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A recent answer demonstrates its point with lyrics from a Lou Reed song.

This has prompted a flag to be raised, calling the lyrics "offensive and unwelcoming".

There is also a comment, with 20 comment votes, that suggests using the lyrics to "the wheels on the bus" instead of Lou Reed's lyrics.

So one (or more) of us has been upset by the lyrics and there is a valid alternative.

My question is: are the lyrics a problem?

To me they don't seem to be, but Lou Reed himself changed the lyrics when he performed live, later in his career, so perhaps they are.

I need help from the community determining the correct action.

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    It’s fine. Also, please, enough with the politics on Meta. This isn’t directed at you (Matt), or this particular post, and it’s warming to see a MOs solicit consensus from the community. But it’s been 4 or more posts about language policing in the last couple days, and if we make Meta about policing users’ language, it will destroy the site. I mean that. We’re here to discuss English, not to judge our fellow man. Let’s keep it that way. – Dan Bron Feb 26 at 12:52
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    @DanBron meta is not about discussing English, it's about discussing site policy. And this is very much a question of site policy. While I personally find the idea of removing the quote absurd, this is precisely what meta is for. – terdon Feb 26 at 12:54
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    Why is "doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo" offensive? Oh, it's the word "coloured"! But that's not the same as saying the N-word, is it? And I've heard American black actors use the term themselves. This is really trivial stuff, it's not in a title, and there are no comments telling the author that they feel offended or find it offensive. You got one flag, probably by someone making a point... – Mari-Lou A Feb 26 at 13:42
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    @Mari-LouA Black actors etc. in the US do NOT use the term "coloured" (or "colored"). The term is actor/person/student/et cetera "of color", which also includes non-white people who aren't specifically Black. If you're interested in the evolution of these terms in the US, NPR's Code Switch has a good article. – 1006a Feb 26 at 16:34
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    @1006a a person of color vs a colored person, I wasn't aware there was a difference in meaning or in connotations, in my ignorance I equated the two. But three or more so years ago a British actor was speaking about African American actors and used the term, once, "coloured", and it wasn't used or meant to be offensive, or belittling but the press and social media lambasted him. The same applies to the Lou Reed's lyrics, they are not offensive to anyone, and the user who posted the lyrics was, most very likely, blissfully unaware that anyone might cringe or wince at reading those lines. – Mari-Lou A Feb 26 at 17:39
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    @Mari-LouA So now people know that there are people who do cringe and wince at reading those lines without any other context. The question is, do they care enough to either swap them out or add some context? – 1006a Feb 27 at 0:26
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    @Mari-LouA the point is that the words were offensive to at least one person. So this is no longer a hypothetical example. So please don't say things like :*they are not offensive to anyone* after someone has explained quite clearly that they are indeed offensive to them. While you (or I, for that matter) may feel that perhaps they shouldn't be offensive, that's not our call to make. – terdon Feb 27 at 17:44
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    "offensive or unwelcoming", that's POB. Does it violate the be nice policy? Can anything "quoted" ever violate it? If an answer doesn't align with your views, it is at your discretion to DV it. But if at anytime I'm disallowed to cite what someone else once said, that's censorship. – Mazura Feb 28 at 0:20
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    Note that we're watching this discussion, and want to commend everyone involved for a level of tone and civility here that we feel bears a striking dissonance with how these conversations sometimes take place on other platforms. This community is designed to be self-governing and self-correcting, and we eagerly await to see where you arrive by the end of this week. We don't want to pressure you, but this is an issue that demands an extremely high sense of urgency, so a consensus on how to move forward needs to be clear to us by Friday afternoon. I have 100% trust that you'll do it. – Tim Post Feb 28 at 14:10
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    @TimPost I think the multiple answers on the subject are nowhere near a clear consensus. Also, is this from a mod as a mod ('we')? Of ELU or SE? And why the urgency? – Mitch Feb 28 at 19:54
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    With the amount of attention brought to this answer, if it was a problem, enough people would have flagged it, and it would have been auto-deleted by now.... There can't possibly be any new problems that SE hasn't encountered in the last eight years. There's a reason it takes X number of votes to make stuff happen, which can bandwagon and thus fail. But for that to have not happened yet should tell us something. – Mazura Mar 1 at 3:52
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    @Mazura Things aren't categorical here, there's degrees. 'colored' (at least in the US is currently disparaging, but not to the great extent as the n-word. Also, in quoting a very popular song, the choice of it could be considered naive and not at all a deletable offense. There's all sorts of solutions in between, like the much repeated "just be cool man, use another example". – Mitch Mar 1 at 15:29
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    @Fattie I am under 40 (if only barely) and the main reason I objected to deleting the quote is because it's such a famous line I can't think of a better one. Some of us young'uns like good tunes! :) That said, I have changed my position after reading 1006a's answer. I will never consider the song offensive, but I if it makes people uncomfortable, I don't see any reason not to change it. – terdon Mar 1 at 16:54
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    Is no distinction being made between quoting a song, and calling people names? Gees, I find the objections to quoting misplaced. Now, criticizing it is another story. No one is calling anyone here colored. Let's be very clear about that. If this quote is removed, tons and tons of other literary stuff would have to be too, including all the dirty jokes in Shakespeare. – Lambie Mar 2 at 19:34
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    I don't know but seems I'm the only one who finds fattie's edit misleading. The expression "colored girls" was not used to illustrate a particular usage, it was the line "the colored girls go doo doo doo" Am I the only one thinking this? – Mari-Lou A Mar 5 at 10:20

11 Answers 11

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I flagged it.

I'm a woman of color (but not Black), and find the use of this example offensive and, in particular, unwelcoming.

Americans do NOT use "colored" in the twenty-first century, and we don't refer to grown women as "girls". If you think that the fact that those terms were considered socially acceptable by some people in the past means that no one will find them "jarring and uncomfortable" when encountering them out-of-context now, I refer you to Ralph Northam et al.

I don't find the existence of the lyric offensive (it is a product of its time, though that's not at all clear from the answer). I do not find discussion of the term offensive (this is a site dedicated to discussing the English language, and discussion of offensive language is part of that).

What I find problematic, and the reason I raised the flag, is that it's a cherry picked example, out of many possibilities, specifically chosen to illustrate a point about a language construction used mainly with children (the question is about the construction dog goes "woof"). There's no commentary on the lyric, or even a date to show just how long ago it was written—literally before I was born.

WHY? Why use this example in this context? What possible utility does this example, which contains language known to be hurtful to a large swathe of people and which could easily be replaced by dozens or even hundreds of other examples of the construction [people] go [sound], serve?

Maybe [I think to myself] it's just the first example the poster could find, and they didn't want to put too much effort into the answer. I'll be as helpful as I can, and find a possible alternative! The answer is focusing on song lyrics, so I'll look for some that match. Oh, hey, here is a song lyric in the same general genre as the question's lyrics, which contains examples of the usage for a thing making a sound, a person saying words, and a proto-person making a sound! I'll offer it up.

The suggested alternative is not taken up, or commented on in any way. I raise a flag, which ends up in a Meta question where the main response so far is "eh, history. Language police are stupid."

