Addenda

Building on Fillyjonk’s post below, I want to announce two new changes to the comments policy, probably making it the longest goddamn comments policy on the internet.

Tenth Rule: If you are tempted to begin an argument against something we’ve said here with, “God, stop being so PC!” just stop right there. We are proudly PC and have absolutely no intention of stopping. Racist, classist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, and sexist comments are as unwelcome here as sizeist ones. That goes equally for unintentionally offensive language. If someone gets pissy at you for using the word “retarded” for instance, that doesn’t mean they think you’re an evil person who hates developmentally disabled people OR that they’re hysterical, overreacting thought police. It means there are people around here who find that word hurtful, and we’re a lot more interested in protecting their feelings than your god-given right not to think of a better word.

Eleventh Rule: If you say something like “Fat is the last acceptable prejudice” or “You could never get away with saying X to a black person,” expect to get smacked down. Occasionally, there are times when we believe that comparing the rhetoric of haters or particular expressions of bigotry is instructive, but comparing the systems of oppression themselves is always a losing proposition. (Not to mention, that is such a fine line to walk that even those of us who try to be extremely conscious of the nuanced distinctions there will fuck up and deserve to be called on it.) Every prejudice is still acceptable in some circles, and many of those deemed “unacceptable in polite society” are still woven deeply into the institutions of that society. That’s the reality, and we won’t be arguing about it around here.

While it is indeed more common to hear a vicious fat joke than a vicious racist joke on TV these days, for instance, that doesn’t mean fat prejudice is more acceptable–it means certain manifestations of it are more acceptable in certain places. But to suggest that this somehow means fat people have it harder overall than any other oppressed/marginalized group is flat-out fucking wrong and insulting. We don’t. We have it different. In many ways, we have it better. And those of us who belong to more than one oppressed/marginalized group have different forms of prejudice coming at them from all sides.

If you’re still not getting it, think about the difference between these two people:

Skinny Person A: You know, I really respect what you’re doing here, because people comment on my body and my eating habits all the time, and they assume I’m unhealthy just because of my weight. I don’t know what it’s like to be fat in this society, but I know what it’s like to have my body treated as public property and be judged negatively because of my size. It fucking sucks, so the Fat Acceptance movement resonates with me, and I hope I can be an ally.

Skinny Person B: People make nasty comments to skinny people all the time, too, so we have it just as bad! All prejudice is the same! We need a Thin Acceptance Movement!

Both those types of people show up here all the time. A’s get welcomed with open arms. B’s get ridiculed and banned. There’s a reason for that–and if you can understand that reason, you should damn well be able to understand why equating fat hatred to other forms of oppression with long and tragic histories is bullshit.

Besides, as The Rotund recently pointed out, if you believe fat is the last acceptable prejudice in “polite society”–if not our institutions–you really need to sit down and have coffee with a transperson.

52 thoughts on “Addenda

  1. Aw, fucking brilliant. “Your god-given right not to think of a better word” — that just sums it right up. You are generally my hero, Kate.

  2. “My body treated as public property” – that’s it exactly, that’s why I’m here. Because I had two kids and now my body’s a different shape. Because my mother and sister are fat. Because I have fat friends. Because I have daughters.

  3. Normally I’m totally on board with this kind of stuff. But I have occasionally gotten annoyed with having to be soooo careful with what I say, and want to make some sarcastic remark about being PC—and then I realize that I have officially crossed the line into A$$hole territory, and it’s time to back up and reassess my thoughts. All oppressions suck (in their own ways), even if I don’t see how they directly affect me. They are important. We have to be honest with ourselves, and humble, and admit our mistakes. Yea for the policy.

  4. Thank you for being both trans-inclusive and for pointing out the “that’s so retarded” line of speech. Both are topics that are near and dear to my fat little heart.

  5. Yeah, I mean, I understand the frustration… occasionally I feel like the two trenchccoated dudes in the Fry and Laurie sketch, all “and there’s another one, you can’t say arse-bandit anymore!” “And it’s such a lovely word!” “Ooh, it’s one of the great words!” But seriously, it is not so fucking hard for me to say “cheated” instead of “gypped,” or whatever. It doesn’t significantly impoverish my self-expression to just give half a thought to whether my language is exclusionary before I post something on the internets.

