. Your age doesn’t automatically mean you are somehow better than those who are younger than you, nor does it mean you automatically get respect from the younger generation. It’s not 1950 anymore. Respect is earned and has nothing to do with age.

  54. @Tiki_Idyll: You would really be offended by “cracker”? For reals? Wow. Might want to get some perspective. “Cracker” isn’t offensive like “orential” or “nigger”. Not even close.

  55. @Tiki_Idyll:

    Dumb, stupid and retared all have been used to deny fundamental rights. In the United States even in early stages of the eugenics movement, the mentally ill or mentally disabled were frequently targeted. In some states this included involuntary sterilization. The terms “imbecilic,” “retarded” and “idiot” and “stupid” were used formally in some of these laws, discussions about the laws, and related judicial rulings.

    These rules weren’t completely abolished until the mid 1960s. Somewhere between 50,000 to 80,000 people were sterilized although it isn’t clear what the breakdown is between various forms of mental issues (retardation, schizophrenia, etc.).

    A related issue to all this is that the terms really are culturally and even geographically dependent. They can also be dependent on who is saying them. The obvious example of this is “WASP” which depending on context can be very offensive to Anglo-Saxon Protestants or can be a standard term.

  56. I can’t wait for you old bastards to die off, so we don’t have to keep hearing about white guilt, and absolute confirmations of what is and is not racist.

    And one more note for the PC crowd: If you don’t like hearing your grandmother say “nigger”, then don’t go over her house. Adults have disagreements with personal opinion all of the time, grow up and deal with it.

  57. @marilove:
    This is a great example of white guilt: I will police the majority like a hawk, and hand out free passes & make excuses to the minority.

  58. @mxracer652: It has nothing to do with “white guilt”. What an asinine thing to say. “Cracker” does not and never will have the connotations that the n-word does, or oriental for that matter. And if you think otherwise, you’re highly ingorant of racial issues.

  59. @catgirl: No I did not (and do not) see how racist that is. I did not say “some of my best friends…” I pointed out that I had a relative whom I loved. You seem to have discounted love in your race to see racism. Amongst the people of my generation, oriental speaks of a broad region of East Asia. It is easier to say than, “My daughter is of Asian parentage having been born well east of what you describe as Central Asia.” If we wanted to be pejorative we would have said “chink” or “slant-eye” as we were brought up not to distinguish between the very distinct cultures of the Asian continent, while one of those cultures was bombing our cities and shooting at our soldiers. Today, you freely speak of Arabs or Middle Easterners. I imagine that, someday, you will be taken to task for inadvertently insulting someone who was from Iran who wanted to be called Persian. Their call, not yours, but how would you know until you were accused of being a racist?

    @Tiki_Idyll: Your point is well taken, but a little on the scholarly side as opposed to the street side. I live in the south (although I lived in Calif. most of my life) and hear an entirely different street usage of words here than I might have heard in the classroom. For example, “Cracker” here is a very common term and is used by people of my generation to describe one another. So now you have jumped into the realm that I was alluding to but did not directly address. There are terms that are used in normal conversation by certain social groups that are, within that group perfectly fine. A group of five black boys walking down the street may call each other nigger, but a white boy may not use that term toward them. It is the perception of the listener, not the speaker, that defines, in many cases whether a word is from a forbidden place. My personal dictionary is larger than most people’s but I still can’t keep up with what are today’s version of insult that were yesterday’s terms of endearment.

    @marilove: You illustrate my point perfectly. While you distinguish between “fuck” and “nigger” in terms of there usage, you fail to recognize that there is a generational difference to their offensiveness. You are very right when you reflect on the fact that “nigger” is offensive to an entire race. When I was growing up, “fuck” was offensive to the entire English-speaking world. There were places, right or wrong, where you could say “nigger” and be accepted as an upstanding citizen. There were no places where you could use the word “fuck” and be thought of as anything but a crude, foul-mouthed jerk. Please don’t get me wrong. I fully recognize that the usage of the word now is not as inflammatory. In fact it has been reduced to almost a filler word like “ya know” and “I mean” but it once didn’t have a place in any woman’s vocabulary and only in the vocabulary of the crudest of men. Today it is a mild insult. When I was your age (I just had to throw that phrase in to prove I’m a really an old fart) it was an invitation to a knife fight. If you added to word “mother” is was an invitation to a gang beating. Today that combination is the guarantee to a sold out performance by a stand-up comedian and a burst of laughter in a high school locker room.

