Thursday, May 31, 2007

My wicked smaht commenters

Jeff Wilson, as always, takes a position that I am inclined to take but not certain I can defend, and defends it beautifully.

But the comment on the SKSM matter that really got to me was from CK:

I think that if I were a guest speaker at a school in, say, the Netherlands, and I wanted them to rename their local dike because I was offended by the term, they'd have every right to say that they wouldn't, that they were sorry I had been hurt by homophobia, but that "dike" isn't a hurtful term in that context, and never had been.

And that should be the end of it. If I dug in my heels, then, well... I don't think I'd have any legitimate platform to complain.

Also, I think it odd that SKSM has not tried to get people to stop USING brown bags, only TALKING about a "Brown Bag lunch" and using a different term. I mean, is there a reason that seeing a brown bag would be less important than hearing about one?

who has admittedly always wondered why somebody hasn't convinced the town of "Lynchburg, Virginia" to change it's name. So she's not totally unsympathetic.


ABT said...

Well CC,
If the point were censorship than banning bags would be a logical step. But the point wasn't censorship, it was education.

Despite what seems a very strong desire to protect paper bags, the history of their use as a color test is true. Now a whole bunch of people know that. We are aware of a piece of history and its consequences in a new way. That's good, in my book. It's also education.

No one banned the bags or the words. No one even accused the bags of being racist. No one accused anyone of being racist. But they did start a discussion, uncover some history, and hopefully made us think.

Being that Starr King is a school, I'm still confused why people get mad when they educate? The accusation of censorship is inaccurate too, but few people seem worried about that.


Chalicechick said...

I hadn't realized that the brown bag test was so uncommonly known.
I could have sworn there was a reference to it in "The Color Purple."

And I do know it is real. It was big at the traditionally black schools in New Orleans, though admittedly I hadn't heard of it being used for churches.

I've never called it censorship, BTW. I find that word overused and am pretty slow to use it. I pointed out that the way Mummert quoted Rebecca Parker was ambiguous because it was and had lead to the confusion.

My question was, if part of the education is to tell people that the administration will no longer be using the term "brown bag lunch," why didn't the administration go ahead and announce that it would no longer be using brown bags?

I'm not trying to trap anybody, I'm just curious.

(((Despite what seems a very strong desire to protect paper bags,)))

You and I both know that this isn't about the bags.

This is fundamentally about AR/AO work in general and the perception that those who practice it use it to bully people for minor points that do more to make the cause of racial justice look silly than anything else.

Mummert's mentioning in her writing "I thought the new "policy" was goofy, typical Berkeley PC drabble, but I didn't want to sound racist, so I stayed silent," speaks to those concerns, too.

If potential ministers are feeling so bullied by AR/AO that they are afraid to ask a simple question, doesn't that kind of speak to the critics' point?

If you'd like to consider the larger conversation of this issue as part of the education Starr King brings to the world, I don't have an objection to that.


Chalicechick said...

Ps. If the point was education, wouldn't it have made sense to explain the problem with the term in the first place, rather than simply announcing that it has racist connotations and assuming people would take that on faith until someone asked about it?

ABT said...

I just wrote a long reply and got bloggered. grrr.

Now I'm going to try to be brief. My main point is that the banning of words or bags was never the point. The point was the discussion. Granted, the discussion didn't happen at first. It didn't happen until a student was willing to ask what they thought might be perceived as a dumb or even racist question.

That's sad. But blaming the "administration" for creating that environment is not fair. The urge to be "right" and "innocent" is a human thing. We should be talking about how that dynamic works to keep us from questioning authority of any kind. Instead we're discussing a non-existent case of imaginary censorship.

You may not have said it was censorship, but you implied it with your question about banning the actual bags. No one banned anything. No one should have. The problem isn't the bags, it isn't the phrase "brown bag lunch," and it isn't that the guest asked the school to rename the event.

The problem is racism and how it plays out in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. What did it cost us to change the name of the event? Some embarassment? A chance that we might have "overreacted?" I still think it's worth it because in the process, we gained compassion, understanding, and a real, educated choice about the terms we use. (or don't.)

I'm all worked up now, despite PB's assertion that I'm never like that...


ABT said...

To be fair, here's your words:

[[[I think it odd that SKSM has not tried to get people to stop USING brown bags, only TALKING about a "Brown Bag lunch"]]]

That describes censorship, even if it doesn't name it.

In contrast, I'd say that SKSM has tried to get people to START talking about "brown bag lunches" and the history and context of the phrase.

Chalicechick said...

