Buzzwords & “Ism” Claims

If it is one thing that is certain it is that when someone does something there is a possibility another person will take that action and try to turn it into something that the action wasn’t intended to be. Terms such as, “micro-aggression” have been coined for just such an occasion. Why? Because something like, “passive-aggressive” doesn’t cut it. That type of term sounds less impacting and so to fit the mold of supposedly dangerous these micro-aggressions are some people have to invent such a term.

What does it matter? Not much at first but sometimes even a simple joke not intended to hurt anyone can become such an inflammatory statement or at least that is how some will perceive such a joke to the point where people have lost jobs, credibility and have even been threatened. We will get into the examples later on but first we need to explore what some have referred to as the generation that was offended by everything.

What exactly is a micro-aggression by dictionary definition? Well the definitions can be scattered but there was a good source that was tracked down for a decent definition.

Dictionary.com

noun

1. a subtle but offensive comment or action directed at a minority or other non-dominant group that is often unintentional or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype: microaggressions such as “I don’t see you as black.”
2. the use of such subtle but offensive comments or actions: The diversity committee discussed the issue of microaggression toward women on campus.”

Now that definition is pretty consistent across the board with many other sources. However, notice how vague it is. Then again, the vagueness wouldn’t be the primary issue of contention to some. Notice, for a moment, the example given in the definition about a black person. “I don’t see you as black.” In what world is that any type of aggression? Why was there was no context given? What if the person saying this was just doing so to explain that they saw this person as human and to them color didn’t matter? What is the problem with that exactly?

Then again let us look no further than the second part of micro-aggression as a word and look up the definition of what aggression is.

Merriam-Webster

Definition of Aggression

: angry or violent behavior or feelings

: hostile action against another country, government, etc.

In other words the very term of micro-aggression is “problematic” because even the word aggression doesn’t really fit here. After all if someone is micro on the scale of their aggression they would be angry or violent, right? If someone says to another person, “I don’t see you as black” does that inherently prove that they are angry or violent by making that statement or even in the wording of that statement? Of course not. But by these terms being coined and thrown at people like candy pouring from a pinata sometimes the people making such claims of micro-aggressions or “isms” don’t stop to think about what they are saying or suggesting.

The second part of that definition certainly poses a serious problem. It isn’t aggression, at least by definition, to say something that wasn’t even intended to be offensive. If someone were to be aggressive to, let’s say, a woman they would probably say something like along the lines of getting back in the kitchen or women are not smart. That is aggression towards women. Telling a woman that she is really strong is not a micro-aggression because as there are physically weak women there are also physically weak men. If someone were to say to this woman, “wow, you’re strong for a girl” that could be reasonably interpreted as offensive because someone is targeting that person’s gender in that statement and seem to be implying a broad statement. Even then that wouldn’t necessarily demonstrate a definitive example of violent or hostile behavior.

Of course there are some statements that many would call offensive. The use of racial slurs or insensitive language in general can easily be labeled with some sort of “ism” or another. However when something said or an action taken isn’t normally attributed to being insulting that is where the problem comes from. Is it legitimate to say that someone wearing a certain Halloween costume is inherently wrong? Of course conventional wisdom appears to demand that no such thing is possible. But in this culture if one were to indulge even in their own culture problems can still occur. Certainly an oversensitive culture couldn’t exist and even if it did it wouldn’t be so out of control that someone’s own culture couldn’t be on display at Halloween, right?

Wrong.

MRC TV

“Joshua Sewerynek, a ninth grade student at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School, planned to dress up as part of a mariachi band with his friends. The school, however, stated the Colombian student’s costume is “very offensive” and would not be allowed because “culture is not a costume.” “

Surely this student just doesn’t realize that he could be insulting someone, right? Well, who does he plan on insulting? Himself?

” “Although mariachi didn’t begin in Colombia, it has become a huge part of their culture. Every year my grandfather still hires a mariachi band to play for his birthday, because he had such fond memories of them when he was back in Bogota,” Sewerynek explained to MRCTV.”

Could you, just for a second, imagine the reaction if a black person who wanted to dress up in traditional African cloth for Halloween or even just for daily dress being told something similar? Could you imagine the fire storm that would create? Someone really has their work cut out for them to explain this rather bizarre behavior.

Those “isms” are thrown around so much to the point where a term with that last part attached have been popping up like those hard plastic moles from whack-a-mole. Sizism, ableism, transsexism, and so many isms to the point where much of what some people deem as mildly or even non-offensive behavior is now an ism of some sort. Except unlike a game of whack-a-mole no matter how hard someone intellectually tries to use a hammer to smash down the notions the moles keep popping up. The more concerning portion of this to many people is the idea that these isms can be thrown at practically anyone.

Take D.L. Hughley for example. It isn’t a secret that many comedians like Mr. Hughley have been the targets of criticism for quite some time. Mr. Hughley defended his friend Tracy Morgan who made a joke about gay people that almost cost Mr. Morgan his job at the time. D.L. Hughley made quite an interesting statement in his book entitled, “I Want You to Shut the F&$K Up.” Yes, quite a title but the content is much more interesting.

New York Daily News

“As a comic, I say incendiary stuff all the time. I have the right to tell a s—– joke or to be offensive, and I refuse to take away a right that I enjoy from someone else. I’ve defended Tracy Morgan and I’ve defended Rush Limbaugh. Going back further, I defended John Rocker in “The Original Kings of Comedy.” I am consistent. But when I defended Don Imus, s— hit the fan.