    And you know, in my personal life I am often FAR from PC. I recently bonded with another Shapeling over our love of Mr. Show, which is utterly offensive. A friend and I have a longstanding joke about how he’s and Arab and is therefore going to blow me up/got to the party on a flying carpet/whatever. He started it and he thinks it’s hilarious, and I know him so I know what his sense of humor is. But when you’re talking to a bunch of fucking STRANGERS, it’s worth saying “is this going to make someone feel like I just slapped them in the face?” And, if it did, apologizing.

    Except when it comes to swear words. In that case I think everyone should just buck up. ;)

  6. This also means paying attention to when terms change. When I was a child “retarded” (i.e. “slowed”) was the PC term. It replaced “Mongoloid,” which theoretically referred to the facial features associated with Down Syndrome, but was (rightfully) deemed racist, and therefore offensive. The latter was still in use in polite society when I was very young.

  7. My frustration with this — and I say this as a fat white gay chick in an interracial relationship — is that I feel like every damned thing I say is being recorded, dissected and then stored in a vault. Especially when I’m tired/defeated/emotionally raw. Then, when convenient, people can say “see! You really ARE racist/lesbian separist/ man-hating/privileged a$$clown!” The evidence is right here!

    Sometimes, I want someone to notice that I really have lived outside of my comfort zone (that of white, affluent privilege) and lived differently than I was brought up. I’m not fucking perfect. But. I. Am. Fucking. Trying.

    But no. It’s way I SAY that matters. What I DO means nothing.

  8. Sweet Jesus.

    I think I just realized that “gypped” is a pejorative term impugning gypsies for stealing.

    I’ve been using that term all my life.

  9. Cindy, frankly anyone who waits to ambush you when you use an injudicious word is an asshole. There’s a big difference between saying “haha, I knew you were ablist, you ablist ablist” and saying “hey, can you not say ‘cripple’? I find it really hurtful.” It’s not like people calling you on your language get a total pass just because it’s important to be aware of your language — they also have to not be total dicks about it. (And if it turns out that, for instance, you said “gypped” and you truly didn’t know that it was pejorative, I would say it’s the responsibility of the offended party to treat you gently.)

    BUT just because they’re total dicks about it doesn’t negate the importance of being cautious about language. Goes both ways.

  10. I’m not really talking about being educated about what words mean or how they feel. If someone educates me about a word I’m using, fine. If they are doing in a heated way, I can take it.

    I just sometimes feel like I can’t say anything right, and that no amount of Living Contrary To The Dictates of Privilege While Being Privileged ever makes the fuck up for it. (I am gay, but I apparently “pass for straight.” That plus my whiteness equals double privilege. I also grew up in an uppercrust anglo suburb of Houston. Privilege galore.) Explanation of why my parents and family believe certain things is rarely *just* an explanation — it’s apologetics! I don’t hate my family, even though their world views kill me inside at times. They are part of me and I sometimes feel like I should explain where some things come from. So often, that has been seen as tacit forgiveness of their considerable sins. (What, no one else gets defensive when others criticize their family?)

    If I sound prickly, it’s because I am. I’ve lived in a working class gay interracial situation for 13 years. I feel this often counts for nothing when I’m engaged in dialog about race/class/sexual orientation.

  11. I’m speaking about my frustrations here.

    I still thinks its my moral responsibility to consider the humanity of others while engaged in the messiness of relating to them.

    Just wanted to make sure that’s clear.

  12. Cindy, frankly anyone who waits to ambush you when you use an injudicious word is an asshole.

    Yeah, I think part of the problem with speaking about these things in generalities (which is necessary on the internet) is that a whole lot of people think they’re being attacked, when they might not be the people the original poster has a problem with. I mean, we’d all do well to frequently examine our own behavior, but at the end of the day, if the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t wear it — even if someone else thinks you SHOULD wear it. Only you can know how hard you try to understand and be inclusive, and only you can honestly say if you’re doing your best.

    Wanting acknowledgment for doing your best, on the other hand? Well, I can totally understand that. And I admit I was thrilled to see a couple of POC on the other thread say they’ve never felt unwelcome here… whew. I’m not doing it ALL wrong. But really, NOT being an asshole isn’t something we should be praised for. It should be the fucking default. The fact that it’s not isn’t the fault of POC, and we don’t deserve cookies for flouting convention by not being assholes. I totally understand the desire for those cookies, but we haven’t actually earned anyone’s rewards. Not being a contemptible shithead shouldn’t be anything special.

