politics, racism, Trump

Trump praises people with “good genes” and the “racehorse theory”…

Yesterday, I wrote about a Facebook convo I had with a male Trump supporting Christian who chastised me and a couple of my friends for painting Trump supporters with a “broad brush”. He claimed that he isn’t a racist and loves the Lord, and that the Lord is “using Trump” to do great things in America. He had a problem with the fact that I compared Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. From yesterday’s post:

For goodness sakes! Another Hitler reference. ? Now listen, Hitler would have never support Israel. Israel was under attack but it wasn’t by this President. Further more, Hitler was a socialist. He was driven by hatred and discontent. Trump is a competitor and wants to win. That’s getting old and tired.

And he also didn’t like that I accused him of drinking the KKKool-Aid…

Where do the references to Hitler, KKK, etc. come from? Do you have actual proof of those things? Why is it that before he became President all of the liberal media morons worshiped him and we’re giving him awards?

Well, as it so happens, this morning I was handed an example of Trump’s racist proclivities on a metaphorical silver platter. A friend of mine shared this article from The Rolling Stone, which covered Trump’s recent rally in Bemidji, Minnesota, a small city in the northern portion of the state. At the rally, which was mostly attended by lily white people, Trump rambled about a number of alarming issues.

At the beginning of his rally, Trump spoke about refugees, claiming that the subject of resettling them is one of the most pressing issues in the election. Minnesota is where a number of Somalian refugees have been resettled and, in fact, one of Minnesota’s representatives in Congress is resettled Somalian refugee, Ilhan Omar.

How the HELL did Trump win?

Then he went on to speak about the racial unrest in Minneapolis, a direct consequence of the public execution of George Floyd, a Black man who was wearing handcuffs as a White police officer pressed his knee into his neck and suffocated him. Trump then seemed gleeful as he remembered how Ali Veshi, an NBC correspondent of color, got hurt when he was struck by a rubber bullet…

“It was the most ‘beautiful’ thing!” It will be beautiful when this orange shitstain finally gets flushed.

As the crowd roared, Trump said, “Wasn’t it a beautiful sight? It’s called law and order!” Yes… something else Hitler and his cronies liked. Law and order.

Then, with his base fully buttered up with talk about reporters getting hurt while covering protests and not allowing Somali refugees safe harbor in the “land of the free and the home of the brave”, Trump goes full on racist as he compliments Minnesotans for their “good breeding”.

Ah… “good breeding”… “good genes”… Eugenics!

Maybe at face value, these comments don’t seem overtly racist. He talks about Minnesota’s settlers who didn’t have a lot of money, but they had each other and lots of grit… and “good genes”.

“You have good genes, you know that right?” Trump said to to a ripple of applause.

“A lot of it is about the genes, isn’t it? Don’t you believe? The racehorse theory,” he added.

What is the racehorse theory?  It’s the idea that “good” genes are the “right” genes. That’s the basis for eugenics, the theory that selective breeding can improve the human race. And you know who else supported that idea? That’s right– you guessed it– Adolf Hitler.

A very interesting German documentary (in English) about children who were kidnapped from around Eastern Europe and forcibly “Germanized”. If you have the time and inclination, I HIGHLY recommend watching this video.

You see, many of the people who champion Donald Trump are good old, salt of the earth, red-blooded American people who have never traveled, don’t read much, pride themselves on being law abiding, and probably don’t know much about history. They don’t like civil unrest or protests. They want people to toe the line and they don’t think too much about what that would mean in the grand scheme of things. They’re the type of people who support the letter of the law, rather than the spirit of it.

These folks aren’t the type of people who are curious about things that happened in Europe back the 1930s and 40s. I’m sure if they listened to the heartbroken man at the beginning of the above video– kidnapped from Poland when he was nine years old and forced to watch as his heavily pregnant mother was stabbed in the stomach with a pitch fork– many of them would have basic empathy. But they aren’t interested in such things. They aren’t curious. They like someone who promises to “restore order”, not encourage them to think beyond the orderly and see the forest for the trees.

Likewise, they don’t know about how kidnapped Polish children were chosen by Germans as if they were pets up for adoption. In the above video, there is the story of Herman, one of the first children abducted from Poland and sent to Germany to be raised by Nazis. An elegant German lady chose Herman from the home where he was living. A nurse told the lady that she could “pick” one of the children, “like at a chicken farm. I want that child; that one wasn’t so good.”

Heinrich Himmler, on the idea that children of “especially good race” from Polish families should be brought up in Germany and help make Germany the “mightiest country on Earth”.

Trump loves to be around people who aren’t curious, yet are easily aroused by charisma and hyperactive talk about making America “great” again and giving them a few more bucks in their paychecks. What do they care about Trump’s comments about people of color from other countries who are fleeing death and destruction in their homelands? Have they even considered why these people would run?

I’ll tell you something else. Although Trump loves talking to people who aren’t thinkers or readers, he doesn’t actually care about them. They’re beneath him because they’re poor. He would never deign to visit the simple home of a person from rural Minnesota and have a meal. He’d rather go to Palm Beach, Florida and play golf… something else a lot of his base can’t relate to, since golf is a very expensive sport for people who can also afford the time it takes to play.

I think if decent people took the time to listen to Trump, they might realize that he’s not a good person at all. There will be a day when people who supported Trump will be on the wrong side of history. They will be akin to people who admired Hitler, especially if he’s not stopped in November. But I know there are people who don’t care about that. They don’t care that they support an unabashed racist, because they are themselves racists.

Remember that back in January 2018, Donald Trump made a very telling comment about “shithole countries”. Here’s an excerpt from an article from The Washington Post from January 12, 2018.

