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  1. #1
    Lesser Hivemind Node strange headache's Avatar
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    Offensive or Oversensitive?

    Benedict Cumberbatch, best known for his role as Sherlock Holmes, recently came under media crossfire for uttering the words "coloured people" while speaking out against the under representation of "people of colour" (I hope I'm doing this right) in the UK.

    “I think as far as coloured actors go, it gets really different in the UK, and a lot of my friends have had more opportunities here [in America] than in the UK, and that’s something that needs to change.”
    I like Cumberbatch, I think he's a fine actor and Sherlock may be one my my most cherished series of all time. I also think that he's rather smart (based on the stuff he says and his public appearances) and seems to be a very tolerant guy.

    Now people got offended because he said "coloured people" instead of "people of colour", taking what he said completely out of context. The outrage culminated in him publicly apologizing for using that term.

    As somebody who's not a native English speaker, I find it more and more difficult to keep up with these slight changes of terminology. I find it increasingly worrisome that people can be labeled as racists because they used a slightly different term. Shouldn't we rather focus on the intent of the message? Was such an outrage in this particular case truly necessary? Does that mean that the NAACP is now to be considered as racist?

    For all I care, I felt pretty offended by Lindy West's article over at the Guardian. But that's certainly my personal problem, no need to apologize.

    Where is the line between being offended and being overly sensitive?
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  2. #2
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    I don't think "outrage" is the correct response to someone's innocent use of an antiquated term that is now perceived as dehumanising, but certainly one should be free to inform the speaker of that fact, and if the speaker is a decent sort of chap they will use the preferred term (as defined by the persons to whom it refers) unless s/he has some overriding reason to do otherwise -- that's just courtesy.

    Mapping that on to what actually happened, the collective response was perhaps slightly overwrought (but then that's pretty much inevitable when you have many people commenting simultaneously) and Cumberbatch's apology seems slightly overwrought to me also -- he probably didn't have to apologise quite so profusely as that. But certainly in the broader sense he responded appropriately. As for Lindy West's article, it's rather too smug and finger-waggling to be credited as a substantive, positive contribution I think. But then writing to arouse ire is what such people are paid for.
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  3. #3
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    In the mainstream media it seems to be more desirable to argue about the play of words and/or word play "coloured people" and/or "people of colour" than to tackle some more substantial issues (in my view at least) like the current distribution of wealth, the impact of current democratic voting and such.

  4. #4
    Words are certainly important and so is using the correct terminology (that Guardian article is correct in stating that Language influences culture), so I don't think you can *exclusively* focus on the intent of the message and ignore the form, but I do feel that sometimes the outrage is misdirected (or exaggerated) towards well-meaning allies who make minor mistakes and slip-ups, more than it is directed at the ones who really are racist/sexist/etc.

    That's something that has been going on for quite some time in my twitter feed, actually, and I find it quite annoying. I don't mean to devalue the negative experiences of most people who are part of "oppressed categories", but sometimes the impression is that their status as "victims" has become so entrenched with their sense of identity and with how they define themselves, that they don't want it to be taken away, and so take offense at everything. Not everyone, for sure, and not all the time, and context matters etc. But I've noticed it happening often enough: total outrage over something really minor, directed towards someone who had the best intentions.

    I don't want to start a rant here, (I'd have a lot to write) but in short I agree with you.
    If you feel that "coloured people" is not the right term, the appropriate reaction, in my opinion, would have been to calmly point it out.
    "Heh, coloured people is a problematic term because X, Y, Z, but I agree with what he was trying to say"
    or
    "I know you're trying to help, but this is not helping"

    I hope you don't mind a couple of links on the broader subject of "being offended".
    http://theconversation.com/how-fear-...g-people-36392
    http://gawker.com/on-smarm-1476594977

    It certainly a complex topic, so there isn't a simple answer, but in my opinion there is value in opinions and statements that may be perceived as offensive, because if they are offensive they're probably challenging our status-quo. Sometimes for no good reason other than to offend, or sometimes they may only be driven by hate, but some other times statements and opinions may appear offensive precisely because they challenge who (we think) we are, and what (we think) is right, and that is a healthy, even precious exercise. Satire is certainly the most immediate example: it's supposed to be offensive, not comfortable, because it should challenge our worldview. You can then agree or disagree about this or that particular instance of satire, but as a 'pure form' I find it very valuable.

    One of my philosophy professors once said "If your work isn't making somebody angry, you're probably not doing philosophy right."
    Last edited by MelodyMeows; 28-01-2015 at 01:15 PM.

