Thursday, September 29, 2011

Oh you don't get it? Allow me to explain...

Saw this over at Clarissa's place (which is chiming in on something from Womanist Musings) today and just had to chime in.
I can’t tell you how many times I tried to stop people from referring to Ukrainians with a certain offensive term only to have the offender tell me, “Oh, I know someone who is Ukrainian and she is perfectly fine with me calling her that.”
Those people are missing one vital detail when they use that defense for calling someone something they find offensive.

She points out the specific example of someone using this argument where the "someone" is actually their cleaning lady. I'm betting this person used some variation of the "But I don't get it!" excuse when using that word towards people who are offended by it.

For just a moment here I'm going to suspend mention of the employer/employee relationship in this explanation. That's not to say that it doesn't matter at all mind you. What I want to get at is an all encompassing reason why the "Oh, I know someone..." defense does not work. As in even if this cleaning lady is genuinely okay with it (and its not outside the realm of possibility that she might be) despite the employer/employee relationship it would not fly.

What the offender person does not get is that groups of people are not a monolith. One member of a group may not care about the use of a word that is generally offensive to their group while another may care very much. When that person is using it towards their cleaning lady that cleaning lady may truly not care about the use of it. However once the offending person goes on to use it against a different person its not the same. Let me share something with you.

One of my best friends from college is Indian. Despite him not being black there have been times where between ourselves he has called me nigga. Now like I say this man is one of my best friends and our relationship is close enough that I don't mind him using, we even had a conversation on this. However I made damn sure that while it might be cool with me there's a high chance using it with other black people will result in getting his ass kicked. And why is that? Because he doesn't have that same level of friendship with other black people that he has with me and said other black people would be justified in wanting to deliver said ass whipping. But I have to admit that its not one sided since I have called him a terrorist before.

The difference is the person they are talking to.

That cleaning lady might be fine with the use of that word but that cleaning lady is not Clarissa and Clarissa is not that cleaning lady. To leap from "she's fine with me using around her" to "its fine to use it with any Ukrainians" is to cast Ukranians as a monolith and that's not fair. We could be talking about the difference between that cleaning lady simply not caring and Clarissa having a racist experience with that word (but even if she doesn't she is still well within her right to declare that none shall use that word towards or around her).

I'm even willing to bet that people who do this think they are colorblind.


Clarissa said...

Thank you, Danny! These are all great observations. I will include this post in my link encyclopedia so that people can see these ideas developed.

Danny said...

Anytime Clarrisa.