President Trump grew frustrated with lawmakers Thursday in the Oval Office when they discussed protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal, according to several people briefed on the meeting. 

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, according to these people, referring to countries mentioned by the lawmakers.

Trump then suggested that the United States should instead bring more people from countries such as Norway, whose prime minister he met with Wednesday. The president, according to a White House official, also suggested he would be open to more immigrants from Asian countries because he felt that they help the United States economically.

In addition, the president singled out Haiti, telling lawmakers that immigrants from that country must be left out of any deal, these people said.

“Why do we need more Haitians?” Trump said, according to people familiar with the meeting. “Take them out.” 

Well… what kind of people are in Norway? Most of them are are White… the same shade and ancestry as people who settled Minnesota. What kind of people come from Haiti, El Salvador, and Africa? Mostly Black or Brown.

Incidentally, people who are in the Ku Klux Klan are also interested in white supremacy and fewer people coming to the United States from what they regard as “shithole” countries. They sympathize with Nazis.

Yep. He’s right.

So… the next time some very nice, Christian, male, Trump supporter wants evidence of Trump’s racist proclivities, I will think about Trump’s comments about Minnesotans and their “good genes”. They were thinly veiled references to eugenics, an idea that stirs up people who believe that White folks are superior to everyone else. It’s pretty disgusting that some people still think that way, but unfortunately, that’s how it is. However, I will grant that a lot of people who support Trump truly do think he’s “good” for America. They haven’t thought about eugenics. They know nothing about what happened in Germany (or America, for that matter) in the 1930s and 40s. It’s not on their radar. Frankly, they probably would rather not know. Ignorance is bliss.

It’s time Trump mounted the “racehorse theory” and rode it straight out of the White House. The White House is no place for him or his ilk. If you really care about America and other people, you will make a better choice and be on the right side of history. It’s that simple.

Edited to add: A bonus video for those who can stomach it.

A very good but graphic video about eugenics… and breeding for performance. Something Trump recently alluded to in Minnesota.

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healthcare, history, politics, tragedies

No… this era is not like the Holocaust… yet, anyway.

Someone in the Duggar Family News group posted about Dawn Wooten’s complaints about Irwin County Detention Center, the ICE facility in Georgia where precautions against COVID-19 are being ignored and women are supposedly being forced into having hysterectomies. I wrote about that situation myself yesterday.

Many people in the Duggar group were in disbelief about Wooten’s claims. Quite a few dismissed them outright as “bullshit”. They couldn’t conceive of something so horrible happening in the United States, particularly in this day and age. Apparently, they had never heard of the shameful eugenics programs that were quietly administered in the United States for decades, as recently as in the late 20th century. As I mentioned yesterday, my home state of Virginia had such a program until as late as 1979. In fact, as of 1924, Virginia even had a law on the books that served as a model for other states’ eugenics programs.

The Virginia Sterilization Act of 1924 was upheld by the Supreme Court as constitutional. From 1924 until 1979, 7325 people were forcibly sterilized for being “mentally deficient” or “mentally ill”. Approximately 22 percent of the people who were sterilized were Black. Many people were sterilized for having chronic illnesses such as epilepsy, for being impoverished, or for being “feeble-minded”, “an idiot”, “an imbecile” or “afflicted with hereditary forms of insanity that are recurrent”. Although involuntary sterilization does occur today, it is now supposed to be done strictly for non-eugenic purposes on people who are “unable to give informed consent, in need of contraception, unable to use any other form of contraception, and permanently unable to raise a child”.

In 2001, the Virginia General Assembly passed a joint resolution apologizing for the misuse of “a respectable, ‘scientific’ veneer to cover activities of those who held blatantly racist views.” But it wasn’t until 2015 that Virginia agreed to financially compensate people who were sterilized under the Act. Given that the sterilization program ended in 1979, a lot of the people who might have been compensated are long gone. Although other states had similar programs allowing for sterilization of certain people without their consent, Virginia’s program ran longer than other states’ programs did.

Even though Virginia and other states did have laws on the books that allowed for sterilizing certain people, it’s clearly not something that people talk about much today. I don’t remember where I first heard about eugenics, but I don’t think it was in school. I probably learned about it in college, when I took courses in Women’s Literature and African American Literature.

Or it might have been through my own study of the Holocaust, which started when we lived in Germany the first time. I started reading a lot of books by Holocaust survivors, marveling at that time in history and how horrible it was… and how many of the places affected I had already been to visit. Since moving back to Germany in 2014, I’ve been to even more of them. It’s also likely that I ran across a magazine or news article about the history of eugenics.

All I know is that we didn’t talk about this in a classroom I was ever in, even though I did learn about concepts such as the “one drop rule“, which held that anyone with a drop of Black blood would be considered Black. Naturally, it would be very difficult to quantify such a thing. Practically speaking, it meant that anyone with known African ancestry was considered Black, in spite of how he or she appeared.

In any case, as I was reading the comments in the Duggar Family News group, it became pretty obvious to me that a lot of Americans simply never learned about this shameful chapter of the past. So when they saw the news articles about a doctor in Georgia forcibly sterilizing female detainees in an ICE facility in Georgia, they immediately assumed it was bullshit. The idea of that sounded outrageous to them, even though it went on in the United States for many years and, at that time, it was deemed completely legal.

Ever since Trump became president, there have been a lot of comments about how much he is like Adolf Hitler. Even here in Germany, where people have an acute sensitivity to all things Nazi related, people have said Trump reminds them of Hitler. I figure if anyone should know about that, it would be Germans. To their credit, most Germans are extremely remorseful and ashamed of their past. They are determined to learn from history and not repeat it.

