Sunday, July 27, 2008

Bruised feelings

It was just a matter of time. At some point I would step over some unknown line on someones blog. I just did and didn't know it until I was called on the carpet. This specific blogger would definitely be quick to mention some aspect of one my comments as being unacceptable. Have to admire their in my face, straight forward way of dealing with it.

This interaction actually marks a couple of firsts. The first negative response to one of my comments. And this is my first lesson about my use of the word Canuck. I never considered whether it was offensive or not. When I worked north of the border it was used by many Canadians when referring to one of their own. I learned it from them.From the horse's mouth so to speak. Vancouver even has a hockey team named the Canucks.

I felt no apology was in order. I meant no offense and said so. I also said I would respect their wishes in the future. For me a learning experience. For them, well, I can't speak for them. It happened and we'll both move on from here.

All this brought up a bevy of different considerations and concerns. Were they being overly sensitive? Was I just being insensitive? Just how concerned should I be about the feelings of others I have no control over? Just why are different groups, racial, ethnic, religious so sensitive to the terms of speech used by those outside their insular cliques? And why are people like me who exist outside these cliques so quick to dismiss their concerns as being "too sensitive"?

And then I have to deal with someone calling my remark racist. In my opinion, Canadians are not a race nor is any ethnic group with European roots who lives there one. Do I get all huffy about the inference that I am racist by association for using the word Canuck? Well, I don't usually care what people think. It is what I think and know about myself that matters. So no, I don't care if it was inferred that I was being racist. How folks perceive me is on them. I can only control what I can about me. And it seems now all I can do is respect their wishes when visiting their blog.

Inadvertent and innocently uttered remarks like mine aside, I guess it comes down to respecting the comfort zones of the people we interact with. While I did not mean the term in a derogatory way, it was perceived that way by it's very existence.

I wonder just what is the blogging etiquette for this situation? Do I return to my comment and delete it? Copy n Paste and re-comment with Canuck removed and Canadian in it's place? Leave it alone for the blog owner to delete or not? Or blow it all off figuring my recognition of their concern was enough?

Regardless, I have had quite a variety of emotions here. I feel bad. I don't get it. And why don't I get it, which creates a feeling of real confusion. Interesting to write about it as it unfolds, that's for sure.

I did some research about the word Canuck. Wiki and this site both indicated the word is in the eye of the beholder and who is uttering it. Prof Kim in her "Writer's Den" site says this as a double ** footnote at the bottom of her page:
"**‘Canuck’ seems to be a sticky term. Used by Canadians, the word is acceptable in virtually all applications. Used by an outsider, however, it has the potential to take on an offensive or derogatory tone."

So now I know. Will it change my opinion about the word? Probably not. But it might just be a word I may want to leave out of some conversations. I will try to keep that in mind.

I guess what I need is my own word to get fired up about. Since my background is straight down the middle WASP, there really is no ancestry I can defend. My ancestors were all the guilty ones. Those wacky folks from Down Under do have a right colorful name for us folks from the States though. Might be promising. Seems they call us Americans "Seppos". They also call their septic tanks Seppos. Hmm. Might be ripe for some righteous indignation. Let me see if I can dig some up.


J said...

I remember trying to explain to my grandparents and aunt why calling a team the 'red skins' might be hurtful. I said, what would you think if someone had a team called the 'crackers' or the 'white trash', or the 'bigots', but they just laughed. When you don't have a history of being held down because of your race, it's hard to understand why people get so bent out of shape about it.

Of course, to my knowledge, no (white) Canadians have been held down due to their race, so it's a different (though similar) issue. To me, calling someone a Canuk would be kind of like calling someone a Yank. But knowing that it can cause offense, I won't use it.

MRMacrum said...

j- One of my objections to the use of taboo words is that the group who dislike hearing it from the mouths of another group somehow tolerate it when used by one of their own. If it is taboo, no one should use it. Simple as that in my mind.

As to whether I would be offended to have a team named white trash or bigot or cracker. No I would not. I learned early in Life that words from strangers can only hurt you if you let them. And the ones that do hurt and matter the most come in other ways from those you care about.

El Cerdo Ignatius said...

Well. I am 41 years old, Canadian, living in a secret location on the east coast. I have lived in Canada all my life. I have heard the word Canuck used by Canadians and Americans alike. And never, until reading this post, did I have any idea at all that it could be a derogatory term. My aunt in California has a variation of the word Canuck on her licence plate, for goodness sake. And what of Canada's star downhill ski racers of the 70's: the Crazy Canucks?

Sheesh. I'm dreadfully sorry if anyone disagrees with me, but I find the taking of offense at the word 'Canuck' when uttered by an American to be downright silly. And to suggest that it's racist, of all things? Pleeeeeeasse.

In my opinion, Canadians are not a race nor is any ethnic group with European roots who lives there one.

No, Canadians aren't a race, they're a nationality. But as a Canadian with European ancestry, I do have a race - it's called "white". And the word 'white' has nothing to do with the word 'Canuck'.

