Right Speech vs. White Privilege:

ETA: My curiosity took me to the Wikipedia page for Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, and it turns out that O’Brien’s comparison is even less apt than I initially thought:

The village’s long name cannot be considered an authentic Welsh-language toponym. It was artificially contrived in the 1860s to bestow upon the station the honour of having the longest name of any railway station in the United Kingdom: an early example of a publicity stunt.

* * *

White Privilege wins in one round! KO!

There’s this great blog, Angry Asian Buddhist, that every Buddhist and every non-Buddhist and everyone else besides that should read.  In the latest post, Arun addresses a comment made by Buddhist writer Barbara O’Brien about the apparently very exotic sounding name of a university in Thailand:

Ooo, Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University. How awesome is that?

and the subsequent exchange between O’Brien and a commenter in the thread:

One can only imagine what the cheerleading squad for Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University’s basketball team has to contend with “Gimme an M! Gimme an A” .

The game would have to go into overtime to let them finish.

Arun writes:

This lighthearted banter summoned up memories of all the times that white Americans made fun of my Asian name, mocked my ancestral language with ching-chong routines and done the good ol’ chink-eye to my face. In case you’re unaware, it can really suck to grow up Thai in America—because you might just have to live your entire life with people like Barbara O’Brien making fun of your family’s long name, only to then hide behind, “Relax! It was only a joke!”

And O’Brien responds in the comments:

Dear, your skin is too thin. It so happens I have family living near Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Wales, which is also awesome. I’d brag about it more but I can’t pronounce it.

Yes, you are over-reacting. Lighten up.

And on the OP’s thread:

I learned a long time ago that people who are determined to take offense will do so, no matter how careful one might be to not offend them.

I want to add that this is the pattern of an abuser — find some picayune thing to turn into a big bleeping deal that will justify an Episode.

My first Zen teacher used to say that no one can make us angry; we make ourselves angry. So if Arun is determined to make himself angry, I feel sorry for him. If I ever see that he is the object of genuine racial oppression, I will certainly do what I can to defend him.

But my days of being jerked around by other peoples’ anger ended a long time ago. Is that clear?

Now, if any of you other puppies wants to lecture me about my bad attitude, well, sit on it. Further such lectures will be deleted. Thanks much.

Boy, is this ever familiar. I should note write here that Arun’s post was far from the tirade she paints it as; indeed, Arun even commends Barbara’s feminist work. But that gets lost in O’Brien’s furious defense of her comment. (What was that about people determined to make themselves angry?)

Now, the situation is certainly complicated by the fact that O’Brien is an abuse survivor; I’ve experienced a good deal of emotional abuse, and as a result, I have a tendency to read things into people’s behavior toward me that aren’t always there. Still, though, given the power dynamic between white and Asian Buddhists – and whites and Asians in general – her behavior on the thread is inexcusable, especially from a Buddhist perspective. (Regarding O’Brien’s OP, I must say that I also worry about the tenor of Western support for the Bhikkhuni cause in general, as it feels a little too close to the way white people routinely use issues like the burqa and FGC as an excuse to paint other cultures as backwards and in need of enlightenment, no pun intended). As Arun writes:

This cruel little joke on a Thai name encapsulates a recurring dilemma for Western Buddhists of Asian heritage. We are embraced by white Buddhists, even while we are culturally denigrated.

Comments debating the validity of Arun’s – or any POC’s – response to comments like those above will be deleted.

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33 Responses to Right Speech vs. White Privilege:

  1. 1
    lilacsigil says:

    Yes, because it’s not like the Welsh haven’t had a long history of oppression and cultural erasure either… I’m not equating the power dynamics, especially if O’Brien doesn’t actually live in Wales, but it’s a similar pattern. I have a long (Western European) first name, but Sri Lankan friends with shorter names are mocked for having long names – and I’m not. Odd, that.

  2. 2
    Erin S. says:

    Sometimes the “just a joke” or “grow a thicker skin” responses are from people who are bigoted, know they’re bigoted, and are resentful that those they feel are inferior to them feel that they have any right to ‘force’ them to moderate their language in any way. And sometimes those responses are from someone who sees (after the fact) that what they said was insensitive to say the least, they are ashamed of themselves for harboring such thoughts, but rather than humble themselves and admit it would rather attack the messenger or try to brush off the whole thing. Basically they’re too proud to admit that they’re wrong.