  13. It’s clear. And there’s not much to say about your frustrations besides “I hear ya, it’s tough.” I know it can feel like your self-expression, cultural or linguistic, is being taken away. When you think about it, that evens the playing field… but that doesn’t make it any fun.

  14. Cindy, I am queer and I pass for straight as all hell. ‘Course, I just came out within the last 2 years. But 10 years from now, I am still going to pass as straight. I’m Super Femme. So I get you there.

    What I’ve learned over the last week, ‘specially here in the fat’sphere is that really, on the internet, it’s just better to be very careful. My partner and I aren’t the most PC in real life, either. We toss around un-PC terms all the times, mostly to make fun of our OWN identies. I personally have to be un-PC about the fact that I am CRAZY with the bipolar disorder because it de-stigmatizes and normalizes my experience for myself. It’s like when I re-claimed “fat” for myself. It made it more OK. I began to own my reality.

    Unfortunately, if I am not careful how I speak about this on the internet, it can really become a horrible viral meme where all of a sudden I am an asshat. Which I very well may be. But I don’t want to be perceived as a crazy-hating asshat. Because I’m not. And you’ll never catch me using words like “retarded” or “crippled” or even “wheelchair bound” because I happen to work with people with developmental disabilities, and quite frankly, they have taught me a lot about myself.

    I guess my point is that unfortunately, all we have on the internet is what we say. No one can really see what we do. So that’s why we have to be so careful.

  15. we don’t deserve cookies for flouting convention by not being assholes. I totally understand the desire for those cookies, but we haven’t actually earned anyone’s rewards. Not being a contemptible shithead shouldn’t be anything special.

    I was totally going to write like a five-paragraph version of this, but you said it so much more succinctly. :-)

  16. I love this.

    And just sayin’, I get smacked down for my privileged assumptions all the time. It usually stings like fuck, and I disagree and argue and spin my wheels, and then realize wait, yeah, that was misogynist/ableist/racist/generally fucked up, and I work on it.

    It’s hard to get past that initial sting, but I’m the better for it, and I’m glad to see that the smackdowns will continue.

  17. But seriously, it is not so fucking hard for me to say “cheated” instead of “gypped,” or whatever.

    Excellent post, and thank you for this addition. I have Gypsy on my mother’s side which is probably the only reason I know this is an offensive term. Okay, there aren’t a whole lot of Roma people around and they’re not a voting block, but they’re people. It really isn’t that hard to stop using “gyp” -. or “jew down” or “free, white, and 21″ etc., etc., ad infinitum.

    And even when making changes to one’s ideas and behaviors is hard, it’s well worth it just for the personal satisfaction in being less of a jerk.

  18. I don’t know if these things are related, but I know my mom doesn’t let us get away with saying “gyp,” and that we had a neighbor who used “jew” as a verb meaning the same thing. Possibly once my mom realized that it was really like being socked in the gut when it’s about your own heritage, she got really sensitive about similar usages.

  19. I used gypped my whole life without knowing, and sometimes it still comes out. I’m getting better, though.

    Privilege is very charged, but if I’m feeling defensive — “I didn’t MEAN to hurt anyone!” — I remember that I easily apologize for physically stepping on someone’s toes, even if that happened because the bus lurched.

    This world we’re in is a bus — and institutionalized racism, ableism, classism, fatism, sexism, religionism, homophobia is the bus lurching erratically about. And sometimes if I lose my footing and step on someone, it’s not entirely my fault – but it is my weight coming down on their foot.

    So I apologize, while remembering that this bus lurching around really sucks for everyone. Me trying to keep upright is one form of work. Recovering from a million instances of stepped toes is another kind of work, and not easy if the injury is still happening. And another kind of work is just surviving and not getting crushed.

  20. While I agree with this:
    we don’t deserve cookies for flouting convention by not being assholes. I totally understand the desire for those cookies, but we haven’t actually earned anyone’s rewards. Not being a contemptible shithead shouldn’t be anything special. in principle, don’t we all have a license to eat cookies any time we damm well please?

