Don Those Training Diapers, Training Wheels: How to Spot Microaggression and Kill it Too!

The following public service advertising is brought to you by the school of dampening and dumb-downing, the Admin Class of Overlords of Language, the PC Folk, as in Particularly Cowed Class. This is a typical class on most campuses across this land from sea to shining sea, or C to sniveling C. As in CORRECTNESS!

I have had to face these sorts of workshops for the past 15 years, in higher education and on other fronts, working with non-profits, et al. Luckily, since teaching beginning in 1983, I had at least 15 years without this complete double-think hand ruling all things faculty. What would really work in this society to attack the attackers killing us with cuts of a 1,000 daily kinds? You know, being better to people, and using the values of “taking a village to raise a child, educate a person, employ a stranger, provide health, culture and dignified death to everyone,” now that would be revolutionary, but please notice the language, and it is jabberwocky:

Micro-Aggressions and Micro-Affirmations — The Daily Experience of Power, Privilege and Inequity

Presented by: Office of Diversity and Equity

We all experience or participate in small acts of oppression on a regular basis. Small slights. Moments that give us pause. Brief interactions that keep us up thinking at night. For some, these micro-aggressions happen daily, even hourly. Because of their identities, they are targets for all the little racist, classist, sexist, heterosexist, abelist, sizist, etc. comments and behaviors that happen throughout the day. The impacts of these micro-aggressions on individuals and communities can be devastating. The focus of this workshop will be to learn to recognize micro-aggressions, understand the impact micro-aggressions have on targets and communities, and gain tools to interrupt micro-aggressions, micro-affirmations and other oppressive behaviors in our lives.

I remember working for SEIU. You know, a union, but this one – Local 925 – is in Seattle, where self-loathing is high amongst progressives, where Seattle is Repressive Central, where the town is gentrifying, full of missed justice and injustice, and where Survival of the Fittest reigns. If you ain’t into Code Writing, if you ain’t into Political Correctness Gone Daft (PCGD) and if you can’t put your arms around transgender and gay and bi-sexual and poly-amorous folk who are about as liberal as one can toss a Wall Street Obama Friend, then “forget about it, baby” …. Err, is that microaggression, using ‘baby’ in the phrase? Against infants? Some jazz lingo? Some mythological female?

Really, Seattle is overpriced, over-hubris-ed, over stimulated by monopolizers like,well, you know them – Bezos-Gates-Boeing-Microsoft-All-Junk-in-Code-Biotech-Bio-Clean. The mayor listens to his planners who listen to the council who listens to the developers who listen to their pocket books, and, alas, the greenie weenies, the faux revolutionaries in the non-profit world, well, they just keep planning for a city that will NEVER ever be socially just, sustainable, helpful for the big brood of people in the middle not making the bucks to fly outta town to some slum tour, or ski thing, or commune with butterflies in Micronesia.

And this is it, really, the workshop on small acts of oppression. What a bunch of lame and mindless prattling. I was there, too, in my union, when the boss was gone to Europe (these union bosses make big ass bucks and can leave when they want to, since our union of service workers, day care, home care providers, para-educators, you know, the big bucks folk paying our dues). My Union, this one, was mostly women who liked cussing. But, the new organizing team, well, made up of people of color, since that was the goal of the organizing boss – literally every single day, his microaggression and over aggression against white males, since Romney was in the news, he said — “I want to hire people that don’t look like you or like me, Paul.” Look? The character of me is oh so deeper than that, and he knew it. “I lookee like me boss,” a self-identified Jew who one day, well, sort of was a progressive Jew, and another day, well, he did have those mitzvahs for his son and daughter?  One giant lumping, and he openly said multiple time, “I WANT PEOPLE OF COLOR in this office.” Wow, a person with color. Strange these liberals. Daily he kept yammering that, to his two white guys, me and the fellow with years as a real organizer.

He was not really looking at my revolutionary ass, and I was the oldest in my unit, and white on the outside but red and multi-contextual on the inside. He had taken off for three weeks,  so our little crew of new folk had some tension. Some of the metro-sexuals on one side actually went after one guy for telling about his sexual exploits the night before. No, these two guys would listen to women talking dirty, but the white guy, when he tried to bond, well, these two took offense – for all of female-dom. Two guys. One of the metrosexuals said how he hated white guys (he was one) and thought old white guys had ruined the world for him and everyone. Another said, “Well, I am straight and have a girlfriend, but I am more female than male, in my thinking.” WHAT?

