Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Hilary as the PUA of Presidential Politics

I've been trying to come up with a good metaphor for how, well, insistent Hillary supporters are in the lead up to the Democratic primaries. When challenged, Hillary and her supporters seem less angry in the way anyone is angry when challenged on something important to them, but more annoyed that anyone dare interrupt the coronation. It would not be hard at all to imagine Hillary or one of her supporters explaining "You need me, America! Your guilty conscience may force you to vote for Bernie, but deep down inside you secretly long for Hillary to lower taxes, brutalize criminals, and rule you like a king! That's why I'm running -- to protect you from yourselves!"

For a long while their behavior both in real life and online has reminded me of something I couldn't put my finger on, but this morning it came to me:

Clinton supporters are like a horny teenager trying to pressure his girlfriend into sex.

It's the only other group of people I can think of that have the same singular persistence on a goal and who treat any obstacle to their goal as not only a horrible affront, but as basically unthinkable behavior. After all, they want this so much. How could anyone else not want it? Not to mention how quickly their courting turns into rejection when it's clear that you're not going to be swayed. It's virtually the exact same logic:

HRC: Come on, vote for me. Vote Hillary. You know you want to.
Democratic voters: I don't know, I don't think it's such a good idea.
HRC: Oh, come on, it'll feel great. I know you, and I know you want this.
DV: Well, I've been thinking about it, and I think Bernie's better for me.
HRC: What? That loser? He can't satisfy you like I can. Come on, let's do it.
DV: I don't know...
HRC: Come on -- everyone's doing it. You don't want to be the one loser not doing it, do you?
DV: I don't know. I care about racial and economic justice and keeping the US out of disastrous illegal foreign wars.
HRC: Oh yeah, I totally believe all that, too. Didn't you see the copy of Infinite Jest I have sitting on my desk? I totally get all that deep stuff and, like, think about it all the time.
DV: But didn't you support so-called welfare "reform," DOMA, the disastrous criminal justice measures of the 90s that lead to the US having the world's largest prison population, the horrible shame that is the war on Iraq...
HRC: But that was then. I totally get why that stuff was not cool and I've already apologized! WHY DO YOU KEEP BRINGING THAT UP IF I'VE ALREADY SAID I'M SORRY?!?
DV: Well, I just don't feel comfortable with someone who believes those things.
HRC: I don't believe those things anymore! I believe what you believe!
DV: Yeah, but Bernie's always believed what I believe, instead of just conveniently believing it now that lots of other people do.
HRC: Ok, but what about the Supreme Court?
DV: Yeah, that's important.
HRC: So you get it! We better hook up before that becomes an issue!
DV: Well, that's one important issue, but that seems like an awfully thin premise for such an important decision.
HRC: Yeah, but I can handle all those other things because I'm the most popular.
DV: Sure, you're pretty popular, but I don't see what that has to do with evaluating you as a person.
HRC: WHAT?!? THAT'S THE ONLY THING! You'll never get a chance to be with someone so popular again!
DV: But I'm not concerned about how popular you are, I'm concerned about whether you're the right person or not.
HRC: GOD! Why do you have to be so frigid?!? I've put in all these years as Secretary of State. Why the fuck were you letting me do that if you weren't going to put out?!?
DV: I thought you actually wanted to be Secretary of State. I didn't know that you serving in that capacity meant I had apparently agreed to this.
HRC: UGH! You knew what the deal was! Why are you making this so hard instead of just giving it up like I know you want to?!?
DV: Sorry, I think I'm going to go with Bernie instead.
HRC: FINE! Fuck you, you crazy bitch! I didn't even want you in the first place! There's plenty of people that want me! I don't need you!!!!!