  5. #5
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Eight Rooks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lethe View Post
    I don't think "outrage" is the correct response to someone's innocent use of an antiquated term that is now perceived as dehumanising, but certainly one should be free to inform the speaker of that fact, and if the speaker is a decent sort of chap they will use the preferred term (as defined by the persons to whom it refers) unless s/he has some overriding reason to do otherwise -- that's just courtesy.

    Mapping that on to what actually happened, the collective response was perhaps slightly overwrought (but then that's pretty much inevitable when you have many people commenting simultaneously) and Cumberbatch's apology seems slightly overwrought to me also -- he probably didn't have to apologise quite so profusely as that. But certainly in the broader sense he responded appropriately. As for Lindy West's article, it's rather too smug and finger-waggling to be credited as a substantive, positive contribution I think. But then writing to arouse ire is what such people are paid for.
    Pretty much this. It's okay to bring him up on it - you have to realise that language changes, and you have to be prepared to admit you haven't kept up with it. My father's not "racist", racist, but I cringe every time he uses "coloured people" - he's simply using the words and the terms he's grown up with (he's in his eighties now), he's not attaching any kind of consciously bigoted meaning to them, but I know that still doesn't make it right or okay - I simply don't get into any arguments with him over it because he's not liable to actually cause any offence by doing this (he doesn't have a huge circle of friends, he doesn't post on the internet and so on) and it's just not worth the grief the argument would cause. But a public-facing celebrity, an idol, a role model? Sure, he should know better.

    That said, yes, while the apology was certainly merited it was going a little too far for my taste - better safe than sorry, I suppose, but I'm not sure practically beating his head on the floor and begging forgiveness was really called for. And that Guardian article is disturbing, in a sense - it's not exactly wrong, but it's horrendously smug and Christ, "If someone won't stop yelling at you, tough, shut the fuck up" - seriously? (Since that is essentially what it's saying, IMO.) Does anyone else think that's a little problematic, or is it just me? :|
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  6. #6
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    Yeah, let's make fuss about someone accidentally (I assume he doesn't use this term all the time) using wrong phrase in public speech.

    I hate this world sometimes.

  7. #7
    Lesser Hivemind Node strange headache's Avatar
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    I very much agree with all what's been said above.

    What irks me though is that respected media outlets are creating an environment where people who are only there to arouse ire are allowed to flourish. Even worse is that this happens much to the detriment of people with good (or at least no ill) intentions.

    To be fair, when I grew up "coloured people" (in Germany the term "Farbige" applies, in French it's "homme de couleur") was the politically correct term that can also be found in many school books of today. I'm honestly wondering how, when and why it gave place to the seemingly more acceptable "people of colour" in the English language? In my language, "coloured people" and "people of colour" makes no tangible difference. Anyway, I digress...

    My father's not "racist", racist, but I cringe every time he uses "coloured people" - he's simply using the words and the terms he's grown up with (he's in his eighties now), he's not attaching any kind of consciously bigoted meaning to them, but I know that still doesn't make it right or okay - I simply don't get into any arguments with him over it because he's not liable to actually cause any offence by doing this (he doesn't have a huge circle of friends, he doesn't post on the internet and so on) and it's just not worth the grief the argument would cause. But a public-facing celebrity, an idol, a role model? Sure, he should know better.
    My grandparents lived through the second world war, especially my grandmother had fond memories of black soldiers offering her chewing gum and chocolate after the liberation. She never showed any malicious intents towards people of colour, but her use of the term "Negro" always made me cringe a little.

    So I can understand some of what's going on here, but I never felt outraged when she used that term because I knew how she meant it and that it was simply the term she grew up with. I told her on a couple of occasions that another term would be preferable, but still, she sometimes fell back into the old habits.

    I agree that courtesy demands to adjust your language accordingly, but sometimes it's very hard to get rid of old habits, especially if you're not aware of all the nuances and language shifts.

    If people strive on said ire or outrage, I wonder if we will ever come to an agreeable terminology.

    And that Guardian article is disturbing, in a sense - it's not exactly wrong, but it's horrendously smug and Christ, "If someone won't stop yelling at you, tough, shut the fuck up" - seriously? (Since that is essentially what it's saying, IMO.) Does anyone else think that's a little problematic, or is it just me? :|
    No it's not just you, I found the last paragraph to be extremely disturbing and much more problematic than Cumberbatch's choice of words.
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  8. #8
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Drake Sigar's Avatar
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    I thought ‘coloured people’ was the politically correct term, although he actually said ‘coloured actors’ so I guess if he wanted to amend it, he’d have to say ‘actors who are coloured.’ Because any short and easy reference to a group of human beings will shortly become demeaning even in the same breath you’re sticking up for them. Also if you can’t do five tongue push-ups on the spot you’re not doing language right.