    I don’t mean to be flip, I mean, we might want to assuage guilty feelings — but those feelings serve a purpose. They are the awareness that we may have caused someone else pain. My steel-trap-like brain is imbedded with a minefield of nasty, prejudiced thoughts and sometimes one might slip out. That serves as an opportunity for me to sweep that particular mine. I can’t guarantee that I’m never going to slip up, never going to mess up, I think it’s how I handle it when I do that says more than anything else. I believe there’s a difference between slipping up and not caring if you hurt someone else, too.

    I think fj’s post, and this one, provide an opportunity for open, important discussion about all of this stuff. I’m so glad this discussion is taking place, and I’m glad this space exists to have it in.

  21. I personally have to be un-PC about the fact that I am CRAZY with the bipolar disorder because it de-stigmatizes and normalizes my experience for myself.

    thoughtracer, I actually got into a fight with someone for a similar reasons – I’m on anti-depressants and call them my “crazy pills,” and someone got VERY offended when I used that term in their hearing. Trying to explain about normalizing? Didn’t go over so well. Sigh.

  22. I have to pipe in on this and say that, while being PC is important, it’s equally important to not jump on someone for the use of what you see as an un-PC word without knowing what it means, but it can go either way.

    Case in point, several years ago, a political appointee in DC was severely castigated for his use of the word “niggardly”, meaning miserly or tight fisted. Many believed that it was a racial slur, and smeared him very thoroughly in the press. Reality is that the word originated in the mid -16th century, based on a word from the Scandanavian language and has NOTHING to do with race. But, popular opinion prevailed and he was (I believe) asked to leave his appointed position.

    So, I guess my point is, first, don’t assume that because you have an exemplary grasp of the english language, everyone here has the same grasp.
    (While there are people here who have degrees of various types, there are also some who have a high school education, but a lifetime in the school of hard knocks, and either education is equally valid).

    Second, don’t assume someone is being deliberately un-PC when they make a statement that could be construed that way. Sometimes, the words they use are ones they’ve heard all their life (like “gypped”) and they’ve never had any reason to think differently. OR, the words are PC, just not familiar to the blog-at-large.

    *putting soap box away now*

  23. don’t we all have a license to eat cookies any time we damm well please?

    Well sure, we can always EAT them, but that doesn’t mean people always have to GIVE them to us. :)

  24. Beckduer, since we’re pedants, we wouldn’t come down on anyone for saying “niggardly” (though I think it’s a word that’s probably outlived its usefulness, due to the inevitable confusion), and when we do bring the hammer down, it’s never “OH MY GOD, HOW COULD YOU EVER SAY GYPPED?” With something like that it would be more like, “Hey, did you know the etymology of that is a slur against Roma people?” And with something like “retarded,” which has come up around here numerous times, it’s usually along the lines of, “Hey, please don’t use that word.” We aren’t ranting at people who are clearly not trying to offend; we’re just setting our own standards for discourse on the blog.

  25. I understand.

    I think I was filtering through my own experience.

    i.e. My best friend and I have always been big fans of Bugs Bunny et al. And, while we realize that many of those cartoons are dated, they are also REALLY racist! There are the overt racist comments/characters, of course, but the one that got us was that Bugs frequently referred to the idiotic characters by saying “What a maroon!”. I don’t know that either my friend or I ever used the term, but we also didn’t ever check to see what it meant.

    When another friend, who is mixed-race, was watching the cartoons with us at a get-together, they got upset that we weren’t offended by the “maroon” reference and they left the party early. We both had to go look it up, because we honestly had no idea what had upset her. Now, we know. But we were both a bit put-off by her assumption that we knew what it meant and had shown that cartoon to offend her.

    So I guess I was trying to “prevent” that here, (not that I have any control over it!)

  26. Ok, my ignorance is showing, but what’s the context of the “maroon” slur? I always assumed it was just him mispronnouncing “moron,” but now you have me really wondering!

  27. I feel like an idiot. I never realised about ‘gypped’ until now.
    I do however know about “nitty gritty” which I think a lot of people don’t.