Scene.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Police Murder: Probably Not As Accidental As Advertised

In case you missed, an officer from the St. Paul PD has made some waves with his face book post detailing how to murder Black Lives Matter demonstrators:



It's hardly shocking that a police officer would be so racist (though being so stupid as to do it so publicly is mildly surprising), but what's really disturbing about this is not that a police officer is advocating attempted murder of innocent people (because that shit happens all the time). No what's disgusting about this is how clearly Roth outlines how to do it -- not only the exact pattern of behavior to follow, but the script to employ to get out of it (remember: in America it's official state policy that if you're scared a Black person, you can murder them). This is a script that's been proven to work, as it formed the basis of the criminal defense of Zimmerman, Wilson, and multiple others. Especially chilling is the way he (accurately!) notes few juries are going to find fault with an upstanding white person for a crime as petty and meaningless as attempted murder of Brown people.

What makes this most disturbing is that this course of actions and scripts that allows one to, as Roth accurately if callously points out, almost assuredly get aware with it is likely not something he could have come up with off the top of his head while he was posting online. No, this is clearly something Roth has at least put a little bit of time into thinking about previously. And Occam's razor suggests that you probably don't spend a lot of time thinking about how to get away with murdering innocent Black people unless you think you might have some reason to need that information in the future. I mean, I don't plan on robbing any banks, so I don't have a detailed plan of how to get away with a bank heist just sitting here at the ready. I could probably come up with one if I spent enough time think about it, but why the fuck would I spend my time thinking of that if I'm not planning on ever robbing a bank?

Here's where one also has to point out that despite a string of disciplinary infractions on his record, Roth was elected the Vice President of the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police. Think about that -- this is not the "rogue agent" or "bad apple" police apologists love to blame this kind of shit on. This guy was elected to the second most powerful position of the group that is "The Voice of Our Nation's Law Enforcement Officers."The guy who posts face book statuses about how to get away with murdering innocent people is someone the police chose to represent them.

Adding more glaring asshattery to the situation, Roth apologized. Kind of.

Because there are two glaring problems with Roth's apology. The first is this obnoxious line:

"As a law enforcement officer, I would never intentionally encourage someone to commit a crime."

Well, this is just empirically false. Because remember a few days ago when you literally encouraged people to commit a crime? You know, in the screen shot on this very post. So you can't say you would never do that, because you did do that.

But the most fucking aggravating, and telling, bit of the apology is this, when he says he regrets:

"exposing law enforcement officers to increased scrutiny, during this difficult time of ongoing conflict between officers and members of the community."

Seriously. He said that. His apology is not so much concerned about the fact that he literally attempted to incite the murder of innocent people, but instead the fact that his blatantly racist, illegal behavior might make the cops look bad. That is where his concern lies.

So please remember this during your next discussion of America's law enforcement: they don't mind murdering Black people, they're happy to advise others on how to get away with murdering Black people, and when the public finds out about their desire to murder Black people, they are sad that it makes the police look bad.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Being a "good" person, racism, and MLK

The long national nightmare of me taking a break from blogging for the holidays is finally over. Of the many highlights of my past month or so, few can compare to being part of one of the most amazing, well-organized, and downright heartening demonstrations I've ever been a part of. While the demo itself really deserves it's own post (seriously, we successfully shut down the Mall of America, the MSP airport, the LRT, and a major freeway with only a couple hundred people. The young folks who organized it deserve a damn medal), today on MLK day I'm more inclined to reflect on the response to the demonstrations.

Unsurprisingly, much of the reaction to the demonstrations, or at least the negative reactions, centered on the disruption of private property. "How dare these uppity demonstrators disrupt the mall's daily business?!?" they shouted repeatedly, never minding it was the mall's own (completely unnecessary) decision to close their stores. And as happens so often these days when anyone advocates for racial equality, these folks' complaints often used the civil rights movement of the 50 and 60s and the figure of (their completely and often intentionally misremembered) Dr. King to somehow shame and condemn the people carrying on their legacy. Which is ridiculous for so many reasons (after all, that civil rights movements would have never disrupted businesses or disturbed private property. No sir, no way).

