Naughty Words and Pictures

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I’m a week late commenting on the infamous “W-word post” at FireDogLake. That’s because I just now read it. The post criticizes a Democratic Party congresswoman in sexually inflammatory prose. Via Shakespeare’s Sister, I see that Tom Watson criticized the post as “a vicious attack on her gender, dressed up as ‘snark.’”

I hope Peter Daou is reading this, because his boss [Sen. Hillary Clinton] may well have to face this kind of sexist attack beginning next year. It’s so bad, so poorly executed, that it really does appear to be a clumsy Republican efforts to pollute a top Democratic blog. These posts are permanent, folks. They give aid and comfort to the other side. They make our side look surly, sexist, hypocritical. …

… in a world where a hero like Mukhtar Mai of Pakistan overcomes court-ordered gang rape and a corrupt regime to help educate the children of her attackers, we kid ourselves that we’re advanced enough, cool enough, hip enough, or evolved enough to throw around this low-brow gender-based garbage and think it won’t stick – to us, to the left, to the Democrats, to our candidates, to our movement.

(By some coincidence, the under-the-masthead story on Daou Report today links to a Media Matters story about some sexist drool from the mouth of Rush Limbaugh.)

Then Tom points to another FDL post that had used the “C” word to describe conservative pundit Laura Ingraham. Commenters objected, and the word was edited out. James Wolcott commented,

Sexism is second nature to so many on the right, which is why those on the left have to ensure that their antennae are acutely tuned to the misogynistic jibes thrown at Nancy Pelosi from everyone from Maureen Dowd to Dennis Miller. As Tom Watson, provoked by this outburst of projectile vomiting in Firedoglake, points out, such rhetorical rot will only end up eating into our own faces.

That the original “W-word” post was, in fact, sexist, was well demonstrated by Zuzu at Feministe. It was not just making use of sexist words to make a non-sexist point; the post itself was permeated with sexism. In the “C-word” post the offending word was an isolated incident in an otherwise non-sexist post, which doesn’t necessarily make the usage less sexist. Zuzu comments,

As is depressingly common, commenters — most of them progressive men — tripped all over themselves to excuse the use of “cunt” and the rather florid whore imagery as just desserts for Ingraham and Tauscher. Come on, can’t you take a little vulgarity? Hey, they’re right-wing bitches; they deserve it. You’re limiting my vocabulary! Women use it, too, so why can’t men? You have no sense of humor. But “prick” is an insult, too! It’s just a word, it doesn’t mean anything. But FDL’s raised a lot of money for Democrats!

Bullshit.

We’ve been down this road before, kids. With Ann Coulter. With Michelle Malkin. With “pussy.” For that matter, with fat jokes. [And, as Lauren reminds me, with blackface.] And those arguments are no more valid now than they were then.

If you can’t attack the positions of a rabid antifeminist commentator or a deep-in-the-pockets-of-Big-Pharma politician without resorting to insults designed to highlight not just their gender, but their relative worth as fucktoys, then you have no business writing what passes for commentary.

It’s easy to reach first for the gender-based insult. And it’s wrong.

And, seriously, how can you sit there and be shocked, shocked, that people you don’t agree with are attacking Nancy Pelosi for her femaleness and not realize that you’re contributing to the problem by portraying a United States Congresswoman as a cumguzzling two-dollar whore? By whining that women are too sensitive because they complain when you call a media figure a cunt?

Shakespeare’s Sister defends Tom Watson’s post:

He’s right, of course—not only does it perpetuate a culture in which women are so easily marginalized just because they’re women, but it also cedes high ground we’ll surely need while the Speaker is a woman, no less if the Dem nominee is.

One might think that wouldn’t be a controversial suggestion, but only because it’s easy to forget that there are still people who will argue from here to eternity in defense of their right to use with impunity sexist language and imagery to demean women.

