Being Offensive To Show How Offensive Offensiveness Is

// 21 September 2010

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DSC_2777ed1 The Press Complaints Commission has upheld Clare Balding’s complaint after AA Gill in the Sunday Times referred to her as a ‘dyke on a bike’.

This is really good news.

Balding said the word “dyke” was “too often used as a pejorative and insulting term”. She said her sexuality was irrelevant to the programme and the hurt had been compounded by the columnist’s mock apology for previously saying that she looked “like a big lesbian”.

As you might expect, Stonewall has released a press release on the judgement, however it has used offensive and racist language in that press release to make its point. stonewallpr.jpg

Using racist language, to highlight how bad homophobic language is, is never the way forward. Holly’s post on Oppression Olympics explains this clearly, and insulting Meera Syal and Vanessa Feltz’s ethnicities is as offensive as the original AA Gill comment. Doing this in the guise of supporting a decision against offensive language is ridiculous.

I don’t want to directly quote the language they used, but the screenshot above of the press release will show you what they said. The ‘P’ word in particular is one which makes me feel sick. Using it as an example of what The Sunday Times would never have said is misguided at best, and I do wonder what Ben Summerskill was thinking when he thought this was appropriate.

There is an option to comment on the page of Stonewall’s press release, and if you too find these references unwise and offensive, I would recommend you do so.

Story originally heard through @becksydee. Photo by me.

(cross-posted at incurable hippie blog)

Comments From You

J. // Posted 21 September 2010 at 11:00 am

This is just hideous! I think the use of the word “fat” is just as bad as the use of racist language. It makes the whole thing look like little more than an excuse to insult the bodies of those two women. Disgusting.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 21 September 2010 at 11:04 am

I agree. While some people, me included, have reclaimed that word, in this case it has clearly been used as an insult, which makes it *not ok*.

Dissapointed_dyke! // Posted 21 September 2010 at 11:10 am

While I fully respect SW’s intentions in supporting Clare Baldings complaint against AA Gill, I was extremely disappointed to see them use similar dergatory language in it’s press release. While I expect SW thought they were making your point through witty comparisons, in fact they were tarring themselves with the same brush as AA Gill. What have Vanessa Feltz or Meera Syal done to deserve being dragged into this and insulted in this way? I would suggest that SW would have done better to assume the moral highground and not resort to name calling of it’s own- with or without the ‘inverted commas’ this is offensive and unnecessary. They would also do well to remember that those of us that identify as gay may also be identified as jewish or south aisian and therefore not impressed by racist language in any of its forms!

Jennifer Drew // Posted 21 September 2010 at 11:37 am

I have written to Stonewall holding them fully responsible for promoting male-centric misogynistic language. I have no doubt Stonewall would not engage in sexually insulting language if the case had involved a male not a female being libelled.

Confirms yet again that only men are human whereas women are apparently non-human – hence the now common sexualised insults emanating from males. And no the issue is not about whether or not a woman is a lesbian but the fact she is female not male – which according to Stonewall makes her a suitable target for male contempt and ridicule.

sianushka // Posted 21 September 2010 at 11:56 am

well said, nothing is ever achieved by saying these horrible words, in wahtever context. a very silly and offensive way to make a very serious and necessary point about how any offensive language with a loaded history is not appropriate or acceptable in society.

periwinkle // Posted 21 September 2010 at 12:04 pm

Hmmm. Reading the post, I couldn’t disagree with Phillipa; Stonewall’s hypothetical comparisons seemed unwarranted and crude. But then I recalled reading Tanya Gold decrying sexist abuse of Harriet Harman by saying “It is the equivalent of calling Peter Mandelson ‘a [offensive term edited out by moderator]’ or denouncing Trevor Phillips with the ‘n’ word”, and finding that perfectly apposite and legitimate. What do we think?

Hazel // Posted 21 September 2010 at 12:10 pm

I saw Ben Summerskill’s comments on the day of the ruling and was dismayed.

The next time I saw Vanessa Feltz on TV, guess what phrase came into my head – something I wouldn’t have thought before – gee, thanks Ben.

angercanbepower // Posted 21 September 2010 at 1:29 pm

Also re stonewall, today at the Lib Dem conference they once again refused to say they are in favour of full equal marriage rights for gay couples.