    I’m sure there are other motivations, but those are the two big ones. So I try to remember that there is at least a 50/50 chance that the person saying hateful crap actually does harbor some sense of shame for it and they’re just lashing out because nobody likes to think that they might have parts of themselves that aren’t entirely admirable.

    Of course, the only way to tell which is which is to wait for them to “slip up” again. Someone who recognizes that what they said was in poor taste won’t generally make the same mistake again, whereas someone who is getting in a (what they think is) subtle dig at a group they secretly despise will make the same “joke” again and again. Probably hoping repeated exposure will make people not notice it.

  3. 3
    lauren says:

    I think it’s important not to mix up explanations and excuses.
    Shame at being caught behaving badly may explain defensiveness, but it doesn’t excuse the repeated attack against someone who has already been hurt. i mean, if you accidently step on someones foot, you say sorry. You don’t yell at them for daring to say “ouch”.

    Also, getting upset (and later violent) about insignificant things is an abuser tactic, but so is belittling the true concerns and hurts of the victim, calling them to sensitive or accusing them of looking for something to be offended by. I’m not saying O’Brian is an abuser, but since she brought this aspect into the discussion, she should maybe have had a look at what she herself was doing.

  4. 4
    LT says:

    I do not understand what being an abuse survivor has to do with the price of butter in this case?

    The person who caused the offense does not get to tell the person who was offended that they should not be offended. Or hurt. Or to “lighten up” – which is really insulting, demeaning, and trivializes the offense.

    Instead, the person who meant to be funny (in this case) should listen to why it was not funny, rather than become defensive. If it was funny, then the person hearing or reading the joke would have laughed instead.

    Simple, no?

  5. 5
    nathan says:

    It’s so fascinating to see this discussion in a different context. I’m a long time Zen practitioner and blogger. I’ve followed Arun’s blog for over two years now, as well as Barbara’s – so perhaps I might be considered an insider.

    Anyway, I made comments on both blog posts – as a white Buddhist – supporting Arun’s view because I think he’s right. The whole joking and defense of said joking narrative is entirely too common to ignore. And too many white Buddhists are unwilling to look at issues of race (and class for that matter) in Buddhism that have developed in North America.

    Barbara, in general, responds pretty fiercely to critical comments on her blog posts. Disagreements on her blog aren’t always avenues to further discussion, and I sometimes get the sense that her posts are about telling people something rather than opening up a discussion. Now, this isn’t wrong necessarily, but I’ve seen some ugly arguments on her blog because of this, including some with Arun in the past. They have some history as Buddhist bloggers – and that’s also worth considering.

  6. 6
    nobody.really says:

    One can only imagine what the cheerleading squad for Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University’s basketball team has to contend with “Gimme an M! Gimme an A” .

    What conclusion do I draw about the joke?

    1. The joke amused me the first time I heard it from George Carlin (?) discussing Immaculate Conception High School. If the speaker intended to amuse people, I suspect the speaker succeeded.

    2. The joke appears to have caused some pain to Arun; I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the Immaculate Conception version may have cause pain to some people, too. If the speaker intended to avoid causing pain, I suspect the speaker failed.

    3. Is the joke “funny”? Is the joke “offensive”? Generally I don’t find that this question produces a useful discussion. I conclude that the joke likely amuses some people, and likely provokes painful associations in some people – and perhaps it provokes both reactions in some people.

    What conclusion do I draw about Arun’s response? Arun appears to provides people with information about how his authentic, visceral reaction to the joke, even at the risk of exposing himself to ridicule. Moreover, Arun provides this information in a manner that does not make me feel defensive. I appreciate it.

    What conclusion do I draw about O’Brien’s response to Arun’s response? O’Brien also appears to provides people with information about how her authentic, visceral reaction. Alas, as others have suggested, I sense that O’Brien does feel defensive about Arun’s response; I feel defensive when I read her response.

    I value O’Brien’s words “You are overreacting” as a statement about O’Brien; these words suggest things to me about O’Brien’s state of mind. I don’t regard these words as a statement about Arun or his responses.

