Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Unintentionally Offensive

Sometimes people miscommunicate. It's a common problem, and while most of us are used to dealing with it and moving on, sometimes that miscommunication isn't the problem. It was what was communicated accidentally, or unintentionally. Sometimes, it's about what you said, rather than what you meant to say.

This kind of situation happened to me recently over Facebook. And I'm curious to see what ya'll make of it. (Names and other incriminating information has been deleted or altered to protect both myself and the other party. Otherwise, these quotes are completely accurate.)

Zek: [as a Facebook update] Antagonistic coworkers make being professional a lost art.

[Scroll down a 3 to 4 comments.]

Em: they are profagonissionals.

Zek: Yeah... but no need to insert a mean word about Gay people in there.

Em: Not my intention, sir. way to be on hater patrol though. We have obviously never met. Haha.

Zek: I am on patrol for all slurs, both homophobic and sexist, both racist and anti-Semitic, both... anti-nerdcore rap and anti-legend of zelda! ; )

Em: I think this is where I crack open a James Herriot book... theres no need for hater patrol, really. Haters are pretty good at destroying themselves.

J-Storm: huh? was that like, an allegory about how cigarettes are ok to smoke because they're cool and surgeon general's warnings are antiquated? if a Hater collapses under their own ego in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it detract from Smokey the Bear's crusade against forest fires? j/c

Em: nope, it was't. nice attempt to condescend to someone you have never met, though. jumping to your own conclusions should get you far! thanks for totally understanding how much of a hater I truly am. now, won't you make like Smokey and go fight some real fires?

Zek: Okay, and now we're fighting on my wall.

Em, good to hear from you again, but seriously I just don't like slurs -- even in jest. Especially after having talked with actual gay people who told me what it feels like to be called that. On the flip side, you wouldn't use the word "kike" around me as a joke, would you? Same principle.

I'm not here on hater patrol. I'm just here to keep it respectful.

Zek: And thanks for deleting your previous comment. [The comment regarding James Herriot, etc., had been deleted by Em.]

Okay, so after this I decided to question my friend further. I wanted to see if she really thought she hadn't done anything wrong and was being misunderstood, or if she was just being stubborn and defensive. Conversation continues...

Zek: Hey Em, it was good to hear from you again. Seems that lately we've been going through that -- waddya call it? -- drifting apart phase. It makes me sad because we used to be pretty regular friends, but I guess it's one of those inevitable things that happens as time goes by and people change, grow up, etc.

It seems like something that's changed is you (and perhaps me too). I remember you used to be much more soft-spoken -- quieter, but nicer. Yet the last times I remember talking you were very loud, and very drunk. And now I see that in the midst of being supportive to my plight at work, you use homophobic slurs...

Now, I don't think you're homophobic. But I do think using words like "fag" that are linked almost exclusively with homophobia, bullying gay kids in school, and other bigoted things is just as bad as if you were homophobic. It's hurtful, even if you try to cache it in a joke, because ultimately you're comparing the "lameness" (for lack of a better word) of whatever you're talking about, and the word you've used to describe it. Now, we know what "fag" means -- nowadays -- and while my coworkers were being particularly lame, I don't need to make that point by comparing them to negative perceptions of gay people.

Why? Because I can be funny, be upset, or be whatever without being ignorant and using bigoted speech. And I know you don't either, because I think you're not that kind of person.

Anyhoo, think about what I've said, and then write me back if you want.


Em: I will say it once more.. I did not use the word fag on purpose. would have appreciated even just one question from you regarding my stand first to understand.

Zek: So, then you used it accidentally? How do you accidentally use that word? I hope you appreciate that instead of writing you off like I would a stranger that uses that kind of language, I am actually taking the time to understand.

Maybe instead of being defensive about a mistake, you could just apologize for saying something offensive?