Stonewall’s compromises have left them so watered down I’m surprised they’re not being recommended by homeopaths.

Aron Embleton // Posted 21 September 2010 at 1:34 pm

I couldn’t disagree more or think this more absurd.

These comparisons are absolutely wonderful ways to show up how homophobic or sexist certain comments are, because society is far more clued up and sensitive to racism than to homophobia or sexism.

To say that it is racist to use a racial analogy to highlight another form of bigotry, such as homophobia, beggars belief.

How about a BBC undercover expose of racism in the army, would such an expose be barred from actually exposing the racism because to describe the form it took, such as the language involved, would be racist?!

If offensive words are being used not to deliver the offensive meaning but to attack or criticise that offensive meaning, or else to attack and criticise other bigotry through helpful analogy, then they are not acting as offensive words, neither are they neutral, rather, they are acting to positively undermine and destroy bigotry.

If this bizarre idea were to take hold in the popular imagination, then it would massively hinder the fight against bigotry, not to mention bring deserved ridicule upon those who propound it, and therefore by association inevitably though undeservedly on the cause they belong to.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 21 September 2010 at 1:55 pm

Note to all commenters: If your comment includes an offensive term, whether to make a point or not, it will either not be published at all or it will be cut. Please do not use any abusive or offensive language in your comments, whether it’s to make a point or not. Thanks.

angercanbepower // Posted 21 September 2010 at 2:00 pm

Aron, I agree with you that it can be instructive to use offensive language, but Stonewall’s use of it in this case is just inappropriate. The argument was already won – the PCC had upheld the complaint. The press release should simply have welcomed the news, not reignited the debate by throwing around inflammatory terms simply for effect.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 21 September 2010 at 2:21 pm

perhaps if the article had not referred to specific individuals as these terms it would make a comparison without insulting people directly, but yeah i feel like some effort should be made to not trivialise the racism that still exists in doing so.

cim // Posted 21 September 2010 at 2:45 pm

Aron: “because society is far more clued up and sensitive to racism than to homophobia or sexism.”

It’s really not. Quantitatively, both the original homophobic slur, and the racial slur that Stonewall used as an example, were both found to be “less socially acceptable” in Ofcom’s survey of language usage, even in a largely-privileged sample.

More generally, homophobia is different to racism, and the ways in which people are discriminated against are different, but you can’t conclude that just because one manifestation of racism is dealt with marginally differently than its parallel in homophobia that racism is generally taken more seriously in this country.

In the reverse, the fact that there’s a severe pay and employment gap between straight black men and straight white men, and there isn’t as large a gap between gay white men and straight white men, is not proof that society takes homophobia more seriously than racism. Nor would “you wouldn’t pay gay people less” be a good argument for ending the racial pay gap even if in individual cases it happened to be true that employer X was acting in a way that was racist but not homophobic.

There’s also an extremely clear difference, I think, between reporting on what actually has been said (as in your undercover expose example, or as the original blog post does), and using words for their shock value in a discussion of something else.

Elena // Posted 21 September 2010 at 3:01 pm

I do notice that no comments have appeared on the Stonewall site yet. I have commented and asked them not to use hate speech. I’m sick of this sort of comparison, it’s facile and unhelpful.

Legible Susan // Posted 21 September 2010 at 4:51 pm

It’s odd, that comment form specifies what will be published, but I can’t see any comments on that page – or several others I looked at. I thought they were censoring the comments because they were all critical, but maybe they don’t publish comments at all, in which case, why do have the link? (I should have kept a copy of my comment…)

marie // Posted 21 September 2010 at 5:26 pm

Cim i could not agree more.

Aron Embleton // Posted 21 September 2010 at 9:20 pm

The fact that society is more sensitive to racism than sexism or homophobia is too manifest to require argument, the media is dripping with examples of sexism and homophobia the racial equivalents of which would be literally unthinkable, look at big brother for example, how the racism was dealt with on there, all over the media etc, but sexist equivalents and far worse instances of sexism occur on there constantly without a mention.

The words aren’t used for ‘shock value’ they’re used for explanatory value, and to link here with the previous point, they only have that explanatory value because people are more sensitive to racism, if they weren’t, then racial equivalents wouldn’t function to elucidate what the problem with x statement or incident is, but would instead elicit the same blank stare/ regurgitation of cliched apologetics.

