Sunday, June 23, 2013

Three not-valid excuses for using the N-word

Goddamit, Paula Deen. I liked you. I really liked you. Granted, sometimes your giant, beyond-whitened smile made me afraid you might come through the television screen and devour my soul (I have this same fear of Suze Orman--I think it's the huge, unnaturally white teeth combined with what we psychiatrists call 'the crazy eye'). I'm also relatively certain every meal at your restaurant should come with a 50% off coupon for coronary bypass surgery, or at least a referral to an endocrinologist. BUT. You seemed 'sweet,' in absolutely the best Southern-fried sense, and your accent made you sound EXACTLY like my beloved high school history teacher, an aging Southern belle...and now it turns out you throw around the n-word like a float captain throws beads at Mardi Gras (flash your tits and I'll call you a disgusting racial slur!). Dammit, Paula. If I knew how to make gifs, there would be a big one right here of me sighing and shaking my head. Your father and I are so, so disappointed in you.

In the aftermath, I've heard a lot from people on both sides(?!?!) of the 'Do we damn Deen for her dastardly deed' issue (alliteration for the win!). The best, hands-down, reply for the 'It's 20-freaking-13, of course it's not OK to say that' camp, otherwise known as 'The Reasonable, Sane Human Beings' comes from the Daily Show. Go watch it. No, seriously, go watch it right now. I'll wait. BEST LINE: "You know what else is a lot of slaves? ONE, PAULA DEEN. ONE."

So, here are some excuses I've seen trotted out for use of racial slurs (the n-word in particular) in the last few days.

1) "But it's not directed at all Black people; it's just used to describe low-class, thuggish Black people." Variant: "It's not a race thing at all. It's just a word for no-good, low-class people with no manners." Disingenuous at best. Why have I never ever ever heard this word directed at anyone but African-Americans, then? Why is it used to describe Barack Obama, who as the Leader of the Free World (TM) is surely the farthest it is possible to be from "thuggish and low-class"? If that's the case, why is the phrase "uppity [n-word]" even a thing? Even if this were true (which, duh, it's not) the classist BS inherent in these 'explanations' would still be seriously problematic. Next.

2) "It's just a part of Southern culture," or "It's what things were like in the South when I/he/she was growing up." You really think bigotry deserves to be called a part of Southern culture? Like, not in 1865 or 1920 or even 1960, but today? I'm not saying racism isn't still an issue (it is, and not just in the South), but come the hell on. Sweet tea is part of Southern culture. Big porches, the Kentucky Derby, trees festooned with Spanish moss, saying "Oh, bless your heart" when you mean "Please go directly to Hell." Mint juleps. Kudzu. An almost genetic, visceral distrust of anyone with the last name Sherman. Do you really think so little of the South that you'd call vitriolic hatred part of the culture (and Southerners, do you think so little of yourselves)? As for the "When I was growing up..." argument: When my mother was growing up she didn't have air conditioning, a color TV, a computer, or an iPhone. She's adapted pretty well to having all those things, because people adapt as things change--if they want/need to. She also saw the integration of her high school and wasn't a total dick about it, because my mom is a basically good human being. Things change, kids. Get with the program.

3) Last, and perhaps most frustratingly frequent: "But they get to use that word!" 'They,' of course, referring to African-Americans. Oof. Where to begin--especially without 'whitesplaining.' So, there's still a robust debate among Black Studies scholars (and everyday folk) whether anyone should be using the n-word, or a derivative thereof, at all. Here's are pro and con articles that explain it better than I ever could. But to sum up, there's a difference between the word 'nigga' and the alternate, hard-r-at-the-end, much more venemous version. Two African-American guys saying hello to each other might say "Hey, nigga." This is worlds away (obviously? I hope it's obvious?) from a person from the historically dominant culture shouting the n-word at someone from a historically oppressed culture while driving by, or in a face-to-face interaction, or even (as in Deen's case) in a discussion with another member of the dominant culture.

 Reclaiming language is always tricky, and always makes some people uncomfortable. I know it's not exactly the same, but para ejemplo: I'm a woman who identifies as lesbian/queer and has no problem with either of those words. I have some LGBT friends who are fine with those words too, and we call each other 'queer' or even 'homo' sometimes, endearingly. However, if anyone I didn't know, gay or straight--or even some of my straight friends--called me 'homo,' I'd be righteously pissed. I have some friends who really don't like the word 'queer' because it has negative connotations to them, and so even though I kind of love it, I don't use it around them or to describe them. Similarly, I absolutely can't. stand. the word 'dyke,' even though I know some lesbians have 'reclaimed' it, and my friends know not to call me that.