I didn't mean to suggest that the the students couldn't use or talk about brown bags except when I mentioned the ambiguous phrasing and said some people were taking it that way.

I simply asked if the administration, who weren't going to use the term, were also going to stop using the bags themselves and discourage their usage, and if not, why not?

And I didn't mean forcing people not to use them, I meant discourage their usage in the same sense that say, one encourages others to recycle.

It's not a trap, it's a curiosity question because it seems to me that if one accepts the administration's premises, that's the obvious thing to do.

And I'm not inclined to let the administration completely off the hook. By Ms. Parker's own description of the incident in the comments on PB's blog, the intention was not to start a discussion, it was to make an announcement. The power dynamic seems pretty clear.

Discussions encourage questions of authority. Declarations do not. So I really don't think that being so dismayed that people weren't quicker to question authority is a reasonable reaction.

In the interests of full disclosure, my own history with AR/AO folks is pretty checkered.

I did my best to insist that people wait for all the facts to be in before judging the infamous Texas GA fuss to be soley about race (a stand which was intentional and thought out.)

But I also once used the term "boat people" to refer to Haitian-Americans who arrived here on homemade boats,
which is a pretty common usage,
but it turns out is offensive to Asians.

To be honest, that last one still leaves me with the impression that CNN, the US Government and NPR can use the term, I just can't. (If the people who attacked me for using the term wrote hateful letters to Amnesty International, too, they didn't tell me about it.) Which is ok, I guess. I won't. I'd rather not use it than risk getting bitched at for being racist against Asians again. The topic doesn't come up much anyway.

But anyway, my impression is that these battles over small turns of language, and the belief that anti-racism folks are lying in wait to yell at you if you say the wrong thing, do a lot of harm to AR/AO's cause, just as feminists who would give one difficulty for holding a door for them once hurt feminism's cause.

Every movement has assholes, I get that.

But still...


Peregrinato said...

Revsean says, In contrast, I'd say that SKSM has tried to get people to START talking about "brown bag lunches" and the history and context of the phrase.

But this is the problem as I see it. There is no history or context of the phrase "brown bag lunches."

Brown bag: historic fact, people used it as a tool of discrimination and oppression. Yes, I learned something new.

Brown bag luncheon: Some people have somehow made an incredulous leap from brown bags to the bogey of discriminatory "brown bag lunches." There is no history or context of the phrase "brown bag lunch". The facts at hand do not address the situation being described. It's a chimera.

Anonymous said...

I just don't think this issue is being representing accurately by the Starr King side defenders. The original anecdote from CLF makes it clear that the intent was not to start a discussion or to educate, but to pronounce policy unilaterally. Furthermore, the CLF sermon shows that rather than stimulating debate, the pronouncement occurred in an environment where a student felt that she could not voice her concerns, i.e. contribute to a discussion. Rather, she self-censored from fear that speaking would result in censure from her colleagues and superiors at Starr King. This is the fundamental fact that no Starr King defender seems capable of addressing, or even recognizing. Where did that student's fear arise from? What have AR/AO people done to place that fear in her? What is it about Starr King that allows such fear to incubate? How is this, even hypothetically, damaging to UUism? These are the crux issues that Starr King respondents seem to be completely avoiding.

Anonymous said...

Regarding your comment about Lynchburg, VA, I would like to clarify that Lynchburg was named after James Lynch, who ran a ferry service across the James River. (,_Virginia)

He may have been related to the William Lynch who authored the "Lynch Law" but that's certainly not the same as the town being known for its many lynchings (

As you can see from the article, it's not even clear that "Lynch Law" is the source of the term lynching. I realize I'm citing one of the great bastions of misinformation, but I'm fairly confident regarding the origin of Lynchburg's name.

You certainly are not the first person to see “lynching” in Lynchburg's name. Why wouldn't one think it had something to do with lynching? It's out in the middle of nowhere Virginia, capital of the confederacy. It is home to Liberty U and Jerry Falwell. It's easy to draw a specious conclusion.

I'm not pointing all this out to pick on you, and I'm sorry if it comes across that way. So why am I posting all that (besides a devotion to accuracy)? Because I think this is another example of how an attempt to be linguistically PC/AR is misguided at best, and making a big stink out of nothing at worst.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of being PC, upon rereading my comment I realized I inadvertently may have implied Liberty U and Jerry Falwell and something to do with lynchings. For the record I don't think that, I merely trying to draw a portrait of how Lynchburg is perceived (conservative, old school south, and Rev. Falwell did preach segregation as God's will for some time).

That is all.