    Please note here that I am not trying to “correct” your usage of the word. I do not judge you on the basis of your use of a once forbidden word. But then, isn’t that the point of this whole AI question? You don’t even have to use the words, “That’s just how I was raised.” I shouldn’t either.

  60. I’m European, so perhaps this is why I missed it, but it wasn’t until I read the comments that I realised the offensivity in the OP was the fact grandma called black people “colored“, not merely the fact she insisted on describing their skin colour even when the story didn’t require it.
    More so because I’ve more than once seen black people refer to themselves as POC rather than “African Americans” or “blacks”.

    I still think the worst racism lies in that insistence to highlight the fact that a person was of a different colour. Like talking about “a black doctor” when the colour of his skin is in no way relevant to the story you’re telling. Unless you’re subconsciously trying to convey something else about this person (“you know what, he’s a doctor, but he’s also black. *gasp* !! “).

    After all, whether you’re calling them black, or “colored” or “niggers”, it’s still the same superficial categorisation based on skin pigmentation. At least calling them coloured is the most accurate descriptive. But I suppose too much history makes it more offensive to be accurate in describing what someone looks like and more politically correct to refer to the presumed country/region of heritage of someone’s great-great-great-great-grandfather.

    As an aside, I secretly keep waiting for non-caucasians to come up with a good racial slur to describe us whities. So far, nothing seems to catch on that I’m aware of. Somehow, that’s a little disappointing …

  61. @exarch:

    The thing about the use of the word “colored” is that it did used to be polite… at least that’s my understanding.

    POC does not refer just to black people but to all racial minorities… non whites.

  62. @marilove: Great setup on the dichotomy: Either agree with me, or you’re ignorant. This goes back to the “it’s OK to stereotype whites & not be labeled a racist dickhead” because we feel bad PC crowd.

    PS, if you don’t feel any guilt, why not type “nigger”? You use oriental & cracker w/o problem, and slurs are integral to the topic at hand. This all reminds me of the “vajayjay” thread a while back, ie – quite juvenile.

  63. @marilove: I’m interested if you South Park this past week and what your thoughts on it were. If you didn’t, the episode was essentially about how the word “fag” has progressed through many different definitions. In the episode, the kids had changed the definition to mean a loud, obnoxious jerk and applied it Harley riders. Just wondering what your thoughts are about it – is it the word or the application of it? Is the word taboo and can never change meaning?

  64. @Elyse: It’s no less a civilized situation than correcting your (plural, not singular) 82 year old racist grandmother would be. On the flipside, I bet no violence broke out when she told stories with colored people in them.

    Do you feel the same way about Hitchens, Dawkins criticisms of religion, or mohammed cartoons? Why do some people seemingly have the right to not be offended in your mind?

  65. @mxracer652:

    Why, in your mind, is there no difference between behaving appropriately and living in a world of padding a bubble wrap so no one ever once feels anything bad ever?

    So why not just call all women fuckholes? I mean, why do all women think they shouldn’t be called fuckholes? Why do men have to walk around being all pussified not calling women fuckholes? It’s all PC bullshit! Man guilt should not stop them from saying it. It’s just a word, and as long as everyone understands that it means “woman”, it’s all the same. Words have no connotations. There’s no subtle or non-subtle context in words… they’re all the same.

  66. @jreedgt: I saw that episode and it sparked some discussion between myself and my husband, as he does tend to throw the word around as an insult and I don’t like it. I did make the point that the n-word was never meant as anything but an insult, so I felt it was different.

    Upon leaving our house on Sunday, however, one of our friends called to let us know that there was a faggot out front. Indeed, there was: the bundle of sticks I’m hoping that the town will pick up before it snows.

    I still don’t approve. Just because South Park said it, doesn’t automatically make it true and okay. But then, I’m not the boss of you or anyone other than myself.

  67. @Old Geezer:

    You are very right when you reflect on the fact that “nigger” is offensive to an entire race. When I was growing up, “fuck” was offensive to the entire English-speaking world.

