Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: US point of view

From: Brian Thornton (
Date: 21 Feb 2004

Mark Sullivan wrote:

> Oh yeah,Geir also wrote:
> "Does this mean that US ears and eyes are more sensitive than the ears
> and eyes of Europeans? Only joking, of course, . . "
> Actually, in terms of labeling (at least of certain groups), I'd say US
> ears can be very, very sensitive.

Is it really such a bad thing in polite society to refrain from slurs of this calibre? I teach school in the Seattle area, and I don't allow that sort of talk in my classroom, period. You'd be amazed (or maybe you wouldn't) how many young males in my classroom, when expressing an opinion that an idea is stupid, poorly thought-out, etc., will say, "That's so gay." I teach 9th grade, and I am very lucky to have a collection of great kids of all ethnic backgrounds, etc., and when I hear that, I make a point of politely and firmly mentioning to them that there are probably gay people right there in the room with them, and if they stop and think about it, they'll almost never want to unintentionally insult someone sitting next to them without even knowing it, right?

Since 9th graders are great ones for sarcasm (one of my admitted short-comings, which I employ as a teaching strength in this situation), I like to point out to them that the best way to insult someone is to be a) creative, and b) intentional about it. That goes over pretty well with them.

> ". . . but what's the difference between our - errr --- homosexuals (?)
> and yours?"
> Often, it's not even the group itself who objects, but outsiders who are
> trying to protect the group in question -- which strikes many, including
> me, as being equally patronizing, if not more so.

I have cousins by marriage who are black, and thus, cousins by blood who are mixed race. None of them likes to be called "nigger." I don't see where it's patronizing to refrain from using an ethnic slur in polite conversation.

> Just look at the debate over Pelecanos's use of a few weighted words.

I read _Right as Rain_ and had no problem with his use of those words, but that was in context, in a book, recited by fictional characters. If I was drinking a beer with him and he started going on about "niggers," I'd draw what I consider to be an appropriate conclusion.

> No one objects to Iceberg Slim's or Dennis Cooper's use of the same
> words.

Mark, I wish I had a nickel for every parent of one of my black students who has expressed dismay to me over the pervasive use of "those words" in what passes for popular culture these days (especially music). I could retire tomorrow.

I'm the last person in the world that any of my family, friends, or acquaintances would label "politically correct." I just see stuff like this as another aspect of practicing the sort of civility we hope to be on the receiving end of. Know what I mean?

All the Best-

Brian Thornton

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