To me this feels very much like the author of the post and the community in general don't give a hoot (maybe that should be won't go "hoo") about whether women or people of color who come across this site feel that they can use it.

I imagine one of my children asking me "Mama, why does this book say 'the dog goes woof' and my other book says 'the dog says woof'?" If I didn't have a good explanation off the top of my head I would google it. I would find that page. I would read the top-voted answer, which starts out sounding very useful but ends with a slap in the face. And I would immediately move along, resolved not to use the site again.

Or, wait, maybe I'm a non-native speaker, or a white man! So instead of realizing there was a slap in the face, maybe I share the answer with my child, who could then go to school saying "My heart goes boom! Colored girls go doo doo!" Explosions and poop and cooties and a relic of America's abhorrent past, all rolled into one "English" lesson.

Once again, this isn't about "policing people's language". This is about thinking about what we write, and how it will affect other people. Of course it's harder to think about how it will affect people who aren't like us than people who have the same reactions we do. But every day when I come to this site I am reminded, in ways small and large, that it's mostly a bunch of highly educated, high income, racial majority men, who mostly don't much care if that's deeply uncomfortable for those of us who don't tick all those boxes.

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    I respectfully submit that this post is a little unfair. The flag you raised is only visible to mods, so the OP had no way of acting on it (or even to be aware of it). The mod who handled the flag wasn't sure what to do about it, so instead of dismissing it, brought it here to open a discussion soliciting precisely the kind of response you just posted. There is no "main response" here yet. Just the first answer posted and, now, yours. Your assessment of the site may well be true, but your treatment of the mod and the OP does seem unfair. – terdon Feb 26 at 16:41
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    On another subject, may I ask why you didn't just edit the answer directly? You have more than enough rep to do so and this is a collaborative site, after all. If you find something offensive, isn't it simpler to just fix it instead of flagging? Did you fear the OP would object? – terdon Feb 26 at 16:43
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    I raised a custom flag, in which I noted that I had suggested an edit (which was ignored) and didn't want to start an edit war. Other comments suggesting changes had been addressed, so I assumed the OP made a conscious decision not to swap examples. @terdon – 1006a Feb 26 at 16:43
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    My judgement about the "main response" was about the comments, as well as the answer. – 1006a Feb 26 at 16:44
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    In searching for the earliest occurrence of a word or phrase, I occasionally find relevant examples that occur in the context of an appallingly racist or bigoted text. In deciding whether to cite the example or to ignore it, I consider whether the instance is historically important (as one of the first few instance in print) or merely typical (one of many available examples from that time period). But when I do include a repellent example on grounds of historical significance, I am aware that some readers may find it intensely offensive and I'm never entirely comfortable with my choice. – Sven Yargs Feb 26 at 17:11
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    @Robusto The NAACP has apparently done some “internal wrestling” about continuing to use the word "Colored" in its name. I respect their reasons for maintaining that historical connection (though I think they probably should continue to wrestle with the question), but please note that the term "colored" is used exclusively in the name—in all other contexts they use "black" or "X of color" or "African American". (1/4) – 1006a Feb 27 at 0:19
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    Shange is a poet; she chooses each word carefully and for effect, including “colored girls”— just as, I assume, she knows the standard spelling of "enough”. She has explained her use of this phrase as a way to connect to the language used and understood by her grandmother, and in the preface to the 2010 Scribner hardcover edition she also said that “for colored girls was meant for women of color”, meaning that she didn’t write the choreopoem with the sensibilities of others in mind. (2/4) – 1006a Feb 27 at 0:20
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    As to what I tell my children: We’ve had conversations with them about how terminology changes over time, and why standards of politeness change (including the “euphemism treadmill”). When the oldest read Tom Sawyer we talked about why the polite terms from Mark Twain’s era are not the polite terms now (and why it is OK and even important to talk bluntly about race, including using the term “black”, even if their very sheltered white teacher had trouble with it). (3/4) – 1006a Feb 27 at 0:20
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    We’ve also had conversations about how sometimes people use language about themselves that isn’t acceptable when used by outsiders—a beginning concept is that I can say my sibling is annoying, but no one else is allowed to say that (except my other sibs). A more advanced concept is that if I talk about how annoying my sib is in public, some strangers will take that as license to chime in, so it’s important to think about what message we send when we use “in group” language where anyone from outside the group can hear, and whether it’s worth the trade-offs. (4/4) – 1006a Feb 27 at 0:20
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    @1006a: Thanks for your candid response. I appreciate hearing your point of view. Actually, I would very much like to hear more about what you think on these matters. Can you stop by ELU chat sometime , or some other chat if that suits you better, so we can talk without you having to part out your thoughts in comments? – Robusto Feb 27 at 1:04
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    @mazura quoting something doesn't make it immune to common decency. There is a difference between use and mention, even when something is a quote. – Matt E. Эллен Feb 27 at 6:39
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    I have no such personal stake in the matter, and I also found it jarring; I'd probably tell people off for singing that in real life, and that's not the sort of thing I generally do. I think this is a cultural thing, where it's more <del>"acceptable"</del> <ins>normalised</ins> in the US. – wizzwizz4 Feb 27 at 18:58
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    bravo, @1006a - I've put in an answer supporting your answer, and explaining the situation in the pithiest possible manner. – Fattie Feb 27 at 19:49
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    @1006a I apologise if in asking this question I made you feel your hand was forced to reveal you were the flagger. – Matt E. Эллен Feb 28 at 11:13
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    Thank you for the labor you put into answering this, it is very much appreciated. – Tim Post Mar 1 at 16:21
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The problem for Lou Reed was, "people of color" just didn't scan. Apart from "the N word," the casual use of which should always be discouraged, the way to refer to African-Americans has changed over the years.

The NAACP is The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used the word "Negro"; "black" was the easy, catch-all term one heard chanted and saw on signs promoting "Black Power" ... yet now black people use the term "people of color" and, in the U.S., "African-American" quite a lot. It's been hard to keep up.

The problem for us seems to be "What words are safe and respectful to use?" I'd suggest that on this site, quoting what a songwriter wrote in 1972, which was certainly not thought of as offensive at the time (for comparison, see also the 1976 play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide, written by an African-American woman and first performed four years after the Lou Reed song), should not be considered offensive.

I feel we are not responsible for legitimate references our users employ in their answers if those appear to be well-intentioned and offered in the spirit of inquiry (i.e., not written to troll the site).

On the other hand, if we had received 42 flags calling something in an answer offensive (as compared with the 42 up votes and two down votes the answer received), there would be cause for concern. I'd chalk this up to hyper-vigilantism on the part of whoever complained, and I would hope we don't react to censor in this case.

Let's bookmark this discussion and resurrect it when someone starts talking about a certain Joseph Conrad novel.

Addendum The OP had a different example originally, and it was my comment that caused him to add the Lou Reed lyric. Apparently it was the easiest thing he could think of off the top of his head where "go" was demonstrably used to mean "said".