    It’s NOT the same thing! Not even close. Just because people find it offensive doesn’t mean it’s the same as calling someone the n-word, nor does it have anywhere near the same history. Indeed, Fuck has no racial history to speak of.

    To insinuate that fuck was anything like the n-word is offensive in itself. Fuck may have been offensive to some, I don’t dispute that, but it is NOT the same thing. Not by a long shot.

  68. @mxracer652: “Why do some people seemingly have the right to not be offended in your mind?” That’s a very good question, however I need to ask why do some people seemingly have the right to be offended? By that I mean there are a lot of people offended by things that they, alone, have decided are offensive. Why can I call myself an old fart but you can’t? Why is my neighbor called cracker by all of his relatives (it might even be his name as I have never heard him called anything else) but if I were called that you might think I was being insulted?

    I think a lot of this insult business is just a way to set oneself aside as a member of an elite group while feeling personally persecuted. Someone above took me to task for the use of the “oriental” since the right word was Asian. No thought was given to the origin of the word Asia. But Orient had to have been bad. When someone wakes up to the fact that Asia and Asian are equally foreign to the true natives of that region of the world, someone else will decide those are insulting and my politically correct task master will be called racist.

  69. @mxracer652: Try to act like a grown-up or I’m going to ban you. In case you’re particularly dense, as an example, saying you can’t wait for us all to die isn’t appropriate, interesting, or intelligent.

  70. @mxracer652: It’s an offensive word and I am not black. There is a very horrible history attached to that word that does not exist with the word “cracker”. White men have not been opressed for decades. If you can’t see the difference, you really ARE ignorant.

  71. @jreedgt: It’s the application and the history of it. Just like the n-word, fag has a horrible history attached to it.

    Now, words can certainly be reclaimed. Just look at “queer” – it’s been reclaimed by the queer. I even like calling myself queer, because I don’t like the term “bisexual” much. However, if some random person on the street came up to me and my friends and started calling us “a bunch of queers!” that would be homophobic and insulting – because his intentions are clear. It seems to me, however, that “queer” will not be an insult to anyone – and thus, it’s being reclaimed.

    Please note that random people can’t just reclaim a word. You can’t just start screaming “fag” and say you’re reclaiming it if you’re straight. It doesn’t work like that.

  72. @marilove: I agree with you when you say they are not the same. Nigger is a pejorative term to classify a race of people as inferior. Fuck is a slang term originally meant to simply describe intercourse but which grew to mean the forcible rape of an unwilling person.

    I can certainly see why you wouldn’t think they had equal strength. I don’t see why you think the word you like is the better of the two. I know that, through overuse it has lost its connotation, but to those of us with longer memories, it is still the more offensive of the two.

    I am not trying to convince you that you are wrong or that your use of the word is wrong. I am simply trying to point out what is the subject of this AI and that is the meaning of words change throughout time and no one should be taken to task for a socially acceptable usage of a word from their particular time, just because it doesn’t fit into the context of another person’s time.

    To those who say I should learn to be update and modern, I say STFU. See? Now I am up to date!

  73. @Old Geezer:

    I think a lot of this insult business is just a way to set oneself aside as a member of an elite group while feeling personally persecuted.

    Oh, yeah. That’s exactly it. A group of opressed people are just elites trying to feel personaly persecuted. Yep.

  74. @marilove: “White men have not been opressed for decades. ” Oh don’t silly. Of course they have, just not where you live. I completely agree that there are classes of people who are more obviously oppressed than others. But you are too intelligent to think that there are not any classes of people who are oppressed in some parts of this country and elsewhere in the world.

  75. @Old Geezer:

    I know that, through overuse it has lost its connotation, but to those of us with longer memories, it is still the more offensive of the two.

    So a term which describes intercourse is more offensive to you than something that was and is only used as an insult to an entire group of people?

    @Old Geezer:

    I am simply trying to point out what is the subject of this AI and that is the meaning of words change throughout time and no one should be taken to task for a socially acceptable usage of a word from their particular time, just because it doesn’t fit into the context of another person’s time.

    The n-word has always been offensive to an entire group of people. In EVERY CONTEXT EVER, it was offensive. To an entire group of people. Fuck has no racial history to speak of.

