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Racist joke in readme.md not funny enough #91

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ghost opened this Issue Feb 22, 2013 · 61 comments
@ghost
ghost commented Feb 22, 2013

"John Resig, who used the term [shiv] for its slang meaning, a sharp object used as a knife-like weapon... As reasonable as the later [sic] explanation may seem, John is actually a well known homie."

If we're going to make jokes about the disproportionate imprisonment of people of color that also imply that PoC are violent, can we at least try to make them funny? As it is, it just ends up being depressing. Also, it's a real shame to sell one's decency without at least garnering a guffaw or two.

@postcasio

Jonathan, if it means "a friend from back home", exactly what does that have to do with improvised weapons?

@jaubertmoniker

Yeah, your reasoning doesn't really add up. Either he's a "homie" and that has something to do with why it's called "shiv", and that's actually really offensive, or he's a "homie" in a way that meets your post hoc definition and is therefore irrelevant to the name.

Either way, I'd say that should be removed.

@tgies
tgies commented Feb 22, 2013

+1, you are entirely glossing over the kernel of the issue here which is that the paragraph is making a connection between "homie" and knife crime, and while I'm sure we can contrive all kinds of ways to pretend ignorance of the commonly-understood meaning and provenance of the word "homie", it would probably be a hell of a lot easier to just remove the problematic passage. It's the wisest choice, if the maintainers wish to prevent themselves as professionals.

@msikma
msikma commented Feb 22, 2013

I'd just like to +1 this concern. Let's just be honest about this: the word 'homie' means 'non-white'. That's the meaning people understand it to have. I've literally never heard of your "a friend from back home" explanation before. Even if that's the definition you understand it to have, others don't. And as pointed out, the joke doesn't make sense using this explanation, so to me this seems to be an attempt to make it seem like this isn't racist.

Look, all you have to do is remove the joke and say "ok, that wasn't nice, I won't do it again" and everything will be alright. If it's really not such a big deal to you (that's the idea I'm getting from your post), know that it is a big deal to other people.

To summarize: this would be a very minor change, one you can make in a few seconds, and I think a lot of people would welcome it as a gesture of basic respect.

@petdance

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homie

Homie or homey (from "homeboy") is an English language slang term found in American urban culture, whose origins etymologists generally trace[1] to African American Vernacular English from the late 19th century, with the word "homeboy" meaning a male friend from back home. The words have also had similar use in Latino and chicano communities in the United States, starting in the late 1960s/early 1970s and continuing up to the present.

TL;DR: "Homie" very specifically refers to non-whites.

@adamjford

+1 this as well. This is pretty clearly a racist joke, and even if it wasn't intended as such, intent isn't magical and it should still be changed.

@geeksam
geeksam commented Feb 22, 2013

Saw this on http://programmersbeingdicks.tumblr.com/post/43726062201/happy-friday, which should speak for itself. Coincidentally, another item from my Twitter feed this morning:

Let it be known, male comrades, that I’ll probably only think you’re a sexist pigdog if you react badly once the problem’s been called to your attention. Privilege blinds the privileged to its presence, and ignorance is forgivable. Once the curtain has been opened and you have an opportunity to reflect upon your own unexamined privilege, it’s your responsibility to do this.

(Emphasis added. That's from Sexism from "the left": why it has to stop, but I'm sure you can do the appropriate substitutions.)

See also: Homey Don't Play Dat, Jay Smooth's "How To Tell People They Sound Racist"

@dariusk
dariusk commented Feb 22, 2013

+1 to this, PR #92 should be reopened and merged

@tchalvak

Obviously the joke should have been about how the shiv is best liberally applied to a certain browser... ...which is all the joke we ever need.

@ghost
ghost commented Feb 23, 2013

So we're making progress. You deleted the embarrassingly bad racist joke apology. Now just delete the embarrassingly bad racist joke and we'll be golden!

@aanand
aanand commented Feb 23, 2013

Let's not lose this.

html5shiv-jonathantneal

@adamjford

Thanks for screenshotting that! And the gif he put in its place... Wow. Just... wow.

@jaubertmoniker

This dude is dead-set on keeping a racist joke in there, isn't he? That's dedication. Dedication to racism.

@tgies
tgies commented Feb 23, 2013

Since the "justification" for closing this issue has been apparently abandoned and removed, can someone re-open it?

@wrl
wrl commented Feb 23, 2013

let's take a look at the modern definition of the word homie. in general, homie is a non-gendered, non-discriminatory word referring to a friend or acquaintance. the relation of the speaker to the homie in question is usually qualified by the article or adjective directly preceding it. for example:

  • "nah, john resig's my homie."
    the my directly before homie in this sentence implies a friendship, however casual or close. if the speaker saw john resig on the street and said "hey, john!" he or she could reasonably expect to be greeted in return by his or her first name.

  • "john resig? yeah, that's the homie."
    the less-formal the implies that said homie is a casual acquaintance of the speaker. perhaps they've exchanged words at a conference or on the street. this form is very handy for gaining rapport when somebody name-drops the homie in casual conversation.

  • "john resig is a well-known homie."
    this here is a grey area. the non-specific a is indeed toeing a somewhat racial undertone, though, as we've seen, homie is a versatile word. luckily for us, however...

modern slang has many other ways of expressing the opinion that john resig is a dangerous man. let's look at a few of them:

  • "john resig is a stone-cold killer."
    simple and to the point. also difficult to take the point seriously, as stone-cold killers generally prefer not to be known as such.