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    "colored person" and "person of color" are very different terms. "Person of color" is the accepted 'nice' way of referring to anybody non-white, but is only a very recent usage, unknown at the time Reed wrote that song. Referring to someone as "colored" is scandalous. A newscaster almost lost their job because of a slip where she referred to someone as colored. – Mitch Feb 26 at 15:15
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    @Mitch: Not in 1972. And I hope your takeaway from my post is not that I don't understand the difference between the terms. – Robusto Feb 26 at 15:19
  • What 'not in 1972'? Are you saying people used 'person of color' back then? – Mitch Feb 26 at 15:20
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    No. Look at your last statement before my reply. I'm saying I doubt anybody lost their job in 1972 for using "colored" ... – Robusto Feb 26 at 15:22
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    @JJJ: It just ain't that cut and dried. We don't have a rule saying "Don't ever use the word colored even when quoting what someone said in a song a long time ago." – Robusto Feb 26 at 15:41
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    @JJJ precisely, and this post is an attempt to figure out what the rules are. Robusto is taking the position that no, this sort of thing should not be against the rules. And one of the arguments he presents to defend that position is that very few (or even one) person has objected, while many have upvoted which indicates the community at large does not object. – terdon Feb 26 at 15:42
  • No one seems to want to deal with this: I may find something offensive, but if it is a quote I dislike because I feel offended, that does not mean the quote should be removed. My goodness. That's primary repression. My feelings are often insulted around here, but I don't go around saying ELUers should remove cited works of literature or songs because I find them offensive. If I do, TS for me. :) Right? – Lambie Mar 2 at 19:58
  • Could you totally remove all the "jokes" from this answer as (1) it is just spectacularly not funny (in the sense of - dude, I hrte to tell you, but you're not funny. at all) (2) it is just spectacularly not funny (in the sense of .. gee .. don't joke about racism?) and (3) it vastly adds to the confusion already on this QA. Delete the first sentence, which you're previously stated was a "joke", but you've now deleted that comment. – Fattie Mar 3 at 17:25
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If you get feedback that someone finds an example you used offensive, and the bit they find offensive isn’t crucial to your answer, you should find another example. For every person that feels comfortable speaking up, there are likely many more not saying anything being distracted instead of helped by your example.

Even though I like the Lou Reed example because the song conjures warm memories for me, as an illustration it may not be the most suitable example because for some it detracts from instead of enhances your point.

Just to be clear, I don’t think it is necessary to determine whether the lyrics meet or don’t meet some threshold of offensiveness in this context. That they are controversial to some, and easily replaced should be enough reason to change them out. A question about the offensiveness of “colored” in modern usage might be interesting as an English question on the main site though.

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    "For your second set of lyrics, I think "Wheels on the Bus" (the horn on the bus goes beep-beep-beep/the driver on the bus goes 'move on back'/the baby on the bus goes 'wah wah wah') would be an improvement on that example." Where is it mentioned that the lyric in question is hurtful, demeaning or offensive to black American people? – Mari-Lou A Feb 27 at 1:25
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    @Mari-LouA Nowhere, and I don’t have a problem with someone not mentioning that they were offended, possibly not wanting to have to justify their feelings about it. No matter by what means you find out someone is distracted by your example, it makes sense to make it less distracting. – ColleenV parted ways Feb 27 at 2:08
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    You are a moderator on ELL, what would you do if you read the same flag for the same post? 1. Ask the community for guidance, and reach a general consensus? 2. Deleted the entire post without explanation? 3. Deleted only the offending material? – Mari-Lou A Feb 27 at 7:51
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    (+1) This isn't about rules, or politics, or censorship; but collegiality, & maintaining focus on the purpose of the site. – Scortchi - Reinstate Monica Feb 27 at 8:20
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    @Mari-LouA If there was no prior history, I would talk to the author of the post first and see how critical they felt that particular example was to their answer. I don’t see any reason to make even one person uncomfortable over something that is easily changed. If the author felt they needed that exact wording or I had reason to believe that the person that flagged wasn’t acting in good faith, then my job gets hard and I bring in the rest of the mod team to figure it out. – ColleenV parted ways Feb 27 at 11:36
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    @Mari-LouA Also, I probably wouldn’t ask the community as a mod handling someone else’s post, but I might ask about my own post to understand better what others think. It’s not our purpose as mods to decide whether someone is justified in feeling uncomfortable about language used in a post. We try to make sure everyone can enjoy the site and feel welcomed. That means both the author of the flagged post and the person that flagged it. – ColleenV parted ways Feb 27 at 11:47
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    @Mari-LouA The entire reason sites have elected moderators is because rules and popular votes can’t fairly solve every issue that may come up. This is a judgement call, and we mitigate the risk by having more than one person involved and acting within general guidelines instead of strict rules. I don’t think the lyrics are offensive, but that’s not the point. Many people are happy to accommodate others’ sensibilities if they’re asked and not attacked. Most people who bring up a problem to us are sincere about their feelings. Every situation is a little different. – ColleenV parted ways Feb 27 at 12:04
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    The entire post has been deleted by Tim Post and the team. I suspected that the user would have refused to edit his contribution (comment now deleted). – Mari-Lou A Mar 1 at 15:58
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    @Mari-LouA That’s unfortunate. It would have been nice if it could have been handled with less drama, but I think this is an important conversation to have. – ColleenV parted ways Mar 1 at 16:19
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    There are things that I find insulting and offensive on this site and in society. Not because of any of the usual categories: I have my own categories for that which I won't go into here. That said, there are TONS [caps mine] of things in literature, song, and history, that are offensive. If a quote is given, how can we possibly accommodate everyone's "feelings"? I often feel my feelings are not being accommodated. I basically am unable (head-wise) to object to anything that is quoted material from an existing work. Quoting something and insulting someone are two different orders of reality. – Lambie Mar 2 at 19:54
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    @Lambie It’s not about absolute offensiveness. You commented once that “only people from the hollows of West Virginia” speak that ignorantly (paraphrasing). It was deeply offensive to me, and you probably don’t even remember it. You didn’t intend to (I assume), but you made my experience on ELL that day really crappy.That is the sort of unwelcoming speech the CoC is talking about. You’re free to flag whatever you feel in good faith is unwelcoming, but it’s not a good idea to water down your flags with stuff you don’t really care about. – ColleenV parted ways Mar 2 at 23:03
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First of all I'd like to thank everyone involved in the discussion here for their respectful behaviour.

Before I asked the question I was thoroughly conflicted. On the one hand there was an answer with a quote that didn't seem controversial to me, and on the other there was a flag that clearly stated the quote was unwelcoming. For some reason I could not make a decision. I even asked other moderators their opinions about the quote, which eventually led me to asking the question here.

The problem as I see it is that the question has never been about the quote in isolation. Without the wider context of the answer and the question it is posted on, the context of how words affect other people, and the context of how our members see themselves, evaluating the quote is nonsensical.

Basically my initial understanding of the situation was ignorant, so I asked a question to get less ignorant.

Having interacted with many of our more academically minded members in chat, I knew some people would decry the idea of censoring a quote. What I needed was the perspective of people I hadn't already interacted with.

I'm very grateful to 1006a for speaking up, as well as ColleenV. Thanks to them and others I was able to get a more rounded view of the situation.

The understanding I've come to is that there is no catch all for this sort of flag. As a moderator I need to try and understand the context of the situation. I can't just say "someone is upset" and change or remove the quote, and at the same time I can't just say "quotes relevant to the post are benign" and dismiss the flag.

