Date: Wed, 19 Oct 1994 08:30:51 EDT
From: David Muschell dmuschel[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]MAIL.GAC.PEACHNET.EDU
Subject: Re: offending idioms
. . . snip, snip . . .
nobody has mentioned "nigger rig" yet.
--Natalie (maynor[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]ra.msstate.edu)
This is a tangent, sorry, but I was offended by this:
When my grandfather and grandmother were building Boulder Dam (Hoover Dam
is the proper name) on the Colorado River, they had a camp mascot. It was
a jet black dog -- I've seen many pictures -- named "Nigger." In the
thirties, I suppose that was acceptable. Anyway, during the construction,
the dog got run over and died. The workers buried the dog in the dam,
sealing his tomb with the concrete you see nowdays. They marked Nigger's
resting place with a plaque -- something to the effect of: Here lies
Nigger, who helped build this damn dam. Don't quote me on that, but it was
something like that. The plaque was about halfway up the dam and could
not be seen unless you were looking for it. (I saw it through binoculars
once as a child.) Somebody complained -- I don't know how they saw the
marker, unless they knew about it before looking -- and the plaque was
removed. Offensive or not, that was a small part of history. The plaque
was *NOT* in plain sight where everybody *HAD TO* look at it. (You could
just barely see it if you knew it was there!) I find it offensive that
a piece of history was removed in the name of political correctness. If the
federal government feels the need to stop the use of the word "nigger,"
how about they start in my neighborhood where the black people call each
other "nigger." (I also object to the politcally correct term African-
American -- the only true "African-Americans" I know are of European
ancestry many generation back, and they are whiter than I am. I don't
personally know any black African-Americans.) (I think I mispelled plaque,
but I don't feel like getting my dictionary out right now. :-) )
Maybe "nigger" doesn't seem worth fighting over to me because I'm part white
and part Indian (oops, Native American). By the way, I am *NOT* racist.
Here's some offensive idioms (?) for your list:
Apple (red on the outside, white on the inside)
Coconut (brown on the outside, white on the inside -- my wife is Mexican)
Hey, how about sports teams:
Atlanta Braves, Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs, etc., etc.
We need, just to be fair, the Nashville Niggers and the Hoboken Honkies.
CJCoker[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]CSUPomona.Edu
There have been no dragons in my life, only small spiders and stepping in gum.
I could have coped with the dragons.
Anonymous (but wise)
It may sound patronizing (or matronizing), CJ, but it may be
consciousness-raising time for you as cave-dweller. As much as I wouldn't
want to offend the memory of your grandparents, the name they gave their
dog is racist and reflects the very deep-seated, dehumanizing treatment of
black people through a long and mainly unfortunate contact with caucasians.
The humor they might have found in the name (perhaps even laughing
good-naturedly as they called him/her to supper, "Here, Nigger!") is the
kind that derogates rather than uplifts--even if quite human. Intuitively
speaking, it would seem that one of our goals as cherishers of language is
recognition of its powerful vileness as well as its beauty and wonder.
Though the PC mindset has gone overboard, its original notion was an
inclusiveness in contrast with the exclusivity of the past. Now, whether a
group is apparently seeking identity by renaming itself to highlight a
trampled heritage--and seems separatist in so doing--the renaming itself
reflects respect for language's power in the naming of things.
I remember a former partner/spouse's mountain kin goading me on at
a Thanksgiving dinner, knowing I was the "liberal college boy," by loudly
passing me a bowl and asking if I wanted some "nigger toes" (Brazil nuts)
and shouting at the TV football game, "Run, nigger, run!" their eyes
glinting with a kind of secret glee, almost hoping I would burst on their
turf. No scene for me, whether through cowardice or the holiday's own
stifling of conflict (probably the former), though I never returned. The
huge sense of mockery of another group clung to me like an annoying
fungus--and I itch to this day. I, who am French, Indian, German, Swedish,
Scotch-Irish, may grin at the latest excess in lingualaundering, but I
certainly understand the "why" of it.
CJ, the plaque should have been removed, just as offensive graffiti
is washed from the walls, not because the original intent may have seemed
harmless to the "insiders" who knew its story, but because we really do
need to be wary of the inadvertant hurt caused by terms that are (how do I
underline in e-mail?) racist and carry the weight of years.
So, I'm preaching and you're offended...the neat thing about these
billboards on the superhighway is that, unlike plaques hung on distant
dams, you can delete this with one keystroke.