The meaning of words is governed by their use, they don’t hold unchaning meaning in and of themselves, that is a total and basic misunderstanding of the working of language and as such is embarrassing to see given a platform and support by what until now i considered a serious and respectable feminist site.

Legible Susan // Posted 21 September 2010 at 10:25 pm

@Aron,

You’re wrong. “Society” is not “more sensitive to racism than sexism or homophobia”. People’s reactions to different oppressions depend on their experiences. I can look at US society and see that it’s drenched in racism; I’m sure it is here too; I just don’t notice so often because I’ve been soaking in it all my life – just like any other form of privilege. People pay lip-service to anti-racism when egregiously blatant racist incidents occur and somebody kicks up a fuss; that doesn’t mean racism isn’t a problem, just that it works differently from gendered oppressions. All oppressions are connected, but they are all different.

Kath // Posted 21 September 2010 at 11:11 pm

Philippa – totally up to you if you want to remove the offensive words, but people are not using them to ‘make a point’. They are reporting what has been said, as you did in your OP. It makes no difference whether you post a screenshot or retype the words yourself.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 21 September 2010 at 11:14 pm

Kath, at least one commenter was, and I removed that part of their comment. Just because it didn’t come through to the post does not mean it hasn’t been an issue.

Aron Embleton // Posted 22 September 2010 at 1:21 am

Naturally all oppressions are different and connected etc, but if you’re denying that the media is saturated with extreme forms of sexism and homophobia, the racial equivalents of which no producer would dream of airing, then you’re living in a different society.

The instance from which this discussion sprang is a case in point, look at the response to the comment aa gill made, sure, the complaint against it has been upheld, but imagine if aa gill had made the racial equivalent comments suggested by the Stonewall Chief Executive, let’s be honest, there would have been nationwide uproar, the guy would have been outcast from decent society. That has simply not happened in this case. Unless we face reality as it stands, undisguised and undistorted by ideological dogmas or preconceptions, we handicap our ability to deal with it.

Aron Embletons // Posted 22 September 2010 at 1:55 am

Also, as Kath said- It makes no difference if you post a screenshot or retype the words yourself, so how come one is permitted where the other is not?

It is surely nonsensical to say ‘I don’t want to directly quote the language they used’ but provide a screenshot- either the information shouldn’t be shown or it should be, if you think it would be bad to show it, then don’t show it! Putting it up in a different way, but a way in which there is no difference to the actual substance that is supposedly bad to show, the words, is just bizarre.

It’s like saying, ‘I don’t want to directly show you this shocking photo, but I have provided a photo of the photo’.

cim // Posted 22 September 2010 at 8:30 am

Here we go – one earlier case where someone calls a co-worker a racial slur (the same one as above, incidentally).

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/8290733.stm

One non-apology later they keep their job and no further action is taken, and they have others (Forsyth, for instance) lining up to defend them and minimise their actions.

If the difference between a racist slur and a homophobic slur is that you need a non-apology for the former, you’ll excuse me if I don’t think that’s significant.

Josie // Posted 22 September 2010 at 11:23 am

I, like Aron, can understand why Stonewall used racist language to highlight the offensiveness of the original story. However, I think it’s a real shame that they had to mention two people’s names in their example who have nothing to do with this story – this was unfair and unnecessary.

I also agree with Aron that racism is deemed to be much more serious than sexism by society. The Big Brother race row issue vs horrendous misogynistic bullying of Jodie Marsh in celeb BB is a good example of this.

I remember Bidisha writing about racism v sexism recently, where she gave the example of being called a ‘slag’ by a stranger while walking down the street. When she related this story to people, no-one found it comment-worthy, let alone horribly offensive. She wrote that if someone had called her an offensive name relating to her skin colour, rather than her gender, those same people would have been (rightly) horrified by the story. Of course racism still exists, but it would appear that it is taken more seriously than homophobia, which in turn is taken more seriously than misogyny

Aron Embleton // Posted 22 September 2010 at 12:24 pm

Cim, your example proves my point perfectly. Leaving aside the fact that what we are comparing is a relatively weak response to racism with a relatively strong response to homophobia, the former is still by far the stronger response, in more ways than the one you have yourself conceded.

