Wednesday, April 25, 2012


What is wrong with me that I took a screenshot during my online sexual harassment training because I was aroused by one of the images?


The term "Chinese wall" as used in the law is a synonym for "ethical wall," meaning the virtual segregation of lawyers in a law firm when one lawyer is working on a matter that might present a conflict of interest with something that another lawyer is working on. Lawyer A represents Company X, but Lawyer B represents Company Y, which is suing Company X in a lawsuit not being handled by the firm, etc. It's not clear whether "Chinese wall" is a metaphor for impenetrability referencing the Great Wall of China, or some sociopolitical statement about freedom of expression in modern China.

 I discuss this with K. and Q.  K. says he read a case recently where a Chinese-American judge (such things exist!) urges the profession to abandon the term. The following email conversation ensues:

All right, I'm convinced. Let "Chinese wall" go the way of "niggardly" and "gyp." 
Sigh, as it were, I've also gotten into the tricky business of defending niggardly (no etymological relation!). On gyp I definitely agree. Chinese wall: I'm still not convinced. HOWEVER, I defer!! 
I see it as a smell test. "Niggardly" might not be etymologically related to the N-word (now how do you feel about my use of that??? Is that cowardice, or sensitivity?), but imagine saying that to a room full of people. Noses will crinkle; judgment will be passed. And for good reason, too, because either (1) you are not socially aware enough to realize that "niggardly" sounds like a word with negative historical and present-day connotations that one generally avoids, which means you have not been properly socialized, and were perhaps home-schooled by evangelicals; or (2) you are aware of those implications, yet you still insist on using the term, so you are either (a) an asshole, because you don't care about other people's sensitivities, or (b) a word nerd who insists that a word's meaning is purely linguistic/etymological even when there is a social context that also defines its meaning. Then it gets even more complicated when the word is said by an immigrantish female scholar of power relations who might, by using it, be claiming some linguistic authority otherwise denied her!!
When I used to teach high school students, I would tell them to "denigrate" the bubbles on their scantron forms. THEY HATED ME!!! 
[Bananarchist], who says I can't be BOTH an asshole AND a word nerd?! After reading this you'll probably think I am both! But here's my two cents on niggardly, anyway: I actually usually abide by preferred nomenclature, and generally believe an in-group can dictat what society calls them. So when we're told in TA training that the community prefers "person with a disability" over "disabled person," I defer (and get it, too). But to expunge a word from the language entirely strikes me as much more extreme, verging on Orwellian. So the reason has to be very persuasive. "It sounds like the N-word so may hurt someone to hear it" doesn't seem like a good reason to me. Lots of words have offensive and inoffensive uses, and a lot sound like other words. Chink still means crack and flip means turn over and in Britain at least a fag is a cigarette. Charlie's a man's name and breeders call their female dogs bitches. Goop sounds like gook. Cut sounds like cunt. etc.  
I agree that all speech is contextual, relative, historical. But for me, this places obligations on not just the speaker but also the listener, to sort out what is contextually offensive. With "niggardly," offense seems based mostly on misunderstanding of context/history/intention. I do see the argument that the N-word is exceptional. and that niggardly lends particularly well to confusion...but still I'd keep the word at least in written speech. Is this terribly elitist?? It's true I am a big word nerd.  
Incidentally my family IS evangelical--but I missed that boat, thank God. Regardless: happy Easter weekend! 
So, I brought up our debate yesterday a few drinks in and N., who(m) you know, asked, "What about niggling? As in niggling doubt." M.T. chimed in with "Bananarchist who?? Bananarchist what? hahaha!" Then N. suggested we keep both niggardly and niggling but willfully mispronounce them as NIGH-gardly and NIGH-gling, just so there's no confusion. I think that is brilliant. 
Good points about chink, flip, goop, add to that the caramel candy called Nips. But those things all are/sound like passable words that have regular, non-offensive uses, and their phonemes are familiar, common sounds. "Niggardly," on the other hand, only sounds like one thing, and that thing happens to be only offensive. I think we can try to rationalize using niggardly all we want to, but I simply would rather not. Call both M.T. and N. braver and more doctrinaire than me. It's just not a fight I want to or need to have. 
Bananarchist, I see your point, too: truce!
I think both positions are defensible, but I don't see the heroism in using an ambiguous term which could be so hurtful to people. Then again, I still use the term "Phillistine" to mean uncouth and uncultured, despite somebody's questionable belief, expressed as righteously as my anti-"niggardly" screed above, that Phillistines were the historical antecedents of modern-day Palestinians and my use of the term supported Zionism. I got in an early-20-somethings fight* with someone at a party ten years ago about whether we could continue dancing when "Walk Like An Egyptian" came on the radio!

(An objectively stupid song, but for cryin' out loud!)

Manny being Manny, there are no clear answers, but all this is fun to think and debate about.

* One of the enthusiastic things you do before you start to feel exhausted, and like your energy is better spent putting your hand in your sweatpants and eating corn-on-the-cob one kernel at a time.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

presenting as happy

I told M. someone told me it was weird that we have the same gender presentation, and she sent me this picture with the message, "Here are two gender similar pals presenting themselves as happy, with daisies."

(<3 <3 <3)