Those are four names. An author, a wrestler, a presidential candidate, and a musician. Here's a little backstory on how all four come together: Following the recent Hugo awards, in which both of the regressive Puppies campaigns got No Awarded into oblivion, Sarah Hoyt threw a racist slur in Cixin Liu's directheytion (Liu's novel The Three-Body Problem won the Hugo for Best Novel), and implicitly in the direction of Ken Liu, the novel's translator. Hulk Hogan is in the middle of a scandal because of a video that shows him abusing a racial slur. Jeb Bush continues to insist on using another racial slur, repeately and publicly, in the absence of "a better option." I will not include these slurs in my preview text. I will include each, once only, for context only, after the cut, and will avoid their use thereafter.
Kanye West was mean to Taylor Swift at an awards show one time.
Listen: I'm going to make this connection work. I promise. Just stick with me here.
For the record only, Sarah Hoyt used the word chicom. Hulk Hogan used the word nigger. Jeb Bush keeps using the word anchor baby. These slurs may seem to come with different levels of baggage or severity, may even seem to some few not to be slurs at all. I won't pick and choose between which way is the less bad way to discriminate, and I won't ignore the hurt they cause others because I'm unfamiliar with that hurt myself. They are all terrible things to say. If you don't know what they mean or what their context is, I invite you to do that research. I have no intention to spend my time explaining the history of racist slurs.
I'm going to excerpt from Sarah Hoyt's blog, where most of this action is happening, but I don't plan to link to it. I've given her more than enough hits just finding these quotes. Here's her original quote, following the Hugo results:
"I don’t mean I wish a different set of books/stories had won. That is only to the extent that the DELIBERATE and PARTISAN slighting of such unexceptionable luminaries as Kevin J. Anderson and Jim Butcher (Yes, yes Three Body Problem. Well, I didn’t find it worth it, but I bet you half the people who voted for it voted either under the illusion they were favoring REDACTED OR as a slam against the puppies.But quite beyond that the block voting for the clumsy Ancillary “but pronouns” would have won first place if it weren’t Australian Rules) is a blot on the face of our genre and makes me sigh and roll my eyes."
Mary Robinette Kowal, among others, took notice, and called Hoyt out on twitter. Hoyt continues to insist that not only is the word not a slur (at one point even drawing the thin semantic distinction between "derogatory" and "racist"), but that Kowal must be nigh-on braindamaged to think that it is. Another relevant quote: "Mary Three Names, whom I don’t mean to impugn, because it’s becoming clear to me that she has an impairment that prevents her from understanding written language ... leapt to a conclusion probably caused by her impairment and decided [REDACTED] was a racial insult."
Which, of course, using a series of insults in defense of the idea that you're not using an insult is rich.
There's more. Oh, there's a lot more. There are several hundred words worth of insults and threats thrown in Kowal's direction in that post alone, and no fewer than two follow-ups ("Write your books, enjoy the admiration of your followers and leave me and mine alone. Because if you don’t, you might make me pay enough attention to you to find a way to retaliate and trust me when I say this: if I have to give up my writing time to deal with your idiocy, I’ll get really creative about it, Mary. Metaphorically, of course. But trust me, you really, really, really will not enjoy it." looks, walks, and smells like a threat).
One of Hoyt's final points there is that Kowal is white and as such has no right to lecture Hoyt, a self-proclaimed "tan immigrant."
Under normal circumstances, that would actually be more of a fair point than it sounds. White people explaining racism to people of color is kind of hilarious, and even when well-intentioned and well-educated smacks of a kind of historically informed nasty paternalism that just doesn't belong in a healthy discourse.
And whatever photos of her tell me, I won't dispute Hoyt's claim to her tan-ness. That's not my place. She is a Portuguese immigrant to the United States, and may very well know a thing or two more about the brown experience in this country than I have any chance to.
She is ignoring and attempting to silence the voices of people of color who were hurt by her words, though. And that I can judge. That is no good.
Alyssa Wong, with the support of Ken Liu and others, responded to Hoyt in a wonderful series of tweets that have since been storified. Some highlights from that: "Dear Sarah Hoyt, Don't call anyone a Chicom. It's not clever, funny, or cute. Any admiration I had for you has burnt. As far as racial slurs, family memory is a very raw, painful, true resource. If we've lived through it, we don't forget .. in the US, my dad & his family had the term "chicom" slung at them pejoratively, along with other slurs. They remember. Memory is for the survivors. I remember for relatives who suffered both in China & in the States, on both sides of the equation ... Slurs are shorthand hate. Slurs dehumanize, devolve a person into a concept. & concepts are a lot easier to kill than people ... Hoyt calls herself a "tan immigrant," as if it gives her authority re: the CR & anti-Chinese slurs. But tan isn't yellow, so take a seat."
I left the word unredacted there because it was Wong using it, and I refuse to erase her text in this context.
