If you've missed the huge conversation/imbroglio on LJ right now, [livejournal.com profile] rydra_wong has an excellent compilation of links.

In that but also in similar conversations and imbroglios in the past, online, offline, and in print, I have noticed several catch-phrases which invariably offend. Sometimes they seem to be used with that intent. I also realize that people may hear a phrase and repeat it without realizing its connotations and that it will make people go supernova.

For instance, I did not realize until this election cycle that the word "articulate," which sounds complimentary, has a history of being used as a descriptor for African-American men to imply, among other insulting things, that it's shocking and amazing that they can articulate words at all. So it's not a good word to describe how impressed you are with Barack Obama's excellent speech-making skills.

Personally, I would rather know about that sort of thing than not know. If I am going to insult someone, I want to do it on purpose rather than accidentally. So here are some specific phrases which, once you've finished reading this post, you will know are insulting, whether always or in certain contexts.

Note: I am not attempting to speak for people of color (POC), but only for myself, a white woman. Please feel free to let me know if there's anything in here you'd like to correct because, seriously? I'd rather know than continue in ignorance.

Also, please note that I did not originate any of this. Everything I'm pointing out was pointed out to me or in my presence, generally by people of color. The only reason I'm not citing is because I've heard it so many times, including offline, that I can't recall specific instances.

Rhetoric of D00M

1. The invocation of strangely-colored people.

For example: "Who cares whether the author is white, black, or purple?"

People seem to say this partly as a science fictional joke, and partly to emphasize just how much they don't care about race. The latter is such a huge topic that I won't get into it here, except to provide this link to the beautiful essay Reappropriating My Man, and to say that if you understand why it is not complimentary for a man to say to a woman, "I don't think of you as a woman!" you can probably understand why white people should not tell people of color that they, the white people, don't see or care about race.

The invocation of purple, blue, green, or other alien people is offensive for many reasons, including but not limited to the fact that it's completely trivializing, turns a serious and painful topic into a joke, and compares people of color to fictional aliens.

Do not invoke purple people in this context unless you are deliberately trying to be offensive.

2. "Damned if you do, damned if you don't."

Please please please please retire this phrase!

It comes up frequently to express the false dichotomy that if white writers never write about characters of color, POC will criticize them for exclusion, and if white writers do write about them, POC will criticize them for getting the characters wrong.

A better way to phrase the feeling of frustration at being unable to get an advance guarantee of never being criticized by POC is this: "No writer is immune from criticism."

Because really, that's all that it means. No one can issue that advance guarantee. Even writers of color can't get it, and are themselves criticized for either the lack of characters of color or for inaccurate or offensive representations of characters of color all the time. Why should white writers be treated differently?

"Damned if you do, damned if you don't" does nothing but suggest that you are seeking a free pass to which no one is entitled or can receive, and are ignorant of the situation of writers of color. Don't use it unless you are deliberately trying to offend.

3. Assorted phrases with ugly contextual connotations.

I cannot even begin to make a list here of the words which may be fine when used in neutral contexts (ie, you will offend no one by calling your cat greedy), but have terrible connotations when used in discussions of various -isms and applied to certain people. So I'll just give a sampling.

"Shrill, strident, and screaming" are sexist stereotypes. "Greedy, pushy, and demanding" are anti-Semitic stereotypes. "Over-sensitive, irrational, and stupid" are racist stereotypes.

The use of any of those words, along with many others, as applied to the people those stereotypes are still applied to, will make everyone who knows about the stereotypes spontaneously combust, and with perfect justification. Don't use them in discussions of the various -isms or applied to the stereotyped groups or individuals unless you deliberately intend to offend.

The idea is to think three times before you post on a massively sensitive topic, and to include the thought of, "Does what I'm going to say here have horrible connotations in this context?" If it does... say something else!

Comments locked down to avoid ugly brawls which I don't have time to police. My email is on my user info if you're dying to comment.

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