Just to take a couple of examples- the debate following AA Gills’ comments did not centre around the question of whether or not he ought to be sacked, but, more than anything else, over whether or not it was even offensive at all, or whether Ms Balding was just being over sensitive bla bla bla.

Look at the editor’s response to Ms Balding’s first complaint, and now, in contrast, to the fact that at no point did or would anyone dream of denying that calling someone a ‘p***’ was racist/ unacceptable.

In fact, why not look at this blog itself! Where Ms Willetts ‘doesn’t want to directly quote the language they used’ eg ‘P***’- yet is happy to quote the word ‘D***’, and how the f-word likewise has censored the use of the P word, yet did not censor Ms Willet’s use of the D word.

Which sanction I’m not relying on in my own case hence my having censored my own use of the D word.

Aron Embleton // Posted 22 September 2010 at 12:54 pm

But the central point here is not simply that Ms Willetts article is based on a mistake.

Because Mr Summerskill didn’t insult Meera Syal and Vanessa Feltz’s ethnicities- he pointed out that such insults would be totally unacceptable, in order to demonstrate that to consider the homophobic equivalent of such insults any less unacceptable is a case of double standards, and more generally, indicative of the distance yet to travel in terms of raising society’s consciousness of homophobia.

Just as Ms Balding’s own use of the D word wasn’t offensive. Because she was using it in the context of explaining that it was unacceptable.

Nola // Posted 22 September 2010 at 1:46 pm

Josie, totally agree with you!

gadgetgal // Posted 22 September 2010 at 9:38 pm

I agree with Josie about the use of names in the statement – that was the thing that made me think “hang on, this is pretty horrible to say” not the slurs themselves. Weird, I know, but as a couple of people above have said the terms they used were used for explanatory purposes to illustrate how bad what Gill said actually was, whereas the names of the other people were totally unnecessary, and just insulting. And as far as whether or not society is more sensitive to racism or homophobia, all I can say is when anyone I know has ever used an anti-semitic term around me I’ve had the look of horror and then the apology when they realise I’m there, whereas I get the homophobic/sexist crap all the time with no clue as to why that’s as bad. Doesn’t make people any less racist than it does homophobic, it just means that they’re more aware that those terms are unacceptable. I don’t think the statement was actually made for anyone who already realises that homophobic insults are bad and wrong, it was made for people who aren’t aware of it. I have an actual example of this from today – some of the same people I know who still think that what AA Gill said was funny also refused to do business with a man who used the n word when insulting someone, and it took me pointing out that the d word for a lot of people is just as bad for them to even notice the double standard. Genuinely, not a clue…

Jeff // Posted 23 September 2010 at 10:12 am

I think that in this particular case, people are right to be annoyed at Stonewall for their use of offensive language, despite its intention not being to offend. I think the clincher is the association of those words with specific people, who may well be offended by that association whether it was intended or not.

In general, however, I think that banning the use of certain words completely is actually a little childish. It’s having these words directed at you or people like you than offends, and I think most people who would be targets of sexist/racial/homophobic slurs would not object to their use in a descriptive format (I.E. “Don’t use *this word* to describe anyone, ever). And I think it’s daft that I have to say *this word*, at risk of this not being published!

Philippa Willitts // Posted 23 September 2010 at 10:15 am

Aron, I did question whether to use the word d*** but as a lesbian I at least felt some kind of ownership over the word. As a white person, there was no way I could justify writing the P*** word.

cim // Posted 23 September 2010 at 10:43 am

Aron: “to the fact that at no point did or would anyone dream of denying that calling someone a ‘p***’ was racist/ unacceptable.”

Well, except for the people who did exactly that. This sounds to me very much like “whether or not it was even offensive at all, or whether [people were] just being over sensitive” – from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/8297488.stm

“Speaking on Wednesday, Forsyth told Talksport that, in the past, the “slip up” would have been treated in a more light-hearted way.

“You go back 25, 30, 40 years and there has always been a bit of humour about the whole thing.”

“Americans used to call us ‘limeys’ which doesn’t sound very nice, but we used to laugh about it. Everybody has a nickname,” Forysth told Talksport.”

[…]

(later, when failing to apologise for his earlier comments above)

“However, there is a major difference between this and racist comments which are malicious in intent and whilst I accept that we live in a world of extraordinary political correctness, we should keep things in perspective.”