I recommend reading the entire exchange, as I've had to leave some important and enlightening things out for clarity here.
Among the many defenses Hoyt employs for herself, including the previously mentioned "well you're an idiot" defense, she eventually comes to the point that discrimination was not her intent when she used the discriminatory speech. She's relying on this idea that a speaker's intent is more meaningful than the language used. This is based on the idea that if intent did not matter -- if only reception mattered -- then "if I use the word, say “potato” and you decide it refers to you and your sub-race or whatever, I’m immediately using a racist slur?"
Okay. Now. Wait. Just. This is where I start to have a hard time dealing. Okay.
So, language is social. Language works because the code we use to transmit meaning is shared, and because that meaning exists on both sides of the exchange. "Potato" is not nor has it ever been a racist slur. The person who takes "potato" as a racist slur against them is just a step below the infamous mayonnaise boy on the spectrum of being meaninglessly hurt.
Here's the thing about things that are social: the "social" part demands a non-trivial network of people, of which you are only one. So when I speak publicly, I am one person with a single intent behind whatever words I use. The social interaction that results exists, in my case, among dozens of other people. In Hoyt's case, that number balloons to hundreds or thousands. And if I am ONE PART of a social interaction numbering in the THOUSANDS, then my intent is quite literally the smallest possible part of the exchange. There are far more people on the receiving end of public speech than on the speaking end. And when hundreds of people say, "you hurt me," and your only response is "well I didn't mean to so deal with it," you're officially and always the one who is wrong there.
This reminds me rather of Hulk Hogan and Jeb Bush.
Okay, hear me out.
At this point, I don't need to belabor the point with these two except to say a little about how they're using different tactics to get the same effect: they want to deflect the significance of the social impact of their speech. Hogan has literally justified his use of one of the ugliest words that can come out of a white American's mouth by saying that he was "upset." He's gone on to say, "I'm a nice guy."
Listen: I've been angry. My anger has never manifested itself as hate speech. When anger prompts hate speech, that implies rather strongly that the anger is fueled by hate. You don't get extra points for being able to control your racist speech only when you feel good. We're all adults here, right? We can be angry and not be racist at the same time. We stopped getting excuses for doing anything because our emotions were out of control when we were five.
I would like to spend some time on the irony of Hogan using the words "Nice Guy" in his defense, but I'm going long so I'll just put a quick informative link I just found and let you do any extra research on your own. Needless to say, Nice Guys are real pieces of hate-filled work. The bigger takeaway here is that Hogan is excusing himself from his responsibility as a speaker in the act of speech. He's not correcting. He's barely apologizing. He's excusing himself for the role he played in using hate speech.
Jeb Bush has a clever twist on the theme. He nominally acknowledges that the term he's using isn't awesome. He's open to alternatives! That seems good. People have given him alternatives (Hilary Clinton's twitter helpfully told him to call them "babies," for one), of course, but he's ignoring them because it's more important to ask for alternatives than to use them. More fundamentally, by asking other people to tell him a word that isn't racist, he's shifting the responsibility for his own speech onto his listeners. He's not responsible for saying something racist, because other people aren't choosing his words for him.
Okay. So. Kanye.
Kanye wasn't racist. He was just mean. He co-opted a moment of joy for one of his peers and turned it into a moment of shame. Accepting an award from Taylor Swift this last weekend at the same awards show, he kind of made a fool of himself, which... okay. You know. It's Kanye. He's gonna be Kanye. But check this out:
"First of all, thank you, Taylor, for being so gracious and giving me this award this evening. Thank you. And I often think back to the first day I met you, also ... And I think if I had to do it all again, what would I have done? ... If I had a daughter at that time, would I have went onstage and grabbed the mic from someone else's? You know, this arena, tomorrow, it's gonna be a completely different setup, some concert, something like that. This stage will be gone. After that night, the stage was gone, but the effect that it had on people remained. The problem was the contradiction. The contradiction is I do fight for artists. But in that fight I somehow was disrespectful to artists. I didn't know how to say the right thing, the perfect thing."
Look at that. Just look at it. He thanks Swift for being so gracious about how poorly he treated her. He reflects on the hurt he caused her. He acknowledges the social impact that his speech has. "The effect that it had on people remained," he says. This is a profoundly more empathetic and human response to the pain of others than telling them to stop being so hurt. Kanye says "Even if I did not mean to, the fact remains that I hurt you. The fact remains that by hurting you, I hurt others. That was a problem."
He owns his position as a speaker in a social interaction, and the impact that speech has on others regardless of his intent. He goes on to explain himself further, but those are the cogent points. In a rambling, eleven minute... thing that is just as ridiculous in form as any Kanye impersonation you're likely to see on SNL, he demonstrates an understanding of his position as a speaker with influence in a group that he managed to hurt that the others seem fundamentally incapable of intuiting.
So maybe just be more like Kanye the next time you happen to say something you don't want to take responsibility for. Maybe be more like Kanye in general.