Friday, March 26, 2010

Bad Words: Part One, Perhaps



How do I preface this? Let's see...(and, bare with me because this may be a more-than-one-post deal.)

We all know words, in and of themselves aren't inherently bad, context is key. I've recently experienced a few, well several, but a few stand out as being particularly puzzling. Well, no; they aren't really puzzling. You see, I understand the power of words, if not the particular power of these words; especially not to the extent in which power has been assigned.

First instance: A few months ago whilst buying some necessities at Sally's Beauty Supply there was a robbery. Cues Batman music and totally wishes I could find a Bam! to add right here...damn that would rock. Sorry. As I stood at the front register trying to convince myself that I needed any number of mud packs, foot creams and hair serums, I heard a commotion happening in the back of the store. The cashier looked up in the spy-cam-mirror-doodad as the other store employee-who'd just minutes earlier told me she had a baby 8 weeks ago, engaged in a verbal altercation with the Beauty Supplies Bandit.

"What did you just put in your bag, take it out!" The employee scolded. "I don't got nothing bitch", the bandit retorts. No, that's not the bad word, keep reading. "Get outta my way!" "Don't you tell me nothing", says the employee, in a pretty good mom voice for a newbie. And, then the woman says, "Do you want to see what's in my bag bitch?! Do you?! Do you?!" And, the employee screams "Oh my god she has a gun! Call the police!" Don't ask me why I am still waiting to pay for my beauty supplies, ahem necessities. Thinking back, who cares if my feet were a little rough and dry whilst tagged and hanging stiffly from a morgue slab. Grimaces.

And, now for the bad word part:

As the Beauty Supplies Bandit is exiting right behind me- Man do I ever need a "Yikes!" right here.-New Mom follows suit and peers out the window to get the license plate info. The now quite shaken cashier is soon connected with a 911 operator and says, "There's been a robbery and she says she has a gun" Pause. Hang on, she's swiping my card now. "Um...Sally Beauty Supply-[address omitted to stave off crazy blogger stalkers] a woman, yes...um..uh..an er, um ethnic woman. She's about 5'-I dunno short, uh...maybe 5'7." She recounts as she looks to New Mom for reassurance. 5'7 is not short. What am I then, microscopic? The cashier looks to me and says, "What would you say she was?" I say, "That's about right." But, what I want to say is, " She was Black, what the hell does ethnic look like? Just say BLACK, it's not a bad word."

Anyway, I didn't say that, but I've been thinking about it for months. Clearly, I'm not hoping I get the opportunity to say it next time, but I've been wondering if there were others who struggle with using the word Black? Or perhaps there is some other identifier of which you are uncomfortable. Please share.



Note: You can certainly use the Anonymous commenting feature for this post if you so desire, all input is appreciated.



Peace and understanding

15 comments:

Emma's Mom said...

"what the hell does ethnic look like?"

I find myself wondering that same thing every time someone feels the need to refer to someone who is black, as ethnic. "The ethnic look", "ethnic hair". Really? What DOES that really mean? Its the same as replacing the word "black" with "urban". Sigh...

But damn, that was some trip to Sally's, lol. (Totally not funny, but funny as hell)

Mary said...

I'm going to step up here...As a white woman I don't usually have a problem using the word black...but I'm not always sure if it is the right word in some cases so I use nothing. I will admit I have used the words dark skinned when I was unsure. In my community we have many people of different Portuguese backgrounds including Brazilians and people from the Azores, native Americans, Jamaicans and Puerto Ricans as well as many people of mixed heritage in addition to people who describe themselves as black. As you might imagine, everyone likes to be recognized for who and what they are. We also have a small Asian community that doesn't like to get mixed up, either...whether they are Japanese, Chinese, Viet Namese, Korean, etc. And as for us "white people," most of us have such mixed backgrounds that we are not all one thing or another either...

So I guess what I'm saying is....I understand someone's hesitation. She didn't want to offend you in any way by assuming your heritage and background. And, I hear what you and Emma's mom are saying, too...we have become afraid to say what is, or what we see....

I'm not sure this is a terrible thing. I grew up in the 50s and 60s when language and people were far less kind and thoughtful about our differences. Maybe we're all just finding our way to a better way to describe ourselves and communicate...

As for the use of the word, ethnic? It's kind of funny because I've only recently noticed it...and it seems to cover every hair style and everything that isn't made or worn by an Amish person....or whatever. (See, now I may have offended an Amish person ;-)

My sister in law gets outraged when I refer to my friends as 'the girls' because she believes it is an insult to feminist ideology...which makes me laugh but she is dead serious....

So I hear you...but do I make sense to you? You asked the question and I thought I'd take the chance to say hi there and also to maybe say what others are thinking...

By the way, I'm glad all turned out well--that was a scary trip to the store!

mairedodd said...

i am going to have to back up mary... i am so sensitive to others' feelings that i worry about insulting anyone with unintentional slip ups... and so i too get confused - i was under the impression that african american was more accepted, but then found myself drowning in the grey areas... she brings up a good point about the asian community... and like she also pointed out - i am a heinz 57 brand mutt... scandinavian and northern european with a dash of native american... so i am just white... but what i really love? that you have told me how you feel and now i feel more comfortable...

and using 'ethnic' as a modifier is just dumb - even when applied to food... it brings back memories of my art history professor chewing someone out for using the word 'barbarian'... not really appropriate... ethnic to whom?

truth? this post - outside of the horrifying hold up and your response of still sticking around to pay (which i am so glad did not result in a tragic outcome)- was really terrific... you always have such wonderful things to say... i am glad you are willing to address topics that need talking about... you have gifted me today, tameka...

Angela said...

This post is rather timely . . .