  • "john resig got [goons and/or shooters] on deck."
    goons or shooters here referring to individuals in the possession of firearms, with on deck meaning that they are ready to pop caps at a moment's notice should any player haters and/or suckas attempt stepping.

  • "john resig carryin' biscuits."
    in this example, biscuits are, of course, defined as firearms.

  • "john resig absolutely beez in the trap."
    my personal favorite.

hopefully this has simultaneously helped clear up a few misconceptions and served as food for thought!

@jaubertmoniker

Hi,

The above comment is totally irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

Thanks

@nimbupani

Wow what ridiculousness is this issue? I had a really hard time understanding what was 'racist' about the readme. Until @garann pointed out that black people are commonly mistaken for gangsters and somehow therefore making any connections to gangsters is racist.

Gangsters exist in all countries, races, and nations. When I think of gangsters, I think of noir black and white movies where they were white not black.

It is poor taste to celebrate gangsterness but it is definitely not racism!

If anything, it is far more easy to accuse the creator of this issue of racism to assume gangsters always imply black people.

@adamjford

Yeah, because the Italian Mafia totally refers to each other as "homies", right?

@nimbupani

Ugh, there are far more disgusting sexism and racism in this world to fight about other than some poor attempt at humour of a readme file that is not even racist.

@adamjford

Ah, the classic Don’t You Have More Important Issues To Think About derailment tactic. Thanks for that.

@nimbupani

I don't know about you Adam, but I have had several people mistreat me because of the color of my skin and my sex, and I know this is fairly trivial issue to get riled up about.

@adamjford

Cool. Doesn't make the joke or the maintainers' complete disregard for the issue any less racist.

@tgies
tgies commented Feb 24, 2013

I'm not sure your proposed strategy of ignoring and attempting to handwave away any discrimination-related problem that exists while there are larger and more significant ones to worry about will be very effective.

@nimbupani

Ahahah. Wow. If I were a maintainer I would also disregard the issue purely for the vitriol that started it off.

@adamjford

Ahahahahaha, @jonathantneal deleted the incredibly contemptuous gif he left in place of his non-apology. Anyone catch a screenshot for proof?

@jaubertmoniker

I saw it, the Grandpa Simpson coming in, hanging the hat, and leaving gif.

@adamjford

Whoa, you think this is vitriol? What? Are you one of those people that think mentioning something is racist is ruder than the actual racism?

@nimbupani

Sorry @adamjford I know & have experienced racism, this is not racism.

@adamjford

Thanks for your (wrong) opinion! Have a nice day.

@tgies
tgies commented Feb 24, 2013

Also, why do those defending this keep using keyed-up words like "accusation", "riled up" and "vitriol"? I don't see anybody getting particularly exercised here except those trying to scramble to defend this mistake.

@polotek
polotek commented Feb 24, 2013

To all the people trying to find a precise definition of the word "homie". Please stop. It's just slang. Black people may have made up the word. But we do not own it and it doesn't have to become the standard for our culture. It's just a word. And as slang, it's meaning will likely morph and flex over time. I don't speak for all black people, but in this case, I'm almost positive that we don't really care about stuff like this. The words homie or shiv used by a white person have no effect on me whatsoever. And if you think it does, we probably need to talk about what you think racism is about.

I get that folks here are trying to be sensitive to other races and cultures. That's a great thing. But I hope we all know that doing that effectively is actually really difficult. There is no well-defined set of rules that will tell us when something is insensitive and when it's totally fine. Some people will end up going overboard on sensitivity because they can't really find their way through that gray area. Some other people find this oversensitivity really annoying, and their natural inclination is to defend themselves. There's certainly conflict to be found there.

As a person who's tried to be a voice of reason in these tough discussions about racism, sexism and other kinds of discrimination and bigotry, I'd like to try to inject some reason here. People on the internet with the best intentions have taken to rooting out places where they feel someone has violated the unspoken rules of sensitivity. Our tactic is to publicly shame them and pressure them into making some sort of change or conciliatory action. I actually think that's a great thing. But in the absence of tempered thought, it can turn into an unintended lynch mob.

My feeling is that shaming is just a tactic. It shouldn't be the focus of these discussions. The focus should be dialogue and education. Forcing this person to change a README will do nothing to increase anyone's understanding of what actually constitutes a racist joke. This thread has devolved into overly pedantic and academic nonsense that doesn't actually educate anyone about the nuances of race relations. Can we put this conversation on a better track somehow? Or really just drop it entirely? I can tell you that I think everyone in this thread is making themselves look really bad right now.

@nimbupani

If we're going to make jokes about the disproportionate imprisonment of people of color that also imply that PoC are violent, can we at least try to make them funny? As it is, it just ends up being depressing. Also, it's a real shame to sell one's decency without at least garnering a guffaw or two

I am not sure what is not vitriol in this?

@adamjford I would like to ask if you have experienced racism? sexism? Really what makes you think this is racist?

@tgies
tgies commented Feb 24, 2013

No, that's not how it works; you need to point out one way in which any reasonable person would construe that fairly calm, rational comment as "vitriol" rather than demand that anyone who disagrees with you prove a negative.

It's a total nonissue, anyway; whether the person who points out the problem to you is mad about it and whether or not they maintain a tone that is below your personal arbitrary subjective threshold for "vitriol" has no implication on the validity and correctness of what they might have to say. What you are making is called the tone argument.

