Chambers Jr, Henry L.
ChambersH at missouri.edu
Fri Feb 27 09:16:39 PST 2004
The issue with respect to the use of black/African-American is quite complex and can have quite a bit to do with context. Who is using the term, how they are using the term and when they are using the term can be particularly important. Though I am not offended or insulted by either "black" or "African-American" in the abstract, the terms can be used in ways that seem odd or inappropriate.
Here is an imprecise analogy. I am known variously as Hank, Henry, Mr. Chambers and Professor Chambers, etc. Though I am not offended by any of those names in the abstract, most people call me Hank. Nonetheless, if someone introduced me merely as Hank Chambers in a professional setting in which all other professors were introduced by their title, I would be quite annoyed.
As for the term Judeo-Christian, I understand why many Christians use the term and I understand why some/many/most Jewish folk do not embrace the term. To avoid causing undue offense, I do not use the term to describe an ethic. I will leave that issue to the side, particularly as I make may way through Lent and am forced to think more about the apparent Judeo-Christian break than about Judeo-Christian unity.
However, I am curious as to how Eugene's notions of self-censorship apply to another term. When I was a kid, media references to the Wailing Wall were very prominent and numerous. In the last ten years or so, I have happily noticed that the meida almost exclusively references the Western Wall rather than the Wailing Wall, even when referring specifically to the portion of the Western Wall that had been called the Wailing Wall. Is this an instance of self-censorship on the part of media or sensitivity to the effect that words may have on people or both or neither? My impression from friends is that "Wailing Wall" is more offensive that "Judeo-Christian" but I could be wrong.
From: conlawprof-bounces at lists.ucla.edu on behalf of Volokh, Eugene
Sent: Thu 2/26/2004 4:15 PM
To: conlawprof at lists.ucla.edu
Subject: RE: Judeo-Christian ethic
Several reasons. First, because of doubt that in fact many people find it insulting -- and not just find that it conveys an ideology with which they disagree.
Second, because there really aren't that many great synonyms for certain terms, at least ones that won't have their own negative connotations. Substituting "African-American" for "black," for instance, changes the literal meaning (African-American refers only to American blacks; someone who would discriminate equally against American blacks and Nigerian blacks, for instance, isn't biased against African-Americans, but against blacks). It also changes the connotation, because it often sends a subtle message that the speaker is endorsing the claim that "African-American" is the better term. (I realize that using "black" may send the opposite message; but the speaker may choose to send one message rather than the other.) Nor do I see many particularly clear and short synonyms for "Judeo-Christian."
Third, because some speakers are reluctant to change their own speech simply because others insist that it be changed, unless the speaker is himself persuaded that there's something wrong with it beyond simply some people's dislike.
Fourth, because some people are offended, and sometimes even disturbed or insulted, to be told to change what they say when their statements are not intended to be insulting, and ought not be reasonably interpreted as insulted.
Fifth, because the list of words or phrases to which some people have raised some objections -- "black," "American Indian," "Filipino," "Jew" (as a noun meaning "someone who is Jewish"), "Mormon," "fundamentalist," "handicap," "spokesman," "seminar," "Hispanic," and many more -- is very long. People who once took the view that Step describes as to some of those words may be rightly annoyed at being told to edit their speech again and again, for no reason other than "many individuals find it disturbing or insulting."
Sixth, because acquiescing in such insistence encourages still more such demands in the future, many of them just as ill-founded. These demands actually publicizes potential causes for grievance, and may lead some people to be offended even by terms that they would otherwise have ignored (Judeo-Christian being a case in point).
Seventh, because by publicly refusing to go along with such insistence that one change one's speech simply because some others command it, one can do what one can to stem this tendency to purge more and more words from the vocabulary -- or at least to express one's view that this tendency is unsound.
More information about the Conlawprof