    (Wonder if there are some significant differences in these terms between American and UK culture too)

  9. #9
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus L_No's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Drake Sigar View Post
    I thought ‘coloured people’ was the politically correct term, although he actually said ‘coloured actors’ so I guess if he wanted to amend it, he’d have to say ‘actors who are coloured.’ Because any short and easy reference to a group of human beings will shortly become demeaning even in the same breath you’re sticking up for them. Also if you can’t do five tongue push-ups on the spot you’re not doing language right.

    (Wonder if there are some significant differences in these terms between American and UK culture too)
    As a non-native English speaker, it gets harder and harder to understand which words are okay and which aren't when talking about people who aren't white. Each language has it's own sensibilities in this regard. For instance, the use of the word "black" to describe someone who is, well, black, seems to be largely accepted in the English-speaking world, while I'd consider talking about someone as being "black" not very nice/borderline insulting in my native language. Of course mr. Cumberbatch doesn't have a language barrier to deal with when it comes to English, but the difference between coloured people and people of colour seems almost non-existent to me.

    I do share MelodyMeows' sentiment that the concept of the perpetually insulted minority group seems to be increasingly prevalent in the public debate these days. In my own country, we've had a raging debate about a few people who felt insulted by a tradition we have (I don't want to bore you with the details) that most of the rest of the country doesn't find offensive at all. After months of heated debates, court cases and death threats on all sides, public sympathy for this specific minority group has gone down the drain - basically the exact opposite of what this group should try to achieve. While I sympathise immensely with people who have to deal with discrimination on a daily basis, I strongly believe that living in a diverse and free society also requires that you don't get worked up about every little slip of the tongue that you read in the papers.
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  10. #10
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Eight Rooks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by L_No View Post
    I do share MelodyMeows' sentiment that the concept of the perpetually insulted minority group seems to be increasingly prevalent in the public debate these days. In my own country, we've had a raging debate about a few people who felt insulted by a tradition we have (I don't want to bore you with the details) that most of the rest of the country doesn't find offensive at all.
    If I have that tradition right I'd count that a little more offensive than a slip of the tongue :shrug: (you're Dutch, right? There was an article in The Economist, I'm not just making blind guesses). At the same time, regardless of who is or isn't or should or shouldn't be offended (pant, pant) it's still not exactly dressing up in Klan uniforms, I doubt the majority of people doing it see themselves as trying to cause offence and I can appreciate how frustrating it must be to see such an argument turn sour in the way they increasingly do.

    Quote Originally Posted by strange headache View Post
    So I can understand some of what's going on here, but I never felt outraged when she used that term because I knew how she meant it and that it was simply the term she grew up with. I told her on a couple of occasions that another term would be preferable, but still, she sometimes fell back into the old habits. I agree that courtesy demands to adjust your language accordingly, but sometimes it's very hard to get rid of old habits, especially if you're not aware of all the nuances and language shifts.
    Not sure if this is what you're implying (and not taking offence if it was) but it isn't that I get outraged over my father: it only causes me minor grief, and like I said, he's not likely to get into any trouble over it. But he's very much of the mindset that this is what the word means, it should mean that forever, and anyone else's attitudes aren't really his problem, end of story. He's the sort of man who brings me up every time I mispronounce a word - and I mean every time - and bemoans falling standards of enunciation on the radio. Not completely like a cartoon or anything, but it definitely annoys him. So yes, it's not finding it hard to shake old habits and it's not being unaware of language shifts - he knows, and I'd say he doesn't really care.
    Last edited by Eight Rooks; 28-01-2015 at 02:28 PM.
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  11. #11
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Heliocentric's Avatar
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    I'm slightly and certainly dilutedly colored, brown(ed), of colour or ermm... Better yet, just move on from categorizing people by their race, it's lazy and kinda stupid. Now, if you literally want to talk about say, distinctions in pigment or something where race is relevant like the likelihood of various genetic diseases like sickle-cell go ahead... Just, yeah, people love to be offended, honestly I don't think their is a way to describe people's racial attributes which isnt either wrong or offensive to someone, white people are not white people... they are beige or pink, occasionally full out red but only in extreme cases are they white.