I don't think I'm uncomfortable using any term when the time (like describing a suspect, as per your story) is appropriate. My students and I have very frank discussions about the history and power of different labels, how groups can reclaim them, etc., etc.

However, I am very uncomfortable when people insert "descriptors" into conversation when they're totally unnecessary. Just yesterday a friend was relaying a story about another friend and the sentence "And S---- is gay" dropped into the middle of the story. Well, since the story wasn't about who S---- sleeps with, and since I'M not sleeping with S----, what the hell do I care?

It seems like certain terms are always used in front of people's names if they happen to be a part of that given group, and most of the time it's totally irrelevant to anything being said. It isn't necessarily intentional or offensive, but it bugs me.

Muffled Intellect said...

i always heard the term "ethnic" being used for people who tend to come from egypt, or turkey or even darker skinned italians, i never heard a black person being labeled as ethnic,lol i guess the lady didnt want to sound racist..who knows but what i do know is this post has me laughing,lol

Neatha said...

This was rather amusing because people have stumbled over such around me. I am half black and while it takes a lot to offend me it certainly amusing to watch them flounder. Mostly they say dark skinned though...which is true enough but still certainly vague. But it's better then the other half of ignorant people in eastern KY who will straight up call me a nigger and that does piss me off.

Dina said...

I'll give the "Yikes!" right here!

And I'm sorry, but like Emma's Mom said it shouldn't be funny, but I'm cracking up. I'm sorry...

Ethnic? Yes, what is that exactly? Another one of those politically correct absurdities that borders on the ridiculous.

Kathy said...

Well how scary was that!?! Yikes! Oh the old "what do I say" story..... I have a difficult time saying black even when I am talking about a singer on American Idol when I don't know her name. I don't like to say...the black girl...because it might be the color of her skin, but it isn't who she is. She's the girl that sings off key all the time. :)Does that make sense? We have many Hispanics in our area, yet I would never describe any of them by saying the Hispanic one. I like to think of us all as people....and I feel like I'm offending someone. I would never say the white guy or the white girl. I try to find some other way to describe people. Aren't we all "ethnic"??

fly tie said...

wait...let me first regain composure from cracking up over you still waiting to pay for your foot cream and such while all this is going on...

haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!

ok.

yes. on too many occasions i've heard folk whispering, "he/she was black." or something along those lines. then there are the even funnier moments when black is the only word whispered, ha!

and just the other day i was at the produce market talking to a former professor of mine. during our conversation he said something pertaining to "a white guy." there was a white man who heard it in passing and give us the most horrific look!

i think i've blogged on this before as well. definitely an issue worth addressing.

and i don't know *what* is up with the over/inappropriate use of "ethnic."

ok. i've gotta read it again...

richelle jean said...

this is beautiful! xoxo

Victoria said...

Here's the thing... Generally, when I have to describe someone who is white, (which I am considered to be) I don't mention their skin color... so why should I if the person is black, or any other color/race? That seems too easy... by doing so I am dismissing all of the other things about them that I would have focused on had they been the same color as me, such as their hair, clothing, height, etc. It seems to me that too often color/race is the first thing a person says to identify someone who is of a different color/race then they, yet they rarely use color to describe someone of their own color/race...

However in the case of a robbery, (especially an armed robbery!) I would absolutely use skin color, whether it be white, black, or green with purple polkas dots... whatever was needed to help the police nab the suspect.

And I agree, what does Ethnic look like? I am half Greek, and people have mistaken me for Native American, Spanish and Middle Eastern... all fine by me, but inaccurate as well.

By the way, that must have been pretty unnerving... being in the midsts of all that... glad no one was hurt.

Cathe Holden said...

By far the TOP read of my week. Tameka, you have got to be the best writer in blogland. Your recap of several of the events was hysterical. I'm not going to weigh in on the discussion, but am completely being schooled by you and all the comments. Thank you for that.

High Desert Diva said...

Number one: I can't believe you didn't blog about this sooner. Not necessarily the bad word part....the EXPERIENCE.

Damn.

Number two: The whole political correctness thing makes me crazy. Is black a bad word when used to describe a person? It is the first word that comes to my mind, just like white is the first word that comes to my mind when asked to describe us pale folks. If white isn't considered politically incorrect, why should black? *wonders if I missed the memo on white being politically incorrect....decides I don't give a damn.*

"We are all just visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love...and then we return home."

-Australian Aboriginal Proverb




Jeez....I don't comment for ages and then I blather...

Jewelry Rockstar said...

A real robbery...OMG. I am stuck there. I know you in the blogosphere, if you ended up in the morgue , HOW WOULD I KNOW!!!! I would just think you stopped blogging and FBing, like so many do. Please don't go getting yourself hurt. We should leave our blogs to someone in a will. At the very least they can tell our readers that we kicked the bucket.

Okay fascination with death scare over, back to the matter at hand. "Ethnic." In grad school I learned that we all have a ethnicity despite whites being the ones who usually describe others as ethnic (yes, that didn't dawn on me until grad school). I think that's a point we should all explore and not ignore. We are all submerged in the Eurocentric ethnicity in the Western world and we just assume it's non-ethnic. We call it normal, not European ethnicity. Sooo what am I babbling on about.

I guess I am saying that we are all ethnic, so I don't feel uncomfortable identifying folks as who they are. I once used the term in WASP (white Anglo Saxon Protestant) in a room full of Jewish whites mostly. One of them said I can't say that... I still disagree because it's an acronym. Am I wrong, let me know what you think.

Jill said...

Great conversation and input--
Great, no incredible story of the robbery--

I think most of the slips, weird comments we say are just innocent ignorance. We need tolerance not just of who we are color wise but for our stupidity too.

(hanging head in shame, I described a vintage sculpture in my Etsy shop as Ethnic--going to change it now)

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