Pachacutec could have just said “Yeah, I called her a whore. So what? Fuck you.” to anyone who disagreed with that language. As Tammy Wynette might say, stand by your sexism. But instead, the argument became, as it always does, that the language wasn’t sexist at all, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a hypersensitive, hysterical loser. Tom was deemed “Ned Flanders,” and Pachacutec told him to “Face it. We do punk rock posts and you’re into Guy Lombardo.” All I can say is that if punk is challenging the comfortable conventions of the bourgeoisie, there’s almost nothing less punk than demeaning a woman by calling her a whore and pretending it’s not sexist. That’s the Milli Vanilli of blogging—derivative and radio-ready, pretending to be something it ain’t.

The “W-word” post was intrinsically sexist. It was sexist through-and-through. If the writer of the post can’t see that, I’ve got a problem with that writer. And IMO the user of the “C-word” to describe Laura Ingraham got caught being sexist and should have just apologized.

But the question of when sexist or racist language may or may not be sexist or racist is complicated. Neil the Ethical Werewolf explores the topic today. His point very basically is that words have the connotations we give them and are not intrinsically bad. Neil’s post also takes us to the issue of the use of “naughty” words in a non-derogatory sense, noting that Shakespeare’s Sister uses the “C-word” to describe herself sometimes. Yes, and some of her commenters called her on it. One writes,

I confess, I’m stumped on this post myself. You say you’re wrong to use certain words in certain ways, but that it is effective and fun when you do, but you shouldn’t, and you can’t defend it… sorry, but huh?

To which Sis replied,

I don’t know what’s so hard to understand about that. Powerful words used to demean other people are useful and potent because they’re demeaning–which makes them indefensible, in spite of the fact that they can be attractive when you’re frustrated or pissed off.

I’m saying I understand the desire to use ugly words to insult, but that doesn’t mean I condone their use. Including my own use of them.

It’s true that words and images themselves have no intrinsic meaning except what we give them. Words are conveyors, not the thing conveyed. Depending on context, sexually or racially charged words and images may or may not be intended to convey a sexist or racist message. The writer or speaker may be trying to say something about sexism or racism, for example. Or maybe the point had nothing to do with racism or sexism at all.

We’ve had some episodes recently in which people took offense at racist images used in a non-racist context, and no amount of explaining could placate them. In the case of the image linked, seeing the point requires an advanced ability to think abstractly; I ‘spect it just plain flew over a lot of peoples’ heads. But I understand that sometimes emotional associations with a word or image are so overwhelmingly painful that people can’t see the intention. I understand this; I feel the same way about a lot of sexually aggressive language. Some words are so painful to me that I can’t bring myself to use them, as you may have noticed. However, I tend to think of my problem with naughty words as, well, my problem. It reflects my age and upbringing, and I don’t burden the young folks about it. Maybe I should speak up more.

I do think we owe it to each other to respect these sore points, even if we don’t share them. On the other hand, if I think the point intended by the word or image was not racist or sexist, any lynch mobs that form in retaliation will have to get along without me.

There are lots of places to go with this topic, including whether use of male-specific naughty words and phrases should be just as off-limits as female counterparts. Dissertations could be written on this stuff. I don’t have the energy for it. I just want to make one basic point, about power.

First, verbal abuse is abuse, and abuse is not communication. The use of hostile and abusive language does not strengthen whatever point a writer or speaker is trying to make. Indeed, it is more likely to be counterproductive to that point, for several reasons. Yes, it can feel good to heap abuse on someone who has angered us. Likewise, we might enjoy reading a verbal punching of someone we don’t like. But readers who don’t already share that dislike will be turned off by the aggressive rhetoric, and will stop reading.

And if the piece of writing is nothing but verbal punching, even those who enjoy it won’t take anything away from it but more hostility. As a blogger, I try very hard to provide information and perspective that, I hope, readers can find useful as they form opinions or engage in political discussions with others. This is not to say that I don’t also provide plenty of snark. But if all I did was say that Republicans are poopyheads, even in wondrously entertaining ways, what’s the point? In the case of the “W-word” post, even though it did contain some information, it was written in such a way that it was a chore to sift out the abuse to get to what that information was. I really hate that. Frankly, it’s juvenile.