    I don’t begrudge O’Brien her opinion on the merits of Arun’s reaction. Yet I also observe that O’Brien does not give me any basis to conclude that Arun has not offered an authentic report of his visceral reaction. I prefer to see people affirmed when they share their feelings.

    Putting aside the content of O’Brien’s advice to Arun, the context in which O’Brien offers her advice does not seem well-designed to enable Arun to receive it. And it really seems to be off-topic. And the statement “Now, if any of you other puppies wants to lecture me about my bad attitude, well, sit on it. Further such lectures will be deleted,” indicates to me that O’Brien feels threatened by other people’s speech and is not open to new ideas on the topic. All of this prompts me to conclude that O’Brien’s remark was designed to lash out rather than to instruct.

    Finally, regarding the substance of O’Brien’s advice – the idea that Arun overreacts to emotional triggers arising from his past, and that he might benefit from transcending/extinguishing those triggers and “lightening up”: I suspect that this is good advice for us all. As O’Brien illustrates, however, it’s easier said than done.

  7. 7
    Yonah says:

    I find this depressing.

    Her statement that she is not offended by references to a place in Wales near where her family lives , even if that were a valid comparison (it’s not: what lilacsigil said: it’s clear that no one has made her life the least bit difficult on its account), would amount to nothing more than a demand that someone else feel and react as she does.

    The accusations of having a thin skin are also a bit much given how intense she is about silencing this commenter.

    Edited to add that I wouldn’t have posted had I seen comment #6.

  8. 8
    Arun says:

    Julie, I am extremely humbled by your support. Thanks to your post, I went back and reviewed the full comment thread on the OP, which I hadn’t done before. The sentiments expressed were fairly harsh, and I’m still thinking about the different points. But to be honest, I’ve been in a similar position before to where Barbara O’Brien finds herself now, so it’s worth sleeping on this one before committing too much more ink to paper.

    Nevertheless, more importantly (for me at least), your post alerted me to amptoons.com and the Guide to Making Comics. I’ve been helping a friend put together a curriculum to encourage Buddhist youth in his temple youth group delve into various dimensions of creative expression, and comics are the very medium we’d most recently been discussing! If it’s not quite evident, I’m so very excited to have found this site. Thank you so much.

  9. 9
    nobody.really says:

    [G]iven the power dynamic between white and Asian Buddhists – and whites and Asians in general – her behavior on the thread is inexcusable, especially from a Buddhist perspective. (Regarding O’Brien’s OP, I must say that I also worry about the tenor of Western support for the Bhikkhuni cause in general, as it feels a little too close to the way white people routinely use issues like the burqa and FGC as an excuse to paint other cultures as backwards and in need of enlightenment, no pun intended). As Arun writes:

    This cruel little joke on a Thai name encapsulates a recurring dilemma for Western Buddhists of Asian heritage. We are embraced by white Buddhists, even while we are culturally denigrated.

    Comments debating the validity of Arun’s – or any POC’s – response to comments like those above will be deleted.

    The New Republic‘s Isaac Chotiner offers another point of view:

    “Those who think of themselves as committed to ‘progressive’ moral and political causes have come to believe that two of the central requirements of an enlightened global politics are, first, treating all other people with equal respect and, second, trying to avoid words or deeds which threaten to compound existing disadvantages.”

    Treating people with respect is a fine goal, but [Stefan] Collini [author of That’s Offensive!~ Criticism, Identity, Respect], notices that respect tends to be shown with special deference to so-called “out groups.” Claims of offense that would otherwise be ignored are instead given credence and even deference. Collini also correctly identifies the people who tend to fall into this trap. Very few “progressive” forces, for example, would have shown any “understanding” of hurt Christian feelings if Jesus had been mocked in a Danish newspaper. The entire force of the argument against the offensiveness of the Danish cartoons was based on the concern that Muslims were somehow less powerful than other religious believers.…

    This is Collini’s central passage: “Where arguments are concerned—that is, matters that are pursued by means of reasons and evidence—the most important identity we can acknowledge in another person is the identity of being an intelligent reflective human being.”

