A letter from 1943 about hypersensitive black people:
We feel you may be inviting trouble if you use colored characters in the comic at this time. Experience has shown us that we have to be awfully careful about any comics in which Negroes appear. The Association for the Advancement of Colored People protests every time they see anything which they consider ridicules the Negro no matter how faintly. For example, [George] Swanson did a little drawing showing a Negro baseball team breaking up to chase a chicken across the diamond. As a result, papers in cities like Pittsburgh and Chicago were threatened with a boycott by local Negro organizations. Of course, they are hypersensitive, but the sensitivity has, as you know, become more acute than ever with race troubles growing out of the war. The two Negroes you drew are no more caricatured than some of the whites in your comic, but they are caricatured just enough to give some colored brother the chance to accuse Roy Crane of lampooning his race. I know you don’t want that. Please don’t think we are being censorious, Roy. I am simply giving you the picture as we know it to be.
Note how the arguments that try to minimize racism have stayed basically the same? This comment, with a few adjustments, wouldn’t be out of place if it was written about any of the current frontiers in social activism.
No, I’m not particularly offended by the word “idiot” or even the word “crazy.” But maybe disability activists have a better idea about
what’s offensive to people with disabilities than I do how the disability movement should address ableism than I do.* After all, they spend way more time talking and thinking about it than I do. They’ve spent more time with the research. They’ve spent more time considering the realities.
Certainly, the black people who protested had a much better idea about what was racist than the dude who wrote that letter.
(I may post more about this later.)
*Changed to make my intended meaning more clear.
Don’t be silly, mandolin. It is incumbent on the white man in his infinite wisdom to instruct the poor, the black men, and those silly women on what discrimination looks like. “Those people” simply can’t be trusted to know what’s best for them, because obviously they’re lacking in the very qualities that make white men the masters of the universe.
** qualities like being born with white privilege, male privilege, economic privilege, etc. ad nauseum….
Mandolin and Maureen,
Do you think it’s ok when white people are made fun of in caricatures for reasons that have nothing to do with white privilege, but with stereotypes ? For example, if they’re shown to be bad dancers, or bad at playing basketball.
If you think my question is off-topic, I apologize.
Why don’t those examples have anything to do with privilege? They’re a direct outgrowth of racist stereotypes of black people.
It is pretty off-topic, though.
I’m confused, Mandolin, are you saying you agree with the disability activists who say that “idiot” is ablist, or that you disagree, or that you’re not sure yet if you agree, or that you have no opinion on the subject, or what?
The correction to the crossed-out bit articulates something I feel so well. As a PWD I’m not offended by the term “idiot”, and I wouldn’t call it out myself–but I think calling out that kind of language is part of the work that needs to be done in fighting institutional attitudes about ability that oppress PWD.
I say it’s their call, not mine.
Thanks, Lis. I’m in the same situation.
I have a friend who has been a special education teacher. She worked with kids who are profoundly mentally disabled. You are well advised not to use the words “idiot” or “retarded” around her. She finds them very offensive.
It’s a combination of irony and tragedy that a couple of years ago she was hit by a car while on a pedestrian crosswalk. Physically she’s O.K., but she sustained a traumatic brain injury. She can no longer either sing or dance (and she sang at our wedding), she doesn’t understand or use humor well, she says things that are inappropriate at times, etc. She’s still her, if you will, and a lot of fun to be around, but her personality has changed and she’s not what she used to be. My wife and I just spent 4 days with her and her husband in Boston. She hasn’t gone back to work. She still has hopes of doing so, but it’s not looking good. Too bad, she was tremendously gifted.
One of the pearl-clutching remarks I saw was that now people are debating whether the word stupid is ablist, mass calamity!
I work with teenagers with cognitive problems. Who may pass for abled to casual observation, but whose IQs are in the 60s. And when you use it around them, “stupid” is a profoundly ablist word, that says that because they aren’t smart, they’re less worthy as people.
And no, that doesn’t mean that when I say that going in my car to get takeout dowwntown was a stupid idea, I’m being horrible and I hate people with disabilities. It’s a hard and complicated issue, but it’s worth at least questioning. What offended me about the Feministe thread was the absolute dismissal of that kind of discussion as harmful and unproductive.
There is a ‘where the rubber meets the road’ quality to things here, though, and we (the moderators/posters) are trying to figure out which words we’d like to avoid in our posts on Alas. Obviously, “idiot,” and, “dumb,” sure … those have a history as medical diagnoses, but should we avoid, “stupid?” How about, “hairbrained?”
Is there a way to say, “this wasn’t a smart idea,” (in reference, say, to the Republican budget proposal) without marginalizing people with cognitive impairments, or should we avoid any intellect-based comments altogether?
I’m not asking for answers from you personally, just saying that we’re trying to figure out specifically whether we want to avoid saying things like, “going in my car to get takeout downtown was a stupid idea.”
Partial solution: if we’re talking about an idea that we’d normally describe as “stupid”, instead describe more specifically what’s wrong with it. An idea might be self-contradictory, short-sighted, ignorant, mis-designed, broken, inapplicable or inappropriate, unrealistic, or just plain bad, without having to be “stupid”.