    The only reason the n-word was socially acceptable was because it was used by a very dominant majority against a group of minorities that were horrifically oppressed. It’s *always* been offensive to the minorities that were oppressed. It is *not* the same thing as “fuck”.

    The fact that someone is more offended by “fuck” than the n-word just shows they are ignorant racists, and nothing more.

  76. @Old Geezer: Much of it doesn’t compare to how the slaves were treated. And “cracker” still doesn’t have the same history as the n-word and any white man offended by the term “cracker” is an ignorant fuckhead who doesn’t know the history of racial opression in our country.

  77. @marilove: Where I have lived, where I live and where I have traveled, the truly oppressed people I have met, known and, at times, been a part of, have not been sitting around saying, “Oh my, he was just prejudiced against me! That is soooo politically incorrect!” They have been out trying to make a living, not get shot by their peers and have a good time when they can. I do find it interesting though, that (like the young man who was enjoying a weekend at the private resort) that after someone obtains a measure of economic comfort, they suddenly look around and decide that they are of a down-trodden class of underprivileged oppressed folks. I have never been called a bigot by a poor person. But I have seen or heard a lot of crying by people with gold chains around their necks.

  78. @marilove: Have you ever met a slave? I haven’t. But I have met any number of people who attribute their situation to having been the fourth-generation decendent of a slave, but who could not explain to me why their classmates went on to be successful people fully integrated into society, making a living and having a fun and enjoyable life.

  79. @marilove: No, a term that describes forcible rape is more offensive. I’m surprised it isn’t to you.

    Yes the term nigger has been offensive to an entire race of people right up until it started being used by that same group of people to describe themselves as an elite. “I can use this word and you can’t. So there!” I believe you make my point a few comments further down, where you point out that queer can be used by you but not me, even though in the past an entire group of people (a group you are not a member of as it then referred strictly to male homosexuals) found it offensive. You define what is offensive not by community norms, but whether it offends you or a particular sub-set of people you choose to care about.

  80. @Old Geezer:

    I am simply trying to point out what is the subject of this AI and that is the meaning of words change throughout time and no one should be taken to task for a socially acceptable usage of a word from their particular time, just because it doesn’t fit into the context of another person’s time.

    But we’re not talking about my time and your time as if we’re all working on different calendars and clocks. We’re all living together in the same time…. and I think we all have a responsibility to know what we’re saying and how what we’re saying affects those around us. That includes understanding the words we use and the context of those words.

    If we were all constantly traveling back and forth through time and only landed in certain eras for a short amount of time before being zipped back to our home address of whatever year we were born in, then sure, we should be more tolerant of what words people use and how they act, but being born in 1943 doesn’t make you immune to 2009 sensibilities. And being born in 1997 doesn’t mean you have no responsibility for understanding the history of a slur.

  81. @Old Geezer: I can use queer because I AM queer. A black person can use the n-word because he’s black. That is the difference. It has nothing to do with “elite”.

    The fact that you find fuck (that, no, does not mean “forcible rape” — which is an oxymoron anyway, btw) more offensive than the n-word is pretty telling.

    You seem to have no real knowledge on privilege, racism, and oppression.

  82. @Old Geezer:

    Also, maybe it’s a regional thing, but I have never, not once in my life, ever heard the term nor heard of the term “fuck” being used to mean rape.

    Fact is, it doesn’t mean that now.

  83. @marilove:

    I can use queer because I AM queer. A black person can use the n-word because he’s black.

    I disagree. Words have power and it doesn’t matter who uses them. My children are black and they are not allowed to say “nigger”. I heard my oldest son use it once. I told him that he was never to use that word again. I explained what a horrible hate filled word it was. I tried my best to explain how it had been used to describe a group of people as being less than human.

    Queer is a little more complex because it has non-hateful meanings but when it is used to describe a person in a hateful way then it is wrong.

    Anyone can use these words but it is wrong.

  84. @Elyse: Thank you for a very thoughtful observation. You have made a fine distinction that I would like to examine. You suggest that being born in 1943 (I should be so young) doesn’t make me immune to 2009 sensibilities. I agree. However, you go to suggest that being born in 1997 doesn’t excuse you from the responsibility for understanding the history of a slur. There is a fine and telling distinction here, however unconscious it may have been. I am responsible for understanding your sensibilities. You need only understand my history. If you understood my sensibilities, you might not think that some archaic term or one that has evolved to become offensive, was in any way intended to be offensive. The point of this AI, as I understood it, was to explore the question of whether, when you hear someone of another generation say a word that was simply conversational when they were growing up, but is offensive now, you should jump in and “correct” them. The discussion has strayed (and I am partly to blame for that) to a definition of which words ar PC and who can use them.