Which is a circuitous way to say, just because an oppressed group is reclaiming certain words for use among themselves doesn't give you the right to use them. There's an entire, complicated social and historical context surrounding these words, and saying things like "But why do they get to say it then?" makes you look like an uninformed, entitled, petulant little kid who's pissed off someone else is getting to play with something you want. The truth is, that word is NOT YOUR TOY. You're not entitled to it, and you never were. Get over it and go play on the swings or something.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

The Friendzone

It's not a TV series hosted by Rod Serling. It's not the place at the end of the gridiron where you make a touchdown and do the victory dance that makes you look like a chicken with a neuromuscular disorder (in fact, there's a conspicuous absence of scoring). It's...the Friendzone, a much-lamented but nevertheless completely bullshit concept, a not-so-subtle outgrowth of (mostly male) privilege and entitlement. For those of you not in the know, let me explain the Friendzone by giving you an example (or you could just look it up on Wikipedia--whatevs). Names have been changed to protect the innocent--and the guilty. I'm going to assume for the purposes of this post that a woman is the 'friendzoner' and a man is the 'friendzonee,' not because I want to be sexist or homophobic but rather because 99.99% of the time I've seen it play out, that's been the dyad involved.

I know a guy named Bob from, I don't know, those nights when the moon is dark and evil menaces Metropolis and we put on our capes and masks and fight crime together. Yeah, that's it. Anyway, Bob has a thing for another member of our superhero squad, Julie. They go to movies and bars together on weekends. He helped her move into her new apartment a few months ago. He brought her ice cream and the first two seasons of Golden Girls when she broke up with her old boyfriend Evil Evan, and held her while she cried about what a jerk he was. Now, Bob would looove to be in a relationship with Julie--or at least to get into her skin-tight-leather crime-fighting hot pants. BUT. Bob has never said a thing about it. He's never asked her on a date (and CALLED it a date), he's never told Julie he's into her, he's never gone in for a kiss while they were watching a movie...nothing. Finally he works up his courage and tells her he's interested in being 'more than friends' (Bob's corny like that, but at least it's more romantic than 'Let's bone,' which I swear to Jeebus I heard at a frat party once). Julie tells him she loves him--he's the best friend she's ever had--but she's not in love with him, not that way. In common parlance, Bob has been Friendzoned; and in this example, as in so others I've heard of (in person, on the internet), Bob is PISSED.

So Bob and I grab a beer the next day, and he starts spilling his guts. I feel for him at first; unrequited love is painful, after all. Then he goes into attack mode.
 "She's just a bitch. She totally used me--to move her stuff, to be her shoulder to cry on! Shit, I even went shoe shopping with her. What straight guy goes shoe shopping with a girl he's not screwing? She totally exploited me, and I was such a nice guy [this will be an important phrase later--ed.], and I totally got friendzoned. Women are just users. They only go for assholes."

Now, let's analyze this. Bobs of the world, I'm going to speak directly to you. Everyone else, feel free to listen in.
1. If you befriend someone with the sole intent of getting in their pants, and you aren't honest about it (instead keeping your plans to yourself and thinking, "Oh, but if I go with her to this John Mayer concert/Sex and the City movie/do what the hell ever other 'nice guy' things, and never ever pressure her romantically, surely she will see that I'm the perfect guy for her and jump on my manhood like a starving dog on a bratwurst"), you aren't actually a 'nice guy.' I hate to break it to you, but you're misguided at best and a manipulative jerkface at worst.

PS--If you really think there should be a sort of contract, where you agree to act friendly and she agrees to give you a chance at a relationship, make that explicit at the beginning--ie, "Hey, I'm just helping you move and listening to you talk about your utterly boring friends in hopes that you'll eventually let me do unspeakable things to your awesome breasts. So let me know if we're a go on that, 'cause otherwise you can move this shit yourself, mmmkay?" Wait--you think that sounds totally awful and would probably get you kicked in the unmentionables? Yeah, exactly, because it lets her know what you yourself are incapable of seeing--you're kind of a self-centered, disingenuous git and not a 'nice guy' at all.

2. Being nice to a woman doesn't entitle you to her body. This idea that hanging out with/doing favors for a woman (you know, like actual FRIENDS do for each other?) means you should have a shot in bed is as old as it is ludicrous. It's like a lite version of the old date-rapey "I took her out to dinner, how dare she not sleep with me!" outrage. She didn't keep up her end of the contract, that frigid friendzoning bitch! Yawn. So twentieth century.
Look. Women are not agency-less sex-vending automatons whose legs spring open after you insert enough 'niceness tokens.' Believe it or not, women are people! Just like men! And they have thoughts and preferences and desires, just like men! And sometimes those desires don't coincide with yours, and that doesn't make either person's desires wrong. You're allowed to want her to sleep with you, and she's allowed to say no.

3. If your ego/emotional equilibrium is so fragile that someone telling you they aren't romantically attracted to you is enough to send you into paroxysms of rage and despair and misogynist Tourette's, you probably aren't ready for an adult relationship anyway. You don't need a girlfriend; you need a therapist.

4. Lastly, what's wrong with being friends with a member of the opposite sex? Friends are awesome--friends of all genders. Viewing every interaction with a member of the opposite sex in terms of humpage potential is limiting and sad. Don't be limited and sad.

For more awesome takes on this issue, try here or here or here.