Josie // Posted 23 September 2010 at 11:29 am

Jeff, I agree – as part of a discussion about offensive language we should be able to use the words in question, where they are being merely quoted rather than aimed at anyone.

periwinkle // Posted 23 September 2010 at 11:33 am

So, are we also condemning Tanya Gold for saying that sexist abuse of Harriet Harman “is the equivalent of calling Peter Mandelson a *homophobic insult*”, for rhetorical effect?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/aug/08/harriet-harman-rod-liddle-spectator

Aron Embleton // Posted 23 September 2010 at 1:21 pm

You’re quite right Cim, Forsyth did say that, but again, that proves my point.

Because it wasn’t only one antiquated racist saying that it was a case of over sensitivity and lacking a sense of humour, it was entertained by the whole media.

None of whom were reprimanded, faced a loss of general public esteem, or were forced to make an immediate u-turn and apology as Forsyth was: “Nor do I in any way excuse or condone the use of such language. To be absolutely clear, the use of racially offensive language is never either funny or acceptable”

Like you say, this was then qualified and thereby very much undermined by his adding the comments which you quote in your post.

But in response to this the BBC disowned him, saying “Bruce was expressing his own opinion which does not reflect that of the BBC. Racially offensive language in the workplace is entirely unacceptable”

Furthermore various media personalities came out strongly against these further comments. Whereas like I said, the entire media were entertaining the homophobic equivalent without any of the above, it all flew below public opinion’s homophobia radar, whereas as the Forsyth saga demonstrated above, it does not fly below public opinion’s racism radar, ergo, public consciousness of racism is significantly higher than their consciousness of homophobia.

And just to mention again- this is comparing a relatively strong reaction to homophobia with a relatively weak reaction to racism. We needn’t cast our minds back very far to recall Jade Goody’s deserved pariahship, or Carol Thatcher’s likewise deserved sacking.

Aron Embleton // Posted 23 September 2010 at 1:38 pm

@ Phillipa

Which brings us into the contextual nature of meaning.

Which is precisely what you ignore in taking Summerskill’s explanatory usage of a word to be an insulting usage of it.

To address your contextual defence specifically, I don’t think it stands, in that the ownership you’re talking about justifies use via reclamation, that is, for your ‘ownership’ defence to stand your usage would have to be reclamatory.

Whereas your usage was not that, your usage was the same as Summerskill’s, ie explanatory, and therefore your justification is inapplicable.

That isn’t to say that your usage was wrong, I don’t think it was, my whole position in this discussion being exactly that explanatory usage isn’t offensive, what I’m saying is simply that your position is not only mistaken, but hypocritical.

Also, though this isn’t related to you unless you are the editor, the censorship by the f-word of p but not of d is not justified by your defence, whether it stands or not.

cim // Posted 23 September 2010 at 1:57 pm

Aron: “ergo, public consciousness of racism is significantly higher than their consciousness of homophobia.”

You’ve not proved that at all. You’ve shown that public tolerance for obvious racist epithets is lower than tolerance for obvious homophobic epithets. I don’t doubt that’s true, though I have and will continue to dispute “significantly”, though – the difference is nowhere near large enough to matter, and other than the big-2 racist epithets, I’m not sure it’s even true then either.

Other forms of racism are considered far more acceptable than the parallel forms of homophobia, so it’s hardly that there’s a general public disapproval of racism that there isn’t for homophobia. (It wasn’t, for instance, a racist article – of which there are many in print – that got the highest ever number of PCC complaints recently)

Philippa Willitts // Posted 23 September 2010 at 2:19 pm

Aron, it is me who is moderating the comments on this thread, so I am making decisions on what I consider to be unacceptable. There is no blanket F Word position on publication or not of certain offensive words.

Aron Embleton // Posted 23 September 2010 at 2:47 pm

@Phillippa

Well then! You can’t tell people: “do not use any abusive or offensive language in your comments, whether it’s to make a point or not” whilst at the same time allowing yourself to use the D word!

Your usage was explanatory, not reclamatory, therefore if your explanatory usage was ok so must others be, because the nature of the justification afforded by ownership of offensive language, ownership in the sense of your belonging to said oppressed group, doesn’t extend to any and every usage, but to reclamatory usage.

