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Bill O’Reilly, Racial Slurs, My Wife and I

Recently, I was accused by a blog commenter of using a racial slur. Due to a pattern of misstating my meaning, I had said that he, “may need more ESL classes”. Others pointed out that I might be unaware this can be a racial slur. Mr. Z felt I must be aware of his ethnic background due to his screen name.  His screen name could be of Cajun or other native born American, South or Central American, Mexican, Spanish, Italian, French, French Canadian, origin, or he may have picked it because he liked it. I didn’t consider it anything other than a pseudonym.  The result was that I was “taken to the woodshed”, the debate was derailed, and I was told I should educate myself about possible slurs against Hispanics. This diary is the result of my “continuing education.” Here are a couple of other situations involving slurs and cultures/races.

If I was sensitive about slurs, my Dutch wife and I might not be married now. Why? Early in our relationship, we were parting for a few hours and she said, “Bye bye, schat.” The Dutch pronunciation of the word “schat” sounds, to an American ear, very much like “slut.” Was her comment insensitive? Of course not, she had no reason to connect the words in two different languages. Could it be taken as a slur? Sure, though clearly not a racial or ethnic one.

And then there’s Bill O’Reilly’s recent venture to the opposite end of the “Slur Spectrum”.  By now, we all know about his comments on lunch at Sylvia’s in New York City and how amazed he was the black patrons weren’t yelling for more m-fing tea.  I must wonder whether his remarks were truly made in ignorance or if he was just doing what shock-jocks do.  For this discussion, let’s assume he’s ignorant (not hard to do).

These three examples illustrate medium, low and high on the “Slur Spectrum.” Each one is, at its root, caused by ignorance. For these purposes, there is little point in discussing intentional slurs. We all know those are hateful and there is little we can do about those who indulge in them. But, the examples do raise a few questions.

  1. Is there a meaningful difference between a racial, an ethnic, and a personal slur?
  2. When is ignorance of a slur acceptable, if ever?
  3. How does one learn what potential slurs exist?

Benign Neglect vs. Strict Control

A little Context

There has been a lot of talk on Political Fleshfeast (PFF) about bannings and the rules/enforcement here at Docudharma. Buhdy, joined in this diary and was besieged. As you can imagine, the comments got pretty harsh. If you can’t handle harsh criticism of this site, I suggest you don’t follow the link.

Personally, I have fond feelings for this site, as many of you are people whose DKos writings I appreciated. I have also come to enjoy the … er … free-for-all at Political Fleshfeast. The depth of difference in administrative approach of these two sites is immense, to say the least.

I do not write this from malice, but from the viewpoint of a well-intended outsider. Some of the Docudharma disciplinary warnings quoted at PFF sounded … almost theocratic. Control of expression by contributors must allow a wide breadth of dissent, else full discourse is impossible.

At PFF, the startup was horrendous in that the posing, name-calling and general crap-spewing between lefties and righties was uncontrolled. Since, the level of discourse has improved (you only have to duck now and then) and a few very unlikely truces have been declared. That has come about without a single banning that anyone knows of.

I do not wish to get into a finger-pointing contest, nor will I. Your comments are invited, though I may or may not participate. Honestly, I write this only because I feel it needs to be said, not for any other purpose.

So, I wrote a comment to Buhdy. I’d like you to read it.