Being oversensitive is an accusation made by those who are insensitive, and cannot tolerate any display of concern or empathy for another who is different, for it reminds the insensitive person of the abilities they no longer have.
When you call someone “stupid”, you don’t actually mean that they have a low IQ, you mean that they did something wrong, or they’re stubborn or obtuse, or narrow-minded.It’s an accusation.That’s why it’s different when you call “stupid” someone who has a mental handicap, because it seems like you’re being pointlessly hostile to them and they didn’t deserve it.
Whenever ANY debate regarding this kind of thing comes up — be it sexism, racism, gender-bias, etc. — the downside to our modern reality is that there tends to be very little moderation in the name of good sense.
It’s a dreadful tightrope to try and walk. We’re supposed to recognize the gross, negligent biases and prejudices “practiced” by Caucasians at every little turn or perception, “practiced” by men at every little turn; but in no way are we ever supposed to get the notion that anyone else non-Caucasian or non-Male is capable of getting carried away — after all, “they, as the oppressed, should know the situation better than anyone doing the oppressing”, right?
The result is that we want to grab that social pendulum and “justly” shove it so hard that it doesn’t continue on any slow descent to middle ground, it returns to perigee.
It does no good for me to admit, point out or otherwise attempt to discuss that there are still things which need to be done in the pursuit of an idealistic form of overall equity, whether with regard to sexism, racism, what have you. It does no good because it always seems to be an ALL-OR-NOTHING venture: If you do not agree completely with us, then you are blatantly against us.
If I agree with whatever is said with regard to how white males have wronged others, I’m “enlightened”. If I disagree with anything at all, I’m still a racist, sexist bigot/chauvinist/what have you.
Sorry to put it so blatantly but *I* didn’t do any of that shit and I’m not about to shoulder White Guilt or Male Guilt. ALL I plan to do is raise my son to be tolerant, observant, as kind as I can teach him to be, compassionate, forgiving without being stupid about it, etc.
Some people have very GOOD reason to be sensitive, they really do; and some people, like it or not, ARE oversensitive. The real difference between those two seems to boil down to whether we agree with them or not.
Kudos, Stefan; that’s it in a nutshell.
Urban Sasquatch, the term empathy means to take into consideration how your words or actions might make someone else feel. When you are sensitive to the feelings of others, you will find no need to call others oversensitive, because you will understand their reasons for having those sensitivities.
It all comes down to a matter of perspective. I feel that if you are open minded and willing to understand other’s views, you’ll find that oversensitivity does not exsist. It appears that the term oversensitive, is used by those who for whatever reason, are intimidated by the thought that considering others feeling, may mean they have to change or investigate their own behavior.
Jackie, as a non-native speaker, I am shocked and humiliated by your casual disregard of English grammar and orthography. Secure in your privilege, you casually leave your typos in your posts. Clearly you consider yourself above constructing the possessives of plurals in accordance with the existing rules.
Those of us who have had to learn English as a second, or in my case, fourth language, cannot afford this – we have to always double and triple check our posts. I should not have to remind you how often, historically, the lack of English proficiency has been used as proof of foreigners’ low IQ. This is doubly a problem for me, who as a Black man, has been repeatedly told ‘your e-mails are so clear!’ as if I am somehow expected to communicate in grunts and roars.
I wish I could make you realize that when you fail to reread and correct your posts, you are rubbing your privilege in people’s faces. I’m often mortified when I notice a mistake in a post of mine, especially when the edit period has already expired… I can hardly bear the knowledge that some insensitive jerk will use it to reinforce his belief that all black foreigners are dumber that him. You, of course, hardly have to worry about this – as an American female, everyone will assume that you just did not bother fixing your post.
I am not blaming you for this. After all, you did not create the society we live in. I just wanted to make you aware of how some people feel when they read the posts in which you exercise your privilege.
Well, now, wait a minute. I’m a native speaker and writer of English, and I make errors, especially spelling errors, all the time. (I might be mildly dyslexic.) If it weren’t for spell-check most of my posts might be unintelligible.
Does this mean that I’m a privileged jerk? Well, maybe I am, but I don’t think that that can be established on the mere basis that I’m a poor speller.
Ah, but you say, what about spell-check? Well, what about it? Some of us are stealing time here from the things we ought to be doing (personally I’m supposed to be scaring up an appraiser for a huge collection of little toy trains), and we don’t notice, don’t have time for, whatever, to get everything right.
Your critique is doubly unfair because at bottom Jackie agrees with your position.
“When you call something “gay,” you don’t actually mean that it is homosexual, you mean that it’s gross, or wrong, or unfashionable. It’s an accusation.”
“When you call someone a “cunt,” you don’t actually mean that their entire body is a female genital, you mean that they’re shrill, mean, and unpleasant. It’s an accusation.”
Susan, Sebastian is providing an example of hypersensitivity. And you’re providing an example of why subtlety often fails on the Internet. ;)
Too subtle for me, Robert. Probably because I’m dyslexic. ;)