Awhile back the MSM was pushing a narrative about angry liberal bloggers. Billmon wrote a response that included this wise observation:

I don’t know what lesson to draw from all this, other than the fact that the great and mighty Washington Post is apparently scared of its shadow. It’s not that the kind of left-wing anger the Post describes isn’t out there in – it’s certainly inside me – but what the Post reporter doesn’t seem to recognize (he wasn’t supposed to) is the difference between the anger of those who have absolutely no power, who have only their words as weapons, and the anger of those who wield considerable influence over the party in complete control of the most powerful government in the world.

In the Post article, Maryscott says at least one thing that is both true and wise, which is that her rage and her blogging are both “born of powerlessness.” The problem is that Lord Acton’s maxim is equally true in reverse: If power corrupts, so does powerlessness. It can lead to fatalism, apathy and irresponsibility – or to paranoia, rage and a willingness to believe every loopy conspiracy theory that comes down the pike.

Remember, nearly always abusive people are insecure people. By the same token, writers (like the “W-word” guy) who over-use vituperation and verbal aggression are writing from a position of powerlessness. Think temper tantrum. It’s loud, it gets attention, yes. But screaming is about all a baby can do to get his way.

If you are writing from power, you assume some responsibilities. One of these is a responsibility not to contribute to the problems of racism and sexism by using racist and sexist language to diss people.

Righties, Billmon says, “wallow in the mindset of a besieged minority.” That’s one reason they are dangerous; they think their (imaginary) status as oppressed persons gives the the moral authority to strike back at their (imaginary) oppressors. And they are so certain of their own virtue they don’t think rules need apply to them — setting law and the Constitution aside to enforce their agenda, for example. I noted earlier this week that being liberal involves some self-abnegation. Power requires self-abnegation as well, or else it becomes oppressive. Those male “progressive” bloggers who don’t think the rules apply to them need to re-think, and grow up. They should assume an attitude of power.

And by assuming an attitude of power I don’t mean being a narcissistic asshole, like George W. Bush. Bush is what happens when an insecure, abusive person is given carte blanche to act out his insecurities. Genuinely powerful people are mindful of what the exercise of their power does to others.

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29 Comments

28 Comments

  1. linnen  •  Dec 2, 2006 @5:05 pm

    As in the FDL post;

    whore (hôr, hōr) n.

    1. A prostitute.
    2. A person considered sexually promiscuous.
    3. A person considered as having compromised principles for personal gain.

    A counter-point if you would. Remember Media Whores On-line? (Site motto: “Out to bring the Press to its knees, only that they were already on them.”) At what point is calling somebody a whore sexist? Am I sexist to call a male prostitute, say Jeff Gannon, a whore? Should people, or those on the left, use a euphemism for a “A person considered as having compromised principles for personal gain” , like Lieberman as an example, to avoid being called sexist then?

    I would not know Rep. Tauscher from Adam (or Eve), but from the context of Pachacutec’s post, I was able to eliminate definitions 1 and 2 from the field of discussion.

    PS. As an aside, I do consider ‘cunt’ (or ‘pussy’) as sexist when referring to another person (of any gender).

  2. maha  •  Dec 2, 2006 @5:40 pm

    linnen — Had you read my entire post, you would have known that I explicitly said that “sexist” words don’t automatically have a sexist intention. But the “W-word” post through and through was a slap at the target’s gender. Just calling her a “whore” by itself isn’t what made the post sexist.

  3. linnen  •  Dec 2, 2006 @5:42 pm

    A clarification ( a case of shooting mouth off before thinking);

    Re definition 1; Calling a prostitute (any gender) a whore in general is a technical term (IMO, an insult, but a short-hand description).
    Calling a prostitute a whore in terms of definition 2 is a sexual insult. (And, yes, even if you know that the person is sexually promiscuous.)
    Using definition 3 when referring to a prostitute would be an insult *only* if the prostitute’s principles have no bearing. Otherwise, e.g. the prostitute believes in no sex outside of marriage, no insult.

  4. maha  •  Dec 2, 2006 @5:47 pm

    Linnen — Using a woman’s gender and sexuality to insult her is sexism, and that’s what the post did. If the word “whore” had been eliminated, it still would have been sexist.