While there's many causes to people feeling the need to invoke Dr. King to argue against something he would have obviously supported, I think one of the primary causes is white America's incredibly shallow understanding of what race and racism are and how they operate. They know that to be racist is to be bad. But they don't know what it is to be racist; only that it is bad, they themselves are not bad, and therefore they cannot be racist. As I teach my students, though, at the personal level racism is a verb. That is, it's not about who you are as a person, but about what you're doing. This is an important distinction because to live in America means to participate in racism at least some of the time, given its deep institutional roots here. It effects all people of all backgrounds. So even well-meaning people can (and undoubtedly will!) commit racists acts. This doesn't make them racists in toto; that's really more in how/whether you a)recognize what you are saying/doing is racist, and then b)stop doing that shit/educate other people about why that's racist/dismantle white supremacy/etc.

But again, most people who aren't sociologists don't think about racism in that manner, but instead think of it as people in hoods committing horrible violence. Which these good people don't do! Because they aren't racist! Case closed!

So you have this shallow understanding of what racism is and how it operates in combination with the incredibly watered-down version of Dr. King most people learn in school, in which Dr. King is not a man who advocated for the fall of capitalism, condemned the war in Vietnam, strenuously argued for labor rights, etc., but is a guy who once said "hey, let's all just get along and hug!" That version of Dr. King is an easy person to make into a civic saint, and in many ways, he has been.

And now you see the logic start to form for the people who somehow inexplicably say with a straight face that Dr. King would condemn the current civil rights movement and #blm specifically. And how they can further claim they believe in the aims of racial equality, but can't support the groups most actively working toward it. It works something like this:

Dr. King = good
Me = good
It would be bad to dislike Dr. King, because Dr. King is good. I am good, so I do good things (like liking Dr. King) and don't do bad things (like disliking Dr. King).
Therefore, I like Dr. King.

Me = good
Making good people uncomfortable = bad
It's bad to make good people feel uncomfortable. I am a good person (see Argument 1), so therefore it is bad to make me feel uncomfortable.

Making me uncomfortable = bad
#blm = makes me uncomfortable
It is bad to make me feel uncomfortable (see Argument 2), so anything that makes me uncomfortable must be bad. Since the Black Lives Matter movement makes me uncomfortable, it must be bad.

Being good = only approving of good things, not bad things
#blm = bad thing
Dr. King is good and therefore only approves of good things. The Black Lives Matter movement makes me uncomfortable and thus is bad (see Argument 3), so therefore Dr. King must disapprove of the Black Lives Matter movement.

I'm not completely certain that's how they get there, but it's the only way that makes sense. After all, what to make of the fact that almost everyone who criticizes #blm notes they support the previous civil rights movement? I mean, other than the fact it's this discussion's equivalent of "I have a Black friend?" Well, I'm pretty certain the answer to that paradox is the fact that they're alive now, because had they been alive during the previous civil rights movement, they probably would have disapproved of that one with most of the same arguments they're using against #blm right now. The only difference is that the previous movement has been officially declared a Good Thing that all Good People must like, while the current movement is not afforded such a narrative.

Because looking at sources from the time, people sure had pretty similar arguments against Dr. King and the previous civil rights movement:

A Gallup poll taken in 1959 found that, by 53-37 percent, Americans thought the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education, a seminal case in the civil rights movement, “caused a lot more trouble than it was worth.”
"Most Americans told pollsters they still had doubts about the civil rights movement. In May 1961, most people (57 percent) told the Gallup poll that sit-ins at lunch counters and the 'Freedom Riders' would hurt African Americans' chances for integration. In 1964, Harris found 57 percent who disapproved of the 'Freedom Summer' effort by civil rights workers to organize black voters in Mississippi."




Friday, December 04, 2015

I Will Never Tire of Shaming People Who Talk About "Student Shaming"

I've written about this subject before, but self-righteous academics keep writing these articles, so I'll keep belittling their arguments (shaming them, if you will). Recently published on the Shit Academics Say new blog SAS Confidential (which is hugely disappointing, because I normally love SAS), we have yet another post about how super upright moral professors never say anything bad about their students, and if you do, it means you're a horrible person who is single-handedly destroying the institution of higher learning. Ok, so I hyperbolize a little, but not that much.

