Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Don't speak

Here's something that bugs me:

A while back, the best poli blogger on the Internet got his ass into a little bit of hot water with most of the rest of the left wing. How did he do it? Simple. He posted this picture as a criticism of a prominent journalist's tendency to toady up to those in power:


Prominent liberal blogger (and godmother to this blog's predecessor) Elayne Riggs seems to speak for nearly all of white liberal American when she says:

My general rule is, if you Photoshop blackface or a burqa or whatever and people on "your side" protest, if your initial reaction to that protest is to be knee-jerk defensive about it instead of apologizing and/or explaining your reasoning, then you probably shouldn't be doing it.

In the comment threads, after I said something or other about Billmon should be free to express himself, especially using valid examples out of our mutual history, she amplifies:

As a fan of Billmon's writing, I'd have given him far more slack if he hadn't been so knee-jerk defensive. As with Jane Hamsher, the dismissive reaction he showed to legitimate concerns from non-white bloggers (who are marginalized enough by the liberal blogosphere, witness the flap over the Clinton lunch) turned me off far more than the original blackfacing.

One of her readers also chimes in:

I think I'm just going to keep repeating this until it sinks in or I fall over from exhaustion: Blackface is the n-word in pictorial form. If you wouldn't throw around the n-word in public, you shouldn't throw around blackface on the internets. Period.

There are few talking heads I find more repellent than Blitzer, but is painting him as a house n***** the only avenue of attack a writer as gifted as Billmon could come up with?

And yes, his defensive reaction (which doesn't address the voices of people of color at all, even while linking to Wampum) says plenty.


Here's what bothers me about this: it's the clear and distinct connotation that 'nigger', and anything that anyone points at and says "that's the equivalent of using the word 'nigger' ", is simply and straight up a forbidden word. A forbidden expression. Regardless of context, regardless of anything -- if you are not of discernible African descent (but especially if you are discernibly Caucasian), you are simply not allowed to use that word, at all.

It's not that you'll be attacked. We all attack people who annoy us, and those of us who have been annoying our entire lives learn to live with being attacked for it. I myself called one particular blogger I don't even know a retard a few entries down this page, simply because this blogger apparently thinks fantasies about poisoning kids are funny.

But at no point did I state, or, as far as I can see, even remotely imply, that this blogger shouldn't write any damn thing he (or, maybe, she) wants to. He/she exercised his/her freedom of speech, I exercised mine. That's how it's supposed to work.

I have no objection to people giving Billmon shit because he posted something that offends them. I've given him some shit in the past for using insinuations of homosexuality to insult those whose political views he doesn't like. That just bugged me. The days when we use 'gay' or 'faggot' or 'cocksucker' as an insult really ought to be waning in America... or in any other place that calls itself 'civil'.

But, again, I had no expectation that, as a matter of absolute civil necessity, Billmon was required to impose self censorship on himself at all times in regard to what offended me. He wants to express homophobic sentiments in public, well, he can. I don't like it, I'll say something about it. Again, that's how it's supposed to work.

But, again, that's not what happens when someone discernibly non-black uses the word 'nigger' in any context -- or makes any reference whatsoever to any kind of stereotype that someone can point to as 'the fill-in-the-blank equivalent to nigger'. Then, the overwhelming consensus seems to be, you simply aren't allowed to do that. Ever. We will not simply vocalize our offense, we will do it in a way that is calculated to make sure you never dare to repeat the offense, ever.

This is not the way it's supposed to be. This is, actually, pretty frickin' repressive.

Here's something cool I found while I was surfing the net the other day. It's from an obscure little philosophical tract published in the 18th Century that few if any contemporary Americans have ever read:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The 'points of people of color' -- or of any people -- lose all meaning to me, when those points come with a clear desire to abridge my -- or Billmon's -- or anyone's -- freedom of speech.

Here endeth the lesson.

2 Comments:

At 1:15 PM, Blogger Elayne said...

Actually, I speak for very little of white liberal America. I mostly speak for me. Occasionally for my husband, but I always run those quotes by him first. But in the political blogosphere there are far more liberals who think blackface is okay than those of us who don't.

It's not that "nigger" is forbidden. It's that it's a racist term, and anyone who feels they need to resort to racist words and illustrations to make their points probably isn't thinking things through. Billmon obviously went to a lot of trouble to Photoshop that image, without thinking of all the folks who WEREN'T HIS TARGETS that he might offend, and that's probably why he was so defensive when he was called on it.

I'm glad we agree that "I have no objection to people giving Billmon shit because he posted something that offends them." That's all that people were doing. Blackface is rarely if ever an appropriate means of expression, and just because you're allowed to do something doesn't mean you ought to follow through on that impulse, especially if there's a better way of making your point without pissing off your friends.

 
At 4:19 PM, Blogger Handsome said...

I'm not going to keep reiterating my points, which I feel I've made quite eloquently. Your voice seems representative of several of the blogs I've seen that have attacked Billmon for his choice of analogies.

And, if you really don't think 'nigger'is a verboten word to anyone not of African descent... well, never mind. You're a very intelligent and very well read person; you know better.

People giving Billmon shit for offending them is not all that's going on here. It's much more repressive than that... ah, but there I go again, reiterating.

I don't expect to convince anyone who obviously thinks 'freedom of speech' ceases to exist at the point where it offends someone. I think that's a pity, but, well, I know what I'm up against here. Nonetheless, it cannot be stated often enough -- to be offended is not at all the same as to be damaged or in any way hurt. People need to take some responsibility for which clusters of consonants and vowels they choose to allow to bruise their delicate feelings. To take offense is a volitional act. Suck it up. If the guys at Sadly No can call everyone anywhere to the right of them retarded (and they can) without offending the PC Police, Billmon can put Wolf Blizter in blackface. People need to get over themselves.

 

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