  5. linnen  •  Dec 2, 2006 @5:56 pm

    maha – Sorry. If Pachacutec did label her on the basis of her gender in the post I do apologize. I did not read all of the comments following the post, so egg on my face if this was the case. I just did not read the post as sexual attack.

    Mind you, I did wonder, why Rep.Tauscher was labeled ‘whore’ while Senator Lieberman was not. Except to think that Lieberman, perhaps, did not have principles to compromise. Eep, you and Tom Watson were right and I was definitively wrong. My apologies.

  6. felicity smith  •  Dec 2, 2006 @5:59 pm

    Only in America, I think. Were Golda, Indira, (Merkel,) Thatcher called whores? They were called lots of things, but I doubt they were called whores.

    Americans have a very peculiar attitude toward women. We throw up our hands when they’re veiled, but have no problem calling them whores. In fact, Americans have a very peculiar attitude toward sex, period. We garner zillions of dollars selling it at the same time as we deplore it. Talk about a conflicted message.

    Some say our fascination/rejection of our sexuality are traceable back to the Puritans. Bull pucky. Sex sells and America is all about what sells. BUT as a commonplace commodity, it’s fascination fades and sales go down. Capitalism defines more of our culture than I am comfortable thinking about.

  7. linnen  •  Dec 2, 2006 @6:08 pm

    felicity smith and maha – So what should I use for “A person considered as having compromised principles for personal gain.”? (It would help in cases of ‘foot-IN’-mouth.)

    At the moment (evening, burning dinner), I honestly cannot think of alternate words or phrases.

  8. maha  •  Dec 2, 2006 @6:37 pm

    “A person considered as having compromised principles for personal gain.”?

    I’m losing patience with you. The word by itself isn’t the problem. It’s the WHOLE POST. It’s all about sexual innuendo. If the congresswoman had been called a “whore” and there was no other sexual context to the post, I wouldn’t have had a problem with it.

  9. Neil the Ethical Werewolf  •  Dec 2, 2006 @6:47 pm

    Yeah, linnen… I’d recommend reading through the actual FireDogLake post. The sheer amount of whore-related sexist innuendo has to be seen to believed.

  10. western otto  •  Dec 2, 2006 @7:35 pm

    Well, I just read the “W-word” post for the first time too. I forget who said, “If you want an audience, start a fight”, but Pach must have read that somewhere too, huh? I have to disagree though that the “WHOLE POST” is “all about sexual innuendo”. It seems to me that the post is in essence an attack on corporate “whoring” and that the “sexist innuendo”, while obviously intentionally offensive, is primarily in service to that attack and not really aimed at women- but damn, his aim in this case is reminiscent of Cheney’s. At the end, though, you may recall, he fits a couple of male members (of Congress, that is) for kneepads as well. And I bet he’ll be way more careful next time he picks up his gun (Pach, not Cheney).

  11. RKMK  •  Dec 2, 2006 @8:01 pm

    So what should I use for “A person considered as having compromised principles for personal gain.”?

    Um, “sellout”?

  12. maha  •  Dec 2, 2006 @8:02 pm

    otto — if you only way you can make a point is by attacking a woman’s sexuality, whether you like her or not, do us all a favor and don’t make the point. Get out of the way and let people with better rhetorical skills take it on.

  13. lafrance  •  Dec 2, 2006 @8:43 pm

    excellent. I do think we need to be aware of we write. Not just the bloggers but, the responders here. I read the posts of others and sometimes I feel people post just to post and say ugly things and add nothing to the idea of the article. You will see all kinds of words and I think it somehow lowers the discourse and the “intellegent” discussion that we are all seeking.
    The right always accuses the left of thier own bad behavior. The angry left? let’s see… They have been the masters of hate politics and use ugly words or threats. You add nothing when your argument is a swear word followed by a threat.
    Years ago the comeback to people like that was “oh, real intellegent” and it needs to come back into favor.
    We also need to think of how we describe things. Using Hitler for every person we don’t like nullifies the horrors he brought to mankind. Things like that.
    There needs to be an effort in the blog world to make sure it doesn’t devolve into a world of trash talk. But, a world where thinking and ideas are promoted and talking of them in a grownup manner is the norm always.