@nimbupani
  1. This is not a "problem". The readme is poorly-worded joke.

  2. Vitriol is a problem because the underlying argument is baseless. This makes any rational response impossible.

  3. I am very very upset that racism has been trivialized into one word 'homie'. I have been denied use of public services for being non-white or non-chinese. I have been asked not to rent apartments for being brown, I have not been served at libraries by receptionists for the same reason. I have had much worse sexual harassment experiences for being a woman.

It is upsetting to have the racism debate be reduced to such trivialities.

@jeresig
jeresig commented Feb 24, 2013

Let me just say that this is a really weird thread for me.

@jaubertmoniker

Sorry u had to read a weird thread bro

@adamjford

Heh, I would imagine, John!

@tchalvak

This thread gets awarded the "unsubscribe" prize for least useful & most spammy use of github issues!

@msikma
msikma commented Feb 24, 2013

"Ahahah. Wow. If I were a maintainer I would also disregard the issue purely for the vitriol that started it off."

In other words, your support for a request to remove a blatantly racist joke depends entirely on how nicely the question is asked. So you're totally anti-racism, as long as people are friendly about it, otherwise you're not anti-racism.

Thus far, the issue started off relatively simple. Someone identified an unnecessary racist joke that could easily have been removed. The maintainer decided to come up with an absurd justification for the joke, one that doesn't make sense no matter how it's parsed, and then decided to delete his screed after several people pointed out just how desperate it sounded. He was apparently too embarrassed by his own words to let that stand.

Now his strategy seems to be to just ignore this as long as is needed until it goes away. (Truly the hallmark of someone who stands fully behind his own words.) Most likely, he's waiting for a few other people to come in here and declare that this joke's not a big deal, and then finally draw the conclusion "there's no consensus, so let's just forget about this."

Note that when people say "this joke doesn't matter", they are in reality saying "this joke doesn't matter to me", though none of that seems to have any bearing on whether or not, as has been identified, the joke in question does actually specifically implicate non-white people—people who refer to each other as homies—in knife crime. The only person who has thus far claimed otherwise has made no argument of substance, and has in fact done nothing besides move the goalposts of the argument; first the meaning of the joke was misstated, then we got "there are more important things to worry about", and finally "you're not being nice enough, so I'm not going to listen to your request". So much for any truly substantive argument.

So now that just about every derailment trick has been used, perhaps we can get back to the core of the issue: there's a racist joke in the readme, and we can either do a lot of people a favor by removing it, or we can delude ourselves with all kinds of excuses for the purpose of keeping it in. There's no "there are more important issues than this"—that's a "yes, let's keep the racism in." There's no "you're not being friendly enough in requesting this"—that's a "yes, let's keep the racism in." There's no "let's have a sense of humor"—that's a "yes, let's keep the racism in (because it's funny)".

Frankly, I don't like this topic anymore than anybody else does. I simply can't understand why the maintainer won't simply say "OK, I'll remove it"; that would be the end of it, and we'd all be able to get back to work. Instead, we've seen one excuse after another. People seem hell-bent on fighting for this one little racist joke, seemingly incapable of letting go of it out of some misguided belief that racism is over, or that those offended should just change their personalities to a more suitable one.

If your racist joke is that important to you, fine: just come out and say it openly. I know I'm not gonna hang around anymore if you do. But you should be honest about this and not ignore the issue while it's filled up with one cliché apologetica after another.

@dariusk
dariusk commented Feb 24, 2013

+9001 @msikma

@atlasephemeris

I'm not a github user, and as such my input may not be wanted, but as a software developer, html5boilerplate user, and black man, I had to sign up to comment here. I see some other people of color have posted here suggesting that this is a silly thing to fight about, that it's such a small thing the OP was being a dick just by pointing it out, that the people who (calmly and rationally IMHO) brought this to the maintainers' attention are employing vitriol and hate to try to "force" the maintainers to do something. I wanted to share my two cents lest their dissent be taken as reason enough to close the debate.

Well, it IS a silly thing to argue about. Everyone including the maintainers agrees it's not funny, and it clearly bothers some of your users, so why NOT change it? Sticking by your guns for no apparent reason, even after you have been forced to retract a rationalization of the joke, comes off really bad. The joke is distasteful and did immediately leave a bad taste in my mouth. Would I have gone to the trouble of posting this issue on it? No, if only because I wouldn't have wanted to deal with the inevitable backlash; I probably would have grimaced involuntarily and closed the tab. But I'm glad that someone did. "homie" is pretty much universally understood to be a word from black culture. Implying that a "homie" uses a shiv is a little upsetting to me because it reminds me of the spoken and unspoken association between people like me and crime, and a bunch of probably well-off white guys making gang signs kind of feels like making fun. This is why it's troublesome. It might be more or less offensive to other people, and that's fine. It has the potential to be either incredibly offensive or to be tame and funny depending on your background. To me, it's just a little tacky and makes me feel vaguely uneasy and sad.

Help me to understand why the maintainers and others are so dogged in defending this poor choice.

@nimbupani

Fwiw, I am not a maintainer. I am not defending the deplorable choice of words. I think they should be changed. I am just disconcerted that people would reduce the debate on racism to a metaphor involving knives and gangsters (which is what html5homi.es alluded to).