    This does not mean assuming that people are entirely—or even primarily—rational, and it does not mean that people are, in practice, always and only persuaded by reasons and evidence. It means treating other people as we wish to be treated ourselves in this matter—namely, as potentially capable of understanding the grounds for any action or statement that concerns us. But to so treat them means that, where reason and evidence are concerned, they cannot be thought of as primarily defined by being members of the ‘Muslim community or ‘Black community’ or ‘gay community.’

    What is crucial here is the ability of people to evaluate and to criticize, and to not feel as if their doing so is given more or less respect based on the groups to which they belong. Their words do not gain force or lose force—or “credibility,” to deploy a nonsensical and overused term—because of their specific identities.

    The related point, which Collini also touches upon, is that if one decides to criticize a culture or a tradition or a work of art, doing so is not an act of Western arrogance. Criticism is not Western or Eastern or Christian or Jewish…. To withhold criticism from certain communities or religions is, in Collini’s word, a form of condescension ….

  10. 10
    nojojojo says:

    What is with white abuse survivors automatically invoking the “you’re being abusive!” defense whenever people protest racism? I saw it in RaceFail, then again in the WisConFail affair, and now here. And every time I’ve seen it, it’s from people in the power position of the abuser, the one who threw the first punch, who’s coming from smack dab in the middle of intersecting privileges and reaping all the benefits thereof — using the accusation of abuse itself to marginalize and “other” their target.

    I used to think that the whole privileged-person’s “let’s make the conversation about me and my pain!” dynamic of anti-oppression discussions was unintentional, or at least thoughtlessly done — the result of just their societally-reinforced belief that they should be at the center of every room. But after seeing the same tactic used so often to reposition the protester as the culprit and the bigot as the helpless victim, I’m pretty sure it’s deliberate. And I hate to say this — because some of these people actually are abuse survivors and also, there are abuse survivors who would never use their pain as a weapon — but it’s like calling wolf; it just doesn’t work for me anymore. The attempt to elicit sympathy under these circumstances now just earns my contempt.

  11. 11
    Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Arun, you might also like Picture This by Lynda Barry– it’s a book of the pleasures of doodling and drawing and their relationship to meditative unjudgemental states of mind.

  12. 12
    Julie says:

    Arun, thank you for stopping by! I’m thrilled you like the site (although I can’t take credit for that), and I’m so glad this post was helpful in some way.

    Nojojojo, I hadn’t realized that the abuse card was such a common tactic (although I should have). You’re absolutely right about calling wolf.

  13. 13
    Mandolin says:

    Sometimes people who’ve been in certain traumatic situations find themselves responding inappropriately to anything which is in some way reminiscent. A loud noise is not a gunshot but can startle someone with PTSD from a war zone. A pat on the back is not the assault that a rape survivor with PTSD may fear it is, but the fear is still real.

    Someone coming out of an abusive relationship may really have had problems never noticing when people were engaging in abusive dynamics. In order to start noticing it, she or he will have to recalibrate their sensitivity to that sort of thing. Maybe sometimes they recalibrate so that they’re too sensitive, for a while, until they get to the point when they can distinguish criticism from attack. Maybe some of them never get to that point.

    I’m not sure if people are accusing the abused party of being insincere, but I don’t think it’s fair to do so absent any other information. (I’m sure there are insincere abuse victims out there.) Personally, I have plenty of sympathy for people who have been so badly hurt that backfiring cars, hands on their shoulders, and criticism from strangers on the internet can send them back into dark, anxious places.

    That doesn’t mean they’re *right*. That doesn’t mean the party critiquing should feel guilty, or that they should tailor their further responses to spare the other person’s feelings (although, in many circumstances, I would). But I can still have sympathy for the scared person, without eliding that their fear is making them act like an asshat.

  14. 14
    Mandolin says:

    In particular, I guess I kind of object to the phrase “abuse card.”

  15. 15
    nojojojo says:

    Mandolin,

    I object to the “abuse card” phrase too, because I think it’s BS that people routinely use suffering as a tool/weapon. The assumption that this is commonly the case is used to shut down legitimate discussions.