  14. Swami  •  Dec 2, 2006 @9:00 pm

    Would I be off base and out of place to say that Lieberman is a whore?

    Good post,Maha.. I hear and I understand your points. I’ve even considered them at times when my frustration and impotence has caused me to lower the bar in expressing my thoughts and emotions concerning the different personalities who I’ve encounter throughout the blogosphere. I’ve made some pretty acrid comments born of frustration but only one comes back to me through my own inventory as being over the line.. and that was a comment about Michele Malkin, and it a was racist comment. The good part is… I was convicted by my own morality and sense of decency to know it didn’t speak well of me.

  15. Doug Hughes  •  Dec 2, 2006 @10:20 pm

    I a not a great fan of Connie Rice; I frequently find the decisions and policies she defends – repugnant. If I was to disagree with her by attacking her gender and/or race, my objection, no matter how well reasoned, woul be lost in the firestorm. And if I posted it here, it would probably be deleted and me banned. Barbara won’t be associated with crap like that, and I don’t think Barbara likes Connie a whole lot.

    If you can see that, you got the whole point; if you can’t see that, you need to rethink your position. Just my opinion.

    On the larger subject of Congressional whores.. IMHO we as taxpayers are funding the largest brothel in the country under the capitol dome. The only good thing about it is; it’s bipartisan. All incumbents like fat war chests for the next election.

    Democratic protests on that opinion remind me of the woman defending her virtue with the argument that she almost never did it for money and when she did, she did it for WAY less than a pro would charge. Republicans milked K street like the pros they are; but Democrats are not set to eject the money changers from the temple. It’s their turn to cash in, so the reform is about changing the impression we have, not the substance of what they are doing.

    Outrage should not be about who is being called a whore; it should be about the whorehouse that politics has become.

  16. western otto  •  Dec 3, 2006 @12:14 am

    “Outrage should not be about who is being called a whore; it should be about the whorehouse that politics has become.”

    -Comment by Doug Hughes — December 2, 2006 @ 10:20 pm

    Right. And I think the attack on Tauscher’s sexuality was meant to be about that- metaphorical, albeit raunchy. I don’t believe Pachacutec meant to assail anyone’s sexuality literally, nor do I usually think he is lacking in “rhetorical skills”, but if such fine commentators as Maha have taken offense, clearly he must have missed his mark.

    I would hope, however, that people would judge Pachacutec in the context of his body of work and not by this single post, however much they are offended by it.

  17. maha  •  Dec 3, 2006 @6:53 am

    Ohmygawd.

    I think the attack on Tauscher’s sexuality was meant to be about that- metaphorical, albeit raunchy.

    Of course it was. I can’t imagine that anyone here thought otherwise.

    I don’t believe Pachacutec meant to assail anyone’s sexuality literally,

    Why did he have to do it at all?

    Look, if in Pachacutec’s mind there wasn’t something intrinsically gross or disgusting about the congresswoman’s sexuality he wouldn’t have used all those metaphors, would he? And why would anyone’s sexuality be gross or disgusting? The answer is: Because of value judgments; there’s nothing intrinsically gross or disgusting about female sexuality or body parts unless a sexist value is assumed.

    (I think Neil the Ethical Werewolf made that point pretty well; read his post if you haven’t already.)

    The sexual metaphors amounted to ad hominem attacks on the congresswoman that were utterly unnecessary to the point Pachacutec was making. Using a woman’s sexuality as part of an ad hominem attack smears the sexuality of all women. That’s why it’s sexist.

    And may I say I CANNOT BELIEVE that anyone bright enough to keyboard a blog comment has to have this spelled out for him.

    To be honest I don’t read FDL every day and I don’t know if I’ve read anything else by Pachacutec. Even without the sexism it was a poorly written blog post, because the facts of what the congresswoman had done to earn his scorn did not pop out. As a reader I found it was an effort to sort the wheat from the chaff, as it were. That is not good writing.

  18. Mary Mary  •  Dec 3, 2006 @9:37 am

    Heh. I wondered if you had seen this, Maha.

    Your post was right on the money, IMO, but I think you missed something.

