Saturday, June 11, 2016

Response to an article aimed at white people (like me!)

Derrick Clifton has a bone to pick with white people, so he oh-so-thoughtfully wrote us a letter listing 17 gripes he has against us.  About 2/3 of the complaints are perfectly valid, and I would be much more sympathetic to him were the entire thing not written in one of the most condescending tones I have experienced on the internet.  But it is, so as I've made my policy, I will return the favor.  To tease out the good from the bad argumentation, I will limit my response to numbers 1, 4, and 10-12 on his list.

1) #YesAllBlackPeople contend with whites dictating to us how we should talk about racism, instead of taking our lead in the conversation. (Yes, that includes Tim Wise.)

We are not obligated to “take your lead” in the conversation. You can be wrong. You often are. It is not oppression to disagree with you and say so – nor even to say so repeatedly, whenever you express that opinion with which I disagree.

4) #YesAllBlackPeople know better than Webster’s Dictionary what racism actually means. We’re living it. Don’t whitesplain it to us. (Webster’s and Oxford English Dictionaries are largely white-controlled purveyors of language.)

Lmao, no you definitely don’t.  It is impossible to know better than the dictionary what a word means.  If you find the dictionary’s definition for a word unsatisfactory for the idea you are trying to convey, you can invent a new word, which – if used often enough by enough people – may eventually find its way into the dictionary.  Or, you can outline an additional meaning for the word, which – if used often enough and by enough people – may also find its way into the dictionary alongside the original.  But you cannot communicate effectively if everyone is using a different meaning for the words being communicated.  If two people have a disagreement about what a given word means, the dictionary is what solves that dispute.

I don’t know how many words Merriam Webster’s dictionary holds, but whatever number that is, that’s how many examples I could give you of the absurdity that would result if everyone were allowed to make up their own definitions.

PS - Don't blacksplain to me.  Tee hee!  See how productive this is?

10) #YesAllBlackPeople would love to have anti-racist white people in their lives, who listen and support their leadership, and not as savior-esque allies.

Well sure, I’d love it too if everyone just deferred to my judgment on my most passionately held opinions. But they won’t, and it would be neither fair nor sensible to expect that they do so, so I have to deal with them being skeptical towards my “leadership” even in movements we both care about deeply.  You are not my leader.

11) #YesAllBlackPeople live for authentic cultural exchanges with whites, without appropriation, mockery, or wanton theft. (Hello, Iggy Azalea.)

See here about cultural appropriation, here about white gay people, and here about Iggy Azalea.  There is no such thing as cultural theft, because culture is not property and ideas cannot be owned.  White people are allowed to enjoy, listen to, and perform hip-hop, using whatever voice inflection they like, whether or not black people are present.  I heartily implore you to get over it.

12) #YesAllBlackPeople can say the n-word if we want to or not, and white people still can’t and never should. Blacks own the conversation on that word's signification, not you.

No, chief, nobody “owns the conversation” about anything.  See above about ideas not being property.

I would never call anybody a nigger.  I would never use that word in any context where it could be reasonably interpreted as offensive, because I understand its history and its power and I don’t wish to offend anybody.  But as Louis CK explained well, the entire concept of referring to words as “the __(insert letter here)__ word” is just mind-numbingly stupid.  Language is just a tool to communicate ideas from one person’s mind to another’s.  Words are vehicles for those ideas, and saying “the n-word” communicates the exact same idea as saying “nigger.”  You just make the other person think nigger!  Every time someone says “the n-word” every single person in their presence is thinking to themselves “oh, he means nigger” silently in their head.  There is no mystery to it!  Making audible that shared thought cannot possibly be evil.  My skin color doesn’t change that.

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