    Something I have wondered about is the use of the term “bi-racial”. It isn’t a term that is used here in Australia, not as far as I am aware anyway. An Indigenous person with one white parent generally identifies as Indigenous (generally, not always). It isn’t said (by the person themselves) that they are “half white/Indigenous” or “part” or “bi-racial” or whatever other term you can think of. Being white myself and being married to an Indigenous man and having a child together, the term bi-racial and its usage in the US intrigues me.

  28. Kate, that link you provided to the racial slur database is the kind of thing I can only look at for about 10 seconds before I start to feel ill. It’s a good reference, though, a good place to settle debates about whether something may cause unintended pain by using a particular word.

  29. Honestly, I don’t think we need a resource to settle debates, because I don’t think we need to have those debates. Nobody’s asking anyone to memorize that database and avoid every word therein (though most of them are no-brainers). The conversations I would want to see happening go like this:

    Person A: That’s lame.
    Person B: I’d prefer if you didn’t say “lame,” I find it ablist.
    Person A: Whoops, I am sorry! I meant no harm, but I won’t say it in the future.
    Person B: Thanks, I appreciate that.

    OR

    Person A: That’s lame.
    Person B: Yeah, totally lame!
    Person A: Neither of us finds this terminology offensive!
    Person B: Though if someone else told us that they did find it hurtful, we would apologize for hurting them and be conscious of our language in the future!

    No discussion necessary. No recourse to experts or databases. No argument over whose offense is important or how many people have to be hurt before something is hurtful. Just basic respect and consideration.

  30. Nobody’s asking anyone to memorize that database and avoid every word therein (though most of them are no-brainers).

    Though I must say New York Met as a slur for Hispanics (because there are lots of Latino players on the Mets), made me go “Wtf?! Who actually says that?!” Being a Mets fan I’ve heard quite a few douchebags insult Latino players and spout wild conspiracy theories about how the general manager is trying to create a team with no white players, but for someone to actually make a neat little racist phrase up?

    *sigh*

    Imagine what people could be doing with their lives if not thinking of ways to tear down others.

  31. Oh yeah, reading the list and marveling at how hard people work to be horrible to one another is a whole other thing.

  32. Though I must say New York Met as a slur for Hispanics (because there are lots of Latino players on the Mets), made me go “Wtf?!

    I suspect that one’s not so much a direct slur as a code phrase, so people can sit around saying racist shit in public. “Canadian” as code for black has been getting some attention recently, and I remember “Hawaiian” being code for Jewish people when I was a kid. People are creative when it comes to protecting their right to talk shit about groups of people anywhere they like.

  33. I was on a girl gamer bboard for a while, where I kept getting in trouble for using the word retarded. And I get that some people find it offensive, and I try not to use it, but like 6 e-mails, and posts discussing my character eventually were totally uncalled for.

    I also got in trouble for using the word lame. I reject as lame as able-ist because no one actually uses it to refer to people anymore, though I have heard it in reference to horses. I bet you 5 bucks if you asked the average person what the word “Lame” meant they would answer “Boring.” (The first definition on google: square: someone who doesn’t understand what is going on. )

    I guess that brings up another question, are we obligated to reject language that is derived from Un-PC origins? Or once the word has transcended its original definition can we just assume that it means what we think it means and use it while being sad that historical people were so unenlightened? (The opposite of which Faggot meaning stick, and the current definition of the word, another bet? anyone?)

    I also got in trouble on that board for saying that individuals whose partners are addicted to video games should actually do something to correct their partner’s behavior or leave the relationship. This is apparently blaming the victim.

    Fortunately I don’t think this blog is in danger of heading into the land of “I interpret everything you say as offensive just so I can get mad at someone.” There is PC, and then there is psychotic. People seem to be pretty clear headed around here for the most part.

  34. People seem to be pretty clear headed around here for the most part.

    Yup, at least when they’re not saying “I reject the idea that anyone finds this term offensive even when they do because I have decided that it isn’t.”

    Seriously, I don’t understand why this is hard. When someone asks you to be considerate about your usage of a particular term, you do it. Because that is what decent people do. Decent people try not to hurt other people, especially when it’s SO FUCKING EASY to say something else instead.

  35. Shinobi, I hear where you’re coming from. But the key is to be conscious enough of a word’s history that, if confronted, you are able to modify your language when necessary. If a person or group of people says they find a word offensive it should not be a big deal to not use that word in their presence or in their space.

