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Sun May 13, 2018, 02:50 PM

Ta-Nehisi Coates on words that don't belong to everyone.

One of my favorite authors. Ta-Nehisi Coates answers an audience question about the power and ownership of words at the Family Action Network event with Evanston Township High School


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Reply Ta-Nehisi Coates on words that don't belong to everyone. (Original post)
OneBro May 2018 OP
Solly Mack May 2018 #1
gollygee May 2018 #2
Hekate May 2018 #3
misanthrope May 2018 #4
cyclonefence May 2018 #5
Igel May 2018 #9
cyclonefence May 2018 #15
Glorfindel May 2018 #6
gollygee May 2018 #7
0rganism May 2018 #11
JI7 May 2018 #13
brush May 2018 #8
ProudLib72 May 2018 #10
OneBro May 2018 #12
ProudLib72 May 2018 #14

Response to OneBro (Original post)

Sun May 13, 2018, 02:56 PM

1. K&R


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Response to OneBro (Original post)

Sun May 13, 2018, 03:13 PM

2. For people who never watch linked videos

Go to this link to read about it: https://www.vox.com/identities/2017/11/9/16627900/ta-nehisi-coates-n-word

Excerpt:

Coates first pointed out that it is normal in our culture for some people or groups to use certain words that others can’t. For example, his wife calls him “honey”; it would not be acceptable, he said, for strange women to do the same. Similarly, his dad was known by his family back home as Billy — but it would be awkward for Coates to try to use that nickname for his father.

“That’s because the relationship between myself and my dad is not the same as the relationship between my dad and his mother and his sisters who he grew up with,” Coates said. “We understand that.”

The same concept applies to different groups and their words. “My wife, with her girl friend, will use the word ‘bitch,’” Coates said. “I do not join in. You know what I’m saying? I don’t do that. I don’t do that. And perhaps more importantly, I don’t have a desire to do it.”

Coates pointed to another example — of a white friend who used to have a cabin in upstate New York that he called “the white trash cabin.” “I would never refer to that cabin” in that way, Coates said. “I would never tell him, ‘I’m coming to your white trash cabin.’”

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Response to gollygee (Reply #2)

Sun May 13, 2018, 03:18 PM

3. Words are contextual and relationship-dependent.

Thanks for the transcript.

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Response to gollygee (Reply #2)

Sun May 13, 2018, 03:21 PM

4. Exception to his examples

It is not uncommon in the South for "strange women" to use terms of affection like "honey," "sugar" or "darlin'" in casual conversation. Few take offense and a great number of folks find it endearing.

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Response to misanthrope (Reply #4)

Sun May 13, 2018, 03:48 PM

5. But context still matters

If you were in a formal business meeting, it would be highly inappropriate for a female (or a male, but we're talking about women) to address anyone, male or female, as "honey" or any other term of endearment. It's my experience that those terms--and I agree they are sweet--are used when you are in a more or less intimate one-on-one situation, like being served in a restaurant or helped in a department store. In most other situations, I think, "honey" et al. would be fightin' words, sarcasm.

When men, in the south and elsewhere, use the term(s), it's never to another male unless they really are fightin' words. Men use "honey" et al. to females to (maybe subconsciously) assert their power. I don't want to treat into homophobia here, but a man who calls women of a social class higher than his "honey" is often identified as gay.

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Response to cyclonefence (Reply #5)

Sun May 13, 2018, 05:14 PM

9. It still depends.

I've been in formal settings where "honey" was used. Nobody batted an eye. Except those who were from a different culture.

Not sure that men calling women "honey" necessarily asserts "power." Some people define "power" to mean pretty much anything, and then when the broad range of uses is accepted flip it around and assert that "power" has a very narrow meaning; it's hard to catch that kind of definition-based fallacy, but it's as common as dirt. Sometimes it's condescension (which is distinct from power), sometimes it's trying to sweet talk them to get something out of them (pretty much the opposite of "power". Sometimes it really is an attempt to assert authority. But there are yet other uses.

Old Baltimore had "hon" as a generic term of friendliness. I've been called "hon" by men and women, white and black, but the speaker always had at least 20 years on me. Took me aback the first time I heard it, and my father (from that generation) explained it to me. Fell out of use, to a great extent, in my generation. Probably gone now.


Thing is, one reason that I remember it so well is that women who moved to Baltimore took great exception to the sexism implied by the word. Except nothing was implied; it was the inferring that was off, and it was hard for them to lose their preconceptions. But that's the kind of thing that spelled the usage's doom. When in Rome, give full expression to your inner Vandal, and if somebody objects point out that the Vandals were just migrants in search of a better life, and therefore both victims and somebody whose ethnonym has been horribly abused in a very offensive manner.

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Response to Igel (Reply #9)

Mon May 14, 2018, 07:15 AM

15. I guess geography matters as much as context

I'm from southern WV (Hinton), and "honey" and the like were definitely class-related terms.