Em: Ive spent a good part of my life apologizing for things I didnt do. I genuinely thought only of how I could fuse the roots of those words together and that is how it came out. I slandered nobody, surely not my bisexual mother. Please stop ANTAGONIZING me; this is borderline bully behavior... and I think it's terrible if you are feeling that way at work, but instead of projecting your sensitive feelings about this issue through the internet, go to a supervisor. As for conflict resolution, I'm done with swallowing my feelings (especially when I've been deeply misunderstood) and saying a cowardly little word called sorry just to appease someone.

Zek: Well I'm asking you to apologize for something you did do. So maybe don't project your feelings of being misunderstood or swallowing your feelings onto me?

How do you unoffensively fuse the roots of "fag" and "professional"? Having a bisexual mother doesn't absolve you from using homophobic slurs, just like my having a Black girlfriend doesn't absolve me from using racist slurs. If anything, it gives me more of a reason not to use them.

As for antagonizing you, bullying you... that's not my intent here. I'm sorry you feel cornered but as a friend I feel obliged to call you out when you say something to me that was offensive. And that word is used to bully others far worse than anything my intention to understand your defensiveness over making a mistake will ever be.

I appreciate your support for my work troubles, which I already solved before posting on facebook. But if you see apologizing for saying something offensive to me as "appeasing" then I don't think we should talk anymore...

I already have to deal with enough prejudice in my life that I don't want friends who can't get past their own, no matter how accidental or minor. It just isn't worth fighting with someone who can't see what they did wrong, and it seems obvious you don't.

I am sorry that it ends this way though. I wish you the best of luck in the future. Take care.

Em: I fuse antagonist and professional. I am now asking you to leave me alone

[Em deleted me from her Facebook before I could.]

Now, am I crazy, or is she? Did she seriously believe that her first comment was the attempted fusion of "antagonist" and "professional"?

Honestly, even if she's telling the truth, there is seemingly no way to not first think that her comment was a combination of "fag" and "professional". Moreover, whether or not she saw it that way, the fact that others did indicates that she should have simply apologized for making a mistake and moved on.

That she was unable to -- combined with her demonstration of Classic, Textbook prejudice -- has left me shaking my head at what kind of friend she actually was to me. Apparently, one with more issues than a magazine. (Judging from her freak out, turning it around until she's the victim, her telling me not to bully her, and her saying to leave her alone after I just said I didn't want to be friends or talk to her anymore, well... it's even more hilariously disappointing.)

But I want some reactions. What do ya'll think? You have the conversation, sans identifying information. You tell me what the happenstance is.


15 footnotes:

Brotha Wolf said...

There's so much to be said here, but her biggest mistake aside from using a homophobic slur is twisting things around to avoid any responsibility.

She thinks you are attacking her character. That's not it at all. You were trying to, in a nice, respectable way, tell her about what she said and apologize to it because it was not funny or cool.

She misinterpreted that as calling her a bad person. So, she tries her hardest to avoid her mistake even by bringing her mother into this.

Lastly, she tries to make herself out to be the real victim so she doesn't have to apologize for anything regardless if she did it or not, and she did say something wrong.

I don't think you were wrong in the least. You handled that well. I think it's she who took it the wrong way.

Jasper said...

ah, it was a portmanteau of some sort? i can see that now. i wondered where those extra letters came from. but yeah, she definitely overreacted and misread you to a weird degree.

suddenly she has to bring up that she's sick of apologizing for things in her life because you thought she said something else but didn't take into account that you were trying to understand her?

the bully comment made me cringe a little bit. you weren't even being intellectually overbearing. kneejerks everywhere.

crazy gonna crazy.

The Dude said...

Are you gay? If not, how are you fit judge what is homophobic language or not?

Based on your past writings you're of the opinion that you need to be gay in order to do so.

It seems that the boy who cried wolf is also a hypocrite.

Zek J Evets said...

The Dude,

It seems the troll with no bridge to call his own is trolling underneath mine...

Apparently complex situations are beyond your grasp, and so you attempt to simplify everything -- which is how simple minds work I guess. Anyone can see anything however they choose, but when someone is part of the group being described or slandered their opinion weighs more about whether it was offensive or not. (Or whether it was even slanderous/offensive.)