Reading and hearing about doctors in Georgia who are removing the reproductive parts of detainees sounds very much like something that could (and did) go on during the Holocaust. However… as horrifying as that news was yesterday and as frighteningly “Nazi-ish” as forced hysterectomies are, I can’t quite say that we’ve quite reached the horrors of the Holocaust. I know some people believe we have, but I can’t bring myself to do that yet. Personally, I think that to definitively compare today’s situation to what happened in Europe in the 1940s is disrespectful to those who were directly affected by the Holocaust. I think the Holocaust was much worse than Trump’s America is, at least at this point in time. We’re not yet talking about actual genocide, like Hitler and his cronies were carrying out in the 1940s. I have not heard about mass murders of millions of people yet, only that people are being rounded up and put in detention centers– which is certainly horrible enough, but does not equate to murder.

However… if things don’t change soon, I fear that we could absolutely find ourselves repeating history, and I can see why many people think Trump’s era is similar to the Holocaust era. If people continue to get away with doing horrible things like sterilizing women in ICE detention facilities, there could be a slippery slope into normalizing increasingly horrific practices such as rounding up people, putting them on packed trains, shipping them to prison camps, and sending them straight to the gas chambers or working them until they die of disease or exhaustion without a second thought or a moment of remorse. But I don’t think we’re there yet, or at least I fervently HOPE we aren’t. So that’s why I say that what was reported yesterday, if it’s true, brings us closer to Nazi territory.

As inhumane and terrible as what is going on is right now, in my opinion, it doesn’t quite compare to the horrors of what happened to Jews, homosexuals, communists, rabble rousers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or any of the other groups Hitler hated. And thanks to the advances in technology, it’s a lot harder for people to be completely blinded to what’s going on around them. In the 1940s, there was no constant stream of news like we have today. There was no way to communicate quickly and efficiently like we can today. It was a lot easier to build secret camps and prisons and talk decent people in turning a blind eye than it is today.

But then… an awful lot of people I love and have historically respected are supportive of Trump and his despicable policies and inhumane attitudes toward people who aren’t like him (which thankfully, is just about everyone). The people who support him simply haven’t realized that he doesn’t care about them. They think he’s just a normal person with a big mouth, and he’s not.

I would like to hope that if there is, in fact, an OB-GYN in Georgia who is performing unnecessary hysterectomies on migrant women who come to him for medical help, he’s acting alone. I would hope he hasn’t been officially recruited to do these surgeries as a way to stop certain “undesirables” from breeding. I would hope that it’s his own twisted idea, and that he’s not only stopped from practicing medicine, but is prosecuted and locked up. Sadly, I don’t think I’d be surprised if I heard of other doctors doing similarly barbaric things to helpless and desperate migrants who need medical care. Some of them probably think they’re doing good for the country by stopping “illegals”. They have crossed the line that makes them forget that these are human beings they’re dealing with, not pests that need to be exterminated or “fixed”. They have forgotten that they took a sacred oath to do no harm.

For those who haven’t yet seen it, here is a link to the complaint that was submitted to the Inspector General at the Department of Homeland Security. I truly hope this claim is thoroughly investigated and people are brought to justice. Edited to add: This article from NBC news identifies the doctor in question. Below is an excerpt:

The doctor, who three lawyers identified as Dr. Mahendra Amin, practicing in Douglas, Georgia, has continued to see women from the Irwin County Detention Center for the past several years despite complaints from his patients.

Amin was the subject of a Justice Department investigation in 2015 for making false claims to Medicaid and Medicare. As a result, he and other doctors involved paid $525,000 in a civil settlement, according to the Justice Department.

Other women who have been to see Dr. Amin say he is “rough”, and a couple of them left his office with bruising.

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language, overly helpful people, rants

Hey Digga!

Here comes another one of my rants about overly sensitive language cops. It comes this morning as my friend from my hometown shared a news article about a professor at the University of Southern California, who went viral for teaching about pause or filler words in China and using a word that sounded a lot like the n-bomb.

Professor Greg Patton, who teaches communications, was talking about the Chinese equivalent of “err” and “um”, you know, what we in English speaking countries say as we’re thinking about the next thing we’re going to say, but we don’t want “dead air”. It turns out that in Chinese, the “filler” language akin to our “ums” and “errs” is the Chinese word for “that”, which is evidently “na-ge”. And spoken out loud, “na-ge” sounds a bit like the taboo n-bomb.

Naturally, someone was filming the professor, and the footage made it to the Internet. Several students complained to Geoffrey Garrett, dean of the University of Southern California. And now, Professor Patton is no longer teaching the course. According to the article, Patton voluntarily stepped away, as Garrett stated:

“It is simply unacceptable for the faculty to use words in class that can marginalize, hurt and harm the psychological safety of our students,”

News of the debacle reached China, where native speakers posted on social media that the backlash was discriminatory toward speakers of Chinese. Interestingly enough, I have another friend who lived in China for awhile and she frequently told me about how racist their society is. In fact, in the Toytown Germany thread I reference later in this post, someone wrote this:

Silly and sad, just shows you how people are tripping over themselves to show how not a racist! they are. Big smiiiiiiles, eeeeeeveryone’s happy, no one’s racist here, nosirreee… All a little different from actually not being racist.

As an aside, China is an objectively far more racist society. Pot, kettle, black. The Chinese government knows full well what resonates in foreign media for political effect. Their diplomats will criticize America’s racism, while within China, Africans are called chocolate or monkeys and many restaurants or hotels forbid entry. Not to mention the current Uyghur concentration camps. There are no self-reflective large anti-racism movements.