@joliss
joliss commented Feb 24, 2013

+1 to @msikma and @atlasephemeris.

The joke turned out to be in poor taste, so let's remove it and be done with it.

@aFarkas and @jonathantneal, may I suggest you reopen #92 and hit the merge button? The commit will say "Merge pull request #92 from postcasio/patch-1", so there'll be nothing embarrassing about racism on the project front page, and we can all move on.

@atlasephemeris

@nimbupani, pointing out smaller, lesser instances of racism does not "reduce the debate" to anything or diminish the problems that affect you personally, and it is not any less of an issue by virtue of not affecting you personally. We will all be better off as developers, regardless of race or gender, when we don't have to worry about coming across exclusionary or insensitive remarks in a freaking README file. I try to be sensitive to misogyny and to racism affecting non-black people and don't discount the concerns of those affected, and I ask that you please try to be sensitive to such issues that affect me and mine.

@ghost
ghost commented Feb 24, 2013

I was planning to sleep on it and write up a thorough comment about why I put the issue in and why the joke's problematic, but @atlasephemeris did a much better job than I would have.

Implying that a "homie" uses a shiv is a little upsetting to me because it reminds me of the spoken and unspoken association between people like me and crime

This especially gets to the core of why it's so problematic. I know that there are way worse instances of racism and discrimination, and I never wanted to trivialize those at all. This is small-fry stuff in the scheme of things, I admit it. But that doesn't mean it doesn't matter.

As I've mentioned elsewhere, if I had it to do over again I wouldn't have been as aggressive as I was in putting in the initial ticket. But these issues are prone to emotional reactions and we all need to be prepared to deal with them with an additional measure of grace (this applies to me most of all). I'm sorry especially to @nimbupani ; in hindsight I can see why my anger over such a small thing that doesn't directly impact me would be hurtful to someone who's had to deal with the bigger issues.

@h5mlhomie

Y’all offending me because of your stupidity and academic mentality, taking things 2 seriously. I want your comments removed because they’re offending me, how is my request different from yours that require to remove link to a http://html5homi.es?

This is all about freedom. Freedom to joke in a fucking innocent way. Y’all already saw black dude and indian homie chick who commented in this thread about bullshit of the issue.

I am not racist. In fact, i’m advocate of anti-racism, anti-sexism and anti-agression. But if FUCKS like you tell people like me or @afarkas what to do, then I became enraged and it does not matter who the hell dictates.

Y’all could have asked in a proper way. Like: “this shit is offending me personally. please remove”. I’d understand. But you dipshits, white honkey homie boys, are asking for removal of something you think is personally offends some group of people, fuck you.

@dariusk
dariusk commented Feb 24, 2013

Look, someone who thinks they're funny registered a Github account!

@jonathantneal
Collaborator

@msikma "He was apparently too embarrassed by his own words to let that stand" ... "his strategy seems to be to just ignore this as long as is needed until it goes away"

I'm back! I'd like to address what happened, and learn as much as possible from you while this issue has attention.

The initial ticket seemed to be from an internet troll, someone posting inflammatory, extraneous, off-topic messages. It had an aggressive tone, the lack of user icon added to a sense of anonymity, and it was contradictory to our values, because it asserted that our choice of words was racist and yet requested that we "at least try to make them funny".

How would you handle that kind of issue in the future? Do you think it was a good idea for anyone to respond to the issue in that state?

Behind the nonsense, my response was a satire on political correctness gone wild, contrasting the etymological roots of "holiday" which could be deemed offensive to irreligious folks. Over a discussion on Twitter, we learned that @jeffcutsinger was being satirical in his initial post as well, and he and I both regret our initial correspondence. Our satire didn't create the opportunity for either of us to seriously consider the other's point of view, and for that I extend my apology to everyone here.

So, why did I remove my comment? Well, first, trust me that we all knew it wouldn't "disappear". Then, as much as it may frustrate you, please consider that we thought this was trolling, or even a case of reverse-racism. So, it was recommended to me (several times) that I remove myself from the discussion, mute the thread from my email, and let time pass. Why? Because that's a popular way to deal with bullies. Am I saying you came across as bullies? Not all of you did, but we did come across some vitriolic messages on Twitter from some of you in this thread.

Is there a time when you think ignoring someone opposed to you is the right thing to do? Does it depend on their aggression?

Once @divya tagged me in a Twitter post, I was upset, and I'd like to apologize for responding bitterly to @tgies, writing "cool story bro" and asking him to review a previous ticket on language where I had been on the losing side of a battle for decency. I would ask some of you to consider what it means to stand for decency and respect if you continue using terms like "mother f***er".

And remember how I replaced my message with a gif of Grandpa Simpson coming in and leaving? That was another reference to that other language issue.

Now, to the actual issue!

Right now, it looks like some of you believe that a "homie" using a "shiv" means a reference to people of color and is therefore offensive because it portrays them as violent, while others believe that neither term belongs to any ethnic group, and that making such a connection is racist, as is validating such a connection. Therefore, the consequence of ignoring the language or removing the language is offensive to either side.

Remember, I'm the only maintainer who has chime in thus far, so I take full responsibility for my proposition, and my views do not reflect the views of anyone else that I know of.

If no other maintainer objects to the discussion by the end of Monday PST, I will remove the language. I do not feel the same way as some of you do about it, but I do not want to create a toxic relationship between us. While few of you actually use our product, this issue has come to mean a great deal to you, and I think that should mean something to us. I'd still appreciate your feedback and criticism, and I understand that this does not mean we all suddenly get along.

