Taking Offence

At a recent wedding party I happened to be seated next to a teen-aged girl.  She asked me what my ethnicity was.  I replied that I was some kind of Northern European stew.  23 and Me says English, Irish, German, French and Scandinavian with a dash of Central European.  She said that she was Chinese and Japanese.

I mention this because it has become fashionable in some circles to claim that any questions about ethnicity are micro-aggressions.  I'm pretty sure that this young lady was either just curious or just wanted an excuse to talk about herself.  We did then have an ordinary conversation which wasn't about ethnicity.

Shortly after, I heard the story of a professor lecturing her anthropology class happened to use the word "Oriental" in describing people from the Orient.  The whole class then got up and left the room in protest.  No doubt they were all deeply offended - especially the Caucasians.  The fact that the Professor herself was of Japanese extraction apparently did not entitle her to the sort of N-word exception some black people claim.

On another cultural battlefront, Rolling Stone has a story on Stephen Colbert which describes his consternation when one of his jokes, describing the President's mouth as "Putin's cock holster" drew outraged protest.  Of course there was probably some protest that the joke was vulgar, obscene, and inappropriate, but that didn't bother him.  The deeply offensive part, apparently, was that it was construed to insult homosexuals.

Everybody, it seems, has a chip on his or her shoulder and walks around begging for someone to knock it off.  I'm deeply unsympathetic to all this kind of hypersensitivity.  People have a right to be curious about those around them, and if you don't want to answer their questions, just don't.

Humor is another country.  Most humor is intended to disrespect somebody.  Consequently, the border between humor and hate speech can be fragile.  One good clue is to look at who is being disrespected.  If it's the rich and powerful, I say go for it.  if it's the weak and discriminated against, then you really ought to be offended.


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