A few months back, veteran Canadian news reporter Wendy Mesley for the CBC (like the BBC) got in deep doodoo for betraying her secret racism. While in a conference room with producers (apparently none Black?), discussing a specific episode of her show and how they should cover BLM protests and racial issues, she said that word while discussing how they should refer to this work here. It’s the title. The discussion was about that and she said the title. She was (temporarily?) removed as host and issued an apology, etc. Confession and repentance, 50 Hail Marys and 50 Our Fathers.

Obviously the word shouldn’t be used, but it’s hard to see what this kind of official censure for using it in (closed door) academic/historical contexts achieves. The reporter is known for her progressive liberal stances. Of course, CBC as a state broadcaster had to do something… 

My reaction to this? Big sigh. I have already written more than once about my strong aversion to burying language and banning words, particularly when they are words that only sound like offensive words. I am also extremely irritated when people don’t have their facts straight and attempt to ban words based on untruths. But, most of all, it disappoints and offends me that people who attend a prestigious school like the University of Southern California are not intelligent enough to understand the difference between someone deliberately being hurtful by using clearly derogatory and racist language, and a professor who is actually trying to educate them about another culture and language.

Seriously? My opinion of the California USC (as opposed to the “original” USC, my alma mater, the University of South Carolina), has now dropped considerably. With all of the other crap going on right now, one would hope a famous and storied school like USC, where parents are going to prison and paying fines for cheating their kids’ ways past the admissions office, could rise above something as petty as this without it making the news. I certainly don’t think a man’s livelihood should be threatened over this incident. And it should not be international news, either!

What the hell are colleges and universities for if there can’t be a free exchange of ideas without people getting offended? Colleges and universities are supposed to be places where ideas can be born and hashed out, and language can be used in an instructional way. Professor Patton was not trying to be offensive. He was trying to educate! That’s his job!

You might be wondering about the title of this post. It comes from a recent thread on a Web site called Toytown Germany, which I joined in 2008, when we lived in Germany the first time (pre-Facebook days). I still hang out on Toytown Germany on occasion, as it’s a very useful source of information about living in Germany and the information isn’t strictly for the U.S. military affiliated population. That site has many people on it from all around the world, including Germans. The one thing they have in common is the ability to speak English.

Anyway, recently, a woman who teaches in a German school started a post about the German slang word “digga” and how she finds it offensive. The original poster teaches in an inner city school in Cologne. She’s a native English speaker from an “ethnic minority background” and she writes that she doesn’t generally try to prevent her students from using slang. However, she tried to draw the line at the word “digga”, because it sounded a lot like the n-bomb and she felt her students were using the word in a derogatory way. Clearly, it was triggering her a lot.

“Digga” is a word that originated near Hamburg. It’s basically akin to the English slang terms, “dude” or “bro”. She wrote:

I banned the word ‘digga’ in my class and I told the students that they should be ashamed to be using such language whilst considering themselves anti-racist and progressive. Now I have had a bit of pushback from a few parents who say I shouldn’t stop kids from using their German language slang.

I have had to bite my own tongue and hold back. I think  parents need to listen to the music their kids are listening to, they need to pay attention to the media their kids are consuming but most are quite naive or really don’t want to know.

This lady also got quite a pushback in Toytown Germany, which isn’t surprising. That forum is not exactly “politically correct” and people will not hesitate to tell off anyone who comes off as ignorant. Many people told the teacher she was wrong to ban the word “digga”, as it is not a racist epithet. This was the first of many comments she got:

digga comes from “dicker” (a kind of fond way of addressing someone who is your friend, and it also has nothing to do with them actually being fat), it has no associations to nigga whatsoever and I agree with the parents that you are overreacting as well as overreaching.  It is also not a new phenomenon, has been popular at least as long as I have lived here although back in the early 2000s it seemed like more of a Hamburg thing that kind of made its way over.

In any case it really has nothing to do with nigga.  

One person was sympathetic to the teacher’s plight and wrote this:

Verbal violence is a form of abuse and precursor to other violence. It all starts somewhere. Sigh. Fighting it is an uphill battle. Letting slip leads to the abnormal becoming normalised. Saying nothing condones this undesirable behaviour. This possibly escapes the attention of the parents. However, their and your energy is limited and you have to choose how to use it. The insider connoisseurs claim the expression is harmless… but you see it in context. You don’t have an easy job!

Okay, but words are always evolving. I can think of a half dozen of them right off the bat that once were totally innocuous and later turned into insults that need to be banned. The word “faggot”, as well as its abbreviated form “fag”, for instance, has a few meanings, only one of which is derogatory. And yet if you say that word in certain places, you will face a huge backlash.

Ditto for the word “retard”, which is a perfectly innocent word with forms that are used in many languages. In fact, we heard it correctly used in France and Italy– it had to do with the train schedules. But now it’s pretty much banned in the United States.

It seems to me that we focus way too much on words and not nearly enough on attitudes and context. Instead of banning words and firing hapless professors who use certain words in their classes, we should take a moment to consider the context. Was the professor trying to be hurtful when he used that word? Was the professor being oppressive? In the case involving the USC professor, I don’t think so. In the case involving the teacher in Germany, I would argue that trying to impose the standards of one’s own language and homeland to people from another country is overreaching.

Banning words or making them taboo doesn’t change negative attitudes. A person can be racist and never drop the n-bomb. A person can be non-racist and use the n-bomb in an instructive way. Think it can’t be done? Try reading a slave narrative and banning that word. Try listening to certain musical selections where it’s referenced. “Living for the City” by Stevie Wonder immediately comes to mind, as it has in my previous rants about this topic.