@jaubertmoniker

Gosh there are a lot of people in this thread asking for it to be taken out. It's almost like you have literally nothing to lose by taking it out.

@polotek
polotek commented Feb 24, 2013

@schnei I really respect the response from @jonathantneal. But I do want to see if I can answer your challenge that there's nothing to lose by taking it out.

Your contention is that to remove it would help save face and make everyone comfortable with the resulting atmosphere. But it only does that from your perspective and the others who've decided that it is a "fact" that the comment in question is racist. But "everyone" isn't comprised of just your side. There are people here who feel really uncomfortable with the idea that something like this can be overblown to the point of being called "racist". Those people have made the arguments that your side is reducing the idea of racism to something really minor like this. They feel there are more important issues, etc.

I hope you'll give me some leeway in describing the position of the "that's racist" coalition here. Please correct me if I mischaracterize what you or anyone else has said. I think it was rightly called out that even small racist infractions shouldn't be okay. Some people seized on that and used it to weaken the argument for leaving the comment as is. But in my personal opinion, and the opinion of some others here, it's not that this is a small racist comment that we should let slide. It's that this isn't really a racist comment at all. And that is the argument for why this thread should die. The argument was perhaps made poorly. But being able to pick apart a poorly made argument doesn't mean your position is "right". That is one of those same logical fallacies that the coalition has been seizing on here in order to gain the upper hand, so I'm sure you all understand it.

What I tried to do in my previous post was create an opportunity to make this discussion more useful. I wish it had taken a turn into discussing how to deal with the ambiguity of the term racism. Unfortunately, some people in this thread have decided that it's not ambiguous at all. Not only is it not ambiguous, but they've somehow figured out the magic formula for how to tell if something is racist. They've taken a staunch stance and dared anyone to disagree with them. The main tactic is to tout their opinion as "fact" and heap negativity on anyone who tries to engage.

I'm not really interested in rekindling the argument of whether the comment is or is not racist. I don't plan on responding to any comments in that direction. Mostly because I don't feel like the people in the coalition are really here to discuss that. They feel they can misdirect any attempts at debate by saying "you're supporting racism by arguing with me". This is actually a really good tactic. It does a great job of throwing the opposition off kilter and it's difficult to navigate out of. But again, it doesn't make you any more right in your base assumption that the comment is racist. It just means you might be better at debate. I can tell that some people in the coalition do have some skill at winning debates, because they've smartly refused to engage with me directly at all. Heaping negativity on a black person in a debate involving racism is a sure fire way of turning the tide on yourself. But it also lets me know that the coalition aren't really here to have an argument in good faith at all.

This is what I meant when I said those people are making themselves look really bad in this thread. And it also points to what we really lose if the maintainers bow under this pressure and make the change. If this change gets made after all this fervor, it will leave some people in the coalition with a smug sense of self-righteousness. They will be more sure that this narrow and simplistic view of what constitutes racism is vindicated, and they'll race off to spit this same nonsense at another unsuspecting person. I would say that hurts the actual mission of eradicating racism quite a bit. It creates an atmosphere of "racist until proven innocent", where there's no dialogue and no increased understanding. It makes a certain type of person feel like they have license to police the rest of us using only rhetoric and disarming debate tactics instead of real nuance of thought. And it gives those people a shield if they ever find themselves labeled racist by their peers. I can't be racist because I'm awesome at defining real racism. See here where I "won" this debate. Also I have plenty of black friends.

If this change gets made, there's no less actual racism in the world than there was before. But there is way more misguided bullying and way more people not expressing themselves for fear of being labeled a faux-racist.

The maintainers here can still make whatever decision they think is best. But this counterpoint should stand here for anyone who finds this thread. The thing that eradicates racism is education. Not academic pedantry, not shame and certainly not internet trolling. And if we ever do eradicate racism, we will still need to contend with jokes in poor taste and ambiguous statements that make some individuals uncomfortable.

@polotek
polotek commented Feb 24, 2013

Also want to give a shout out @jeffcutsinger. It sounds like he's been trying to improve the direction of this thread in another channel with @jonathantneal. You can always try to put things back on track.

@msikma
msikma commented Feb 24, 2013

I'm back! I'd like to address what happened, and learn as much as possible from you while this issue has attention.

The initial ticket seemed to be from an internet troll, someone posting inflammatory, extraneous, off-topic messages. It had an aggressive tone, the lack of user icon added to a sense of anonymity, and it was contradictory to our values, because it asserted that our choice of words was racist and yet requested that we "at least try to make them funny".

How would you handle that kind of issue in the future? Do you think it was a good idea for anyone to respond to the issue in that state?

If that's the case, I think you misinterpreted the original post. Even in its original context, without any of the replies, it seems obvious to me it's making a serious charge. The charge is veiled thinly in a joke—the notion that the racist joke is "not funny enough"—but it does make a substantive argument on a specific section of the readme file; namely, that the quoted section associates people of color with knife crime. The correct course of action, in my opinion, would have been to seriously examine whether the charge has any merit.

Well, everybody makes mistakes, and sometimes we misinterpret messages. That's bound to happen.

However, I am still a little confused by your admission given what you posted in response. In the post that you have since deleted, you do seem to take a serious (if confusing) stance:

Behind the nonsense, my response was a satire on political correctness gone wild, contrasting the etymological roots of "holiday" which could be deemed offensive to irreligious folks.

