it’s not about offense, it’s about your words

I love My Fitness Pal. It makes me smile.

Members can share snippets of their weight loss, or gain, journey using the blog feature.  I haven’t done that because, well, 3 WordPress blogs are enough.  Today, a member shared this:

Title: Ghetto Rack

Post:It’s crude, rough, ghetto, cheap, lazy, not-even-sanded, and the least expensive piece of workout gear I’ve gotten so far..  but it’ll get the job done for a little longer till I have to either get a gym membership or buy some equipment…

but I made it myself, in a mini-skirt… LOL!

(in my defense, I really DO know how to use power tools, squares and the like, but seriously, who the hell cares what it looks like when it’s in my basement?)  (not pictured but it has a cross bar for support across the bottom now.)

I didn’t like what she wrote. I didn’t like the words she used.  The whole thing made me uncomfortable. So, I sent her a message.  Honestly, I didn’t know why I didn’t like it. I just didn’t this is what I said:

Subject: I thought about not sending this

Message:

Hi Becky,

A friend of mine commented on your post, “Ghetto Rack” and so it showed up in my news feed. I clicked on your blog and read your post. For some reason, one that I can’t articulate very well right now, it doesn’t sit well with me. While describing your “ghetto” rack you said, ” It’s crude, rough, ghetto, cheap, lazy, not-even-sanded….”

When I, and many others, think ghetto, we think people and place. I think of two places and types of people in particular – How German’s imprisoned and classified Jews and how the United States houses and often describes Black Americans.

This may be my issue, and I’ll completely own that, but I just wanted to share with you my thoughts on your post.

Thanks so much for reading and good luck on your journey,

Whit

Her response:

Sorry to offend, not intentional. To each his or her own I suppose.

I’m glad I didn’t spend much time thinking about what I sent her because she didn’t spend much time thinking about her response.  Granted, my email could’ve been better. I own that.  But, I spend all day maneuvering this and similar topics and just didn’t feel like being more detailed.  I also didn’t want to scold her.  I just wanted to share with her my initial thoughts upon reading her words.  It wasn’t about offense.  I truly believe a HUGE chunk of racism still exists because we’re afraid of offending one another.  That fear prevents dialogue.  Instead of embracing dialogue we cling to the similar paradigm-ed and offer up apologies after offenses.  I’m not offended. At least I don’t feel offended.  I wanted her to think about her words and the racist system they may or may promote. I sent that email hoping for dialogue.  That didn’t happen. I’m not going to respond.  I just don’t care enough about this situation to dedicate any more words or effort.

If you have any more thoughts on this matter. I’d TOTALLY be open to dialogue with you.  =]

5 thoughts on “it’s not about offense, it’s about your words

  1. Oh, I found it offensive in those first few words. And I’ve been talking to friends about this too–the whole not wanting to offend. I found myself absorbing the negativity, internalizing it instead of addressing it when things like this happened and that was no good for me. Now, I speak up to protect myself. You absolutely did the right thing. At least now if she continues to use the term in this way, she’ll have the awareness that it’s offensive.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts. It’s very helpful for me to balance them with my own. You’re right. What she said was offensive. I think I wanted her to acknowledge that she was wrong and change her behavior. Instead, she totally dismissed everything.

    As women we’re socialized to absorb and not respond. I’m working on breaking out of that socialization…. it’s a process though.

  3. It’s such a challenge to approach this topic with people who are afraid/embarrassed/guilty/angry/voluntarily ignorant about their views of race. (It’s such a big topic that I’m overwhelmed to say much more about it here, to people who share my point of view. Also I’m at work and should be doing work right now, so I hesitate to get too far into it and get carried away, haha.)

    This person chose not to engage with you at all. I imagine she did this so she wouldn’t have to sort through her feelings and worldview and realize there might be something wrong with them, and that they could be changed. I think a lot of the feelings that come up in people when their worldview is challenged stem from a sense that THEY THEMSELVES are being questioned. For me, the first step in recognizing that I needed to be more conscious of word choices, behaviors, and the like was by learning that *I* was not to blame for my messed up worldview. Society at large was. It wasn’t my fault that I’d use words like “ghetto” to describe that weight rack: I was taught to use that word to mean something was makeshift, and got the job done, but wasn’t pretty. I didn’t even think about the other messages I was propagating by using it.

    The thing that really helped me accept how society has influenced me — and not in a way I want — is by examining the way women are shaped by society. As a white woman, this one applied to me personally. I liked reading trashy celebrity magazines. I liked shopping for new clothes. I liked getting my nails done. But at the same time, I didn’t like that I liked those things. I recognized they were “typical American consumer materialism,” and I blamed myself for it. I didn’t like MYSELF for liking those things; it felt like it was a personal failure. Like I was too weak-willed.

    My partner had probably told me this several times, but one day it finally sunk in. “It’s not your fault that you like those things. You like those things because in a million different ways, all your life, society has been telling you that you should like those things.” For some reason, it finally made sense. It’s not a personal weakness. It’s brainwashing. It’s damn near impossible to avoid that amount of pressure.

    “The first step in solving a problem is admitting that you have one.” In the same way that I saw that I’ve been told all my life that I should look and act a certain way because I’m female, I could see that I’ve been told all my life that people of color are less worthy, dangerous, not as smart. It’s like seeing the Matrix. Yes, I’m racist. Yes, I’m materialistic. Learning this was actually extremely liberating. It’s not my fault that I’m that way, but now that I can see that these things are true, it IS my fault if I don’t work to fix it. And THAT is why I don’t use the word “ghetto” anymore.

    (Okay, I really need to get back to work! I applaud you for sending that message.)

  4. I think the response to Becky was perfect, we should speak up in a constructive way when something is offensive or bothersome. Sometimes people just don’t realize they are being offensive until someone says something. I agree with JaytotheTee that at least now she’ll have awareness and can decide how she uses or doesn’t use certain terms.

    This is actually a particularly personal topic for me as it reflects something that I have begun trying to be more aware of in recent years.

    I think that some people tend to be a little inconsiderate in choosing certain words as descriptors – especially words that can have negative, judgmental, or even racist connotations. For instance, I realized after watching a particular movie that I had – very lazily – begun using an “R” word as a descriptor of certain situations… UNTIL I realized what I was actually saying. I have since removed that word from my vocabulary in lieu of words that are much more effective in communicating my message. I use a lot of ‘bad’ words, meaning that I use swear words pretty regularly, however I have removed this “R” word from my vocabulary because I think it is much worse than the ‘traditional’ swear words (i.e. I still say the F word)

    Similarly, it wasn’t until I had read some of your other posts (previous to this one) that I realized that I have, in the past, very loosely used the same G word as a descriptor. Since I read that post a couple of months ago, I have begun catching myself and not using that word. And on that note, I have a bit of a conundrum that perhaps you can give me some insight on… I have this portable stereo that has accompanied me on many a group vacation. The entire lot of us have always referred to this stereo as ‘the ghetto blaster’… it is a perfectly nice piece of equipment and there is nothing about it that makes me call it ‘ghetto’ other than just a throwback to eighties pop culture and think of people carrying them to wherever they are going to hang out. What are your thoughts on this? Should I change the name? Does this bring up the same kind of feelings for you? I certainly don’t mean to offend or bother anyone with this phrase…

  5. I think your response was just right. It was up to her to pick it up and think about it. Obviously she didn’t care or think. I notice that she surrounded the word with some other words that have been used to stereotype and insult. This was offensive, too. You did her a kindness to point out where her words were going.

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