To the teacher’s credit, she did come back and thank everyone for setting her straight. Ultimately, she was looking for clarification and the right way to handle this situation, even taking into account that she has an “obvious walking disability” and is a person from “an ethnic minority background”. The thread continued for several pages and was revived when the news came out about the professor at the University of Southern California.

Again, I reference what Dean Geoffrey Garrett said in response to the uproar about the Chinese filler speech that sounds like the n-bomb…

“It is simply unacceptable for the faculty to use words in class that can marginalize, hurt and harm the psychological safety of our students,”

Wow. So he’s very concerned about the “psychological safety” of students in a world where they have been regularly threatened by school shooters, terrorists, cops who kill innocent people, and deadly rogue viruses like COVID-19? I mean… people are getting killed or dying by the day in the United States, sometimes while just sleeping in their own beds! And he’s worried that his students will be permanently scarred by the Chinese word “na-ge”, which just happens to sound like the n-bomb, an English slur? Seems to me that the dean needs to gain a global perspective and stop being so politically correct. Don’t be so open-minded that your brain falls out. That’s my motto.

Right now, many people are focused on simple SURVIVAL. The people who are lucky enough to attend the University of Southern California ought to know the difference between someone being hateful and derogatory toward a group of people and someone who is talking about another culture with another language. They need to grow up and wise up. In the vast majority of cases, if they’re at USC, they obviously have had a lot of things go right in their lives.

They’re in a class where they’re learning about something that most people would never have the opportunity to study because they’re too busy learning skills that will keep them alive and able to pay their bills! They are probably the last people who need to be up in arms over a professor teaching them about Chinese filler words that happen to sound like a racist epithet in some parts of the world. And if they’re offended in the classroom in California, God help them if they go to China and actually hear Chinese people saying “Na-ge” over and over again. There will be many special snowflake meltdowns!

Jeez!

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complaints, language, rants

Double Repost: Fired for teaching about homophones and “Leave me alone”

I wrote these two posts in August 2014, days after we arrived in Stuttgart, Germany from Texas. I was tired, irritable, and not in the mood to argue. These posts are the end result of an argument I had on Facebook with yet another former Epinionator (explained in today’s previous post). And since these are related and I don’t want to do two reposts today, I’m combining them for those with a lot of time on their hands.

Bear in mind, both of these posts are about six years old and haven’t been edited to reflect today’s new information or current controversies. I still think getting upset over an innocuous word that just happens to sound like a racial slur is counterproductive, but I am also not in the habit of using the word “niggardly”, for precisely the reason that most people can’t properly define it and could get offended. I just think if people do use it properly, they shouldn’t automatically be branded as racist.

Yesterday, I read the very sad story of Tim Torkildson, a social media specialist at an English language learning center in Provo, Utah.  Mr. Torkildson had a blog and wrote a post about homophones, a staple of every young American child’s early language instruction.  Homophones are words that sound alike, but are spelled differently and have different meanings.  Meet and meat are homophones; so are so, sow, and sew.  Actually, when I learned about homophones, they were called homonyms.  But then I moved to another school and encountered the other term.

One would think homophones would be a completely innocuous thing to blog about, especially if one is teaching English to non-native English speakers.  Homophones can be pretty tricky for the uninitiated.  Unfortunately, Mr. Torkildson’s blog post didn’t sit well with his boss, Clarke Woodger, owner of the Nomen Global Language Center.  Mr. Woodger allegedly fired Mr. Torkildson because he fears the blog post will associate his school with “the gay agenda”.

That’s right.  A man who owns a language center tasked with teaching English as a foreign language is afraid to teach students about homophones…  apparently, because he is afraid his potential students will think his school teaches about homosexuals.  Woodger explained to the Salt Lake Tribune that his students come from 58 countries and many have only a basic understanding of English.  If that’s true, would they even necessarily know what the word “homosexual” or the shortened euphemism “homo” means?  

I posted about this on Facebook and remarked that it reminded me of the whole “niggardly” debate.  In 1999, David Howard, who was then working as an aide for Anthony Williams, the mayor of Washington, D.C., used the word “niggardly” to describe how he would have to manage a fund’s tight budget.  The word “niggardly” means miserly or parsimonious.  It sounds a little like the infamous n-bomb, but is actually spelled differently and has absolutely no etymological relation to the word “nigger”.  Mr. Howard used the word properly and not in a racist way at all.  However, a couple of people he was working with were not familiar with the word, which has understandably fallen out of fashion.  Within ten days of using that word, David Howard was handing in his resignation to Mayor Williams, who hastily accepted it.

I remember being pretty disgusted when I heard about this situation, even though I know the word “niggardly” is not exactly a word one hears every day anymore.  I learned the word in a vocabulary lesson when I was in the 9th grade.  Moreover, even if I hadn’t, it seemed to me that a simple conversation about intent and a quick consultation with a dictionary would have cleared up the issue before it ever made the news.  Of course that didn’t happen, and it was a national case…  a very embarrassing national case, especially since the people involved were D.C. government officials who should have known better or at least conducted themselves in a more professional manner.

The controversial word properly defined. I don’t think it’s particularly wise to use it these days, but I do think people should know what it means so they won’t be offended unnecessarily.

I understand that David Howard’s choice to use the word “niggardly” instead of miserly, stingy, or parsimoniously was probably a mistake.  However, I think the bigger mistake was made by the people who ignorantly took him to task for saying something he didn’t actually say.