Anyway, Macrum, you're a better man than I, because I think my response would have been "get over yourself."

Rose DesRochers said...

Don't sweat the small stuff. I would leave it in place and maybe recomment with the word Canadian if they were that offended by it. I'm from Canada so you call me a Canuck. I do not find Canuck offensive.

Just don't call me a hoser. ;-)

Dawn Fortune said...

Wow. I didn't mean to cause such a fuss. I know that you did not mean any offense - it does not seem to be a part of your nature. I just wanted to let you know that the term Canuck is hurtful to some people. Including me.
In my experience, growing up in central Maine and living there for many years as an adult, I heard daily the "dumb Frenchman" jokes and the "stupid Canuck" jokes. As I understand it, Canuck is not so much a general term for Canadian, but a specific and often derogatory term for French-speaking Candadians.
While a Franco heritage might not classify specifically as racist, it certainly qualifies as a cultural identity. And any old-timer in the Franco communities of Augusta or Waterville can tell you stories of historical oppression. So, when someone says Canuck, it smacks very much of "dumb Mick" the out-of-fashion-now historical put-down for the other half of my genetic make-up. I have heard my elders speak of "No Irish need apply" signs in the early 1900s, and of recent immigrants (of both cultural backgrounds) being herded into ghettos that were unfit for habitation. That is oppression, and Canuck and Mick were the words used by the oppressors.
Are things like that now? Not by a long shot. But so long as there are people who still think it is acceptable and humorous to tell dumb Frenchman jokes, such terms will still be considered hateful.
It is unacceptable for a white person to use the n-word, but Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor seem to get away with it ok. I know my Italian goddather could use terms like "dago" and "wop" without recourse, but then he looked like a mob boss. I can use the word queer, but you'd better not. No, it does not make sense sometimes. I guess the test for me comes here: if I am not a member of a particular group, particularly a group that has been historically oppressed or mistreated in some way, I refrain from using any slang terms for that group. If it sounds like something a shithead would shout out the window of a passing pickup truck, it's off the list of words I get to use.
There is a movement among many historically oppressed groups to reclaim the language that was used to oppress them, hence my use of queer, and Eddie Murphy's use of nigger. It is confusing to those who are not a part of that culture. "If he calls himself a nigger, or she calls herself a dyke, then why the hell can't everyone else?" I wish I had an answer for that.
I think the best I can offer is that by doing this we are attempting to take the weapon away from the oppressor and use it ourselves. It is like war paint or a brand of pride and defiance that we emblazon upon ourselves. Like the movement by ACT-UP in the 80s to reclaim the pink triangle. It had been a badge of oppression used by Hitler to brand gay men, but activists in the late 21st century turned it around ("it has pointed down for long enough") and made it a battle flag around which thousands could rally.
It doesn't make sense sometimes, but there it is. It is an evolving part of our language and our culture. Some support it, some oppose it, some can't tell what the hell is going on.
I know you would not do anything on purpose to be hurtful, and I appreciate greatly the angst that this conflict has caused. Thank you for working so hard to understand something that really might be incomprehensible. It speaks volumes of your character.

Missy Glave said...

I've read your post (obviously) and all of the comments left.

It amazes me the dialogue opened about one comment. I think blogging is great ... it opens the lines of communication.

Glad you were able to share your thoughts on this and so was Dawn.

MRMacrum said...

It's all good Dawn. We have already decided I think, that each of us mean well in everything we do or say. I certainly get that feeling about you. And from your comments, I guess you feel the same way.

As missy points up, blogging has certainly proven to be a wonderful source of communication between people. Especially between people as diverse as we are. I have enjoyed my efforts to read what others have to say and seriously consider them. Even when I disagree, I do make an attempt to understand. And that's a damn sight better than not even considering there are a million personal slants out there. It makes me realize that there is no clear path through this mess. We all find our own way.

I spent a good portion of my youth here in Maine. I know how the French Candians were treated. But honestly in the Sanford area, it was another nickname that was favored, not Canuck. I will never use the other word unless talking with one of my French buddies.

I just had to share the odd feelings I had after the comment. It was just a jumping off point about my confusion as a member of no particular group, oppressed or otherwise, over what I think is beating a dead horse.

I feel that by seizing ownership of the terms by the various groups, they do nothing to further their cause. It is reverse discrimination in my book. It wasn't right the first time or now and it isn't right when being worn on another foot either.

Gary ("Old Dude") said...

Well while living in Canada I was referred to by my canadian friens as the Dumb American, but I took it as being humorious, and did not take offense. I think the use of some words can hurt, but only if the individual lacks the ability to laugh at themselves, and I would also add, in today's modern world I do believe "they" have taken "Political correctness" to extremes---

Gary (aka old dude)

Apertome said...

I really think that person overreacted, but I'm glad to see the situation leading to dialog and better communication and understanding between all parties involved. The best possible outcome, I'd say. Bravo.