Some of the worse punks are guys with master’s degrees from University of Washington who live for electronic music, live for new restaurant openings and who are language police.

The other fellow, Chinese-American, well, he was upset that I, the English professor, talked about the new Huck Finn book, how there was a big debate around taking out words like ‘injun’ and ‘nigger’ as a way to cleanse the world. Or to help teachers teach a book that has been banned.

This guy actually cried. When I quoted the word ‘nigger.” Cried that I would use it, in front of my students, you know, as a teacher reading say, oh, Saphire. One poem, lots of MF’s and such,

Or, how do I talk to students about the Dutch Magazine, Jackie, “doing the racist thing” in their parlance, the RACIST thing???? Leave out giant ideas, ways of contextualizing, the fabric of reality, which is racism, too? Now, really, Rihanna is not on my mind, but if you can just suspend your old timers’ thoughts for a second. Remember, I teach all manner of folk college English – writing, research, composition, technical writing, literature. Now, these things get broached in the class, you know, popular culture or media mush or mainstream journalism jolts of ignorance, or false balances or dichotomies or what have you. I want to relate and then take my students to the next and next level. Hence, we talk about Breaking Bad-Wind or the other junk of junk-food consumption, both literary and food wise.

Here, for instance, WAS a topic in the HuffPost/Tweet world, brought up by a female student, in the class after we talked about the new Huck Finn – I tried talking to the PC fake socialists at SEIU this situation that happened in one of my recent  classrooms. But the went ballistic.  The PC unionists, did, that is.

You know, I was hired to research and activate part-time faculty in the state of Washington. These punk Union middle managers, not workers, but new and young, could have given shit about that, my real street creed, and that I was in that hated class, you know, baby-boomer, and, well, white. They hated old people, really.

You think these people would have enjoyed a discussion around Jewish whites in the union, Jewish power, controlled opposition led by Jews in Power? That in fact, maybe the union was being led down the ugly path of fake liberalism, led by the pro-Obama and pro-Democratic gulag of Washing ton State?

Get real. That ad above is for another gig of mine, but it sounds like the special workshop the union paid for, with the boss actually in the workshop, working with a lady who was trying to solve the rift at the union, within the organizing department’s little huffy incidents. This woman outright said she was gay, identified as Filipina, and said she had no tolerance for anyone questioning gays on their gay status.

That’s fine and dandy, but the union was paying for this goofy healing session on microaggressions, and the boss was there, so you think any of the younger ones would speak up? I think I was the only one to question the idea of this session, since, we really had solved the problem of one side of the organizing department being prudish and fake feminist, while the other side cussed and were not prudes.

Really, it is sad to hear the Jews in the union coming on strong about their Jewishness, but they somehow want us to believe that they are not real Jews or practicing ones or what have you. The mere fact that they announce those things, well, figure out why that is even there on the table in the first place.

But the point is, some of us transcend that shit, believe it or not, and we are African American, Native American, Asian, Latino/a, and, in the case of me, European American, AKA white. On the outside.

So, at a union, where we are supposed to understand our unit, to include bus drivers and working class nurses and LPMs and such, that we are not supposed to go around and get offended by curse words. AND, that I as a faculty member have the right to use the words other use, and to not self-censor and hide behind the lies of PC Central, in a country that is as racist as it every was with this multi-racial president.

Here, again, Rihanna, and my asking the student who brought this up to explain, to get to the overhead projector and computer and illustrate to the class the issues at hand so WE COULD Discuss. And, to be honest, four out of 5 fellow faculty would NOT have “allowed” my line of questioning and this example below in the class, even though the students are college students and this kind of stuff resonates with them. Plus, we took this cultural crack cocaine to the next level, looking at the “new” Huck Finn (sic).

A Dutch magazine has drawn fire for calling Rihanna “the ultimate niggabitch.” And yes, it’s just as offensive in context.
Parlour has a screenshot of the article in Dutch fashion magazine Jackie, and the English translation, which is both racist and extremely dumb:

She has street cred, she has a ghetto ass and she has a golden throat. Rihanna, the good girl gone bad, is the ultimate niggabitch and displays that gladly, and for her that means: what’s on can come off. If that means she’ll be on stage half naked, then so be it. But Dutch winters aren’t like Jamaican ones, so pick a clothing style in which your daughter can resist minus ten. No to the big sunglasses and the pornheels, and yes to the tiger print, pink shizzle and everything that glitters. Now let’s hope she won’t beat anybody up at daycare.

