End Stage Diversity

Eradicating Cultural Typoglycemia – Part I: The “x-Word”

Dismay 7K0A0752DISCLAIMER:  Those who have sensitive cultural constitutions and are prone to mood shifts when discussing difficult intercultural issues should not read this post.  This is a discussion about epithets.  However, none are actually recorded herein, either in whole or in part, though at least one is implied.  On behalf of all within my sphere of influence, domain, domicile and earshot, I extend my deepest regrets to any who are offended by the following discussion and by any specific arguments made herein.  For a brief video note to those who decide to read further, click here.

The use of epithets, even the discussion of them, tends to make some people cross. But that doesn’t stop the media and its army of bloggers from edging right up to the foul line.

Related matters recently in the news headlines beg the question, “Should the ‘thoughtful and professional’ use of a thinly veiled epithetical euphemism logically make people any less cross?”  The participants in a professional online discussion forum on LinkedIn were recently awakened to the realization that they had been drawn into what might be referred to as the classic “x-Word Puzzle.”

A white attorney briefed the LinkedIn professional Diversity community on a case involving the use of a racial slur in a business setting. Blacks, along with all other sorts of ‘professionals’ lined up to participate, freely using both the euphemism and the actual racial slur, fully spelled out. The attorney even posted an entire unredacted list of racial slurs that had been introduced in evidence.

They were not alone.  The entire nation seemed to have been swept up into it.  There may be an opportunity to embrace a salient point or two from it all, especially as it respects the venue of “Professional Diversity,” under which all should get along – at least in theory, verbally and otherwise.

The term Diversity itself is a bit of a euphemism, though for what, exactly, is still up for grabs. The term “Diversity” was chosen, and it caught on largely because it seemed effective at keeping people from getting too terribly cross when discussing the encroachment of cultural differences into their country, neighborhoods and organizations, and sometimes their families.  At its outset, The Diversity Paradigm was designed to obfuscate specific cultural interlopers, but usually sufficient cultural clues exist so that few are left in the dark on the matter of which specific cultural identities are in question.

How masterful was that, truthfully? In applying the semi-opaque term to itself, “Diversity” may well have created as many puzzles as it purports to solve.

Prevailing opinion in my own region is that “Diversity” is just a euphemism for blacks.  At best, a few progressive locals feel it more broadly euphemizes everyone but white males. Increasingly, the term “Diversity” has come to encompass the full range of differing cultures, natures, attitudes, beliefs, skills, abilities and knowledge, even the different ways that individuals think. The Diversity industry has morphed itself into a kind of universalism that has become a cultural ‘theory of everything’ so broad and vague that it has become more or less undefinable, imprecise, non-directional, as broad and ecumenical as humanity itself. Perhaps that’s the biggest reason CDOs and consultants are shedding their Diversity image, pressing on to other euphemisms like “Inclusion” to escape the quagmire created by the Diversity paradigm, leaving it behind, “stuck.” [1]

In stark contrast to the ambiguous term “Diversity,” epithets are pregnant with meaning, sharply focused and unambiguous in cultural intent. One in particular cannot seem to escape the upper fold, a continuing stream of legal engagements and headlines over its use.  Not by a long shot is it the only racial slur, but you’d almost think so, as it seems to have become the media darling of slurs. It gets more press than any among the global plethora of scurrilous word-paintings of our fellow humans, feeling almost like a national pastime of sorts.

I hereinafter refer to that slur, and any other abusive term, by use of the letter “x”, a variable to represent the first letter of any known abusive term, joined by hyphen to “Word,” to represent what is the classic formulaic epithetical “x-Word.” A portmanteau of sorts, the code x not only contains but launches the epithetical imagery high up into the mind, and the second compartment, “Word,” provides the braking parachute that prevents the utterance from landing on the hearer/reader with the full weight of an insult.  Anything but new, this portmanteau has been passed down through the generations, and is now a family heirloom of our children.

In the case of x-Words overall, Diversity hasn’t taught us to look at the issue of epithets any more deeply than doing so within a rules-based frame rather than a framework of principles. Some, for example, are puzzled by the plaintiff ‘victory’ in the Rob Corona case. [1] Others are puzzled over the plaintiff loss in the Paula Deen case. [2] Many were looking eagerly to these cases for some rule of law as to whether we should or should not use a particular scurrilous x-Word at a given place or time, and whether being of a given race matters at all in the decision, a fire engine red herring if ever there was one.