BTW, you made my day with your use of implication and inference.

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Response to misanthrope (Reply #4)

Sun May 13, 2018, 03:57 PM

6. It was not uncommon, when I was very young, for elderly men to call

small boys "honey." My grandfather never did, but he was rather stern. A good many of his contemporaries did, though. This was in the southern Appalachians in the late 1940's - early 1950's.

And I actually find it endearing for waitresses, grocery check-out ladies, etc., to say "honey," "sugar," or "darlin'" They mean well, and it makes me feel good, so where's the harm?

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Response to misanthrope (Reply #4)

Sun May 13, 2018, 04:31 PM

7. True, but it seems beside the point. nt

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Response to misanthrope (Reply #4)

Sun May 13, 2018, 07:09 PM

11. in the case you raise, region is an important part of the context

but it's still beside the point -- he was just citing it as an example. an imperfect example to be sure, but simply an illustration of a cross-cultural norm.

for instance, my son calls me "Dad" and it makes sense between us for him to do so. it would not make sense for some stranger i just happen to meet on the street to call me that, such would be an indicator of abnormal circumstances of some kind, or as he says, "at least i hope so". and, as he says, if a random person on the street greeted me as "honey" or "darlin", that also would be at least abnormal, given the regional norms of where i live. when a white person starts frequently using the "n-word" to refer to others, that too is an indicator of abnormal circumstances, at least i hope so. and that is his main point, as i see it.

he also points out the importance of white people showing restraint on the matter -- that white people having a word that is, at least, socially awkward for us to use is just a little hint of what it's like to be black in this culture, so refraining from using it has its own value.

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Response to misanthrope (Reply #4)

Sun May 13, 2018, 07:18 PM

13. Context would still apply. The women who use that term because of region or culture

 

Will use those terms on everyone. On male and female, young and old etc.

In that context it would not be offensive.

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Response to OneBro (Original post)

Sun May 13, 2018, 05:05 PM

8. I am so glad he came onto the scene. He contributes much...

Last edited Mon May 14, 2018, 11:14 AM - Edit history (1)

much insight and understanding to our national consciousness.

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Response to OneBro (Original post)

Sun May 13, 2018, 06:49 PM

10. Cultural appropriation because it's "cool"

This, I think, is where it becomes really confusing. It's fine to enjoy a black hip hop artist if you are white, but you are not part of the in-group who gets to use the "n" word. Reaction to music is visceral. It's tough to differentiate between appreciating and belonging. But you know what, as much as I like Nitty Scott's "PXSSY POWAH", I'm not going to pretend that, as a middle aged white dude, I identify with her.



However (and you can disagree if you like), it seems younger people feel a stronger desire to belong to an in-group. Anyway, that was what came to mind when the young woman in the video asked her question.

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Response to ProudLib72 (Reply #10)

Sun May 13, 2018, 07:09 PM

12. I wouldn't call it cultural appropriation.

If I understand your point correctly, I agree that young people may have a more difficult time navigating the nuances surrounding the history of the word n*gger. America intentionally does a horrible of teaching history to its youth, especially any history that puts America, white people, or christians, in a negative light. Thus, while a you may inherently know that n*gger is a bad word, it might very well be confusing when rap lyrics pass the word around like its a 40 ounce. In a world where Kanye is ignorant enough to believe slavery was a choice, it is more than just conceivable that a white youth might wonder "what is the big deal" with the "n-word."

Intelligent people certainly disagree with me, but I'm not a fan of recent cultural appropriation outrage. America's "culture" is an amalgam of many peoples' respective "cultures," religions, creeds, habits, norms, styles, biases and so on. It is one thing to steal a recipe, call it your own, and sell it as our own, but if a white guy wants to open a Mexican restaurant or soul food restaurant, I have zero problem with it. The real, underlying problem is whether non-white people have access to the resources necessary to do the same. Anger at white women in braids or wearing a kimono to prom? Nope. I'll save my outrage for when one people ridicules the culture of another people. THAT bothers me.

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Response to OneBro (Reply #12)

Sun May 13, 2018, 08:03 PM

14. We are talking the same language

See, I'm falling for the latest trend that is discussing cultural appropriation.

I have a funny story. When I was 13-14 I was convinced that I should be a Rastafarian. I let my extremely straight hair grow out so that I could have dreads (although I wasn't quite sure how to achieve those dreads). After about a year I lost interest in having unruly, long hair and cut it, but I was still a Rasta at heart for several years after that. Skip forward to a few weeks ago. I know this young woman who was a previous student of mine. She is black and has dreads. I asked her when she decided she wanted dreads. She told me how, when she was younger, her mother decided she didn't want to deal with her children's hair, so she just started the dreads in both my friend and her sister's hair. I have been snickering about it to myself ever since: what I thought was so crucial to my identity as a teenager was done out of pragmatism by this woman's mother.

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