    But there are isolated cases of people using their own experiences of oppression/suffering as weapons — an example is “oppression olympics” — and when it fits into a pattern, I think it’s important to note that. I’m not operating absent other information here, when I complain about this. I’m thinking in particular about MacAllister Stone’s post during RaceFail accusing people protesting racism of being abusers (the post has since been taken down, or I’d link to it), and a conversation that occurred on the WisCon_ConCom mailing list in which people objecting to Elizabeth Moon’s presence at a con that was supposedly anti-bigotry were accused of being abusive by one of the ConCom members. (That’s a private list, so I can’t share that, either.) Those are just my own personal experiences of it, but I’ve heard of a number of other examples in similar circumstances, so I think it fits into the common pattern of derailing responses that occurs during a discussion of racism. Maybe it’s just a variation on oppression olympics.

    I don’t want to derail this conversation, so I’ll leave it at that, but it’s something I may post about at ABW, if I ever find time to post at ABW again. -_-

  16. 16
    nobody.really says:

    That doesn’t mean they’re *right*. That doesn’t mean the party critiquing should feel guilty, or that they should tailor their further responses to spare the other person’s feelings (although, in many circumstances, I would). But I can still have sympathy for the scared person, without eliding that their fear is making them act like an asshat.

    Wow. Deftly put, Mandolin.

    I encouraged Amp to put one of his cartoons on a t-shirt (which I now own!) In that spirit, perhaps this paragraph could become a greeting card?

    On the cover: “I’m not saying you’re right. I’m not saying that I had a duty to refrain from doing what I did. But I failed to anticipate how my actions would make you feel. And I’m truly sorry about that. Hurting you was never my goal. I trust you know that; I hope you can forgive me.”

    On the inside: “That said — enough with the asshat routine, ok?”

  17. 17
    Julie says:

    All – sorry about the phrase. You’re right that it’s objectionable. I wrote that comment pretty quickly and didn’t really think about what I was saying.

  18. 18
    Mandolin says:

    Hi Nora–I do remember the incidents you’re describing. And actually, I had to end a friendship in college when a victim of horrible abuse started … god, it was weird… pantomiming her abuse with me, in a way? Where she would ask me to do something, then narratively set it up so I was the villain in her life, and then describe me to other people with explicit comparisons to her abuser, and then still try to act like my friend? I don’t know. It was weird. I was just like “hey, I care about you, but what you’re doing probably isn’t healthy for you and sure as fuck isn’t an okay thing to do to me.”

    So I get that the social dynamic can be fucked up. And that it’s related to white women’s tears in the reaction it evokes. I can see that it’s important to name and describe it as a derailing and unfair tactic and to come up with ways for unfairly targeted activists to deal with it.

    I just also think it might be inevitable… if it’s a common psychological step on the road for abuse victims to recover than it may just be something activists have to understand and work around, the same way we understand that being in a lot of pain makes people snappy and unable to listen carefully. It doesn’t make them right, but it’s–well, I see it as–one of those survival things, what did Twisty call it the other day, a state of emergency.

    Maybe I’m making a bad argument. In any case, I agree with you systemically that it exists and that naming, describing, and strategizing around it are good ideas. I’m just not sure that it’s a good idea to try to eliminate the phenomenon or expect it to go away since well, it seems like it might be correlated to recovering from abuse, and I give that a generally higher priority than internet arguments–if only because it will legitimately affect only a small sliver of the population for a reasonably limited amount of time, and thus shouldn’t be a major roadblock to social progress, particularly if activists develop narratives for recognizing and dealing with the situation.

    FWIW, I guess I have a triage approach to discussion in some ways. I feel the same way about unfair allegations of racism, sexism, disablism, whatever. Most allegations aren’t unfair, but some are. But even when they are unfair, generally the triage in the situation is to deal with the concerns of the people who are oppressed and right about that oppression in 95% of situations, not the people who are “falsely accused” in the other 5%. As a beneficiary of white supremacy, for instance, I think it’s basically my responsibility to deal with any and all allegations of racism that are accurate and even also to try to deal with grace with the 5% that may not be (although I will hardly be the best arbiter of that) because the circumstances of racism are the cause and my hurt feelings are not the most important thing in that context even if they are hurt “unfairly.” At least, I hope to have the grace to do that. I don’t think I’ve been really tested.