In both cases, the court made a fairly narrow ruling, pending appeals, without demanding that we look to a higher principle for an answer on the use of the x-Word in question, as if the one that starts with that particular letter represents the only varied set of x-Words used for blacks. Rather than creating any insights through a narrow rule or finding of law, maybe the discussion themselves reveal more about what we’ve allowed ourselves to become as we’ve buckled under to the rubric of a ubiquitous and ambiguous “Diversity.” Endless lists of rules of cultural competence seem to dominate in that field, but questions of principle are far less frequently examined.

For now, suspend judgment on how thoughtful or professional any discussion can be that headlines with a mentally and emotionally evocative slur in the guise of a euphemism. Forgive that, in the case of the LinkedIn discussion, it linked to a case summary with a full frontal list of racially charged epithets, as if we couldn’t guess what they were, each one assaulting our senses in much the same way for which that very case was adjudicated.  The white lawyer never stopped to consider that, had it been a summary brief of a case in a workplace where porn had been used as the tool of sexual harassment, few bloggers would have had the insensitivity or flat out gall to have linked to the porn site, let alone embedded the porn itself directly into their own blog site in the name of objective professional reporting…at least not without many disclaimers and warnings along the way.

Few would take a legal brief sporting a list of epithets into a neighborhood sports bar frequented by the targets of the epithet at Happy Hour, stand up front on a bar stool and start an audible conversation with patrons, all strangers, regarding the efficacy of using those x-Words in an employment setting. Who would classify that as thoughtful? But, in his mind, posting it online and inviting professionals to view it with a link to a full list of terms of denigration is viewed differently, for some reason. Is it the illusion of a more liberal and forgiving social media that leads us to subvert our own principles? Or is it something else?

Is this getting close to a double standard in publishing evidence of a crime? In a murder case, for example, even the news hounds themselves may publicly discuss and even describe a heinous crime, but cannot show the pictures of the blood-soaked corpse produced in evidence.  It is considered bad form, abusive of the victim’s family and an indignity to the victim(s). The standard for such prima facie evidence, the body and pictures taken in the investigatory and prosecution process, is to insulate it from the public eye, a sort of socially normative equivalent to ‘ex aequo et bono‘ (Latin, “according to the right and good” or “from equity and conscience“).

In the cases of verbal discrimination and harassment, the epithet itself is the equivalent of the corpus delicti in the discrimination cases mentioned above. More broadly, that singular racial derogative is equivalent to the blood-soaked corpus delicti of centuries of human racial history. Not on LinkedIn, though.  Not in this case.

Contrastingly, this particular evidence of the body of the crime gets hung as a banner in the public square, assaulting anew the families, friends and all of the other intended victims of the derogation. Describing it in the generic King’s English isn’t sufficient for some reason. The bloodied term is presented in multiple poses for all to see, leaving nothing to the imagination such that otherwise thoughtful, intelligent, caring people seem to have become sufficiently inured so as to ask questions like, “So what’s the “truth” here?” about an epithet, or defending an x-Word and its delineated dysphemism as “simply…writing professionally on the subject.”

How did that happen?  What brought us to this? That [x-Word] template creates as recognizable a snapshot of the term as the dysphemism’s complete articulation, hardly generic thanks to the human power of pattern recognition. I’d argue that the template deployed as euphemism is more akin to what is now popularly referred to as a “typoglycemic,” a letter scramble of sorts.

Typoglycemia” describes a cognitive process that…activates when we see text that is spelled incorrectly, or if words are misplaced in a sentence, but we can still clearly read and understand.” We are slowed only slightly by the surprisingly short time it takes the brain to unscramble it.  Factors that may affect the brain’s effectiveness at deciphering a typoglycemic might be the length of the word, the extent/order of the scrambling, the context of the phrase and the logic, grammar and syntax of the underlying message. The biggest key seems to be ensuring that the first and last letters are right.

Reminiscent of the old TV game show, “Name that Tune,” most can, in context, name that epithet in one letter, the neurological decoding process deliberately made notoriously easy.

Death threat, precursor to attack, vile insult that’s characterized that blood-soaked instrument of centuries of mental, emotional and spiritual verbal diminishment, the collective memory of it is resurrected and renewed with each use, in accord with its original design.  Today, filed in courts as evidence of its criminal agency in a narrow band of law known as employment discrimination, it is again euphemized and hung high in typoglycemic headlines across the nation for the sake of sensation rather than edification. The collective memory is reinvigorated.

But let that go, for now.  Forget everything you just read. There’s an even stranger underlying issue. If you’re not exhausted from the discussion, follow us to:  Eradicating Cultural TypoglycemiaPart II – A Radical Adult Approach


Copyright © Robert D. Jones 2013 – All Rights Reserved

[1] “”The field of diversity is stuck,” said Roosevelt Thomas Jr., an author and diversity consultant.”

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