A very liberal and, I think, terminally guilty Facebook friend of mine took me to task for defending Howard.  He wrote:

“The word “niggardly”, which is archaic, doesn’t mean anything “miserly” doesn’t, so anyone doubling down on the use of it is actually trying to be an asshole. “Homophone” is the only word that means what it means – AND, it doesn’t resemble any offensive word, anyway.” 

Not knowing David Howard personally, I have a hard time discerning if he actually intended “to be an asshole” or just decided he wanted to use a 50 cent word to express himself.  I told my Facebook friend that it was his opinion that using that word makes someone an asshole.

He came back trying to school me with a Wikipedia article about the controversies surrounding the word “niggardly”…  It was an article I had already read, along with an excellent book by Randall Kennedy about the word “nigger”.  The incident regarding David Howard and the DC government was discussed at length in his book, Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word.  Kennedy, by the way, is a black, left leaning Harvard law professor (or at least he was a professor when the book was published in 2002).  While I don’t use the n-word or even the word “niggardly” myself, I have to admit it was interesting to read about the history of the word.  I would recommend Kennedy’s book to anyone who wants an interesting language lesson.

In any case, while I respect my Facebook friend’s position about not offending people by using words they might not know or that may upset others, I also believe that people have a responsibility to educate themselves about their own language.  They also have a responsibility to stop and think before they react.  Anyone who reads this blog may already know that I am not a fan of “burying language”.  Offensive words that become taboo eventually get replaced by other words that end up needing to be made taboo.  Moreover, changing the language doesn’t necessarily change a painful condition.

I am a big fan of looking at intent, too.  You may hear someone use language that, taken at surface level, sounds offensive.  But I think it makes sense to think about what the communicator was trying to communicate before you react with offense.  As an English major in college, I read a lot of books by black writers.  The so-called n-word was rife in most of those books.  Should I have been offended?  I don’t think so… because that word served a legitimate purpose in what I was reading.  Do I think it’s smart to go around casually using controversial words that may offend people?  Generally not, though there are always exceptions to that rule.  An intelligent person looks at the situation objectively, though.  They don’t pressure a person to resign from a job over misunderstanding a word like “niggardly” and they don’t fire someone over teaching about homophones because they fear people might think they are promoting “the gay agenda” (not that I think that’s necessarily a bad thing to promote).

Of course I understand why people like my Facebook friend think it’s better to just not go there with words like “niggardly”.  It’s very easy to bury taboo words or symbols (or even words that sound like taboo words or symbols) and dismiss them as “offensive”.  It’s a lot more challenging to use your brain and determine the communicator’s intent and whether or not it’s worthwhile to be offended by their message.  I think it’s sad that more people aren’t more willing to use their brains instead of their emotions when they are expressing themselves.    

And here is the follow up post from a couple of days later in which I told the guy to “leave me alone”.

“Leave me alone…”

That’s what I ended up telling my Facebook friend yesterday, after our day long debate on whether or not it’s appropriate to use the word “niggardly”.  This guy, I’ll call him “B”, probably ought to be dropped from my friends list because, to be quite frank, I don’t really like him that much.

My disdain for B started many months before this latest incident.  I have never actually met him in person, but have had a number of online run ins with him.  We don’t tend to agree on a whole lot of issues.  He is much more liberal than I am.  That’s not the reason I don’t like him, though.  The reason I don’t like him is that he seems to think I’m stupid and treats me with condescension.

When I first “met” B on Epinions.com, we didn’t have that many issues.  Every once in awhile, he’d read one of my book or music reviews and leave a comment.  I remember he commented on a review I wrote about a book about military brats.  I was one and now I am married to a retired soldier, so I have also been a military wife.  For some reason, this guy seemed to think that was reason to pity me.  I remember the comment he made referenced how many times kids in military families have to move.   My experience as an Air Force brat didn’t include a lot of moving because my father retired when I was very young.  Moreover, when I was a kid, there were times I wished we would move.

Years after that, I started writing on a blog that he also writes on.  I noticed he would leave comments that on the surface seemed innocuous, but had a weird undercurrent of criticism to them.  It almost felt like he was upset that I was writing on the blog too.  I had been asked by the man who owns the blog to contribute to it, as obviously he was, too.  We have different tastes in music and different writing styles.  But I noticed at first, he would criticize my subject matter or make some comment about how I had written something.  I usually kept my few comments on his articles positive, though if I had wanted to, I probably could have been equally critical.  One time, he criticized me for writing about how to sing better online and the types of equipment you should use.  Then, many months later, he actually asked me for more information on the equipment I use when I make recordings.  Go figure.

I also noticed that a lot of times, I’d post an article and he’d post one too, within hours of my post.  He might not have written for weeks, but by God, he’d pick one of the two days when I almost always post and put new content ahead of mine.  I guess he figures that will mean more people will read his work, but based on what I’ve seen on Statcounter, it’s my articles that get more readings by people who aren’t personal friends or family members.

Because we were writing on that blog, we became Facebook friends.  And every once in awhile, I might post on a topic that he feels inclined to opine about.  That’s fine.  I want my friends to interact with me.  I don’t mind it when we disagree, either.  I just don’t like to be treated with disrespect, and that’s kinda how I felt like he was treating me.  Yesterday, he seemed bound and determined to school me on why my way of thinking is wrong.  It’s not that I didn’t understand him; I just plain disagreed with him.

He kept explaining why the word “niggardly” is rude and ought to be banned.  I kept explaining that “niggardly”, despite sounding like a racial slur, is a totally innocent word.  It honestly has absolutely no relation to the n-bomb.  It is spelled differently.  It has different etymological origins.  It’s actually a much older word that has been used a lot in literature.  And it just plain hasn’t a damn thing to do with the word “nigger”.  It just doesn’t!