Some readers were understandably upset about Jackie‘s use of a racial slur, so editor-in-chief Eva Hoeke issued an unsatisfying apology. On Facebook, she wrote,

While the author meant no harm — the title of the article was intended as a joke — it was a bad joke, to say the least. And that slipped through my, the editor-in-chief’s, fingers. Stupid, painful and sucks for all concerned.

Then she added,

Furthermore I hope that you all believe there was absolutely no racist motive behind the choice of words. It was stupid, it was naive to think that this was an acceptable form of slang — you hear it all the time on tv and radio, then your idea of what is normal apparently shifts — but it was especially misguided: there was no malice behind it.

I’m not sure if the word “niggabitch” appears routinely on Dutch TV and radio, but this is an especially racist time of year for the Netherlands — it’s the time when people put on blackface to imitate Zwarte Piet, Santa’s “servant.” Maybe Jackie was just infected with the racist-Christmas spirit. Hoeke’s apology kind of misses the point, though. As Parlour points out, Rihanna isn’t Jamaican. And if tossing around racial slurs is the Jackie staff’s “idea of what is normal,” they might want to look into some new hires.

I hope u can read english, because your magazine is a poor representation of the evolution of human rights! I find you disrespectful, and rather desperate!! You ran out of legit, civilized information to print! There are 1000’s of Dutch girls who would love to be recognized for their contributions to your country, you could have given them an article. Instead, u paid to print one degrading an entire race! That’s your contribution to this world! To encourage segregation, to mislead the future leaders to act in the past! You put two words together, with the intent of abasement, that made no sense…”NIGGA BITCH”?!….Well with all respect, on behalf of my race, here are my two words for you…FUCK YOU!!!

 Despite Rihanna’s response, a number of Dutch readers have written in to let us know thatJackie‘s comment — and the Dutch tradition of Zwarte Piet — are in fact not racist. In the process, we’ve learned a new phrase — apparently in the Netherlands, having “too long toes”means that you’re too easily offended (because your toes get stepped on too easily). We still think the problem is not Rihanna’s toes, but Jackie‘s excessive stepping.

Mark Twain’s Language:

“Bad” Words Then and Now

Hugh Rawson

When The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was originally published, people were not much disturbed by Mark Twain’s use of n*gger, let alone injun, terms that have been replaced byslave and Indian in the latest bowdlerization of the Adventures, this one edited by an Auburn professor, Alan Gribbin, and released by NewSouth Books. The first time around profanity and public morality were hotter issues.

The Adventures, copyrighted in 1884, was distributed in February of 1885. Initial orders totaled 40,000 copies; within a few weeks another 10,000 had to be printed. This would be a good start for any book today and it was very good back then. “Your news is splendid,” Twain wrote his publisher on March 16. “Huck certainly is a success.”

Almost simultaneously, the newly published book came under attack. The committee in charge of the public library in Concord, Massachusetts – an intellectual epicenter of the nation as home to Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne — voted unanimously to excludeHuck from its shelves.

The committee members couldn’t condone Huck’s willingness to tell a lie in time of need and his deciding, after considerable internal debate, that he’d rather “go to hell” than betray Jim and see his companion returned to his original owner, Miss Watson. One member of the committee, fortunately nameless for the sake of his place in literary history, was quoted in the Boston Daily Globe of March 17 as saying, “While I do not wish to state it as my opinion that the book is absolutely immoral in its tone, it seems to me that it contains very little humor, and that little is of a coarse type… I regard it as the veriest trash.” Another pure-minded member chimed in with “Yes, the book is flippant and irreverent in its style; it deals with a series of experiences that are certainly not elevating; the whole book is of a class that is more profitable for the slums than it is for responsible people, and it is trash of the veriest sort.” (Concord’s reputation was only partly redeemed when local Free Trade Club’s immediately elected Twain as an honorary member.)