So essentially, you did make a judgment: you believe the complaint was "political correctness gone wild", that asking for the quoted passage to be removed or modified is flatly absurd. That response was (rightly) taken seriously by the rest of the posters. So really, I don't particularly understand why the original complaint being "a troll" really matters; your response seems to have been sincere either way.

So, why did I remove my comment? Well, first, trust me that we all knew it wouldn't "disappear". Then, as much as it may frustrate you, please consider that we thought this was trolling, or even a case of reverse-racism. So, it was recommended to me (several times) that I remove myself from the discussion, mute the thread from my email, and let time pass. Why? Because that's a popular way to deal with bullies.

It is rather disturbing that a complaint of this nature could be considered so outrageous that you considered yourselves the victims of bullying. That the mere thought of you being capable of inadvertently making a racist statement is so incredible that the only explanation is that you're being targeted by trolls. By the time you removed your post, the topic had already garnered a couple more replies, most of them agreeing with the complainant. Certainly you must have seen that other people had already taken this seriously, and were taking issue with your response.

Just to clarify, I really don't intend to be mean, or to berate you. But if what you say is the case, I'd caution you to be more open to the notion that you are capable of, inadvertently or otherwise, saying racist things. Even the nicest, most empathetic and cautious people can say problematic things at times. It's a learning process that never really ends. It's great that a lot of people are expressly opposed to racism these days, but that ought to make them more, not less, receptive to this sort of criticism.

Am I saying you came across as bullies? Not all of you did, but we did come across some vitriolic messages on Twitter from some of you in this thread.

I can certainly see how seeing anger or vitriol can make one hesitant to take the complainant seriously. Personally I don't agree—seeing someone angry probably means you did something wrong and could use some introspection—but I can see how that might cause someone to balk. But I'm surprised you did not find any of the subsequent posts on the issue, which certainly were very decently written, to be reasonable enough to warrant attention. Perhaps you literally did not see any of them, if you muted the email thread, but I do know for a fact that the discussion on this issue was serious and substantive by the time you removed your original reply.

So, at the very least, I don't think you handled this very well. There was ample opportunity to see that there was merit to the original complaint, and that a number of other people were agreeing with it. If you're looking for suggestions for the future, I'd say you should always take these things seriously, even if there's a degree of anger in the complaint. In fact, that's not so surprising. People who are the lifelong victims of bigotry have a serious emotional investment in a topic such as this one that others simply cannot understand. To ask those people to hide that personal burden and act as though their oppression doesn't exist is simply not always realistic. I won't divulge my own experiences, but it's something I personally know to be the case. This too is something to keep into account when responding to complaints of this nature.

But let's disregard that, and get to the issue itself.

Right now, it looks like some of you believe that a "homie" using a "shiv" means a reference to people of color and is therefore offensive because it portrays them as violent, while others believe that neither term belongs to any ethnic group, and that making such a connection is racist, as is validating such a connection. Therefore, the consequence of ignoring the language or removing the language is offensive to either side.

Well, there's a problem with that reasoning, in my view. That problem is there's only one person in this entire topic who believes that deleting the joke would be racist, and that seems to have been on a faulty assumption that was quickly pointed out to them. Everybody else either believes the joke itself is racist and should be removed, or believes the language is neutral. But the idea that removing it would be the racist act is by no means a prevailing belief.

The thrust of this notion seems to be that making the implication that "homie" is a non-white word is, in and of itself, racist. (The faulty assumption I mentioned was someone believing that the complainant was implying that https://github.com/aFarkas/html5shiv/issues/91#issuecomment-14002281 are mostly non-white, whereas we're not talking about that word at all, and it wasn't even mentioned before her response.) With that in mind, I think no one here really disputes that "homie" is associated with black culture.

If no other maintainer objects to the discussion by the end of Monday PST, I will remove the language.

I think that would be the right thing to do. It's a minor change, but it says to the world that complaints of racist language, even though it was inadvertent and not everybody agreed, are taken seriously and with the offended party's views in mind.

As I've written before, I think it would've been better had this been taken seriously from the beginning, but just the fact that you'll delete the language means a lot. I've written this in the hope that it can be of use. If there's anything you disagree with or that you want me to clarify, feel free to let me know, or send an email if you prefer.

@joliss
joliss commented Feb 24, 2013

Thanks @jonathantneal.

@coldhead

Another way we could deal with this issue would be if everyone updated their browsers so tools like this were no longer needed.

Also if we could all stop knifing each other violently, regardless of our race persuasions, that would be great. Thanks everyone.

@jonathantneal
Collaborator

I'd like to reflect on what I saw happen.

Two cultures that normally have little to do with each other suddenly clash. The "plaintiff" culture believes our documentation contains racist and derogatory remarks. Glancing through the user profiles of the most vocal plaintiffs, they share a distinct lack of GitHub contributions. GitHub clout has nothing to do with identifying racism, but it does help demonstrate that we may come from different social circles. The "defendant" culture believes our documentation contains only good and humorous remarks that have nothing to do with race.

When they first engage each other, the plaintiffs seem agressive to the defendants, so they don't take them very seriously, which only frustrates the plaintiffs even more. Some of the plaintiffs mock and ridicule the defendants on Twitter, and in turn, some of the defendants mock the plaintiffs. Others avoid the issue entirely. After some heated words, apologies are issued on both sides, and they attempt a second exchange.