    Not that the circumstances here are unfair by any means. I just basically believe in triaging to make sure the most accutely injured people are taken care of first even when they’re on the wrong end of the argument, hopefully in a way that takes everyone’s needs into account. So if abuse victims have to be asshats for part of the time to recover, then that’s something I think it’s important to deal with, including by critiquing them, even if it’s frustrating or upsetting.

    And likewise, if feminists misidentify as situation as sexist when it really isn’t, I generally think dudes should carefully consider their points and act graceful in response. Or at least, not act insane.

    (Sorry for ableism in the post title; it’s old. It’s also a good example of what I mean by triage. I am a person with mental illness; I don’t find the word insane offensive. However, within that group I’m relatively privileged, and I think the triage ethos requires me to attempt to minimize my use of the madness metaphor, especially in political writing, because the people who are hurting more have identified it as something that is oppressive to them. I don’t agree particularly, but I judge my interest in maintaining the madness metaphor as a relatively privileged mentally ill person to be less important than the requests of less privileged mentally ill people for the vocabulary to change.)

    Sorry if I’m being off base, clueless, or a jerk. I hope I’m not minimizing anyone’s concern or oppression. It’s not my intent. If I am anyway, well, sometimes I suck. I am open to correction.

    I am also the child of an abuse victim, so, you know. YMMV.

  19. 19
    Mandolin says:

    Also for what relevance it has, my mother’s step-mother (one of her abusers) died after a long illness on Sunday so the whole messy, ambivalent, furious, depressing jumble of it is ready to mind right now.

  20. 20
    nojojojo says:

    Look, I don’t talk about things like this because I don’t want to use it as a weapon, but I’m the daughter of an abuse victim too. I get what you’re saying. But here’s the thing.

    The triage model you’re talking about? Privileges “acute” abuse victims (abuse survivors, friends and family, recovering abusers themselves if they’ve got some trauma, etc.) over “chronic” abuse victims (people who deal with racism every day, from microaggressions to the full-on overt stuff, including physical abuse). And I don’t think that works, because it comes right back to oppression olympics — whose pain should be given preference? Who’s “worse hurt”? Who gets to be treated more gently, even as they stomp all over others? Because as you point out, it’s a common psychological step… for people who’ve endured a lot of “-ist” bullshit to react with utter rage whenever it happens again. And that’s something abuse survivors are going to have to understand and work around.

    So I can’t see an easy way to prioritize one over the other. And I think it’s dangerous to try — because abuse victims don’t need to have that whole “hurt someone, get rewarded for it” dynamic reinforced in any part of daily life, in person or online. Neither do people who’ve endured systematic oppression.

    I think we might be saying the same thing here — that it’s always helpful to try and understand the other side’s feelings and where they come from. But really, sometimes, it’s unrealistic to expect that level of empathy from someone who’s already in pain. So all you can do in that case is address the problematic behavior, stop people from hurting each other, and step back ’til everybody calms the hell down.

  21. 21
    Chester Bogus says:

    I lived among a lot of British people and Australians (and an Irish person – never call them British, it pisses them off). And let me tell you: the outright bigotry that the English members of our community threw at me for having Welsh heritage was unlike ANYTHING I had ever experienced.

    The fact of the matter is that the Welsh language probably does face just as much prejudice and bigotry as any Asian language. And I mean this honestly, because I was utterly SHOCKED by how many insults came my way just for having a Welsh grandfather. It was unlike anything I had ever heard of. It wasn’t any kind of lame, American-style “reverse racism.” It was full-blown bigotry.

    Anyway, I don’t want to sound like I’m justifying what O’Brien said. She was wrong to mock the Thai language. But I want to direct my comments to THIS blog: the Welsh language is NOT an example of white privilege. When is the last time YOU’VE been called a “sheepfucker”? Even here in America, as a child I was consistently mocked whenever I shared my Welsh heritage. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me how nasty and weird my ancestral language sounds. I don’t think that that was white privilege.

    But, please, don’t see this as a defense of O’Brian. She was clearly being a jerk. Just…don’t make the same mistake she did by belittling the Welsh experience.

  22. 22
    Chester Bogus says:

    (I’m referring specifically to this: “White Privilege wins in one round! KO!”