For example, you would not be justified in calling someone a homophobic term just because you are homosexual, if your usage of that homophobic term was homophobic, rather than reclamatory or explanatory etc.

Aron Embleton // Posted 23 September 2010 at 3:07 pm

@ Cim

I’m open to and interested in knowing what forms of racism you think are considered more acceptable than their homophobic equivalents, so could you provide an example.

Regards what I’ve proven, it’s a higher consciousness in relation to the examples we were talking about, and as those examples were media-wide phenomena, they prove the general attitude in the media, in turn this says a certain amount about general public opinion, though obviously it doesn’t provide an accurate reflection of public opinion because the media is predominantly made up of only one particular strata of society, and is furthermore beholden to various extraneous interests.

But it seems to me that you’d have to be awfully stubbornly committed to an ideological dogma to blinker out the staggering difference in public consciousness towards racism as oppossed to homophobia or sexism.

Take the S word used to defame and abuse women who have sex ‘too much’, ‘too often’, ‘too openly’, or who wear ‘too little’ etc, that is as misogynist as the n word is racist, yet how many people use it? 99% Something like that?

And take the common usage of the word ‘Gay’ to mean rubbish, or similarly phrases like ‘Don’t be such a girl’ to mean don’t be cowardly etc. Would anyone in our society dream of saying ‘That’s so black’ to mean ‘That’s so rubbish’, or ‘Don’t be such a black person’ to mean don’t be X negative thing? I mean it just wouldn’t happen, or, to stick to the facts- it just doesn’t happen.

Kristin // Posted 23 September 2010 at 4:37 pm

Aron Embleton, a white South African friend (I should say ex-friend now) once said to me, ‘Oh, don’t be such a n-n!’ I too didn’t believe people said things like that, until I heard it. But they do. Fact.

And, by the way, don’t you think you’ve commented MORE than enough on this thread?! Philippa, I don’t envy you your task as moderator.

cim // Posted 23 September 2010 at 4:44 pm

Well, pay gaps is an example I gave above – the sexuality pay gap exists but isn’t very large; the gender pay gap exists, is substantial and gets discussed widely; the racial pay gap, exists, is even bigger than the gender one for some racial groups, and gets mentioned considerably less.

Looking directly at “things people say in the media”, it’s entirely acceptable to say that our current program for asylum seekers of arresting them, detaining them in occasionally lethal and generally unpleasant conditions, failing to provide adequate legal representation for them, and sending them back to their deaths, is *not tough enough*, and be praised by most of the media. Suggestions that LGB people (except LGB asylum seekers, of course) should be treated in a similar way are extremely rare because they would be massively condemned and even the people who believe it know that (which is a definite advance on a few decades back, of course, when that would have been fine).

Police stop and search powers are used very disproportionately by race, but not in general by sexuality.

I’m not saying that racism, sexism and homophobia are equally severe in their effects (that would imply that they all moved in some bizarre lock-step). I’m saying that the aggregate effect is unmeasurable (beyond “severe, sometimes fatal” for all of them) and wouldn’t mean much even if you could measure it.

Going back to Stonewall, their analogy only makes sense if in fact people in general would use those slurs – replace the racial slurs with slurs based on eye colour, for instance, or even with an obsolete 16th century racial slur; something that *really* no-one would use – and their argument just looks strange. Their argument that “You wouldn’t do that because it would be unacceptably racist” only makes sense if there are in fact still a lot of people who would consider it “acceptable”, which means it doesn’t make any sense at all.

Would anyone in our society dream of saying ‘That’s so black’ to mean ‘That’s so rubbish’

Perhaps not, but there are anti-Roma and anti-traveller slurs that are generally considered acceptable to use just like that, and the extremely common comparisons to the “third world” essentially do say “that’s so black” with just a tiny fraction more subtlety.

Aron Embleton // Posted 23 September 2010 at 6:20 pm

@ Kristen

Leaving aside the fact that South African society is not comparable for obvious reasons, there are naturally going to be individual instances of extremists and therefore extreme behaviour, but ‘Gay’ as rubbish, and ‘Girl’ as coward/ weak are not freak incidents, they are commonplace.

Regards the amount of comments I’ve made, no-one is impeded from commenting by my comments, and if people address comments directly to me then I will respond to them, that is after all what a discussion consists of, and it is through discussion that ideas and attitudes are developed and changed, which all seems healthy and positive to me. If you don’t want to get involved you don’t have to, if you do you can, what is the problem?