Meanwhile this situation is completely different as this person accidentally or purposefully used a slur and was called out on it.

Different situations, different things. There is no formula or "this is how it is EVERY SINGLE TIME" kinda solution. So calling me a hypocrite because I don't follow (or fall for) your lame fallacies and traps, is basically a waste of your time.

To the point then: why are you here other than to make yourself look ridiculous?

Actually, don't bother answering. I already know!

You have nothing better to do with your life.

Too bad, so sad.

Jasper said...

@the dude: ha, since when did being gay (or being a certain race or gender, etc) have anything to do with the derogatory nature of certain language? there is connotation and history to specific words. the point is to not have any misconceptions of what sort of descrimination is appropriate. one may not be of homosexual or bi-sexual orientation, but out of respect for those persons still take offence to hate speech.

even in casual speech wherein the users throw words around with playful comaradarie, they are still being used in a form to degrade others.

troll or not, if you planned on raising an actual point on this issue by crying hypocrisy you may as well have linked some posts to prove your point too.

but i guess that's just, like, your opinion, man.

Zek J Evets said...


Indeed. Many trolls frequent my blog-bridge here in hopes of finding a place for easy pickings - on account of my writing about topics that puncture their ignorant little bubbles - and then get chased back to whatever corner of cyberspace they came from.

It'd be sad if it weren't also so damn funny!

Student of the World said...

I feel terrible about all those times I used "gay" as a pejorative/insult when I was a kid. I really wish I could take it back, because I didn't know what I was saying, which was all the better reason for my dumb ass not to be saying it in the first place! *facepalm*

I hope I didn't make some LGBT kids/people I unknowingly knew, feel worse about themselves just because I was being ignorant and mimicking prejudices I saw around me.

I realize I probably did though. I just hope they ignored me and my stupid ass friends.

Your friend sounds like she just needs to do some growing up. You can't help everybody, but at least you can say you tried, right?

Maybe she'll get over it on her own.

Zek J Evets said...


I know. I feel kind of guilty as well, especially since I persisted in doing for a while after one of my other friends had told me how uncomfortable it made him.

But (eventually) I grew up and started thinking more about what the effect my words can have.

As for my friend in the post... we're not friends anymore. Probably for the best though, since I'm in a place where I don't have room for her kind of behavior.

Mira said...

Sorry for being late here.

The thing is, I can only repeat what I said back at Jasmin's site: it's all down to the fact people care more about not appearing offensive than to actually be inoffensive.

Because being labeled a racist, homophobe, etc. is seen as bad, everybody wants to escape the label at all costs. But strangely, escaping the label by actually learning from your mistakes and trying not to be offensive is not that high on their list.

Like I said, everybody makes mistakes and say stupid things. I don't think people should be that afraid to do something wrong in this sense... I think it's more important to listen (especially people who complain about it), learn why they were hurt and understand why what you said was wrong.

On an unrelated note, this whole Internet drama provides a great platform for anthropology research, don't you think? I mean, just two decades ago it was impossible to have this sorts of drama with someone on the other side of the world, while today it's... normal?

Zek J Evets said...


Anthropologically speaking, internet drama isn't all that interesting to me.

But I suppose it is fascinating that it's even able to happen.

lifeexplorerdiscovery said...

Honestly, I don't think she did anything wrong.

I mean, like "thats so gay", the word "fag" has been a popular word to say alot and has only recently been getting an antagonistic (i couldn't resist) reception from people.

i think she should have owned up to intentionally using the word "fag" but I don't think she should have to apologize for it.

its one thing to tell her not to use that kind of language on your facebook page, but to make her apologize especially if she isn't sorry or doesn't feel she did anything wrong serves no one (i hate forced apologies).

heck, i remember when i was 14 and walking home with a friend and a black boy was bothering us. my friend (who is white) called him the n-word and realized only seconds later that i happen to be black. she turned to me and said, "i don't mean you!". i still don't see her as a bad person to this day.

i honestly think when she said "profagonissionals" she did it in an innocent way. her problem simply just came from not owning up to it. she didn't have to apologize (i wouldn't have), she merely had to just say "okay, i'll respect your wishes, even if i disagree".