    The only reference to Tauscher’s sexuality was the throwaway about her being too ugly to be an object of sexual desire.

    The rest of the sexual imagery was in service of depicting a power relationship, and THAT’S what was so offensive to me. I find it distasteful when such imagery is applied WRT men or people, but them’s fighting words when applied to a woman.

  19. maha  •  Dec 3, 2006 @9:53 am

    Mary Mary — I didn’t actually miss the throwaway; Zuzu at Feministe brought it out, along with a lot of other stuff, and I linked to that without repeating it. But the business about “too ugly to be an object of sexual desire:” is a classic sexist put down. And as you say, the power relationship stuff is fighting words when applied to a woman.

  20. western otto  •  Dec 3, 2006 @10:00 am

    One final comment, then I’ll crawl back in my hole:
    Just as a white rapper must surely be very careful upon whom he bestows the familiar term “nigger”, so should a gay male commentator use an extra measure of caution when talking trash about women. Pachacutec may have written a bad post, but he ain’t really the enemy.

  21. Mary Mary  •  Dec 3, 2006 @10:09 am

    I don’t think anyone is saying he’s ‘the enemy’. I think they’re saying they don’t like his ugly words in that post. Or the fact that he used sexual imagery about a woman he was angry with and wanted to put in her place.

    I would have found that post unacceptable even if Jane Hamsher wrote it. Though I doubt a woman would have.

    He and the other guy, TRex, don’t contribute much to that blog, IMO. Though since the brouhaha one of them has been trying to give substance instead of “smashmouth”.

  22. Doug Hughes  •  Dec 3, 2006 @10:09 am

    otto -

    You quoted my conclusion and ignored my reasoning.

    If I objected to C. Rice on an ISSUE, even if I thought her decision was influenced by corporate influence, to call her the “w” word and or cap it off with the ‘n’ word, would create such an emotional reaction that all the facts, any power to persuade would be lost.

    I suggested in my post that governement had become a whorehouse. Can you see that’s different than singling out an individual, particularly a female, and calling her a whore? It’s bad manners; it’s bad writing and eventually it can spiral into online ‘sectarian violence’ with no hope of any constructive exchange of ideas.

  23. maha  •  Dec 3, 2006 @10:11 am

    he ain’t really the enemy.

    I assume his intentions are good, but his actions need correction. If he’s going to communicate on behalf of progressives and Democrats, he needs to do it in such a way that is helpful to progressives and Democrats and not hurtful in the long run. Posts like that hurt our cause more than help it, and people need to speak up about it. Which I did.

  24. Elayne Riggs  •  Dec 3, 2006 @1:25 pm

    “We’ve had some episodes recently in which people took offense at racist images used in a non-racist context, and no amount of explaining could placate them. In the case of the image linked, seeing the point requires an advanced ability to think abstractly; I ’spect it just plain flew over a lot of peoples’ heads. But I understand that sometimes emotional associations with a word or image are so overwhelmingly painful that people can’t see the intention… I do think we owe it to each other to respect these sore points, even if we don’t share them.”

    I wish you had said something like this at the time blackface was being discussed here, rather than reacting as dismissively (particularly toward non-white Mahablog commenters) as a lot of people feel you did. Intentions aren’t always more important than interpretations, so isn’t it better to err on the side of not offending people and find alternate means of expressing one’s points?

  25. Elayne Riggs  •  Dec 3, 2006 @1:26 pm

    Actually, I should amend that comment. Saying “it just plain flew over a lot of peoples’ heads” is still, to me, incredibly dismissive as well as condescending. In keeping with my previous point, I’m sure it wasn’t INTENDED that way, but it could sure as heck be INTERPRETED that way.

  26. timewarp  •  Dec 3, 2006 @1:40 pm

    I would like to second Elayne’s concerns. As women (regardless of race) we all feel the word c*nt rather instinctively–we know that no matter the context in which it is used, it is meant to say to a person that “you are awful since you are *like* that most disgusting part of a woman, which is inherently weak and irrational.

    POC *feel* a blackface image in the same way. It is as Kai of Zuky.net has said, the n-word in pictorial form. Or the racist version of the c-word.