In this instance, because there is a valid alternative and because the language has upset at least one of us, the best course is to ask the person who posted the quote to change the quote to either the one suggested or something else without language that demeans a marginalised group.

  • How are you going to implement this request? On a side note, my expectation is that the answerer will probably not use a less tendentious example given that they rolled back the most innocuous of changes. – Mitch Mar 1 at 15:31
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    @Mitch It didn't turn out quite how I expected but 10Kers can see the result. I didn't realise they'd already been approached yesterday, so I was more hopeful than I should have been. – Matt E. Эллен Mar 1 at 15:59
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    Please explain to me how a quote from a song (not an insult directed at anybody) can violate the CoC. It would seem to me that one would have to have something like a "You are"+ [insult]"-type structure for that. – Lambie Mar 2 at 19:46
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    @Lambie yes, precisely that. The author of the post was not insulting any user, and the CoC is there to protect users from abuse. – Mari-Lou A Mar 3 at 8:41
  • @Mari-LouA Just to make a last comment in this regard: it seems there are reams and reams of comments that fail to overlook this basic fact. :) – Lambie Mar 3 at 13:41
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    This is just making it way, way, way too complicated. In incidental examples there's utterly no reason to use hurtful language. It's just that simple. Lou Reed himself - for God's sake - no longer sings that lyric. – Fattie Mar 3 at 17:24
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    @Fattie: Lou Reed - may he rest in peace - no longer sings anything. – Scortchi - Reinstate Monica Mar 3 at 17:56
  • I had the man's iPhone app! (no - really!) gizmodo.com/… – Fattie Mar 3 at 18:26
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    @Lambie I can't deny the failure to overlook a lack of negation. – Mitch Mar 3 at 18:54
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    @Mari-LouA I don't think anyone thought the OP was attempting to insult anyone. The problem was not the intention of the person using the quote, but that it turns out (possibly unknown to the OP) that others might take offense at just having those particular words repeated. – Mitch Mar 3 at 18:58
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    @Mitch all true but by deleting the post, the insinuation is that the OP cited racist language, ergo the OP is/was insensitive and disrespectful toward a minority group. – Mari-Lou A Mar 3 at 19:10
  • @Fattie: "Have a Perfect Day with Lou Reed's iPhone app" - oh dear! – Scortchi - Reinstate Monica Mar 3 at 19:44
  • Hey, it was the 2000s :) – Fattie Mar 3 at 19:47
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    @Mari-LouA I think it is a big difference, people (mods, flagger) blaming the OP for intentional use of problematic language (which I think is what you are saying is the reason the mods deleted it) and just noting that there was problematic language without blaming anyone (ie the OP didn't realize). Benefit of the doubt would be the latter, but still the problematic language, whether quoted or not, could possibly be under CoC. – Mitch Mar 3 at 20:28
  • I feel like there should be a main question about 1) 'colored' and 2) quotes. ... hm, quotes is not English-specific. – Mitch Mar 3 at 20:30
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We completely support everything Matt said in his answer and want to point out that he led proactively and diligently by asking for help when he knew he needed to hear more voices. We will be giving moderators even more information about the emotions that come with having the perspective of being a person of color, or non-binary, or Latinx and a myriad of others. We'll be giving this to the Internet as a whole, as we're able, and adapting it to the caveats of our system in guidance on how to apply and interpret it. It's okay to not know everything as long as, if you lead, you know when to ask for help.

I can't add much more to the current context than what 1006a did in her answer. In fact, you don't need to hear me reiterate her answer, what matters is I support it.

There were other thoughtful answers posted as well.

There were things that weren't ideal. There will always be things that aren't ideal. Let's just keep getting progressively better at having these discussions and responding to these issues.

A few thoughts from a more general sense, based on concerns folks vocalized:

Our language is the road to culture past, and what we use to push forward. Papering over words that were once bad is bad, because it looks like an attempt to try to hide the hurt and harm that words once caused.

We should talk about language that was a problem in the context of why it was problematic; the history of our language is often just as problematic as the events that led to it.

Academic discussions are different than everyday speech.

And we should, as far as sensibilities allow, be able to objectify a word for the purposes of talking about the problems it created. You can't talk about racial segregation or the Jim Crow period without talking about "Colored" entrances. And there's a whole lot of literature around it.

Some exceptions could apply, our need to talk about stuff has to be carefully weighed with people's need to not have unnecessary emotional triggers in their daily lives. If the front page was dominated with questions surrounding rape, murder, torture, etc - well, I think you see how unlikely that would be, but it's unlikely because we understand discretion.

We do not, however, couch insensitive phrases in pretend objectivity.

No post is worth the harm that it does in the forms of people not feeling supported and made safe by this community, or by us as a company.

Racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic or any other language that goes against our code of conduct needs to be removed once pointed out. Our position is that providing people with an environment that doesn't deliberately make them feel unwelcome isn't a political one, but a moral one, and such things violate our shared moral contract that forms the basis of our expectations and our accountability as a company.

Censorship was a red herring here.

We're not a government, we're a community with rules on what you can and can't post. If your contributions violate our code of conduct but seem like they were made in good faith, we're going to point out what's wrong and help you find a way to make your contribution lasting.

If that doesn't sit well with you, then we're happy to remove your contribution because we wouldn't want your name on something that doesn't represent your views. We're just not under any obligation to provide a platform for those views, especially if they're misaligned with our sense of social accountability as an organization.

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    Citing a song is not calling someone names. Apparently, most people around here are having difficulty understanding that. – Lambie Mar 2 at 19:43
  • This post seems somewhat bland, or perhaps general is the best word. Wouldn't y'all say? Does SO have anything to say about the issue at hand? (Hurtful/racist/uncivil/whatever language in incidental examples.) – Fattie Mar 3 at 17:34
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    @Lambie Displaying such a phrase with accolade from this community is most certainly calling many people names, as defined by the hurt it causes. That's not an area where there's compromise available to achieve. We're either permitting and elevating racially insensitive content outside of discussing it as such, or we're not. As we, the company, have final editorial agency, we're going to choose not to do that, and people are going to need to be okay with that or find another place to participate if and until they are okay with it. – Tim Post Mar 4 at 13:45
  • @Fattie I think she nailed it and there was nothing for me to really add, except in the general sense going forward. But I see what you mean, the deference there isn't clear unless it's explicit. I'll make a small edit. – Tim Post Mar 4 at 13:47
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    @Fattie That change the blandness? The last thing this thread needs is a white dude coming in and saying everything a woman person of color just did, as if it only matters if he says it. But I made my deference to her answer more explicit. – Tim Post Mar 4 at 13:50
  • hi @TimPost in brief, I was just looking for a more direct, shorter, let us say "rule". So, I can imagine a sentence somewhere "Oh, and don't use racist/hurtful language in incidental examples". Indeed, in your comment just above, "We're either permitting and elevating racially insensitive content outside of discussing it as such, or we're not. [ ] we're going to choose not to do that" So, that's exactly what I was looking for, in my little universe – Fattie Mar 4 at 14:16
6

My question is: are the lyrics a problem?