    I still remember in the 90's my dad (where my pigment comes from) telling me that brown was wrong but colored was right... Yep, them goalposts keep being moved, especially for them poor second languagers.
    Last edited by Heliocentric; 28-01-2015 at 02:39 PM.
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    I agree that outrage over Cumberbatch's statement is an overreaction. And I suspect that 99.99% of all people don't really care about it; there's a tendency for social media to reflect into mainstream media and make a kerfuffle seem much bigger than it really is. As to why "colored" is not preferred these days, I suspect that's to do with the American Jim Crow era, when signs like these proliferated:

    jim_crow_museum_whites_colored_restrooms.jpg

  13. #13
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Heliocentric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Matt_W View Post
    I agree that outrage over Cumberbatch's statement is an overreaction. And I suspect that 99.99% of all people don't really care about it; there's a tendency for social media to reflect into mainstream media and make a kerfuffle seem much bigger than it really is. As to why "colored" is not preferred these days, I suspect that's to do with the American Jim Crow era, when signs like these proliferated:

    jim_crow_museum_whites_colored_restrooms.jpg
    Yeah... had the sign said
    <-White Of Color->
    This shit would be flipped.
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    I suspect these events are mostly caused by social media and lazy/unethical reporters. If you read the Letters page of the Metro for a while, you'll observe that there will be a few people who are outraged by things that can't with justification be anything more than mildly irritating. Get a few such outraged people of Twitter and then you can write about a storm. Everyone likes a storm so people will read your article, and because it's a storm probably people who otherwise would know better might decide to be outraged (bonus marks if they didn't bother to read what was initially said). The storm grows.

    The alternative headline "Actor said something and nobody important really cared" isn't so impressive.
    Irrelevant on further examination of the rest of the thread.

  15. #15
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus L_No's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eight Rooks View Post
    If I have that tradition right I'd count that a little more offensive than a slip of the tongue :shrug: (you're Dutch, right? There was an article in The Economist, I'm not just making blind guesses). At the same time, regardless of who is or isn't or should or shouldn't be offended (pant, pant) it's still not exactly dressing up in Klan uniforms, I doubt the majority of people doing it see themselves as trying to cause offence and I can appreciate how frustrating it must be to see such an argument turn sour in the way they increasingly do.
    Yeah, you're right, the tradition I was talking about is a bit more extensive/potentially insulting than mr. Cumberbatch's slip of the tongue, and I certainly wasn't trying to put those two things on the same level. I really don't have a strong opinion on the whole Black Pete stuff you've also read about, but what bothered me the most about the entire debacle is that the few valid points the protestors had, have now been totally lost in the public backlash against a group of protesters that seemed hellbent on rubbing everyone the wrong way, just because they felt they were a minority that were insulted by this tradition. There were a couple of well-documented and extensively filmed incidents of minority protestors screaming at parents at a childrens' event, calling them racists and the like, and I just feel that no matter how valid your point might be, this is not the way you're helping greater society forward. What didn't help them either (to get back to why I agreed with MelodyMeows), is that there were a couple of people associated with the minority protesters that were what we call "professional victims": people that thrive on their status as a supposed victim of some injustice and will do anything to be regarded as such. Paradoxically, what we saw were people who claimed that they were victims of some unreported wrongdoing, while they were prime time on every tv show for months.
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  16. #16
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Heliocentric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by NathanH View Post
    If you read the Letters page of the Metro for a while,
    Once you realise it is a wing of the Daily Mail it makes a lot more sense.
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    Some of my best friends are black people. In Holland we call black people negers.
    Last edited by Curry; 28-01-2015 at 05:43 PM.

  18. #18
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Tritagonist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by strange headache View Post
    Now people got offended because he said "coloured people" instead of "people of colour" ...
    Perhaps this makes more sense to native (and I don't mean Briton, in case any Picts get 'offended') speakers, but that seems like a distinction without a difference.

    By the way, doesn't everyone have a colour? Are the people advocating the use of the phrase "people of colour" somehow implicitly declaring one particular skin tone the default, opposed to which all others are "of colour"?
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  19. #19
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    So, as someone with my toes thoroughly dipped in the whole SJW world, I've uh... not heard anybody give a shit. He made a whoops whilst saying something that was very good and positive and progressive and etc. He said sorry. NBD, it happens. Since then it seems the media has been trying to turn it into 'people are outraged!' Same old shit.

  20. #20
    Network Hub Hanban's Avatar
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    I'm also inundated in the SJW pool, particularly on Twitter, and this came as news to me. In regards to the "worry" of what labels to use I find that an apology and "My bad, I had no idea." goes a long way. When I see people get cross with regards to misusing labels is when the person using the label instead of admitting his/her ignorance goes: "I'm sorry you felt offended."
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