More Hell, Fewer Dahlias: The Musings of a Radical Feminist.

How To Not Be An Asshole

Posted on: March 7, 2010

When someone calls you out for a privileged comment, it can be hard to realize that you were in the wrong. After all, everyone you know uses that word/you didn’t know it meant that/you didn’t mean it THAT way/you weren’t doing it on purpose/other people are too sensitive, right?


This has come up lately with the word “gypped” in my experience. Gypped is a racist term against Roma. When we use the term, we further the prejudice against the Roma and the stereotype that institutionalized the word and made it part of our vocabulary. So let’s imagine a dialogue right now:

Mary Sue: “That vendor gypped me!”

Becky Jean: “Mary Sue, gypped is sort of a racist term. Do you mean he cheated you?”

Mary Sue: “I’m not a racist! How dare you! Everyone uses that term, it’s not about black people or anything!!! Why are you attacking me, you’re not perfect!!!”

Becky Jean: “I know you don’t consider yourself a racist, but the language you use can betray your actual beliefs, so you need to be careful. I’m not attacking you, I’m informing you so that you can look into the term and eliminate racism from your vocabulary, so your words match up with the lifestyle you want to lead. The term refers to a stereotype of the Roma people, often referred to as Gypsies, and they suffer a lot of discrimination and hate, so we need to not further that with our words.I’m sorry if you felt attacked, that was not my intention.”

Now ideally, this is where Mary Sue calms down a little and says…

“Oh, I’m sorry I got so upset. Racist is such a scary term, and I immediately jump to my own defense. I was scared of my beliefs and words not matching up. Thanks for telling me. I know you don’t mean that I hate others, just that we live in a racist world and need to be conscious of our speech. Are there any other terms like that I should be aware of? We can help educate each other.”


“It isn’t racist!! I don’t even know any gypsies, and everyone uses the word!! You’re oversensitive, and you can’t save the world!!! I didn’t MEAN it, so it shouldn’t matter!!”

And here is where you want to cry, or start poking them very hard in the eye, right?

Well, violence is never the answer, and though crying might help you feel a bit better, it should probably be saved for when you can hug a puppydog and rant about the injustices of the world to your stuffed animals and significant other.  And since right now, Becky Jean wants to come away from this conversations positively affecting Mary Sue, we’ll skip the crying.

Ganieda, one of our lovely commenters, linked me to this excellent post entitled “How to Discuss Race and Racism without Being a Jerk.” My favorite part is the part she quoted to me, during yet another of my epic rants about NOT BEING ABLE TO GET THROUGH TO PEOPLE AND GETTING FRUSTRATED

“Intentions aren’t the only thing that matters.

(Last one, and it’s short.) Suppose I step on someone’s foot. They say, “hey, ouch, you stepped on my foot.”

My proper response is, “Gosh, I’m sorry. I’ll be more careful.” Depending on the situation, I might add something like, “I was looking for my kid’s sneaker that she always kicks off,” or “I’ve got something in my contact,” etc.

My proper response is not, “Well, I didn’t mean to step on your foot, so why are you angry?!” “

This is a great example to point out to Mary Sue. You can explain yourself, you can ask for reassurance that the person calling you out isn’t considering you a Bad Person, but you have to show that you realize that your intention is not the be all and end all of the term and that it has a greater affect than “just being a word.”

Which is why Mary Sue’s explanation of not knowing the term’s severity and feeling attacked is a lot more valid and provides a lot more discussion than “well I didn’t know!!! you’re oversensitive!!!”

Another great example is a few posts earlier, in my Yay Spain! post. A commenter called me out on the image of Spain I’d put out. I apologized, agreed with her that my words did not get across my intentions, and explained what I exactly meant. Voila! Did it feel good being called out? No, I felt bad about unintentionally perpetuating a harmful stereotype by not using my words in a clear manner. But I drank some lemonade, felt sad for a minute, then sucked it up and responded. And I learned from it.

Now, if you’re wondering why I have a very long post on racism, the answer is intersectionality, and because the following tips can be used with sexists as well! Along with ableists and homophobes and sizeists and…..

More about intersectionality this time. Off to eat pizza bagels!


7 Responses to "How To Not Be An Asshole"

And, btw, your non-assholishness in your reply to me was much appreciated.

Yay! I really did appreciate it. : )

Heehee! I haz tag!

Nice post, and thanks for calling out the word “gypped.” That one really bugs me, especially as discrimination against the Roma is some of the most blatant, unapologetic, and institutionalized I’ve ever seen.

And special bonus link! The wonderful Amal posted a great rant a while back on the word Philistine a while back. I had never realized how objectionable it was, or why, until that–it was a real eye opener.

You do! Do you want me to try to link it to somewhere? Do you have a homepage or anything? I’d prefer not to link to your LJ, keeping worlds separate here.

AHHH I did not know that! Oh goodness. Between you and Jess, I am learning so much.

Oh lord no, separate worlds are good. Nothing to link to at the moment, but I’ll let you know if that changes.

Here’s another instance where I show my ignorance…

Even though it’s not a word in my active vocabulary, I honestly didn’t know that about the word “gypped.” In fact, I always thought it was spelled “jipped.” So, I learned something new!

Now, if I had used that word and someone pointed it out, I would most likely respond with, “I didn’t know that’s what it meant and I certainly didn’t intend it that way.” Followed shortly after by, “But now I know not to use it. Sorry!”

Which is a wonderful way to respond! People can’t know everything and we all make mistakes in our language, being able to recover and adjust is the important thing. I had no idea about “philistine” until Ganieda linked it up this thread, I’m making an effort not to use it now.

We live in such an “-ist” world that it is hard to always be aware of our privilege and how they intersect!

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