    No, sorry. That’s not white privilege. So the word was made up? What does that prove? Nothing at all, considering the amount of hatred the English and even Americans sling at the Welsh language. If someone calls you “sheepfucker” for speaking a language, white privilege is not in operation.)

  23. 23
    Julie says:

    Chester, what you’re describing is exactly what makes O’Brien’s response to criticism so galling. It’s clear that she herself has never experienced any of the anti-Welsh bigotry that you’ve been subjected to, yet she uses an artificially long town name and the fact that she has relatives living in Wales to draw a direct parallel between her experience as a white American with that of an Asian American. Obviously white privilege operates differently (and can disappear) depending on where you are in the world, but I think it’s pretty clearly at work in this situation.

  24. 24
    nobody.really says:

    To follow up on Chster Bogus’s remarks, the Welsh have not generally enjoyed high esteem in British society. Recall George Bernard Shaw’s 1916 play Pygmalion (which was the basis for My Fair Lady), when the very British language professor Dr. Henry Higgins is interrogating Eliza Doolittle’s father:

    MR. DOOLITTLE ["most musical, most melancholy"] I’ll tell you, Governor, if you’ll only let me get a word in. I’m willing to tell you. I’m wanting to tell you. I’m waiting to tell you.

    DR. HIGGINS. Pickering: this chap has a certain natural gift of rhetoric. Observe the rhythm of his native woodnotes wild. “I’m willing to tell you: I’m wanting to tell you: I’m waiting to tell you.” Sentimental rhetoric! That’s the Welsh strain in him.

    It also accounts for his mendacity and dishonesty.

    It’s perhaps not a coincidence that in the Harry Potter books the lovable but oafish Hagrid speaks with a Welsh/West Country dialect.

  25. 25
    Julie says:

    Actually, Chester, did you read the “white privilege wins” round as direct commentary on the name of the railway station? Because it occurs to me that the distinction between the original post (which begins with that line) and my update may not be at all clear. I’m updating the post now.

  26. 26
    Chester Bogus says:

    Yeah, Julie – I should apologize – I noticed that line RIGHT after I posted, and I thought, “Wait, I don’t think the two are connected.” And I didn’t mean to sound accusatory – I know you’re not anti-Welsh or anything like that. Why would you be? Unless you’re English or Scottish, I don’t see what you would have against Wales at all. Americans really don’t care about it until they hear the language – then it’s all, “WTF is that noise?”

    Either way, I do think that sensitivity and manners can get so, so complicated; and when everyone comes out of the woodwork to say, “No, actually, what you said was offensive!” it just gets…messy. And then there’s always that one white guy that pops up and starts talking about “reverse racism,” and it just gets out of hand. And I don’t want to be “that guy,” but I just wanted to chime in and say, no, actually, the Welsh and the Welsh language aren’t part of the mainstream “privileged” white class.

    And, just to clarify, I’m not so obtuse as to think my Welshness negates my white privilege – I’m a white American, so, yeah. Also, everything else you said was 100% correct, and I really don’t mean to sound overly argumentative.

  27. 27
    Sam L. says:

    I think I read somewhere that there’s a rule of thumb where if it takes you more than a sentence to explain why you find something offensive, it’s probably not worth the social capital you lose by bringing it up. I think it had to do with game theory.

  28. 28
    Julie says:

    Chester, no need to apologize! I’ll make sure that future posts are clearer. And I’m glad to have a Welsh perspective in this discussion.

  29. 29
    Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Sam L., I think that rule has some truth in it, but matters are more complicated.

    How long it takes to explain why you’re offended isn’t independent of your audience. If you’re talking to people who are sympathetic to your take on the subject, then you can explain very quickly.

    If they aren’t sympathetic, then at best you’re in for a lot of work, and at worst, what you say will be dismissed and you will lose social capital (which I take to mean that you will be less likely to be heard in the future). However, if you’re willing to try to move the oOverton window of acceptable behavior, it might be worth your while to take the time and trouble.

  30. 30
    Chester Bogus says:

    Ah, I’m not even really offended. I understand the point, and I understand what’s being said in the blog here. I just have a personal attachment to Welshness and some bad experiences with English people.