While I think my previous take down of what is, essentially, the same argument holds up pretty well, this gives me an excuse to catalogue the many more problems I have with this line of thinking. And Lord knows I love nothing more than to complain on the internet. So in addition to all the previous reasons I've listed for hating this opinion, here are some more crotchety complaints! In numbered form!

1) This is the most annoying type of argument: the kind where what is claimed to be the most moral position possible and the author's own position on the subject just happen to be one and the same! "Oh no, it's not that I'm writing 2,000 words about what a great person I am and how I'm so much better than you, it just turns out what I do is the only possible way to do things!" Kevin Gannon, the person who wrote the offending column this time, promotes himself as a pedagogical expert on his linked website. So I have to assume he's familiar with the fact that people have all sorts of varied learning styles, and what works for one may be terrible for another, etc. And yet, he writes things like:

I don’t like shame. I run and hide from what makes me ashamed, and do my level best to stay hidden.

Bummer dude. It legit sucks that you feel that way. But did you know that not every person alive responds that way to shame? Let me take you on a special journey in the way back machine to learn about a time Young Jesse got his ass shamed pretty fucking hard in front of a college classroom. In my very first semester of college I was a music major (vocal performance, to be exact) and of the many music-related classes I had to take, one of them was Aural Training. Which is basically learning how to pick stuff up by ear, but in a very formal way (this, by the way, is a skill I do not posses to this day, and it blows my mind that people are able to do this).

So in one of the first weeks of class, by which point in time I had already realized I was in way over my head with this music shit (I just liked to sing!), we had an in-class assignment where the professor played simple songs on the piano and we had to transcribe them. Just by listening to them! Witchcraft! By virtue of the fact I'm still amazed people can do this, you might surmise (correctly!) that I was not able to do so. My transcriptions were bad. Laughably bad. And I mean that literally -- they were so bad that the next class meeting, the prof played what I had transcribed for the entire class, all of whom (including the professor!) were laughing uproariously. Of course, he didn't announce whose it was, but I still don't think I've ever been more embarrassed. If anyone was actually wondering whose it was, it would have been pretty easy to figure out it was the kid whose face was turning brighter red by the second and who was doing everything possible to slink as far down in his chair as possible.

But this also kicked my ass into gear and made me realize I needed some serious help if I planned on passing the course. So I went out and got a tutor and put in a shitload of time on practicing this stuff, and I managed to pull a B- in the class, simultaneously the lowest grade I earned in college and the one I'm most proud of. Would I have put in all this extra work had I not been shamed in front of the class like that? Eh, who the hell knows. This is a rather pointless anecdote from which we can draw no conclusions. But it is the same level of selective, completely non-empirical evidence employed in Gannon's piece, so it felt appropriate.

2) Gannon actually kind of gives away one of the biggest problems with his piece when he writes things like:

What would have happened if I saw or heard about this “venting?”

And:

I don’t know if my professors joked about me at the coffee pot, or traded stories about me at cocktail parties.

You see the running theme there? It's that as a student himself, Gannon had no idea whether his professors were doing this kind of behavior or not (But let me help out: they were. They definitely were. One, because so many professors complain about their students. Two, if you were half as sanctimonious as an undergrad as you are now, all of your professors were complaining about you). After all, the only two examples provided of dangerous student shaming in Gannon's piece are the Dear Student column on Vitae (an offshoot of the Chronicle of Higher Ed) and one twitter account of an anonymous professor. Well…do you think any undergrads are reading these things? I mean, seriously? I would wager somewhere between 98 and 99.99% of all undergraduate students don't even know what the Chronicle of Higher Education is or that it exists. I didn't even know it existed until I was several years into grad school.

But upping the ante of simplistic dichotomous thinking, Gannon follows up admitting he has no idea if the professors he had ever vented about him, he notes:

But I do know that they took an interest in helping a student who was trying to get his act together.