Zek J Evets said...


Wait, so you were really fine with your friend using the N-word, just as long as they didn't mean you?

That's kinda... messed-up.

It's like saying you're okay if someone hates Black people, just as long as they still like you because they think you're "not like other Black people".

Or for me, just substitute in Jewish people.

But besides that, her apologizing would be a way of respecting my wishes and not using that kind of language around me in order to preserve our friendship. However, that she doesn't even see *why* what she did was wrong -- even while disagreeing -- then she's really not much of a friend at the end of it all.

El Maybe said...

I'll start off by saying that I know "Em". I know her character, and I know her well enough to be able to judge her intentions.
So Zek, if I used the word 'leafage' in a sentence, say, this one..Would you assume that I was making a homophobic slur of some kind? NO. Well, maybe. My point is this- writing a word with the letters f, a, and g alongside each other does not make the person writing the word a homophobe. The alphabet only has 26 letters and SOMETIMES letters that make an offensive word will end up in a different word- together.
Here is how I read the breakdown of Em's silly made up word: prof-agonis-sionals. She took part of antagonist and stuck in the middle of professionals.
You or I might have arranged parts of the words differently to make a word like "antagonissionals", but Em didn't.
The fact is, you don't know what her intentions were, and you have no right to say that she intentionally slurred anyone. This is the reason why she got defensive, and I completely understand why. She didn't overreact in the least.
Come on, you seem like a guy who is passionate about human and civil rights, and respect for others.. If someone misunderstood something you wrote and used it to accuse you of being something you hate, wouldn't you defend yourself? And why would you admit to doing something wrong when you didn't?
For someone who preaches about empathy, you sure don't seem to have a lot..

Anonymous said...

I am not sure if it is that you can't read.. or you are soooo short sided that all you could see in the word used was the other F word ...If you look again, there are a few more letters in that SO offensive word, if you saw this you may have seen that the intention wasn't be offensive, but instead was just an unfortunate coupling. Unfortunately your response was so intense that you could not see past your own point of view. The benefit of the doubt probably would have kept you a friend and not humiliated a misunderstood individual.

Zek J Evets said...

El Maybe & Yaynay,

Well, apparently you both are among the minority of people to believe that there was nothing offensive going on.

You seem unable to grasp that a reasonable person would look at that word and not see a random combination of professional and antagonist that was only made AFTER-THE-FACT. Rather, most reasonable people look at the word and see a homophobic slur used to bash my crappy coworkers. I appreciate the solidarity, but not the manner in which it was done.

That said, El Maybe, you seem to give Em the benefit of the doubt based on your knowing her. Which is fine, but hardly convincing.

However, you don't know me, very well or at all, so instead of attempting to state I lack empathy for being upset about someone using what I believe to be a homophobic slur (leading me to believe you maybe don't understand the meaning of empathy??) maybe you should instead wonder why, if Em sincerely meant it that word like you say she did, then didn't she state that upfront, apologize for causing the misinterpretation, and move on? Why defend an offensive linguistic faux pas?

And Yaynay, the word you're looking for is "short-sighted". But apparently the irony escapes you... Either way, I do not appreciate bigoted slurs from my friends, and they do not get a "pass" for using them, even in jest or by accident, especially when they refuse to apologize for the mistake so we can move on.

Also, more importantly, why are you two even here??? Did Em put you up to defending her? (And if so, why can't she defend herself, or better yet, why didn't she when I was reaching out, trying to talk to her about this?)

Funny enough, I have a sneaking suspicion, one or both of you might be Em. Why? Because unfortunately I've known her to do childish things before, and it wouldn't surprise me. Though it would sadden me a little bit...

Anyhoo, thanks for your comments, ill-informed as they were, but pardon me while I decide which friends I would like to keep and which friends I don't need. Frankly speaking, she was never a very good friend to me. This was just proof positive of that.