Yes. This discussion illustrates why they are a problem, and it should have been clear that they were a problem from the first complaint.

If one is trying to write an instructive answer, clarity and focus are two key rhetorical demands. A broad readership needs to be able to understand answers on this site. A little humor in a selected example can help emphasize a point. In contrast, a controversial example may distract from the answer, diminishing the level of focus that answer has.

When an answer's example leads to an extended comment discussion (or meta question) about that example, or when I notice that the usage may inadvertently alienate readers, that should be a sign for further review. At that point, I'd propose three criteria for moderators to decide on the appropriateness of the example:

  1. Is the controversial word / phrase / idea integral to answering the question? (Some questions could conceivably be valid in themselves but require the treatment of distasteful content. If its importance is unclear, the answer needs revision.)
  2. Can no other examples be used to make just as effective an illustration of usage? (Sometimes examples may be rare or in a context that lends itself to no better example. If other examples are available, the answer needs revision.)
  3. Does the phrase cross the Code of Conduct on bigotry below? (If it does, and the answer does not adequately address its example's potential to alienate its readers, then the answer needs revision or deletion.)

We don’t tolerate any language likely to offend or alienate people based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion — and those are just a few examples. When in doubt, just don’t.

In this case, my own reckoning of this example would work like so:

  1. No, the controversial word is incidental to whether go can be used to introduce direct discourse.
  2. No. Other examples are available. There are at least hundreds of popular examples of "go" being used in this manner, and many more common ones, like several verses in "The Wheels on the Bus."
  3. This has offended or alienated people (including 1006a) on the basis of race, and it's neither integral to the answer nor unique in its use. As of this writing, the answerer makes no effort to address the elephant in the room.

Therefore, the lyrics are a problem. At minimum, I would downvote the answer and recommend it be edited in the comments. If the comment were not already under scrutiny, I would also flag the comment. Finally, if the answerer did not respond, I would be able to edit the answer myself, just as someone may edit my answer for formatting, typos, or information to make it more effective.

  • I disagree, since there is no weighing of the positive value of the statement. The overriding criteria must be does the statement contribute to the answer. If it does so, I don't see why any of your criteria need be considered. I have never given a thought to not offending anyone, and doubt I ever will. I care about an answer that is understandable to the widest group of people. The site's overall concern for projecting a welcoming image is another matter. That is a sensible business policy. But given the huge quantity of offensive language that remains on the site, this doesn't even rate. – Phil Sweet Mar 6 at 1:09
6

This answer really should have been a question, so I posted it here:

Does cited material merit special consideration when the content is offensive or unwelcoming?

I’m going to add another answer because I think it would be worth getting community feedback on the idea in this comment

"offensive or unwelcoming", that's POB. Does it violate the be nice policy? Can anything "quoted" ever violate it? If an answer doesn't align with your views, it is at your discretion to DV it. But if at anytime I'm disallowed to cite what someone else once said, that's censorship.

Vote on this answer (and comment if you like) based on your agreement with the idea that citing what someone else has said is held to a different standard than original text from the author of a post when it comes to violating the CoC.

Let’s assume the citation is not gratuitous. For the sake of discussion, the citation is relevant to the answer and the author feels that particular citation is critical to their answer but a significant number of people find it unwelcoming.

Let’s also not get hung up on the “censorship” part of the comment and focus on whether we should treat citations differently. Are there any mitigating qualities, like length, historical significance, etc that would cause us to keep a citation that we would remove if it wasn’t written by someone other than the author of the post?

  • It's unclear to me how to vote on this question. – Mitch Feb 28 at 19:37
  • @Mitch do you mean unclear what an up-vote means, or unclear in the sense that it’s not really yes or no? – ColleenV parted ways Feb 28 at 19:39
  • Unclear what an up-vote means. Also all the qualifications; it's a lot to navigate. – Mitch Feb 28 at 19:43
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    That said, re "can anything quoted ever violate [the be nice policy]?", quoted things (things mentioned) are not black boxes. Something in them is relevant and should be known by the reader. If you are talking about an epithet or something taboo, you need to know which thing you're talking about. If I quote something, what's in the quote has meaning, just not interpreted in the same way as outside the quote. Suppose the quote is full of profanity. It'll still be shocking. Not as shocking as if you were directly applying them to me. But still shocking. – Mitch Feb 28 at 19:51
  • @Mitch maybe I’ll have a go at rewriting when I’m off my phone. I mostly was hoping to generate some conversation about the idea that citations may not be exactly the same as original text. Probably easier to take a POV instead of trying to make it yes/no – ColleenV parted ways Feb 28 at 19:54
  • My take on citations and quotes (reported speech) is that they are not the same as outright usage, but we are not blind to them. If the questionable material is central to the discussion (like a reference to a taboo word) then it almost must be allowed. But if it is not central, then it is optional or secondary, and there are very likely other quotes that would do just as well. – Mitch Feb 28 at 19:58
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    @Mitch I probably should have made this a question instead of an answer. I’ll try to fix it after I get home. – ColleenV parted ways Feb 28 at 20:04
  • @JJJ If we were talking about all the disparaging racial epithets people have for each other, of course we'd have to at some point mention those terms. But this is about 'goes' with lots of non-problematic examples. – Mitch Feb 28 at 20:43
  • (I forgot to say... 'here on ELU in a disinterested examination of word meanings') – Mitch Feb 28 at 20:51
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    @JJJ Conventions may change across time, but a consistent mod rule would accommodate changes in the verbal Overton window, so that in the occasional instances where an old post with currently problematic usage came to light, it could be reviewed accordingly, perhaps with new information or a disclaimer. That said, that scenario feels uncommon; I've not encountered posts from 2010 that would require review in 2018 or 2019. – TaliesinMerlin Feb 28 at 21:23
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    This reminds me of a certain Twitter episode that happened some time in October. One person tweeted that they were offended by the titles of one or two questions on the HNQ and an SE site was immediately pulled out of the HNQ list. Can we please remind ourselves that the lyric was quoted b/c it had the verb go in it, there was nothing intentionally nefarious about the choice. – Mari-Lou A Feb 28 at 22:27
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    Let’s also not get hung up on the “censorship” part of the comment the entire premise of the comment is about censorship. – Mari-Lou A Feb 28 at 22:28
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    @Mari-LouA I was hoping to step away from the exact "Lou Reed lyrics" incident and ask a more general question about citing material that could be offensive. Sorry for the confused "answer", I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic rewritten as a proper question: english.meta.stackexchange.com/q/12063/80039 – ColleenV parted ways Feb 28 at 23:45
4

@Tim Post

I hope I don't run the risk of being suspended myself if I ask why guest271314's account has been banned across the entire network for five years.

From what I can tell, the suspension seems to stem from their long, often rambling, at times controversial, posts on EL&U and on Politics SE. The two answers posted by @guest271314 have been deleted by Tim, (only visible to 10K users); however, the contents of their posts didn't appear to be harmful or disrespectful to any minority group in particular. As a contributor they posted questions on EL&U that interested them and in comments they simply aired their opinion. If several people disagree strongly with someone or dislike their contributions that should not make them liable to suspensions. Well… not for five years.