While neither culture has a desire to be racist, the compromise is actually quite difficult and complex. Removing the remarks will offend the defendant culture, because (after hearing the other side) they still believe the remarks are innocent, and that validating the plaintiffs complaint will only depreciate real racism. The defendant culture wants the plaintiff culture to recognize their point of view and drop the issue. On the other hand, the plaintiff culture wants the remarks removed, because (after hearing the other side) they still believe the remarks are offensive, and that their presence extends racism. The plaintiff culture wants the defendant culture to acknowledge their point of view and remove the remarks. Some tension lingers on both sides, as they hope for the other side to figure out the truth.

Tug of War

And here we are.

Since I am a defendant, I suggest we remove the offending remarks to acknowledge the plaintiffs and initiate a positive relationship with them. I don't want us to begin our relationship in divorce. Since the subject is moral in nature, I suggest we remove the offending remarks to avoid knowingly causing harm to other people. In other words, the "morality" or "racism" of the words isn't the point. Rather, the point is to reconcile two groups who need to learn to work together. Finally, since I am an administrator of the project, I think I should make this change at the end of tomorrow PST, unless I read objections from another administrator.

Now, I understand that not everyone is interested in having a positive relationship with people of the opposing viewpoint, and that not all people think they should adjust their amoral behaviors to suit other peoples' moral convictions. Indeed, I'm following my own convictions, but I would prefer you disliked me for my point of view rather than for its absence.

🍰

@msikma
msikma commented Feb 25, 2013

Two cultures that normally have little to do with each other suddenly clash. The "plaintiff" culture believes our documentation contains racist and derogatory remarks. Glancing through the user profiles of the most vocal plaintiffs, they share a distinct lack of GitHub contributions. GitHub clout has nothing to do with identifying racism, but it does help demonstrate that we may come from different social circles. The "defendant" culture believes our documentation contains only good and humorous remarks that have nothing to do with race.

@jonathantneal, I'm very thankful that you're willing to remove the offending remarks, but I don't entirely understand why you seem so intent on pointing out that I, and others, aren't frequent GitHub contributors. We may come from different social circles, but I don't particularly see what that has to do with anything. You seem to be saying "well, GitHub people just think differently about racism", implying that being a frequent contributor is, in some form or fashion, an excuse for the use of offensive language, as it has been normalized in GitHub "culture".

If it means anything to you, I'm a programmer too and I've contributed to open source projects in the past. So are @postcasio, who issued the pull request, and @dariusk, who seems to be quite active here, judging from his profile. They too vocally objected to the language. So what exactly does being from GitHub, or knowing the GitHub culture (or indeed the programmer culture) have to do with anything?

I honestly don't want to repeat what I've said before on the substance of the issue. The remark you linked to, which states that this complaint itself is racist, seems misguided to me for reasons I've identified in my previous post. I know people would probably rather move on than dwell on this, but if anyone's interested I can elaborate or give some references. As I've said, I'm glad the language is set to be changed, but since we're all interested in fighting racism, I think it's also important that it's understood exactly why this language is problematic. That's also the reason why I put so much time into writing these posts despite not being associated with the project. This is important to understand, and I honestly think it deserves better than to be reduced to a matter of differences in online cultures.

@dariusk
dariusk commented Feb 25, 2013

@jonathantneal, first let me say that I agree with your conclusion: the joke should be removed.

But there's something a little more insidious at work in the rhetoric around its defense.

While I agree with your plaintiff/defendant labels (because there is certainly something being complained about), it seems like you're trying to paint the issue as one of "outsider vs. insider". Actually, Sam Breed tried to do that just yesterday on Twitter.

What's interesting is that in both cases, nobody cares (or remembers) to mention me as someone on the "plaintiff" side, and it seems clear to me that this is because my inclusion would hurt the implicit or explicit argument you're making that the plaintiffs are outsiders. (I'm very much not an outsider.) While you might say it's because I didn't say very much in the argument, the only reason I didn't say much is because @msikma and others did such a good job. And because I'm part of this community and care about it, I didn't want the thread to devolve into noise by repeating what someone else already said!

When someone like Sam points out the Github contribution charts of the people who are defending the readme joke, what I see is a group of people who are invested in their community, and thus invested in protecting the status quo. The status quo is "we like to put jokes that we think are silly in our documentation." And there are people showing up and saying "you should think harder about the jokes you include, some of us are offended by them."

(This reminds me a lot of Shanley Kane's recent critique of startup culture. Specifically the idea that "culture" and "cultural fit" are often coded, subconscious ways of saying "we only want to hang out with people who are like us". This jokes-in-the-readme issue is very much a "culture" issue and the defendants here are trying to defend what has been the culture of JS/open source/Github.)

I guess what I want to say is: if you want the open source community to grow, it's going to be more diverse whether you like it or not. This is going to result in diversity of thought, and belief, and also in the racial/ethnic/socioeconomic/etc background of the people involved. I've done a whole hell of a lot of community building and it always goes like this:

  • You form a small, awesome community. Yay!
  • Everyone knows each other, so you can have your inside jokes and nobody takes anything too personally.
  • Because it's a bubble of people who know each other, strong bonds are sometimes formed around stupid stuff.
  • Because the community is awesome, it gets bigger, and more important.
  • People outside the community start to watch it with interest.
  • Also, as new people join the community and contribute to it, they may not be very much like the people who were there first.
  • Suddenly, not everyone knows everyone so there are people who look at stupid stuff and say, "Hey, that's stupid."
  • 🔆💣🔆 C U L T U R E C L A S H 🔆💣🔆

At this point, you either roll with it, or you circle the wagons and hope you can maintain the fiefdom.