Aron Embleton // Posted 23 September 2010 at 7:04 pm

@ Cim

Pay gaps are more complex in relation to ethicities in the sense of cultures because there are internal cultural forces bearing on success as well as external ones, eg racial discrimination against them by wider society.

Furthermore, I’m not sure about your claims regarding the racial pay gap being larger than the gender pay gap so I’d appreciate some specific info/ sources as as far as I was aware the racial pay gap, at least in relation to Black Caribean women vs White British women had switched in 2008, with BC women earning on average 6% more than their white female counterparts (though obviously as usual these stats need to be taken in complicating contexts, such as more BC’s living in London where wages are higher etc)

But let’s grant that you’re correct which you may well be generally speaking, in which case I’m glad to learn as much and qualify my position accordingly, ie to the claim that consciousness of racism is higher with regard to language and overt discrimination.

Attitudes towards asylum seekers/ immigrants are terrible and easily comparable to if not in excess of the discrimination, hypocrisy and invisibility suffered by women and homosexuals, however though attitudes toward Asylum Seekers are obviously related to attitudes toward ethnic minorities, they are nevertheless distinct, as most succinctly highlighted by the close conformity of Black, Asian and White British attitudes towards immigration.

Regards police stop and search powers, the police obviously have to be able to clearly identify the subjects of their bigotry if they are to discriminate against them, and gay people aren’t necessarily as easily distinguishable from appearances, if at all.

Stonewall’s analogy relies on some people still being racist/ racism still being a problem and therefore there still being a high consciousness of it as a bad thing to be condemned- yes- so since that situation (ie racism still being a problem) does exist, why exactly doesn’t Stonewall’s analogy make sense??

Please provide an example of an anti-traveller slur being used in the media without condemnation.

Comparisons to the ‘Third World’ are not a fraction removed from people saying ‘That’s black’, they are entirely different. Comparisons to the Third World refer to economic, technological and political underdevelopment, not to race.

Just as refering to something as ‘mediaeval’ doesn’t imply any inferiority of race, but likewise of economic, techonological and politcal development.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 23 September 2010 at 8:55 pm

dont read much professional public media, but a lot of people use the term pikey to refer to both irish travelers and ‘chavs’ both in direct reference to the people and also as an insult, and worryingly, as a way of associating stereotypical negative behaviour promoted by the media with them. i saw on my facebook someone saying they had ‘pikied’ an item, to replace the word steal.

soobrickay // Posted 24 September 2010 at 1:29 am

apologies for lack of interaction in this comment – i only want to thank the original poster for highlighting a serious issue.

i had perhaps, until now, forgotten how real and pervasive intersectionality really is.

soobrickay // Posted 24 September 2010 at 1:51 am

ok, having read through the comments properly, there’re two points i’d like to make

(1) angercanbepower has already effectively summarised the sensible position from the debate when e said “it can be instructive to use offensive language, but Stonewall’s use of it in this case is just inappropriate. The argument was already won”. On my reading, this was clearly the position of the OP, and, in fact, is the position that Aron and cim are working towards. gradus ad parnassum

(2) what the hell is going on with the ridiculous amount of (self-)censorship on this forum? none of us will manage to reach where we are *all* trying to go to whilst we still have to stumble using ridiculous forms like “d***”. please, please, can we not be grown-up enough to recognise the difference between using and mentioning? moreover, sentiments such as “don’t you think you’ve commented MORE than enough on this thread?!” when directed at a good-faith poster are simply unhelpful

Jacqueline // Posted 24 September 2010 at 3:39 pm

When someone clearly doesn’t realise or care that they’ve commented ‘more than enough’, I’d call it good faith to point that out to them! Albeit more gently than Kristin did.

Philippa, I like your post and am glad you have written about this.

Mary // Posted 24 September 2010 at 6:40 pm

So, are we also condemning Tanya Gold for saying that sexist abuse of Harriet Harman “is the equivalent of calling Peter Mandelson a *homophobic insult*”, for rhetorical effect?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/aug/08/harriet-harman-rod-liddle-spectator

I certainly was. It was a horrible comment.