I would like to add that I disagree with the company's decision to suspend said user for that length of time and the brusque and abrupt deletion of the incriminating EL&U post which this discussion led to.

On Thursday (28/02/2020), the EL&U community was suddenly made aware that the SE team was following the contentious issue closely but instead of allowing us to arrive at a resolution at our own pace, you (Tim Post) took command, and informed everyone:

We don't want to pressure you, but this is an issue that demands an extremely high sense of urgency, so a consensus on how to move forward needs to be clear to us by Friday afternoon. I have 100% trust that you'll do it

If we had known beforehand that there was a time limit maybe, maybe, the EL&U community would have reached a compromise or greater consensus sooner.

Please remember that thousands of users and visitors saw the incriminating answer and didn't find anything objectionable about it. In fact, it was highly upvoted despite the c-expression (colored girls). There were no comments chastising the author. None. If the quote had been interpreted as abuse or an insult, rest assured more than one user would have openly voiced their disgust or expressed their concern and reservation in the comments. The answer would have been downvoted and then, possibly, deleted.

Interestingly, some may not be aware that the song, Walk on the Wild Side, talks about transgender people, homosexual prostitutes, drag queens, and drug addicts.

The song is all about acceptance and recognizing those who were considered “weird” or “different” as being “normal”.

When Reed wrote "then he was a she", "Little Joe never once gave it away", "Sugar Plum Fairy came and hit the streets", "Jackie is just speeding away", and “coloured girls go ‘Doo do doo do doo do do doo…’ he was not insulting black American women, or any of the characters in his song, he was celebrating all of them.

If SE sites start deleting posts that contain quotations that were cited in good faith, the company will be digging itself a deeper and deeper hole. Delete a post that was utterly and completely non-racist for quoting a Lou Reed's quote then where do we draw the line?

Saying that, I want to apologise to 1006a if my numerous comments hurt or caused her any pain or distress, it was the very last thing on my mind. She has my uttermost admiration (for putting herself on the frontline) and respect, I am but a clumsy middle-aged clot who has still a lot to learn about people and about Americans.

But whenever I see something, which I consider unfair or biased I cannot shut up. This is going to be a problem in the near future, I can tell. And, frankly I'm worried, it seems that the environment on EL&U and SE is quite oppressive and intolerant (see the Twitter Vs. HNQ debacle back in October) despite all the reassurances about inclusivity and mutual respect for every person.

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    I expect that guest escalated their behavior and it was quickly dealt with so we never saw the really bad stuff. I also will bet a fancy espresso drink that you will not get suspended for asking ;) – ColleenV parted ways Mar 1 at 20:16
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    We don't suspend people for asking about why we've suspended users but we have a policy of not talking about suspensions. As to the post, this isn't a matter of bias. Having large numbers of people upvote it or not find it offensive doesn't mean that it's not problematic. 1006a eloquently explained why the post was problematic and many people agree (including five other answers here), so editing or removing that part of the post was necessary. The OP chose not to edit it out, so it was deleted for CoC reasons. Were the OP to choose to edit in the future, the post could be undeleted. – Catija Mar 1 at 23:48
  • @Catija do you realise what the song, Walk on the Wild Side, represents to the gay and transgender community of New York, those very people who were outcast and suffered injustices due to their sexuality and sexual preferences back in the 60s and 70s? – Mari-Lou A Mar 2 at 7:00
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    The song talks about transgender people, homosexual prostitutes, drag queens, and drug addicts. The song is all about acceptance and seeing who is "weird" or "different" as being "normal". When Reed wrote "then he was a she", "Little Joe never once gave it away", "Sugar Plum Fairy came and hit the streets", "Jackie is just speeding away", and "coloured girls" he was not insulting black American women, or any of the characters in his song, he was celebrating all of them. – Mari-Lou A Mar 2 at 7:00
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    @Mari-LouA: No-one's condemning the song or even the line that was quoted: just the selection of that line to illustrate a particular idiom, for reasons that have been explained at length. The Bible, needless to say, means a lot to Christians; yet there are passages it would clearly be inappropriate to quote (on this site) without good reason. – Scortchi - Reinstate Monica Mar 2 at 16:55
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    I agree with everything @Mari-Lou has written and I fail to see how quoting a work of art (a song in this case) can be considered offensive. I don't think we should confuse works of art (of whatever kind and quoting them) and insulting people by naming calling. Obviously, no one around here would "get": "This is not a pipe", the Magritte painting. – Lambie Mar 2 at 19:38
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    @JJJ to be clear, moderators can not give network-wide suspensions. – Catija Mar 3 at 7:31
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    "If SE sites start deleting posts that contain quotations ...." No matter how many times those on the "con" side refer to it as a "quotation" it doesn't change this simple issue. It's just an incidental example. As in Tim Post's "final word", "We're either permitting and elevating racially insensitive content outside of discussing it as such, or we're not." Of course, obviously, racist terms/etc can be discussed as such as a material subject. But it's just silly to use hurtful, sexist, racist terms in incidental examples. For goodness sake. – Fattie Mar 4 at 14:25
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    Nobody cares about the silly song or its silly supposed meaning (or otherwise) at the time. Say there was a question (perhaps on a programming site) about RANDOM TEXT GENERATION. Say an example output was given, and, randomly, THE TOTALLY RANDOM TEXT OUTPUT HAPPENED TO BE HURTFUL, RACIST, SEXIST LANGUAGE What would you do? Of course - OBVIOUSLY - you'd just remove it and replace it with another example. It's whacky that this simple concept is causing so much discord! – Fattie Mar 4 at 14:29
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    I think you're right @JJJ . It's frustration talking – Fattie Mar 4 at 17:03
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    @Mari-LouA: Hear, hear! – Robusto Apr 11 at 19:30
4

Preliminary Thoughts

I somewhat disagree with 1006a's rationale. Objectively speaking, although there was a drop in usage after 1970, Google ngrams shows that colored people is still used in the 21st century, and it is used almost as often as it was during the 20th century:

This image contains a Google Ngrams chart comparing black people, minority groups, people of color, racial groups, colored people and ethnic people and african americans, dating from 1800 to 2008 (the latter of which being the cutoff date for ngrams). It shows that as of 2008, in order of popularity black people is the most popular term, people of color is almost on par with people of color, and racial groups is almost on par with colored people, with ethnic people and african-americans 'almost' flatlining.

I restricted this to multi-word phrases predicated on the assumption that single words tend to be more popular than phrases in general, and generally more polysemous. Minorities is far more popular than any of these terms, and has applicability to mathematical contexts for instance.

By 2008, we can see that minority groups is almost on par with people of color, and people of color is far more popular than the closest equivalent, which is ethnic people, despite the fact that minority groups can include other classes of people. Moreover, unlike other racial terminology, the term's purpose was never inherently offensive. I do not think that use of the term in and of itself merits a flag, especially considering that it is much more popular than the closest equivalent, ethnic people, which almost flatlines. Also, considering how usage of black people and minority groups also dipped in a similar timeframe to colored people, the reason colored people is used less often today than it was in the past seems likely to be that we are discussing race less often than we were back then.