It seems that by looking for reconciliation, you're heading in the right direction, and I applaud that. I just really, really want the insider/outsider rhetoric to end in this instance, because what you're doing is erasing the existence of people like me: open source "insiders" who really do care about this kind of thing, and who think the existing culture around these parts is, in fact, kind of stupid. There are plenty of us. We're already here. I'm happy to trot out some more of us if you don't believe me.

@paulogaspar7

Contrary to this project's worth, this thread is a huge waste of time.

The joke is obviously bad, to the point of being unworthy of such waste.

Just vote the thing or follow whatever is the usual procedure for any change proposal and act accordingly, please!

@joliss
joliss commented Feb 25, 2013

GitHub clout has nothing to do with identifying racism, but it does help demonstrate that we may come from different social circles.

I just want to be very clear about this: This is not some case of outsiders storming into this community, and I kinda resent your attempt to paint it that way. The JS/open-source community is a diverse bunch of people. In particular, the joke in question violates my sense of decency, and if you check my profile, you'll see that I'm an active contributor to open-source JS projects, and on several core teams. So is @petdance, and @geeksam and @dariusk are quite active as well.

That you think the joke is acceptable is perfectly fine, and we'll agree to disagree, but please don't paint everyone who disagrees as an outsider.

On the contrary, as an active FOSS developer I would like to thank those with low contribution counts -- in particular @jeffcutsinger, @postcasio, @msikma, and @atlasephemeris -- for taking the time and explaining why the joke is problematic and stopping derailment. When many of us lean back and just say "+1", your efforts is what enables us to have a great community, where people are not made to feel excluded.

Other than that, thanks @jonathantneal for coming around and deleting the joke, and people on all sides for seeking dialogue.

@dariusk
dariusk commented Feb 25, 2013

Um, +1 @joliss??? (Leanin' back here!)

@tgies
tgies commented Feb 25, 2013

@jonathantneal, I don't have time to respond to you point-by-point, but the fact that you actually sat down and looked at all our activity grids to decide who is an insider and thus credible and worth listening to and who is an Outsider and thus needs to just be placated so they'll shut up and go away is telling. For what it's worth, I was the person who originally drew attention to this on Twitter leading to @jeffcutsinger filing the issue, and I'm pretty active in the FOSS community. In fact, considering my history as a Debian maintainer, I can virtually guarantee you've used code I've touched. The thing is, though, that I, and a few people that I know who are like me, tend to avoid Github like the fucking plague precisely because of shit like this. The exclusive, boys' club with-or-against mindset is just not something I can deal with and I feel that it's incredibly deleterious to the goals of the FOSS movement. It just makes me kind of sad. I'm not "pretending to be offended on behalf of other people" as some would have it; I'm genuinely a little bothered that those I would consider my peers could be so inconsiderate. I don't know if that makes me Full Of Care And Fail or whatever but I don't really give a shit. I am at the point in my life where I no longer have the time nor inclination to argue with the contingent of edgy and tough dudes who think that actually giving a shit about other people is a weakness and the solution is for everyone to "lighten up" and try to see things the way they do irrespective of anyone's actual experience or background.

Nobody here wants to just force your hand and make you change your readme against your will, just in the interest of making peace with those who are upset by it; they want to help you understand why it's necessary and come away having learned something valuable instead of coming away regretting that you just got cyberbullied into merging a pull request you didn't agree with. That's what's so frustrating about this. The issue is not a stupid joke; the issue is the harmful mindset behind it. Thank you for listening and for deleting the stupid joke, but there is still a little ways left to go.

@jonathantneal
Collaborator

In particular, thank you @joliss, @dariusk, @tgies, and @msikma for your responses to my last post. I wouldn't be surprised if some of us took time away from our families this weekend to give each other a considerate dialog.

I would not expect further debate here. Many of those who believe the documentation remarks are not racist and contain no moral value also feel no incentive to join this conversation. Some of them would consider @polotek's response as their final word. I'll understand if you think I'm making these people up or distorting their quantity. If you have issues with me directly, I welcome your personal correspondance.

I'm here to respect you, acknowledge you, and take action on your behalf in good faith. My respect and acknowledgment does not require you to believe that we each have valid points of view, and I assure you that no one is being forced or bullied into doing anything. I've taken this issue on because it is important to me.

@jonathantneal
Collaborator

It is finished.

Rest assured that Internet Explorer is the only object of our disdain.

If people would only update their web browsers, this terrible calamity could have been avoided.

We only ever wanted to hurt old Internet Explorer.

Sad Unicorn

@npigeon npigeon pushed a commit to npigeon/mediagoblin that referenced this issue Nov 19, 2013
@cwebber cwebber Removing html5shiv for not complying with its own licenses and racism
Issues of racism seem to have been resolved and removed from upstream,
but make having this as a dependency somewhat uncomfortable:
  aFarkas/html5shiv#91

Regardless, at the time of writing the project doesn't comply with its
own license... it states to be dual licensed under MIT and GPLv2 but
distributes neither of these licenses with its source.
8db7eed
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