Julie // Posted 24 September 2010 at 8:41 pm

It is true that society is saturated in layers of casual sexism. And that some people have more difficulty recognising a sexist remark is offensive, than a racist remark. However it does not mean that racism is taken more seriously than sexism. What it means is that sexist viewpoints are often not about straightforward feelings of hatred, they are often complicated by feelings of desire, i.e. straight sexist men will see women as unequal but they also want them. This means that many people can often say ‘don’t get so het up, he is just paying you a compliment.’ This is NOT to justify it. A man just saying ‘hello’ would be a much better way to chat a woman up as he would be relating to her as a human being not an object. We must also be aware that just because some racist words are seen by the great majority in society as being unnacceptable like the ‘n-word’ for black people or the ‘p-word’ for south asians, does not mean that their aren’t lots of other racist terms being used regularly to insult particular ethnic/religious groups. Just look at the huge swathe of islamophobia against muslims, and the often made racist terms against refugees Roma/travelling communities.

zohra // Posted 26 September 2010 at 11:48 am

Wowee, what a thread.

On the question of censorship and the analytically interesting suggestion that there is a marked (and therefore possibly defensable) difference between reclamatory and explanatory uses of offensive terms/hate language: context is everything, including who is in the room.

Since we don’t all know each other or where each other are coming from, I would argue that it’s not cool to use hate speech/offensive language in this thread, even for explanatory reasons, unless you are (one is) part of the group resisting that term (i.e. could use it as reclamatory).

I disagree that the post was not being reclamatory. The whole point of reclaiming language is that you (one) can use offensive language for explanatory purposes, and in using such language in an everyday way, you are (one is) reclaiming it.

Re the situation in particular that the post is commenting on, of course it is offensive to:

a) use a racial slur in a press release about a homophobic slur when you are Stonewall (and will be picked up by the media therefore)

b) use sexist language as well

c) link the slurs and be mysogynistic to actual people

I mean, it’s just rude! I wonder how Meera Syal is feeling and whether someone asked her permission to use her as a target for hate speech (for ‘illustrative’ purposes) before the release went out.

For those who think using a word like p*** (respect for the rules of this thread, though I’d be legit in using it reclamatorily) to explain something in this thread is cool, please don’t. I’d find it offensive ’cause I don’t know you all and can’t trust that you know what you’re doing with the word.

SEA // Posted 16 April 2011 at 2:57 pm

Since this article is about PC and offensive remarks that I feel the need to comment. I am a member of a few forums, mainly craft related and comment on news articles also. While reading the posts and comments of these I see that people who group themselves into like minded groups speak of those not in their “group” with increasing rudeness, insensitivity, blanket name calling, labeling, deragatory and defaming etc. etc.

I am stating that for my own self that none of the above is warranted in any situation or for any group to use against ANY other group.

Saying this I must point out that the majority of these posts deal with comments, names, and labels that those who are not in the or not favorable of those living a homosexual lifestyle give and say. And I agree, these labels and names are unacceptable to say for basic respect, consideration and courtesy. YET, I see, words used to describe in return, “the other side” that are EQUALLY OFFENSIVE to use against them. Specifically, homophobic or any other “phobic” words and the like.

If it is wrong for those against the gay lifestyle to use deragatory names then it is EQUALLY WRONG for the gay community to use deragatory words and names to describe those who do not or appear to do not agree with them.

I would defend ANY person who was being called ANY names, no matter their lifestyle, or the names being called or whether I may or may not agree with them or their beliefs. I am not talking about being PC, it is about giving basic respect and consideration to A PERSON.

I find the word HOMOPHOBIC and others like it to be EXTREMELY OFFENSIVE just as I do any words to describe a person living in the homosexual lifestyl JUST AS OFFENSIVE.

It seems thought that those who use this term do not have the sesitivity to understand this and while they themselves expect “the other side” to be sensitive of THEIR FEELINGS, they do not think it necessary to think of others the same way. WHY NOT?

The word HOMOPHOBIC does make “an attack” on me personally, because it is used as a deragatory label. So I submit to those using this name/label, if you do not want others to use offensive names and labels, then you yourself do not need to use them against others.

How can you expect others to be sensitive about your feelings when you are not willing to return the favor? Or is consideration and basic respect only for those in “your group” who think like you? Sticks and stones do hurt and so do names! That’s true for ANYONE, no matter their beliefs.

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