Moments of Permanence - Still not dead...

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Previous Entry Still not dead... Jan. 5th, 2011 @ 10:41 am Next Entry
Hmm, I've been quiet again, lately.

I have posts vaguely percolating in my head. About beauty, about people, about thinking, about travel shows and Top Gear. Note to self, write them.

Oddly, my impulse to post right now is mostly to do with wanting to do *something* to offset the discomfort I felt, because there are certain words with which I am not comfortable, at all, even when I know why I'm using them.

For example, entering Nigger as a search term makes my skin crawl a tiny bit, even though what I was actually doing was looking up Dick Gregory's autobiography on Amazon. I want to read it, I'm thinking I might order it, and yet, I'm not sure I would feel comfortable having that on a shelf where people could see it or reading it in public, even though it's the autobiography of a civil rights campaigner.

Twitch. And yet. But. Twitch.

That's words for you.

Especially since that isn't even a racist word of my own socio-cultural background. That's an American racist word. Neither where I was born nor where I grew up did I ever come across someone who would use nigger as a racist slur, that I know of.

(And yet, a word that has similar degrees of racist baggage in my socio-cultural background turns up in plant nurseries here - as the "kaffir lime" tree. Which also makes me twitch really a lot. Because in my socio-cultural background nice people don't use that word.)

Then again, in the eastern states there's a chain of Indian restaurants called "Curry Munchers". When I worked at directory assistance I nearly hung up on a customer who said that, until she - understanding my shocked and horrified reaction - explained hurriedly that no, it really was called that...
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From:[personal profile] rainbow
Date: January 6th, 2011 02:12 am (UTC)
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i had no clue kaffir lime was problematic. anti-asian term, i'm guessing, since it's an asian fruit?

i've never heard/seen "curry muncher"; anti-east indian?

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From:[personal profile] sami
Date: January 8th, 2011 05:05 am (UTC)
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No, not anti-Asian. It's a South(ern?) African racist term for black people.

Hilariously, the way Americans probably pronounce it, it's quite possibly less offensive, since the South African pronunciation involves things like the R being silent...

"Curry muncher" is for ethnic Indians in general, regardless of if they come from or have even ever visited India. e.g. A high school acquaintance who was also ex-South African remarked that the city I was born in, Durban, is terrible because it's "full of curry munchers".

Until that point, we had been in the process of becoming friends, but... no.

I mean, if anyone should hold a grudge against the Durban Indian population it's me, because the high Indian population is the reason why my Durban-raised parents both like curry so damn much (because Indian influences are rife throughout Durban cuisine), which meant I grew up with curry turning up at family meals and I hated it, but I don't, because that would be very stupid, so.

(I possibly hold a grudge against curry.)

(Although realistically, I just still don't like it, as a rule.)
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From:[personal profile] sixolet
Date: January 6th, 2011 10:48 pm (UTC)
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... I really don't know how I stumbled across your DreamWidth. But I did, and this post reminded me of my experience reading in public CJ Pascoe's brilliant ethnography of masculinity in a US high school. It's called Dude, You're a Fag.

Oh, the looks I got.
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From:[personal profile] sami
Date: January 8th, 2011 05:05 am (UTC)
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... Oh. Oh, my.
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From:[personal profile] aquaeri
Date: March 23rd, 2011 04:17 am (UTC)

Racist terminology

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Yeah, kaffir lime (so even Wikipedia), we really need to find something else to call it. Although I gather it got its name from a Muslim term for non-Muslims?

I confess at having to work really hard to call Kent pumpkins that, and not "Jap", because that's what I was introduced to them as, and my greengrocer still uses it.

I had a memorable OMGNO!!!!! moment when I inherited some knitting patterns from a friend's deceased mother (friend didn't knit but knew I did) and looking at a 1950s pattern booklet (from the UK) that cheerfully includes the colour "nigger brown" in its suggested colour combinations. The booklet itself is very much B&W photographs.

(I decided to subscribe to you, after being linked to your Anthony Green rant. Of course, no obligation in return.)
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From:[personal profile] sami
Date: March 23rd, 2011 10:04 am (UTC)

Re: Racist terminology

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Cheers! Out of curiosity, where was the link?

I can understand the twitch, seriously. "Nigger brown", my lord.

My father had to learn not to use phrases like "black man's no trump" (in bridge), "nigger in the woodpile" (I have no idea where that even comes from, conceptually) and had kind of a disconcerted moment when he came across a South African sweet he knew as "nigger balls" when he was a child but which are now called "black balls". (Because they are small balls that are black in colour, so there's only so far you can go...)

It's so very weird, because it's such unnecessary racism, yet seems so harmless to people, which means that to a certain type of person - the kind of person who's grown up steeped in a racist environment but is basically well-intentioned - it gets really easy to dismiss objections to *that*, because it's "not hurting anyone", and the explanation for why no, really it is is kind of complex.
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From:[personal profile] aquaeri
Date: March 23rd, 2011 10:39 am (UTC)

Re: Racist terminology

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I had to hunt it down, but you were linked by [personal profile] adelheid. I'm not sure how she's connected to you.

It's so very weird, because it's such unnecessary racism, yet seems so harmless to people.

Idunno about "unnecessary", I think it's part of an entire worldview, and then when the worldview changes, suddenly the language sits oddly high and dry. There's heaps of sort-of-similar examples once you start looking: The casuarina tree is/was also known as "sheoak" because the timber was just that bit inferior but similar to oak. Rattus norvegicus have nothing to do with Norway, rather Linneaus (who began Latin naming of species) didn't like Norweigians so he called the rats that were carriers of plague etc "Norway rats" (but in Latin, so it's all scientific and such).

I mean, thinking up a colour name like "nigger brown", even if it's not a horrifically offensive word in your world, does to me imply a certain ... distance ... from African people, i.e. they're other, they're objects, they're not real people like those around you.

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