Hey, did you know that these two things are absolutely in no way mutually exclusive? That a professor can both be upset by his students shitty behavior, even going so far as to commit the crime of complaining about that behavior, while simultaneously attempting to help the student correct said shitty behavior? If we did live in your weird hypothetical world in which to complain about bad behavior automatically disqualifies one from attempting to help students, then I could follow your argument. But since those are completely unrelated activities which do not effect one another in any way, I can't follow how one supposedly prevents the other.

3) Finally, in what is possibly the most glaring omission of these two pieces is the complete dismissal of the concept that sometimes students do things for which they should be shamed. I briefly touched on this in the previous post, but it's worth noting that the two most prominent critiques of the Dear Student series specifically and the idea of "student shaming" more broadly have both been written by white men. While the Dear Student series, for instance, is edited by a woman of color and regularly features women and/or scholars of color, many of whom are in precarious labor positions.

As a sociologist, I'm not really trained to see many things as coincidence, so I'm having a hard time not seeing something in the fact that the two most prominently-shared pieces I've seen on this subject were both written by white dudes. Which means we have to delve into the thorny world of privilege, and especially how privilege can blind one to the experiences of marginalized people.

Because while much of this student shaming is indeed about students just saying or doing something dumb, a great deal of what I see is coming from women and/or people of color who are venting far less about their students' lack of technical skills and far more about their students' lack of respect for them, which often comes in the form of directly challenging their knowledge or authority. This is something that I can attest through both empirical evidence and personal experience does not happen to white men at anywhere near the levels it happens to people of literally any other identity in the classroom. I've heard countless stories from academics far more accomplished than I about being belittled or disrespected in the classroom, while I, a literal long-haired hippie, have never once experienced that in roughly a decade in the classroom.

This isn't a case of some young, misguided student not knowing the subtle ins and outs of the world of academia, this is assholes being sexist, racist, homophobic, etc.That kind of behavior deserves shame!

And therein lies the rub -- by lumping all forms of complaining about students into the nebulous category of "student shaming" and then labeling all student shaming as bad, you necessarily silence very real problems. This is, in fact, a very classic derailing technique, a way of dismissing out of hand very legitimate critiques from people who are experiencing problems that will never effect you. Because the guys writing these articles don't experience this kind of crappy behavior from their students, it's clear they're basing their critiques of "venting" on the kinds of problems they encounter, ignoring (willfully or not) the wide array of problems that effect people with other identities. And then they hold up the fact that they don't complain about their students' minor transgressions as evidence they're more virtuous than those who complain about their students' racism/sexism/homophobia, etc. Again, it seems hard to call it coincidence that we have two white men positioning themselves as the arbiters of reason and civility against a horde of women and people of color who are all angry and irrational.

Really, that's the take away point; I'm not trying to make venting about problem students or anonymously shaming them on twitter out to be great moral enterprises or anything, just noting that they serve some pretty legit purposes. So if you don't like participating in these kinds of things, that's fine, ignore them. But please knock it off with trying to argue that because you personally don't like something, it's somehow necessarily an immorally corrupt practice. To borrow from your arguments: wouldn't it be a lot more helpful for you to reach out to those of us venting and try to help us learn rather than take to the internet to shame us?*



*Included only as a mildly humorous jab at what seems to be a fairly hypocritical stance on their part. Please do not actually reach out to me.



Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Holy Shit, Ghostbusters Is Super Conservative

So two weeks ago I was in Washington, D.C. for a conference, and a friend of mine and I had planned on walking around and doing some sight-seeing and other touristy stuff. But then it was raining heavily, so instead we hung out on my friend's couch droning beers and watching t.v. (I mean, why travel to our nation's capital to do anything else).

Anyway, we ended up stumbling upon an airing of Ghostbusters, a movie I hadn't seen since I was a kid and mostly just remembered as the reason for Ecto Cooler existing (which will forever give the movie a pass in my eyes). But watching it again as a grown adult is really a very different experience.

For one, man, do they get a lot of milage out of that Ray Parker, Jr. song. In addition to playing in full over the opening credits, it pops up at least three times in the movie. Very economical use of the soundtrack budget, I guess. But that's not the point of this post.

