Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sticks and Stones, the Response

I tried to post my replies to the comments on my previous post, but what I ended up writing was so long that Blogger wouldn't accept it, so I'm publishing it as a separate post. I'm overdue for one anyways.

I want to say thank you to everyone who left a comment on this post- it was a tough one for me to write, and I guess that's why I haven't responded to the comments until now. I'm impressed by the thoughtfulness and breadth of opinions that went into these comments, and you all deserve more of a response than I'm going to give you, but here goes!

Claudia- I agree with you that there is no translation for culture, but I also think that it's worth trying to explain and to understand. I would certainly want to know if a word I was using was offensive or not to someone of another culture. What I found most interesting was your comment about 'the forced Afro-Americanism.' This isn't something I have thought all that much about, but I believe there are lots of minorities that assume these definitions, even if they are clumsy, as better than the alternatives. And to be fair I should probably start calling myself a 'European American.'

Daniel- my friend used another example, the word 'rapariga' which is little girl in Portugal, and a prostitute in Brazil. I don't think that's really what's going on here, as the n-word has no meanings outside of the US (that I know of), and I really hope nobody tries to create one.

Stephanie- I understand what you mean about feeling uncomfortable with the 'color talk' as it were, I actually find it kind of nice most of the time because it's so much easier to refer to these things- I used to find myself at times trying to describe someone in the United States (to another American) and not wanting to say that they were black so as not to come off as racist, which is just silly. Plus my wife is 'Negona' to many of her friends so I'm pretty thoroughly desensitized.

Elena- you summed up a couple issues better than I did. Regarding the conversation I hope to have with my friend, I don't know how much I'm going to get into it. It might just be me telling her that I'll never be able to hear that word without a strong visceral reaction and hope that she understands that.

TLC- laughter, as I learned from Reader's Digest, is the best medicine. I know a guy who everyone calls 'Capenga,' which means 'cripple,' and another called 'Mario Gago' which is 'Mario with the stutter.' Gasp!! To be honest, those nicknames bother me too, but that's what everyone calls them, so what am I going to do? On the other hand, 'politically correct' shouldn't mean 'sweep it under the rug.'

Fabio- good point, and something I've considered asking my friend, how she would feel if the tables were turned in terms of an offensive word used as a name. In Capoeira it's common to give Portuguese nicknames to the players, even in the 'Exterior' where most people just take the mestre's translation on faith. Lots of these words can't be found in a dictionary although you can find most of them online now. Wouldn't it be crazy if a mestre gave all his students really inappropriate names like Safada and Tarada and they had no idea? I wonder if it's happened. Regarding the pronunciation: she isn't off the hook if she can't pronounce the word, the intent is the same.

Mae- I was struck that you have actually had conversations about this subject with white Brazilians, I never have. I realize that I'm not actually friends with any white Brazilians, which is a bit odd, at least not good friends. Now that I think of it, I do have a couple white Brazilian friends, but they all live in New York- now that's ironic! The things I've learned from my friends and especially my wife about their experiences have made me realize just how much I don't (or didn't) know about the minority experience, either here or there, if you can refer to a single 'minority experience' which of course you can't. I often find myself wondering how far the similarities go between the Afro-Brazilian and African-American experiences. That came out totally jumbled, it's 2:40 in the morning. Got... to... finish!!! My friend does not fall into the category you described- privilege has not left her blind to these things. Regarding the conversations you refer to, you're absolutely right, they don't happen, or they don't happen often enough. I find myself desperately wanting to give a shout out to Michel Martin and her NPR program Tell Me More, which has given me more insight into more angles on more minority experiences than anything else in my life, with the obvious exception of my marriage.

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