The closest thing I have found on our website to suggesting colored people is offensive is attributed to William Safire writing an unspecified October 28th 2001 article for the New York Times:

It's possible that the president coined the phrase; if so, it was on the analogy of women of color, a description adopted by many nonwhites. (Though colored people is dated and almost a slur, people of color is not in the least offensive.)

Suggesting that the term is dated seems almost contrary to my findings on ngrams, but more importantly there is a considerable difference between what is almost, and what is. It is a true statement, just as much as colored people isn't a slur. It does not presently show up on Wikipedia's List of Ethnic slurs, which makes sense since, insofar as I know, it was never meant as a slur.

Far more popular than the questin citing William Saphire is this answer citing George Carlin, who suggests that colored people and people of color should be considered equally offensive (or inoffensive), and prefers that we refer to africans in particular as black people.

What I take from all of this is that if we are going to appeal to contemporary sensibilities, you should use black people to refer specifically to africans, but colored people is probably acceptable in a broader sense. In my opinion, people of color and colored people are at worst, on the level of minced oaths, which makes sense considering that they were seemingly devised as euphemisms.

We're not talking about words that are as inherently offensive as the ones mentioned the last time a similar issue came up recently, and I don't think we should react anywhere near the same way.

What I Think Should Be Done in This Particular Case

I nevertheless suggest editing that example out of the post, despite my preliminary thoughts. Preferably after doing the poster the favor of replacing that example with a nonracial equivalent so that voting is not adversely impacted, or at least a comment explaining the edit. Minimally, a comment should be left.

Rationale for The Suggested Course of action

I do think that this is a minor transgression, likely made by accident and undeserving of any punitive action or answer deletion, but that it is nevertheless a transgression in need of editorial remedy in accordance to our policies. The quote should be removed, and preferably replaced with an equivalent context (pop song lyrics in this case) by the editor. I am less concerned about the language being used, and more concerned with how it is being used.

My overall interpretation of Stack Exchange's code of conduct is that we have very, very low tolerances for prospectively rude or demeaning behavior. Strictly speaking, the code of conduct has zero tolerance wording:

No bigotry.
We don’t tolerate any language likely to offend or alienate people based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion—and those are just a few examples. When in doubt, just don’t.

However, sometimes analytical need overrides that in the academic community because our first responsibility is to accurately representing the truth as we understand it, whereas politeness is our secondary responsibility. I think it would be detrimental to our credibility have a zero tolerance policy and I believe Jeff Atwood afforded us some amount of leniency in recognition of this while he was in charge which we may interpret to be standing orders unless and until instructed otherwise, but in consideration of the zero tolerance language of the Code of Conduct, I do think we need strict compliance guidelines, similar to the ones we have for lack of attribution and misattribution: Edit to fix as a first resort if possible.

You may be wondering why I am referencing this policy if I do not think the word is likely to offend. Well, it is not so much what words are being used, and how the words are being used which I find to be problematic.

In Random House Webster's Dictionary, Second Edition there is a basic manual of style, with a subsection called Avoiding Insensitive and Offensive Language that Excludes or Unnecessarily Emphasizes Differences spanning from page 2223 to 2225, and this guidance given on page 2225 seems like the compromise we should use:

Reference to age, sex, religion, race, and the like should only be included if they are relevant.

The racial example given is:

Instead of[__________________________________]Use
Arab man denies assault charge[_________________]Man Avoids Assault Charge

In this example a racial epithet is being removed because it is irrelevant to the principle message, despite the fact that, at least in and of itself, Arab is not considered an offensive word in English, and especially not so when this was likely to have been written, between the years of 1989–2001 (initial and final copyright dates of my copy), meaning that was likely written in a pre-9/11 world. Given that this section is not part of the addenda, I think it is even probable that the provision was written in '89.

Now yes, an assault charge is different from saying "doo doo doo", but that merely affects the severity of the generalization, and I don't see why colored people would be used except to emphasize a distinction. Such generalizations are often considered offensive, even in nonracial contexts, and the fact that a racial generalization is being made transgresses these guidelines.

So in accordance to this guidance, we should weigh the prospective offensiveness of the term to the necessity of its use. First of all, in context, the necessity of the racial epithet, the manners of the time and the history of the word may render the quotation mostly, if not completely inoffensive, but that does not necessarily translate into the here and the now at Stack Exchange. We are not lyricists; we are analysts of the English Language.

In our capacity of analysts of the English Language, I think that it is necessary to accurately quote external sources in order to accurately analyze the language, but that the selection of quotations is also subject to the code of conduct, which would mean that the analytical necessity of the quotation the answer must also be considered when considering our code of conduct. If the quotation is not needful, then the use of the racial epithet in the post is not needful by proxy. Since our first responsibility is to analyze th English Language.

The question does not specifically regard that particular quotation, racial language in general or historical use, and the answer makes no effort to uniquely analyze that specific quotation to explain how the word go is being used on context or even how the usage pertains to personal experience with the language. As it stands, the answer makes no effort to analyze or explain the presence of any of those quotations at all in fact, and merely provides them as evidence of usage and axiomatic applicability. As a matter of fact, I have trouble seeing the utility of the answer, since it is simply General Reference, with a couple of seemingly random examples of usage added to disguise the fact. That makes them all interchangable with quotations from similar contexts of similar fame and quality, and means that the meaning of the answer is not impacted by the removal or replacement of the quotation.

If any effort to integrate the quotation into the answer was made, I would suggest leaving it in this case, especially since the choice of words is not especially offensive, but since no attempt to integrate it into commentary was made, I really see no reason for this answer to contain a racial generalization of any sort.

Only the quality of the answer would be adversely affected, since this would constitute the removal of evidence, and only if no replacement is furnished. In order to avoid this changing the results of voting, on an otherwise well received answer, the courteous thing for an editor to do would be to:

A. Explain why the edit is being made in the editing summary, so that a the answer isn't rolled back without due consideration.
B. Find an equivalent quotation to replace it so that the answer can be rated just the same as it would be prior to the edit.

-4

It was a completely gratuitous choice of example.

Looking at #1006a's answer,

I flagged it. I'm a woman of color [ ], and find the use of this example offensive

I'm saying the same thing, but in a couple of words.

We (we, society) avoid choosing (say, incidental examples) of historic language that contains historic-offensive language.

Here's an interesting example totally unrelated to racism. The agricultural plant oilseed is also called "rape". Around small children, I don't refer to it as "rape" - I just use the word "oilseed". It's just a word coincidence, but for what possible reason would you use a very adult, disturbing, word around 7 year olds? It would be silly and pointless to do so.

Similarly, yes, in today's world when you choose an incidental example, indeed don't choose one that contains historically racist language -

For example - very simply - when you choose an incidental example, you don't choose one that is vulgar.

The situation is that simple.

Today, you no more choose incidental-examples that include historic-racist language, that you would choose incidental-examples that are vulgar.

Of course you can - if you're Beavis & Butthead. Hah hah, I got to say "Arse" in front of Teacher .......... because I was quoting Churchill.

You know?

I mean it's that level of immaturity, or just lack of style.