Oddly enough, B kept writing that no one has been fired for using the word “niggardly”.  He was referring to my original comment that the post about the Utah homophone debacle reminded me of the “ridiculous niggardly debate” and that I wished people would check a dictionary before they resort to firing people for using words they don’t know.  Now, in B’s defense, I didn’t clearly specify that I was referring to the Utah homophone guy being fired and not David Howard, the D.C. mayor’s aide who was basically forced to resign over his use of the word in 1999.  But it was late; I was jet lagged; and frankly, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal.  I mean, obviously the guy teaching about homophones should not have been fired and it didn’t occur to me that someone on my friends list hated the word “niggardly” so much.

David Howard, unfortunate utterer of the word “niggardly”, also should not have lost his job, whether through firing or forced resignation (and he did eventually go back to work in a different mayoral office).  My position is that it’s hard to know how many people have been fired for using that word.  B’s is that there are apparently a bunch of right wing pundits out there who make it their business to write about such incidents.  But really, David Howard is hardly a right wing poster child.  He’s gay and worked for the D.C. government, a constituency that is over half black and consistently votes blue.    

B also brought up other examples of people who used the word “niggardly” and had offended people.  Several examples came from schools and universities.  I’m guessing he meant to sway me with those examples, but one of his examples included former University of Wisconsin English major Amelia Rideau, who became upset when her English professor used the word while discussing Chaucer.  She said it sounded too much like the racial slur.  The professor then explained the meaning and origin of the word.  B claimed the professor was doing his job “badly” because he offended his student.  He also brought up the fact that the professor was being paid for his work.  Ms. Rideau went so far as to try to get that word banned from the school, a measure that I find chilling in an academic environment, especially at a public university like the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  If you can’t have a free exchange of ideas without language restrictions in a university environment, where can you have one?  

My position is that Ms. Rideau was paying for an education and should have been open to actually being educated.  She does not get to dictate what words her teacher uses, so long as he’s not using abusive or derogatory language.  The word “niggardly”, despite sounding like a slur, simply isn’t a slur.  It’s neither abusive nor derogatory.  She needed to grow up and get over herself.  Moreover, as an English major, she should have realized that many works of literature include what may be construed as objectionable language.  Read anything by Mark Twain.  Read a slave narrative.  Read any book that tackles racism and you’ll run into truly derogatory language that actually serves a purpose.  Where would the study of literature be if every English major got upset over every encounter with hurtful or racist words?

The fact is, language changes all the time.  Most people don’t use the word “niggardly” casually anymore.  But hell, if you’re in an English class, particularly if it’s college level, where you might be reading literature that includes outdated words, I think you need to be grown up enough to accept that.    

Finally, toward the end of the day, B wrote:

We agree about the “homophone” teacher, firmly — I’ve said so three times. Now four. I’ve explained, as carefully as I could, why the situations are very different. Read it in a few days when you’re not jet-lagged. I’m bored with this too.

I was pretty exasperated by this point and found his final comment a bit insulting to my intelligence.  He basically implied that jet lag was clouding my sense of reason when actually, I just didn’t agree with him and his arguments weren’t swaying my opinion.  I also never saw any indication that he respected my right to disagree with him, while I took pains to explain that my opinions are my own and not represented as facts.  So here is my response:

Good. I’m glad you’re bored with this topic. I don’t think we have a miscommunication; I think we just disagree. Please quit commenting and leave me alone.

I’m sorry it had to end this way.  I really don’t like getting annoyed with people; but I also don’t like being browbeaten by self-righteous twits who refuse to acknowledge or respect a difference of opinion.  I don’t think I was unreasonable, nor am I fighting for the right to use the word “niggardly” in my own day to day conversations.  I just think people need to be more sensible and quit taking offense at every little quirk of the English language.  That’s why I don’t participate in campaigns to ban the “r word” or the “n word” or any other word.  Context and actual intent, people!  Let’s just focus on that instead of trying to eradicate words that may or may not hurt feelings.

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Police

Nowadays, even burgers are political…

A couple of days ago, I read about how several people working at Five Guys in Daphne, Alabama took it upon themselves not to serve some police officers who came in for dinner. Apparently, they cops didn’t have masks as they approached. They went back to their vehicles to get the masks and when they returned, one of the cops overheard a worker say, “I’m not serving them,” as other employees turned their backs on them. The officers took their business elsewhere, complained to the store’s management, and the incident became international news. The employees involved in the incident have all either been suspended or terminated, and everyone working at the Daphne, Alabama outlet of Five Guys has had to endure extra training.

I was left shaking my head as I read this story. I had originally shared it on my Facebook page with the comment, “Not cool.” A friend asked which part of the story wasn’t cool. My response was that the employees choosing not to serve the police officers wasn’t cool. He approved of that comment, as I figured he would. I have a feeling he thinks I’m a bleeding heart liberal through and through. The fact is, I’m really not that liberal about all things. I don’t like corrupt politicians, and there are plenty of those on either side of the political spectrum. Hell, I don’t like corrupt “PEOPLE”. I’m no Trump fan, as most people know, but that doesn’t mean I don’t embrace some conservative values, like doing one’s job when one is on the clock, being paid.

One of my very liberal friends decided to weigh in on the issue. She supported what the workers did, because of #blacklivesmatter and #defundthepolice. I had posted that not all cops are corrupt, but she maintained that the Five Guys workers had every right to turn the police officers’ mealtime into a political statement because some cops are corrupt. She also thinks that since this is now “news”, the people who decided to protest the police on company time have done a great service to the movement. I disagree, of course, and here’s why.