    If we go back to the intent of the AI, the thing I would like to focus on is whether it is appropriate to correct someone of one era, whether that person is older or younger than you, just because that person does not use language that conforms to the standards of the generation you represent. In my discussion with Marilove, I have been trying to focus on the issue that the same words can have very different connotations, depending upon the the era as well as the social class from which the listener comes.

    Maybe it’s time for us all to move on. What’s the AI for today?

  85. @Gabrielbrawley: I totally see your point. I guess what I mean is that among blacks, it is sometimes acceptable, but it’s NEVER acceptable for a white person to say it to a black person. Just like it’s never acceptable for some homophobe to call me a fag, but if I ironically use it with my gay friends, it’s different and “acceptable” (though I’d never do that, just fyi).

  86. @Old Geezer: You tried to say compare the word fuck to the n-word. They are not comparable.

    Fag and queer aren’t even all that comparable (as Gabrielbrawley pointed out a bit), though they come closer because at least they are slurs used against an entire group of people, unlike fuck which just means intercourse (NOT rape).

  87. @marilove: @Elyse: It is not regional. It is age-related. Back in those acient times when I was growing up, the street use of the word fuck was pretty much restricted to rape. One was not fucked by someone consensually. One did not fuck someone who was willing. It has evolved through an identification with engaging in intercourse with anyone you didn’t care about, whether consensually or not, to where I guess it is simply another word for intercourse. I thought (wrongly) that anyone who threw that word around knew the path it had taken to its use today.

    Marilove, I guess by your standards, I can’t use the word ‘Little” because people of certain stature have claimed to themselves, I can’t use the word “plump” because certain people refer to themselves as that, I can’t use the word “yellow” because I’ve seen certain people refer to them selves as that. Where do I get the very fat (ooh, maybe I can’t use that word either) book that lists all of these words that are restricted to in-groups and off limits to us plain white folk? Oh, wait a minute I think I heard someone refer to herself as “plain.” There I go again!

  88. @marilove: Therefore “forcible rape” id anything but an oxymoron. Or has the definition of that word changed through usage too? Here’s the definition us old folks know: oxymoron n. , pl. , -mora , or -rons . A rhetorical figure in which incongruous or contradictory terms are combined

  89. @marilove: I have heard the argument that slurs when used by the groups they were directed against are acceptable. When a gay or bi-sexual person calls themself or another glbt person a fag or queer it is supposed to be okay. Or when a black uses nigger.

    I don’t think it is acceptable. It feels like someone trying to hide the pain through forced laughter. There will come a time when those words no longer have the power to hurt.

    I can’t be hurt by the term paddy or bog or the insiuation that the Irish are all a bunch of drunks.

    But we haven’t reached that time yet so for me, at least, those words are unacceptable.

    I have been having this arguement for decades and it never seems to change.

    When I was a kid in a small racist town in Texas white kids would try and tell me that there were “black people” and “niggers” and that they weren’t racists.

    Interestingly, one of the kids I used to have that argument with was just fired from his job as a coach in that same crappy little town for inappropriate sexual behavior with students. Asshat.

    When I was a correctional officer I was accused of using the racial slur nigger by one of the inmates. I explained to the investigating warden that I was, at that time, married to a black woman and had three black children.

    His response was that he heard blacks use the word.

    I told him that if he couldn’t understand the sociological differences between a black inmate using it and a white man married into a black family he might want to rethink his career choice because he wasn’t smart enough for the job.

    Until these words lose the power to hurt or have changed so much that they are no longer used to hurt they are unacceptable in civilized and polite company.

  90. @marilove: An ethnic slur aimed at a member of a powerful, respected majority will never quite have the same punch as a ethnic slur aimed at member of a historically disrespected or oppressed minority. The contempt felt and expressed by the person using the slur can easily be equal, whether it’s the majority attacking the minority or the minority attacking the majority. But even if the ugly passions are equal, the possible real social consequences are not. A person being called a nigger is hearing an insult, but he’s also seeing a tool that powerful people have used to maintain a pattern of injustices with serious negative consequences to him and his family. A person being called “whitey” is mostly just hearing an insult. Equal contempt, unequal potency.