Imus had called the Rutgers women’s basketball team a bunch of “nappy-headed hos.” They weren’t hos, but they sure were nappy-headed. I defy a sister to play basketball for four quarters and keep a perm. You start out looking like Halle Berry, and by that fourth quarter it’s Ben Wallace. But America wasn’t interested in hearing any more jokes. A women’s college basketball team had been insulted! Our country was in crisis! A joke? Women’s basketball? Those terms should never appear together!

My defense of Don Imus was as follows: I thought that what he said was hurtful; I thought it was malicious; I thought it was a bad joke on a slow news week. I wasn’t defending Don Imus the person. I was defending his right to say something dumb. If Americans have earned no other right, it’s the right to say something dumb.

I’ve been asked, “How would you like it if your daughters got called that?” My reply: “My daughters would know what they were and what they weren’t. I didn’t prepare them for the world that I wished existed; I prepared them for the world that I believed did exist. I always told them, it’s never what you’re called, it’s what you answer to.” Is it more prudent to prepare your children for real life, or for a made-up fantasy world where everything is great and people love each other and respect each other? If I’m wrong, even better. I’ve prepared them for a bad scenario that will never come. It’s a good thing if you have a fire drill but no fires. That’s just insurance.

But few were hearing what I was saying. I had to argue with Al Sharpton about it. Everybody was angry and no one would talk to me. It was the first time I’d ever had any kind of interaction with the black community where I wasn’t their darling. Yet it never occurred to me that saying what I believed would draw this kind of ire. Steve Harvey wouldn’t let me on his show, because he said black women were mad at me. I could see why. He plays specifically to that audience, and he wasn’t about to have it jeopardized.”

Those like D.L. Hughley appear to support free speech. Not once in that statement or any other statement does he appear to inherently support violence. However he does support someone’s right to say what they want to say. He said it best in one of his comedy specials entitled, “Refresh” when he said, “Freedom of speech. You either believe in it or you don’t.” That is his position. Yet even with that position D.L. Hughley has been called a person who hates his own race, an “Uncle Tom”, an ableist, a sexist and all sorts of other labels.

When you consider that D.L. Hughley even had a gay person in his family who was afraid to tell him for fear of Mr. Hughley’s jokes and routines D.L. assured this person who happened to be his own nephew that he would have love for that nephew unconditionally. Not to mention that Mr. Hughley, in a comedy showing he called, “Clear” appeared to defend gay marriage and even criticizes those who would go beyond a joke to criticize gay people. He said in that show, “60% of black people who identify as Christian are opposed to gay marriage but 70% of black children are born out of wedlock so let he who is among us without sin wear the first condom.” It would appear that Mr. Hughley was addressing some of the hatred of gay people that appeared to be coming out of the black community because as he said before if a white person were to do the same that person could be labeled as a racist for lecturing black people.

How far has this micro-aggression kind of talk gone? We won’t even delve into all the firings done in the name of not offending people. We won’t even go into all the times people have been called all sorts of names for being supposedly offensive. We won’t even get into how some people had their personal information thrown out to the internet wolves for being offensive such as a woman who made an AIDs joke concerning Africa and was fired from her job before her plane even made it to the African continent. We won’t discuss how a brilliant scientist who made one of the best scientific achievements in human history was brought to tears for the wearing of a shirt that supposedly objectified women even though the shirt was made for that scientist by a woman. What we will discuss is some of the backlash this oversensitive culture has produced.

Tina Fey is both the latest victim of some internet hate mobs but also one of the latest, by the date of this article, to speak out against explaining jokes or even being punished for a joke. What Tina was referring to was apparently a culture where something is being viewed as offensive to some people and there are dogmatic and often aggressive demands for apologies.

The Mediaite

“We did an Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt episode and the internet was in a whirlwind, calling it “racist,” but my new goal is not to explain jokes. I feel like we put so much effort into writing and crafting everything, they need to speak for themselves. There’s a real culture of demanding apologies, and I’m opting out of that.”

Think she is the only person who is getting a little tired of all of this? Think again. There is a whole list of people who are tired of things being labeled with some sort of “ism” and being branded as some sort of micro-aggression.

The Mediaite

“Bill Maher ended his show tonight with a rant against “self-righteous liberal busybodies” trying to scold everyone for politically incorrect Halloween costumes. “Stop lecturing us,” he said, “on what Halloween costumes are insensitive and inappropriate.” “

Some may ask, “well what exactly is the purpose of labeling things as offensive?” The answer to that question isn’t certain. Some may truly find something but others may just be looking for a way to be offended, be ridiculous as possible and find a way to be a victim without that victimhood even making much logical sense. The simple truth is that what one person may find offensive another may find funny, feel indifferent towards or not even care about entirely. Should we now change all language and all actions, even something like Halloween costumes which has never proven to cause someone to internally combust, to not offend anyone? What if the people shouting that something is offensive does something that is, well, offensive? Of course that is where we get the claims that certain racial identities cannot be racist, certain genders cannot be sexist and we get that same sort of rhetoric for many social groups and identities for a whole host of issues.

A question should be posed to those who want to label even the most unintentionally “offensive” words and deeds to be micro-aggressions or some sort of “ism.” The question is rather simple. “What is your end game?” What is it that you want? Language to change? People to change? Well no matter how offended you are, no matter how you want to change language or people you will almost never accomplish your goal because common sense and reality demand that you be wrong.

Sources:

MRC TV

D.L. Hughley’s “Refresh”

The Mediaite (Tina Fey)

The Mediaite (Bill Maher)

New York Daily News

Dictionary.com (Micro-Aggression Definition)

Merriam-Webster (Definition of Aggression)

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