    I would like to quote the commenter Donna at multimedia.blogspot.com:

    Blackface was always about caricature; the black man as a sniveling, shifty, stupid, thieving, foolish, etc stereotype. So even those of us who objected to it understood the joke, and agreed that Lieberman has many of these characteristics, but where we disagreed is that black men do NOT, and never have and found the equivalency offensive.

    The same can be said of the Billmon post: by photoshopping Blitzer as a blackface minstrel he was attempting to illustrate that Blitzer was not to be respected because he was bowing and scrapping (sniveling) before Lynn Cheney. Or said differently, he had no balls, ie, he was acting like a pussy, a weak black man or a woman. To make this point by likening him to a caricature of a black man is offensive to POC for the same reason that the c-word or the w-word is offensive to women, even when it is hurled against an enemy.

  27. ebogjonson  •  Dec 3, 2006 @4:29 pm

    We’ve had some episodes recently in which people took offense at racist images used in a non-racist context, and no amount of explaining could placate them. In the case of the image linked, seeing the point requires an advanced ability to think abstractly; I ’spect it just plain flew over a lot of peoples’ heads. But I understand that sometimes emotional associations with a word or image are so overwhelmingly painful that people can’t see the intention.

    [...]

    I do think we owe it to each other to respect these sore points, even if we don’t share them. On the other hand, if I think the point intended by the word or image was not racist or sexist, any lynch mobs that form in retaliation will have to get along without me.

    It’s disappointing (but a certain kind of typical) for white folks to be so right about their own issues (sexism here) and yet so wrong about everyone else’s. That said, you have fairly instructively mischaracterized the problem with the Billmon blackfacing.

    First off: It wasn’t that anyone thought Billmon was a Michael Richards-style acist, it was that many people of color thought his use of blackface was inept. Given the wild, memetic power of those images, people also suggested that there had been no pressing need to invoke those particular loa to deal with the Blitzer/Cheney CNN segment, leading us to the fairly straightforward question of why he might have felt the need to go there. Billmon and his readers’ reaction to those specific and contained complaints? Petulance, defensiveness, attacks on people of color for “distracting” them from the important work of saving America, self-serving Peretzian irony about how the last true believers in the values of Dr. King were the brave white folks reading Billmon, Tomaskian whining about how their beloved left was being destroyed by “special interests,” and, of course, the clarion call to the actual racists in the woodworks to write “n-word, n-word, n-word” in the comments completely apropos of nothing.

    You write above that :

    If you are writing from power, you assume some responsibilities. One of these is a responsibility not to contribute to the problems of racism and sexism by using racist and sexist language to diss people.

    And yet at that being said, you also just can’t resist saying that there have been “some episodes” where no amount of explaining could “placate” “them” because “seeing the point requires an advanced ability to think abstractly” and you cutely “’spect” things “just plain flew over a lot of peoples’ heads.” Then, just for kicks, you assure us that any “lynch mobs” that form in retaliation will have to get along without you, which, I have to say, is really mighty white of you. You quote Zuzu approvingly on attacks on your gender – “It’s easy to reach first for the gender-based insult” and yet the first thing out of your mouth is how smart you are compared to those childish coloreds, but, just in case anyone has gotten you all wrong, any lynching is DEFINITELY going to have to go on without you. Nice work, Kimosabe!

  28. maha  •  Dec 3, 2006 @5:02 pm

    I really don’t want to open up the “blackface” wars again, so I am closing comments before I get slammed with more commenters calling me a racist.

    I appreciate that the blackface imagery is extremely painful, which is why I have never used it myself. However, blackface imagery speaks as much, if not more, about white racism than black oppression. For most of the 200 years or so blackface was part of popular culture, only white men wore blackface. It was only a relative short time in the late 19th and early 20th century that black performers wore it, also. It should be viewed with more shame by whites than by African Americans, who don’t have anything to feel ashamed about in this case.

    And I still say the intention of Billmon’s post had nothing to do with racism, and if you can’t see that then it went over your head. I’m sorry if you take that as condescension, but it’s a fact.

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