    @mxracer652: seems unable to comprehend this, and that is disturbing and disappointing.

    Nonetheless, “cracker” is a far more insulting term than Marilove thinks. There may be large regional differences in how the term is perceived, so the term could be far less loaded in Arizona. Particularly among blacks in many parts of the South, “cracker” is the worst insult they can aim at a white, meaning the person is the worst sort of klansman-racist pig-ignorant white hick.

    So, if you think racism is particularly repulsive, then calling somebody a racist is a powerful attack on their character (perhaps deserved, of course.) So, since “cracker” implies “racist,” it can be quite a strong insult. Worse, it sometimes carries an additional ugly implication – “southern white people are all inherently ignorant racists.”

    For the historical reasons I opened with, “cracker” can never be as bad as “nigger.” But in many cases, it’s certainly _trying_ to be that bad.

  91. @marilove: WHAT? You’re saying the definition of rape is internally inconsistent? If you thought the term was redundant I could see what you were saying. Contradictory? Come in out of that bright Arizona sun!

  92. @marilove: I don’t think contradictory is what you are looking for. It is more like saying something twice. Contradictory would be “pleasant rape” or “consensual rape” rape would be forced sex so forced rape would be forced forced sex. But this really doesn’t change the fact that rape is terrible.

  93. @Rebecca: Word, that was a bit over the top, my apologies.
    @marilove: Since when does a word have to have a terrible history and oppression to make it offensive? Can white women find cracker offensive because they were oppressed?

    @Elyse: Because appropriate behavior is subjective, that’s why. Once someone appoints themselves Chief of Behavior, it’s a downhill spiral to “free speech zones” and thought police, like the Holocaust deniers going to jail in Germany. Both are anathema to a free society, IMHO.

    An octogenarian describing someone as colored is appropriate to them, while a grandchild attempting to correct them on what society at large currently deems acceptable probably isn’t.

  94. @ekimbrough: You got it! Thank you.

    Particularly among blacks in many parts of the South, “cracker” is the worst insult they can aim at a white, meaning the person is the worst sort of klansman-racist pig-ignorant white hick.

    It’s still nowhere near as offensive as the n-word. It’s still just an insult and any white man offended by it is an ignorant fool trying to scream opression where opression does not and never did exist.

    Worse, it sometimes carries an additional ugly implication – “southern white people are all inherently ignorant racists.”

    But the n-word carries a FAR ugglier implication. Far uglier.

  95. @mxracer652: White women aren’t racially oppressed, try again. Just like I can call a guy a dick and he really has no room to be offended, but if he called me a cunt I have room to be offended, since cunt (and bitch and whore) were and still are used to silence women.

  96. @marilove: BTW, by offended, that doesn’t mean he can’t think I’m a jerk, because clearly if I’m calling men dicks for no reason, I’m being a jerk, but it’s still not offensive the way cunt is.

  97. @mxracer652: You do realize you can say whatever you want, right? Well, to a certain extent. Go ahead and scream “nigger” as loudly as you want. But don’t expect people not take offense, and rightfully so, and don’t expect people to not think you’re a racist asshole, because you WOULD be a racist asshole if you did that.

    You are free to be racist, but we as a society are also free to say that is not cool and tell you to shut your racist mouth.

  98. @marilove: I’m not trying to say rape isn’t forced or violent. I am really, really, not trying to say that. I don’t in any way mean it. But when the rape involves a terrible beating, when the victim has to be hospitalized due to stab wounds, internal organ damage from the beating, ruptured organs or gun shot wounds or something worse that I can’t think of it would seem that would be a more terrible experience.

  99. @marilove: I’m sorry, but I’m missing the distinction. You can use an insulting word to a man because you perceive that he has never been the subject of oppression (even though you know nothing of his personal history or the society in which he grew up), but he can’t insult you because you’ve been “oppressed” while you sit listening to opera on a phone?

    Kind of a narrow-minded approach to life, I’d say. But I’m an old oppressor or something. (Even though we’ve never met.)