    Sure, language is dynamic and words can gradually come to mean something entirely different from what they meant before. But this is not a debate about clinging to archaic definitions. It’s about recognizing that language can be a powerful tool of oppression and recognizing that some people’s experiences with and reaction to that language will differ from your own.

  36. The purpose of communication is to interact with other beings, not with ourselves. Communication breaks down when assumptions are made about meaning, because it isn’t important what I think a word means, it’s important what the person I’m talking to thinks it means. No amount of usage will assert my connotative meaning of the word over their interpretation, any more than the Ugly Tourist can make themselves be understood by simply talking louder. Yeah, there’s some responsibility on the listener to ascertain what the speaker means, but basically if you have to stop and define or defend your use of a word over someone’s offended sensibilities, your communication has failed. Wouldn’t it be easier to just stop using a word with expired 90’s trendiness that happens to also hint that differently abled people are clueless?

    http://www.thesaurus.com

  37. And I get that some people find it offensive, and I try not to use it, but like 6 e-mails, and posts discussing my character eventually were totally uncalled for.

    Shinobi, I have an older brother and a younger cousin with moderate to severe developmental disabilities and a mother with an acquired cognitive disability. My entire childhood was filled — I mean absolutely filled — with the words “retard” and “retarded” flung at my brother and myself in the most malicious manner possible. Every time I hear the word “retarded” used as casual slang, I feel like someone has slapped me in the face. And people do it all the time without giving it a second thought. I understand why you would feel attacked by the response you got — but keep in mind that when people react in what seems like an excessive way to the word “retarded” (or “lame,” which is definitely still used by people in certain areas, btw), it may be because they are reacting not only to your single use but to a lifetime and abuse and judgment.

  38. Though I must say New York Met as a slur for Hispanics (because there are lots of Latino players on the Mets), made me go “Wtf?! Who actually says that?!” Being a Mets fan I’ve heard quite a few douchebags insult Latino players and spout wild conspiracy theories about how the general manager is trying to create a team with no white players, but for someone to actually make a neat little racist phrase up?

    I’ll bet a Yankees fan came up with that one.

    (ducking)

  39. “Occasionally, there are times when we believe that comparing the rhetoric of haters or particular expressions of bigotry is instructive, but comparing the systems of oppression themselves is always a losing proposition.”

    Ooh. Thanks, I finally understand what this is all about. I have read every blog post about this topic that popped up during the last few days (including comments) and yet I only kept thinking, “Okay, but what exactly are they reacting to??” until I got to that one sentence. I may just be the most ignorant person on this planet though, so that would explain why.

    I still don’t get the appropriation issue, but I guess that’s a little off topic here.

  40. When I think of the times that I have been called on my bullshit, and i definitely have, I felt uncomfortable and defensive. When I think about it later, I often realize that I’ve stumbled upon my privilege. Privilege and internalized oppression makes me feel uncomfortable with myself. In the end I’m glad, because it’s one more step to becoming a thoughtful, caring person. In the moment I try to say, “Thank you that was hard for me to hear, and I’m sorry.”

    Really all the discomfort comes from self-reflection and the realization that some of the oppression I want to fight in the world has made it into my head while I was unaware.

  41. Pingback: Alas, a blog » Blog Archive » No, being fat isn’t identical to being black. No, that doesn’t make fat activism illegitimate.

  42. Okay, I have two things I want to say, which I actually had to write down so I wouldn’t forget the as I was reading through the comments. Thank you, memory-like-a-fucking-sieve.

    A) I have serious issues with PCness because I have no fucking clue what to call anyone anymore. I mean like, in terms of descriptors. It seems like black is vaguely out of vogue but african-american is frequently not an accurate term because not everyone is american. Or african for that matter. And not all africans are black anyway. Person of colour? but then you get into ack coloured has been offensive. And that’s just one group. I really really hate hurting people so I try to use the least offensive terms possible, however this is difficult when I have no idea WHICH TERM THAT IS.

    B) The stuff about Roma made me think of a pet peeve of mine: when people talk about six million people killed in the holocaust. No, there were ELEVEN million people killed. Six million of them were jewish. Just squicks me when people write the five million Roma and homosexuals and political dissidents and people of mixed race and so on and so forth out of history. Argh. Article in the local paper did it recently and I raged a bit.

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