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    The question isn't whether you would use 'rape' to describe a plant that has been called that for centuries, but whether you should stop others caling it so. – Tim Lymington supports Monica Feb 27 at 23:21
  • @TimLymington , it is absolutely, totally, completely straightforward that on a forum like this site when someone (for example) "uses vulgar language" ............ it is "edited away". I'm afraid that reaching for the CENSORSHIP button ....... it's just not happening you know? (Consider, merely being mean to a newbie is now subject to a policy of being edited away on this site.) A style guide is not censorship or human rights. – Fattie Feb 27 at 23:44
  • I feel it can't be said better than this: Today, you no more choose incidental-examples that include historic-racist language, that you would choose incidental-examples that are vulgar. In civil discourse - in the boardroom, the school, the article, the TV show, the restaurant - the sentence in italics really says it all. – Fattie Feb 27 at 23:46
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    Please clarify as to whether a given term's vulgarity (as considered in this answer) is an objective property of a term, (and if so, how); or a subjective prejudice based on class; or a pathological post-traumatic word-association stressor; or something else. – agc Feb 28 at 5:19
  • hi @agc, the two terms you have used (objective, subjective) have no meaning; you're echoing something unrelated you've read in a different discussion. Asking if a word is or is not vulgar (say .. "shit!") is exactly like asking the spelling of a word. No mystery. – Fattie Feb 28 at 11:10
  • @Fattie, FWIW I'm not knowingly echoing whatever prior discussion you've alluded to, (assuming I've ever seen it), but please provide a link to that if it seems like it might be relevant or helpful here. Orthography is based on habits, history, happenstance, and the occasional standard bearers. Vulgarity, being the flip-side of aesthetics, is chock-full of mysteries... such as the theory that "shit" was once a Pre-Germanic euphemism. – agc Feb 28 at 21:03
  • "Curse words" words (say, "words you 'can't use' on network TV" or "words Teacher can't use") are based on habits, history, happenstance, and the occasional standard bearers. There are no mysteries involved and it is totally unrelated to aesthetics. It's exactly like spelling. – Fattie Feb 28 at 21:39
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    The question is not whether you would use it, as it is about whether an internet site about language can discuss its use. – JTP - Apologise to Monica Mar 2 at 19:58
  • @JoeTaxpayer - I don't follow you at all, sorry. The question is extremely clear: "Should questions (ie, on the ELU site, obviously) use incidental examples which include racist language." (The answer couldn't be more obvious, "of course not.") – Fattie Mar 3 at 16:14
  • Ok Fattie, thank you for setting me straight – JTP - Apologise to Monica Mar 3 at 16:18
  • Well .. ok .. now time to get drunk – Fattie Mar 3 at 16:26
  • Your point, about what is now referred to as grapeseed . We'd avoid 'rape' in front of kids, I agree, but it should be ok to discuss the plant and its name on a site about English. – JTP - Apologise to Monica Mar 3 at 16:45
  • Hi @JoeTaxpayer I truly understand what you mean. I absolutely, totally, completely, fully agree that we should be able to discuss farmyard words (shit, cock, cunt, etc), hurtful words (poofter, hoe, bitch, politician etc) and racist words (nigger, abo, etc). The issue on this page is purely about incidental examples. (Note that, indeed, on this very page we are "discussing" the 60s music industry slang "the colored girls". Naturally, nobody (on this page) is saying "oh don't say that." Or for example recently I had a question about "queer".) The issue is PURELY incidental examples. – Fattie Mar 3 at 17:21
  • Hi @JoeTaxpayer . In line with the usual total confusion on this site: The question title here is unfortunately totally misleading. It should be edited to express the situation at hand. (So, "Is using .. in an incidental example unwelcoming?") Trying to shade the issue as a "quote" is utterly ridiciulous. – Fattie Mar 3 at 17:27
  • I see. I really do. But what if the reference was “all the girls go”? And a member is just offended by that? The song refers to transvestites, oral sex, etc. presumably the ‘girls’ aren’t under 18. As I’ve said, it’s still a slippery slope. – JTP - Apologise to Monica Mar 3 at 17:45
-5

Another sortie in the ancient battle between prescriptivist vs. descriptivist models of language.

  • The prescriptivists wish to make the world a better place, and believe this can be more efficiently achieved in part by deprecating certain "bad words" and ignorant constructions believed to transmit bad thoughts and wrong ideas, thus helping prevent a multitude of bad deeds. For them, Language is man-made, artificial and ever more controllable, so it would be reckless and irresponsible not to employ it to prevent needless future evils.

    In which spirit many of the users on ELU firmly believe, (as taught in many academies), that the censoring of words like "colored", et al, (and censuring insensitive usages of such words), is the most ethical policy.

  • The descriptivists doubt that such methods can ever be feasible, and consider Language as a natural object in of itself, no more generally controllable than the oceans or dreams, but hope that through close and careful observation it might be learned how to better to navigate within it.

    For them such konmari diction is much like the sort of germaphobic overindulgence in antibiotics that weakens gut flora and breeds super-bugs.

Once there were no descriptivists, only prescriptivists that disagreed with other prescriptivists. Side X is disgusted by things Side Y says, and vice versa, and so on for every set of opposing factions since creation. Their respective strengths wax and wane, endlessly, and that day's victorious wincers pay the piper and call the tune. An oscillatory stasis.

  • 2
    Not my downvote, but the OP who is a mod, is asking whether the line is unwelcoming and/or offensive. Your answer has steered around this principle point. – Mari-Lou A Feb 27 at 8:01
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    @Mari-LouA, Thanks, IMHO the OP is posing a tautology. The ritualistic answer would be that yes, it (or something like it) is, or eventually can be found that is, unwelcoming to a rising faction, and they'll prevail, and press on to further triumphs, until they weaken and the next faction has its way. – agc Feb 27 at 8:43
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    I fully disagree with this line of thinking. Prescriptivism vs descriptivism is about grammaticality. The question here is about whether we, as a community, want to take into account the feelings of marginalised people when considering the words we use. – Matt E. Эллен Feb 27 at 9:29
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    @MattE.Эллен, Word choice is part of prescriptivism, ain't it? Re "The question here is about...": a leading question, posed to solicit a ritually communal "yes". When a faction enjoys the support of a larger community, they're not just un-marginalized, they've become, or rather they are, the prevailing community standard. Arrival... – agc Feb 27 at 9:56
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    Yes, as you aptly demonstrate, prescriptivism is for keeping the perceived outgroup out through prejudicial word choice, silencing marginalised voices. The question is reversing the scenario, trying to include marginalised voices. Your posturing about the support of the larger community is not currently borne out in the discussion present on this very question. – Matt E. Эллен Feb 27 at 10:10
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    @MattE.Эллен, Is it possible to advance a marginalized wannabe censor without marginalizing other practicing censors? Side X says, that question is irrelevant since we're not censors but those other nasty criminals are; Side Y says, that question is irrelevant since we're not censors but those other criminal nasties are. Both sides really do believe that too. – agc Feb 27 at 11:42
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    And then there are the people who say there are only two sides, and really do believe that. – Robusto Feb 27 at 13:42
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    @Robusto, The reason I'd used the placeholders Side X and Side Y, (and not Side X and Side not-X), is because on the next cycle, one dogma will be gone, and then it'll be the remaining contender vs. Side Z, and so forth "On Beyond Zebra". – agc Feb 28 at 6:47

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