  100. @mxracer652:

    So asking your grandmother to stop calling her neighbor “The Chink Next Door” is just like the Holocaust? That’s an interesting interpretation.

    Not everyone is right all the time. It is okay to correct people. I’m not changing their thoughts, I’m telling them why they’re wrong or why I think they’re wrong… and that’s not only my right, but that’s my responsibility. That doesn’t make me Hitler… that makes me a responsible and sometimes even compassionate human being.

  101. @Elyse: I still don’t buy it. If you are being rude and insulting then you are being rude and insulting. Being a woman who is being rude and insulting to a man doesn’t make you anyless rude and insulting.

  102. @Gabrielbrawley:

    I think we’re way off topic here. “Dick” is meant to be insulting, whether uttered by a man or a woman. “Cunt” is also meant to be insulting. But the words do not carry equal weight and it doesn’t matter who is flinging the words. But that’s a discussion for a different thread.

  103. @marilove: You are free to be racist, but we as a society are also free to say that is not cool and tell you to shut your racist mouth.

    This thread has taken a very disappointing turn. Sigh.

  104. I’m still essentially on your side here, but part of your message is getting pushed too hard. Example: If you happen to run into Heinrich Himmler, you should call him a Nazi with all the contempt that you can muster. But consider an average 2009 German who takes deep pride in repudiating his country’s Nazi past, and in educating the world not to repeat that evil. Now somebody painting with too broad a brush tells this enlightened person “All you Germans are Nazis.”

    He’s going to be _really_ offended. If you tell him he’s an ignorant fool for being offended, because it was the Jews who were oppressed, while ethnic Germans were never oppressed, that’s missing the point. He’s not offended because he thinks Germans were oppressed, he’s offended because he is being unfairly labeled as an evil oppressor.

    Now certainly “cracker” isn’t anywhere near as bad as “Nazi.” But the same point applies – If racism is really bad, then, necessarily, it’s also really bad if someone is falsely accused of racism. So, how would you feel if somebody really thought you were a racist, and starting telling all the people around you “Marilove has no character – she is the sort of person who person calls black people ‘niggers'”?

    So, equivalently, consider somebody who has been undeservedly or too broadly classified as a “cracker.” If they genuinely hate racial oppression, they’ll also genuinely hate being called a racial oppressor. Do you really want to call this offended person an “ignorant fuckhead who doesn’t know the history of racial oppression in our country”?

    So, yeah, call the Nazis “Nazis”. Call the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan a “cracker.” But if somebody feels unfairly lumped into that group by too-casual or too-broad use of the word “cracker,” they’re not ignorant fools for objecting. (And, yes, this broad cracker-lumping does happen in the real world, and can cause real harm beyond mere offense. Certainly it’s nowhere _near_ as bad as Jim Crow racism, but that’s no excuse for dismissing it.) That’s where I think you pushed an otherwise-valid point too hard.

  105. Apologies for not replying sooner. Busy day at work and all.

    @marilove: I’m not equating it, just saying that it’s probably the closest current approximation for white people. You jumped too quickly to a conclusion.

    If someone shouted it at me with malice, I would be offended the same way I’m offended when I hear people on the street calling other people “fags”, as well as pissed off because someone was shouting at me.

    ( Huh. @ekimbrough did a great job of explaining how “cracker” can be offensive.)

    @marilove: Calling someone a violently racist bastard based off of his/her supposed ethnic heritage is just as racist as calling someone a lazy subhuman based off his/her supposed ethnic heritage. Both are degrading and divisive beyond the immediate conflict. Regardless of the etymological and cultural history of the terms, the goal should be to progress our society beyond that. I want a world where I can be called a pretentious blowhard not because of my skin, but based off of how I treat mankind! >;)

    @Joshua Zelinsky: »Dumb, stupid and retared all have been used to deny fundamental rights.… The terms “imbecilic,” “retarded” and “idiot” and “stupid” were used formally in some of these laws, discussions about the laws, and related judicial rulings.«

    Certainly. But those specific terms have been castrated more than others through regular playground usage (and other nuances which I’m not familiar with), just as calling someone a “dork” or a “jerk” is seen as childish, despite the actual meanings.