I don’t know much about Daphne, Alabama, and I know nothing about the people who chose to protest on company time. But I do know something about living in the South. A cursory look at Daphne on Google tells me that it’s kind of a suburb of Mobile, Alabama, which is a pretty good sized city. So maybe, if the people working in that restaurant have their own transportation, being fired from Five Guys isn’t a big deal. They can go out and get another job with ease. My friend also pointed out that it’s a “fast food” place, and those jobs are a dime a dozen, and that’s usually true, especially when you live in a city…

But it looks like Daphne isn’t the biggest town. I grew up in a town much the same size. I left there permanently over twenty years ago, and people there still remember me. That was BEFORE the Internet really took off, which has made the world a smaller place than it used to be. Although I haven’t seen the names or pictures of the people who protested, my guess is that local people know who was involved. That might make getting a new job in Daphne problematic for them. Consider, too, that the people in that town probably don’t appreciate such a stunt. Based on the negative comments on the restaurant’s Facebook page, it looks like maybe the “message” sent by the protest was lost on the local populace, who would be the people I would expect the protesters were targeting.

Again– if the people involved have access to their own transportation, maybe it’s not a big deal. But what if one or more of them has to walk to and from work? It can be a real pisser if your commute by foot goes from a half a mile to two or three miles, especially in July in Alabama. Does Daphne have a bus system? I don’t know. Taxis can be very expensive. So is gas, especially if you don’t have a job. On the other hand, that could also work the other way. Perhaps it’s a minor point.

Of course, I don’t know anything about the ex employee protesters. Maybe the Five Guys gig was a second job that provided extra cash, rather than a main stream of income. Maybe they could afford to lose the job. But what if they couldn’t? Now they’ll probably have to look for new work during a pandemic. That might not be easy for them, and again, I’m not sure what they did really changed anyone’s hearts and minds about the police.

Another thing that occurred to me is that the workers were basically protesting unfair treatment and discrimination by the police toward black and brown people. It seems kind of strange to me that their response to that problem is to turn around and do the same thing. Fight discrimination by being discriminatory toward a group of people who do police work? Even if the police officers were exemplary cops who had made the town safer? And even now, a few days later, it’s not exactly clear to me if that was what they were doing when they turned their backs on the cops. At first, it seemed like the protest was about #blacklivesmatter, but then I saw something about face masks and how the cops didn’t have them at first. So were they being refused service due to a lack of masks? Or was this a statement on the corrupt nature of the police? Did they plan to do this in advance, or was this a spontaneous decision? What was the message?

Finally, the very essence of working in a fast food restaurant is service. If you’re a fast food worker who chooses not to serve someone simply on the basis of their employment, you’re not doing your job. For that reason, you deserve to be fired, and other employers would be within their rights not to hire you for a similar position. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe the people who got fired don’t want or need a similar position. BUT– my guess is that if they do decide they want to work at one of Five Guys’ competitors or any other service related job, this issue will arise anew. Cops are people too, and they have needs. If you’re unwilling or unable to serve them, then you’re not a good fit for the service industry.

I don’t blame people for being angry about the way some police officers have treated some people. I also know about a certain very famous football player who famously “takes a knee” when the “Star Spangled Banner” is played. Many people who take issue with Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel in protest say that he shouldn’t be protesting while on the clock. Personally, I don’t care one way or the other if he kneels, because I don’t follow football, and ultimately when he plays football, he is doing his job. Kneeling while the anthem plays may be disrespectful, but it doesn’t affect his actual work. However, Colin Kaepernick is also a famous football star, and he can probably afford to use his platform in such a way. Google tells me that he makes about $7 million a year, and I see that he recently signed a deal with Disney. He’s not easily replaced. People who work in fast food restaurants, unfortunately, are not usually quite so special.

As I write this, I am reminded of an incident that happened in Lexington, Virginia at a restaurant called The Red Hen. The proprietor there declined to serve Sarah Huckabee Sanders based on her employees’ reluctance. But, in that situation, the restaurant’s co-owner ultimately made the decision. It was her business, and therefore her right to make that call. The same is not true in the Five Guys situation. My family is actually from a community not far from Lexington; it’s the town where I got married. When I go back there, I plan to stop by The Red Hen.

In the Five Guys incident, the people who took a stand were employees of a franchise. Their decision to refuse to serve the police officers affects the chain as a whole, because it became international news. Moreover, it’s not like the owner of the restaurant said, “It’s alright with me if you protest on company time.” Those workers apparently took it upon themselves to make personal statements that affected their place of business. In the Red Hen incident, the employees had the backing of the person who had the most to lose. Also, Sarah Sanders Huckabee is a public figure– one person whose actions are definitely protest worthy. The police officers in Daphne are simply folks who do police work for a living. Maybe one or more of them have done protest worthy things, but it’s not clear from the news stories I’ve seen so far.

I do think that the United States criminal justice system must be reformed. People have every right to be angry that George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others have been killed by police officers. I see nothing wrong with protesting on one’s own time. The Five Guys employees had every right to protest. But doing it while on the job was just asking to be fired. Maybe they don’t care about that, but they might want to consider that it could affect their prospects of being hired by someone else. That might make it more difficult to be an effective protester in the long run.

Anyway, here in Germany, things are pretty good. There are problems here, but police officers are generally respected and respectable. And because people have been cooperating, the COVID-19 issue isn’t so bad here. Bill and I even got to enjoy a lovely lunch on Sunday… and we were told we did NOT need our masks AT ALL, even to go inside to use the rest room. That was really awesome– although as far as I know, masks are still required in shops and on public transportation.

I think Americans can take a lesson from the Germans. Mutual respect and consideration is a good thing and it leads to a better life for everyone.

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