Also, there is definitely a seen in which Dan Akroyd's character, Ray Stantz, receives oral sex from a ghost. In a movie that is only rated PG, nonetheless. This is neither here nor there, it was just really weird to realize there's a ghost fellatio scene in a beloved children's movie. But that's not the point of this post, either.

No the point of this post is that Ghostbusters has to be one of the most conservative movies I've ever seen. Because the real villain of the film is not Vigo Carpathian, but is instead Walter Peck and the Environmental Protection Association:

Pictured: Every 80s movie villain
What makes it most ridiculous is not even the fact that, hey, objectively speaking the EPA has good reason to be concerned here (after all, these are a bunch of amateurs building nuclear reactors), but instead how the EPA is portrayed: as an all-powerful, despotic organization. Instead of, you know, the underfunded and completely feckless organization it actually is.

For one, just look at how dude is dressed there -- in the world of Ghostbusters, apparently low-level government bureaucrats can afford finely tailored three-piece suits. But even more ridiculous is the level of power he's portrayed as having; the instant he decides something is up wight he Ghostbusters, he's back with about a dozen NYPD officials. Because if there's one thing we all know the NYPD prioritizes, it's EPA inspections. In a world in which environmental protections a rebutted at every turn, it's downright hilarious to see a fictionalized EPA which apparently has direct command over local police departments in its long litany of extensive powers. And of course, EPA inspectors have basically unlimited power to shut down private businesses at a moment's notice in this world, as opposed to issuing tiny fines and milquetoast letters of condemnation like they do in the real world.

It's hard to even catalogue all the ways this depiction of the EPA is not only wrong, but so far from the truth as to be about as backwards as possible. The whole EPA plot (which drives most of the action in the film) is so paranoid about the government having any power whatsoever, it reads like something Ron Paul would dismiss as being a bit too paranoid about the role of government power.

I suppose it's not terribly surprising that a Reagan-era movie would cast environmental protections as the antagonist, but it was definitely jarring to see this movie as an adult who actually knows what the EPA is and does, as opposed to when I was a kid and mostly fascinated by the antics of Slimer.

I'm now very curious if the new remake will have the same rabidly anti-regulation focus as the original, or if they'll find some even more powerless regulatory body to pin all the world's evils on. But in any event, the new movie might spurn the reintroduction of Ecto Cooler. And if that's actually the case, I can forgive pretty much any amount of blatantly propagandistic conservative messaging….

Friday, November 13, 2015

Oh, I Definitely Would Have Supported That Civil Rights Movement

One of the more obnoxious white people complaints about what's happening at Mizzou and Yale (and spreading elsewhere!) is that this is all over some petty stuff. But this argument is tricky to make, not because it's empirically wrong (which it is, but that's not what these people are concerned about), but because it has a good chance of making you look like a racist.

And of course you're not a racist, you're a Good Person™. So to prove your bonafides as a Good Person™, you have to point out that you don't disagree with equality, you just think these damn kids are going too far and being too sensitive when they complain about being called racial slurs and threatened with death. So what you do instead is find something some Black person did sometime that you can safely agree with to show how not-racist you are.

I can't count the number of times I've seen denunciations of Mizzou phrased as some version of "the civil rights movement was actually necessary, these kids are just whining about nothing!" Because everyone supports the civil rights movement…now.

But did you know there was a time when MLK and the civil rights movement and all those other now-venerated events and people were not super popular? In fact, it turns out that when the civil rights movement was actually happening, a lot of people didn't think it was necessary. They thought it was a bunch of uppity kids complaining about petty stuff that didn't matter. And it wasn't just Klan members, but self-appointed Good People™who thought this was all a bunch of unnecessary grandstanding by self-important troublemakers.

It might help these people who argue "MLK = good, Mizzou = entitled brats" to go back and read what Good People™ like them were saying at the time these things were actually happening. It turns out white America wasn't super fond of the civil rights movement! Shocking! To hear most white people tell it, everyone supported the obviously-correct civil rights movement. Of course they did! They were Good People™, not racists!