    @Old Geezer: » It is the perception of the listener, not the speaker, that defines, in many cases whether a word is from a forbidden place.«
    I agree. And having lived in rural Florida and currently living in Harlem, I’ve seen quite a bit of the “street side” as well. I think the reclamation of words can be part of gaining pride in who you are, but at the same time it’s a constant reminder of how far we still have to go to the ideal.

    @Gabrielbrawley:@ekimbrough: Wow, you two pretty much summed up my views. I don’t think I have anything to add to that. You’re both putting this much more eloquently and genteely than I can. I think I’ll try to let you two do the talking for the rest of this thread.

  106. I think I have the right to call others, regardless of age, on offensive nonsense, and they have the right to do the same to me.

    What I shouldn’t do is disrespect someone in doing so.

    For instance, take Old Geezer’s example. I would feel justified in saying to him, “Please don’t use the word Oriental, I find it offensive.” I would not be justified in calling him a racist berk.

    See where I’m going with this?

  107. I ran across this perfect example of what I was talking about regarding the over-concern for PC language in others. I assume it was posted tongue-in-cheek, but it shows that others see the over use of PC correction as an issue:

    “- submitted by Anonymous on 11/09/2009

    We like to call it pasta salad, not macaroni salad, macaroni salad is an insult to pasta everywhere”

    Being an old fart, am I allowed to use the term lmao?

  108. I think they get a past the first (maybe second) time. Once they’ve been educated, no more passes. You’re choosing to be an ignoramous.

  109. In my opinion, @marilove is confirming @Old Geezer’s point, and seemingly trying very hard to be offended and to feel like an oppressed minority. And when not feeling offended for herself for being a woman or for being bisexual, then at least for the black people everywhere who are apparently constantly being called “niggers” by every white person ever, because in case the news hadn’t reached those stipid crackers yet: slavery ended well over 100 years ago.

    There’s being PC-conscious, and then there’s walking on eggshells all the time to the point where you can’t even have a conversation when there’s black people, gay people, women, etc… within earshot, because they might possibly be offended. And the likelyhood is that even then, those people who like to wallow in being offended will be anyway, despite your best efforts not to say anything “bad”. Or they’re more offended by your attempts not to offend them, or your refusal to address certain subjects, which I could understand very well.

  110. @exarch: While I promised myself that I wouldn’t post to this thread any more and while I think that Marilove is very capable of speaking for herself, I must reply to your post.

    I do not think that she is “feeling offended for herself.” I feel she has firmly held beliefs that may be different or stronger than those held by others. I applaud her for that even as I sometime disagree with her.

    It was lost on a number of commenters that the question was not whether some people’s beliefs are justified or OK. It was whether it is appropriate to call them out for unconsciously using words that have become unacceptable in modern society as they express those beliefs. The conversation between Marilove and me revolved around the usage of certain words that we each have strong feelings about. Neither of us need justify, either to each other or to the community here, how we came to have those feelings.

    Before you criticize someone walk a mile in their shoes. Then, at least, you’ll be a mile away when you open your mouth.

  111. I think the conversation evolved pretty rapidly from being a question about whether it’s OK to call someone out on the fact they’re using offensive language, to whether it’s OK to require everyone to cater to your particular sensitivities.

    As you yourself pointed out, people are quick to feel offended/persecuted, even when no offense was intended, or even imaginable. If you have to defend yourself for simply being a straight white male, then the problem is perhaps not necessarily you, but the person taking offense by your not belonging to their particular minority.

    The ugly flip-side of any type of anti-discrimination is that at times anyone not belonging to the “oppressed minority” is assumed to be an oppressor. Like I couldn’t have any valid input because I’m not female, gay, black, a mother, autistic, etc…

    I will walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. But there’s a lot of miles to be walked, and I refuse to be the only one walking around …

  112. On the original topic, I totally call my Grandfather out on the racist things he says. We get into massive arguments about it too. Don’t get me wrong, he’s an awesome guy and I love him to bits but he says some dumbass things. eg “I think the Maoris must just have lower intelligence than the rest of us, that’s why they don’t get jobs”.

    I don’t think it’s right to just let it go, it’s like you’re saying that the elderly are too stupid or senile to learn new things. I think I give him the respect he deserves by treating him like I would any other adult who did the same thing.

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