    I just wanted to share another facet of the situation, give a different perspective. See, that’s what differentiates us from conservatives: we actually enjoy hearing a new perspective on a situation. We understand that there isn’t one, single objective truth to a situation. Liberals don’t live in a world of false dichotomies. That’s why it takes so much longer for us to explain why we’re offended: we have to express that we are taking into consideration factors X, Y, Z and M – BUT, my personal feeling on the matter is Q. However, I may feel Q, but I do overall agree that X is true.

    At a conservative blog, I would simply have been accused of white liberal guilt and self-loathing.

    (Edit: I just realized that my characterization of liberal vs. conservative blogs was a false dichotomy. In the interest of non-false dichotomies, I would add to the dichotomy of liberal vs. conservative a third option: at a surrealist blog, I would have been accused of secretly being a banana.)

  31. 31
    Mandolin says:

    Sorry. Nojojojo is right and I’m wrong. Another incident grinds it home for me:

    Again, you’re being manipulative and, yes, silencing. I literally just got off the phone with a feminist friend of mine (a woman); we were going through some of the comments here, at her suggestion, and she had to call a stop to it because the comments from you and others on your side in this debate BROUGHT MEMORIES OF UNPLEASANT AND ABUSIVE TREATMENT SHE ENDURED IN COLLEGE 20 fucking years ago.

  32. 32
    embergirl says:

    Americans really don’t care about it until they hear the language – then it’s all, “WTF is that noise?”

    I think that that attitude is very common among all white Anglophone peoples to any language other than English, not that I’m denying the specific anti-Welsh thing that exists (and it exists in more than just nasty words, but in British politicians seeming to not care about bad stuff happening if it happens in Wales and I say this as an English person. Sometimes I think MPs don’t realise that there is anything outside London, or even anything outside Westminster. But this rant is getting too off-topic.)

    and she had to call a stop to it because the comments from you and others on your side in this debate BROUGHT MEMORIES OF UNPLEASANT AND ABUSIVE TREATMENT SHE ENDURED IN COLLEGE 20 fucking years ago.

    That doesn’t mean they said anything bad. Things can be triggering without being wrong. I sometimes avoid discussing certain issues surrounding disability rights because I find them triggering – I went through a period of serious mental illness when I believed God wanted me to amputate by own legs because I didn’t deserve to be able to get into places which wheelchair users couldn’t. So some accessability discussions are not safe for me, but nobody is being manipulative and silencing by having them. If I say something wrong because of TAB privilege and someone calls me out on it and it reminds me of that very crappy time in my life, they are not doing anything wrong. I would do what David Futrelle’s friend did (wait to calm down? then do what I thought was correct under the circumstances, which would probably be a brief, sincere apology and a request to end the discussion immediately, rather than what David Futrelle seemed to be doing in that comment.

    Heck, I had a friend who got triggered into panic attacks every time she saw a tree because it reminded her of a place where she’d been attacked. Is there something manipulative and silencing about trees existing?

    Historically speaking, this sort of policing of language, and the demand that others retract statements determined to contain the “wrong” language comes out of the Maoism that infected large portions of the New Left

    That sentence makes me think of the words “our precious bodily fluids”, for some reason.

  33. 33
    Lis says:

    I had the exact same thought as Mandolin. I have an anxiety disorder with triggers and when I originally read Nojojojo’s comment and went “Hey, that’s not fair…” and then yesterday and today I saw the Feministe discussion and had to admit, no, that is a real thing that really happens. (I just kind of want to discuss it in the comments of an off-the-front-page post because I’m dreading any kind of thread where a group of people try to discuss it)

    The thing about legitimate triggers and trigger warnings is, they’re acknowledged to be an idiosyncratic reaction some people have due to certain experiences, not a widely culturally-accepted reflex. So a trigger warning lets a person with a trigger avoid that thing, while people who do not can merrily go ahead and read/watch/whatever. It’s not trying to get rid of the triggering thing, nor even saying it’s bad; it’s just saying some people might have an averse reaction to it.

    While privileged folk who accuse those who call them out of being abusive say that the behaviour itself is universally inappropriate. It’s not the reaction, it’s the content. It’s saying that tactic should never be used, not that someone got triggered and has to duck out of the discussion for a bit.