Similar bans of Huckleberry Finn and of what now might be called its prequel, Tom Sawyer, were enacted in succeeding years in Des Moines, Denver, Omaha, and many other towns and cities. Huck has always been high on the list that American Library Association compiles annually of titles challenged in schools and libraries. In 1982 the novel even was banned for a short time at the Mark Twain Intermediate School in Fairfax, Virginia.

Professor Gribbin has said that he believes the substitution of slave for n*gger will make it easier for teachers to teach the book. This change may confuse some students, though, since Jim has freed himself by running away from Miss Watson, and so is not actually a slave during most the book. And by making the substitution, many good teaching opportunities are lost.

For example, one could explore the history of the now-offensive word. It stems from the Latin niger, black, as does Negro, but where the latter came directly from the Spanish or Portuguese  negron*gger was adapted from the French nègre. The so-called N-word wasn’t always regarded as being as odious, witness Carl Van Vechten’s 1926 novel, Nigger Heaven, a sympathetic portrait of life in Harlem. (The title comes from a nineteenth-century slang term for the upper balcony of a segregated theater.) Exploring further, a class might consider why, up to the present time, black people (and not just rappers) can use the word, often affectionately, even admiringly, while white people can’t.

Literary landmarks along censorship way include Joseph Conrad’s The Nigger of the Narcissus, published at the end of the nineteenth century and removed from many school libraries in the twentieth; Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’s The Yearling, published in 1938 and released two years later in a “school edition” that omitted two passages containing the troublesome word; Agatha Christie’s 1939 play, Ten Little Niggers, retitled first as Ten Little Indians and then as And Then There Were None, and Nigger, the 1965 autobiography of the black comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory. Then there was the case of an aide to the mayor of Washington, D.C., who was required to resign in 1989 after he offended a black colleague by saying he would have “to be niggardly” in dispensing monies from a particular fund, although niggardly comes from a Scandinavian word meaning “miserly” and has nothing to do with the other one.

Students might also want to think about Mark Twain’s racial attitudes. Accurately reflecting the everyday speech of people in the Mississippi valley in the 1840s, the text of Huckleberry Finn includes more than 200 instances of n*gger. But this probably doesn’t say very much about the author himself. Twain publicly championed Booker T. Washington and the Tuskegee Institute, while privately paying the tuition of a black student at Yale Law School. “We have ground the manhood out of them, and the shame is ours and not theirs, and we should pay for it,” he said in a letter to the Dean.

Twain deserves the last word. Replying to a friendly librarian, who had informed him that the superintendent of children’s books for the public library system in Brooklyn had decided toward the end of 1905 to transfer all copies of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer to adult sections, where young readers would be less likely to encounter them, Twain maintained that he had written both books “for adults exclusively.” He was greatly distressed, he said, whenever he found “that boys and girls have been allowed access to them.” He went on:

The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never be washed clean again; I know this by my own experience, and to this day I cherish an unappeasable bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old. None can do that and ever draw a clean sweet breath again this side of the grave…. If there is an unexpurgated in the Children’s Department, won’t you please help that young woman [meaning the superintendent] remove Huck and Tom from that questionable companionship?

So, fair readers, how do we have these discussions on micro-aggression in a  world where the government has us all drawn and quartered, when student debt and foreclosures and lacking of housing and food stamp cuts, and drone terror campaigns, banking bungling, all the lies of the debt is killing us pigs, how all of this fracking and destroying class ruling the banks and the bombs, how do we really take this stuff seriously?

We need to be teaching people how to fight, how to take on power, how to use language elegantly and harshly and with sly humor and all the other ways, in order to take on the apocalyptic forces of the neo-con/neo-liberal/IT Libertarians wanting to squeeze more blood from the proverbial onion, us, the working class?

Silly things are the result of cognitive dissonance. Fear. Power with power within power, all one giant circle of attacking the very people who are the only ones capable of critiquing and fighting the systems that are taking us DOWN.

Oppressive behaviors in our lives? Hmm.

Paul Haeder's been a teacher, social worker, newspaperman, environmental activist, and marginalized muckraker, union organizer. Paul's book, Reimagining Sanity: Voices Beyond the Echo Chamber (2016), looks at 10 years (now going on 17 years) of his writing at Dissident Voice. Read his musings at LA Progressive. Read (purchase) his short story collection, Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam now out, published by Cirque Journal. Here's his Amazon page with more published work Amazon. Read other articles by Paul, or visit Paul's website.