….and yet, for some reason the civil rights movement had to happen. Why, it's almost as if there were a lot of white people who weren't on board. Hell, it almost seems like most white people weren't on board, which is why the civil rights movement was necessary in the first place.

But that can't be, because that would imply that progress can happen against the wishes of white people (who are, of course, Good People™), which wouldn't make any sense, because no white people are actually racist. Hell, to hear them tell it, the civil rights movement was basically their idea and the only people who opposed it were a very tiny number of sheet-wearing terrorists. Why the federal government had to repeatedly intervene is kind of confusing, but we can just leave that aside, I guess.

Anyway, not able to come up with any better ideas, I've been collecting and cataloging screen shots of people making this argument, so that 40 years from now when this period is codified as a universal good that only a very small ignorant minority opposed, but whatever current struggle is happening is just a bunch of spoiled kids, I can pull up all of these to point out that, nope, the white, moderate Good People™always oppose progress. That is, of course, until the progress happens, and then they claim they were on-board the entire time.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

What's The Big Deal? It's Just Some Mean Words!

Probably the most obnoxious and pernicious derailing tactic in response to the current rebellion on the campus of the University of Missouri is the tone-deaf argument of so many white folks that this all boils down to some kids not being able to handle the fact they were called a mean word.

This is a really dumb argument. Actually, it goes far beyond dumb. It's fucking stupid and racist as hell.

Leaving aside the entire (well researched and empirically-supported) concept of how microaggressions operate and why they're important to understand*, it's still easy to grasp why this goes beyond some mean words. So easy, in fact, that to make the argument these kids "just need thicker skin" and to "ignore their bullies" is an argument so obviously bullshit that I can't even accept it's simply a clueless ignorance of what's going on, but is instead an intentional attempt to minimize an incredibly important issue.

Because the "mean word" in this case is not just any random word. It is "nigger."

This is a word I typically avoid using even in an academic context such as this, but in this case, it's really important to literally spell out the invective being hurled here.

Because "nigger" is not a mean word like any other word. "Nigger" has a very special place in American history, as the word (and much more importantly, what the word represents) has been integral to maintaining America's racial hierarchy for centuries.

"Nigger" is the reason white men were free to rape Black women for centuries. "Nigger" is the reason it was not only acceptable, but obviously natural and even moral, for Black people to be enslaved. "Nigger" is the reason Black men were lynched simply for the sake of being Black men. "Nigger" is the reason a 14 year old kid could be murdered for supposedly whistling at a white woman.

And it's not like this stuff is ancient history. "Nigger" is the reason a 12 year old kid playing in the park could be murdered by a police officer and the murder deemed "justifiable" by the courts. "Nigger" is the reason a 17 year old kid could be stalked and murdered by a man with a long history of violent crimes and yet somehow be the one who's actions were most closely scrutinized at trial. "Nigger" is the reason the deadliest hate crime against Black Americans in 75 years happened just a few months ago, not the very distant past. "Nigger" is the reason more unarmed Black Americans have been killed by police this year than were lynched in any year since 1923.

So when a white person calls a Black person "nigger," they're not just saying a mean word. They're invoking literal centuries of horrific crimes against Black people. They're invoking the idea that white people can do whatever they like to Black people with the confidence that no punishment will come to them. They are simply employing a short hand way of saying "Not only do I think you're subhuman, but I could murder you right here and right now for no reason and the majority of this nation would spend their time examining what you did to invite this murder, many of whom would celebrate me as a hero." They're invoking the idea that Black lives truly do not matter to a very large segment of our population.

So if you truly can't wrap your head around why these folks are so upset by a "mean word," in your head just replace "mean word" with "being threatened with murder by someone who will face no consequences for their actions," and then see if you still think it's no big deal.


*But for the record, we shouldn't put that aside! The only reason I'm skipping it here is to avoid this devolving into a discussion of whether or not microaggressions are real (they are), because this is one of those terms asshole white people have picked up on as a marker they need to virulently disagree with whatever point is being made, regardless of its merits.