Tag Archives: NPR

The New N Word

The PC crowd is at it again. And, of course, NPR is leading the way.

Last Thursday, on their afternoon news show All Things Considered, Melissa Block interviewed Columbia linguistics professor John McWhorter on the use of the word1400091124004.cached thugs to describe those involved in the Baltimore riots.

I always take notice when the matter of race comes up—and that’s exactly what this story was about—because I think the media, and certain individuals like Al Sharpton and our “unifying” president, stir things up far more than they alleviate. Yes, we rely on the news to tell us about these things, and there is room in the news for the op-ed piece.

But pay attention to how these things are couched next time you hear/see them. Who’s giving the opinion? Though I’m sure they weren’t trying to hide it, the fact is, John McWhorter is black, and I have to wonder how much that fact influenced his opinion. Quite a bit, I’d imagine.

The basic idea behind the interview was that Professor McWhorter posits the word thug is “the new n word,” at least when we eternally prejudiced whiteys use it. When black Obama uses it, or the black Baltimore mayor uses it, or any other black in the whole frickin world uses it, it’s okay. Why? Because when a white person uses the word to refer to blacks, it automatically means we’re using in a prejudiced way because we think different. That’s not my opinion. That’s Professor McWhorter’s.

NwordHe even takes a bit of exception to Obama using the word. Why? Because although he’s black, he hasn’t had “that experience” that a gangbanger has (will gangbanger be the next racially charged word?). This from a man who attended Friends Select School, a private school on Philadelphia, before being accepted to Simon’s Rock College in tenth grade. Sounds like he grew up on some mean streets indeed.

Just as an aside, something I’ve noticed about these types of interviews, at least on NPR: the interviewer (who in this case is white) seems to take every opportunity to use the word in question, though in fairness I’ve never heard them use the n word. (I’m not using that very word in this post because this is me talking, not one of my fictional characters.)

Now, full disclosure here, just to be sure we’re clear: I’m a white, heterosexual, Southern male. That makes me a far cry from being politically correct. About as far as you can get, I’d say.

But…

Despite having a rebel flag tattooed on one arm, I do not belong to the Klan. Or any other white supremacist group. Or hate group, for that matter. I have gay friends and family, Mexican friends, black friends (though those are in short supply at the moment, simply because I’ve lost touch with the ones I had), my goddaughter is in a KKK_Busters_by_Dess520relationship with another woman and it doesn’t bother me one bit. I’m not narrow-minded. I got the tattoo when I was nineteen and in the Army. I grew up in the seventies and loved The Dukes of Hazzard. I love my Southern heritage. Even in those days, I didn’t get that tattoo as anything remotely racial, and still can’t understand how anyone can make such a blanket statement to say the Confederate flag can only be a racial symbol. That discounts those of us who are proud to be Southern, even if we’re morally embarrassed by those inbred idiots parading around in white sheets. I’ve always thought it’s no coincidence their hoods look just like dunce caps.

So to have a man like John McWhorter, who apparently comes from a privileged background (his full name is John Hamilton McWhorter V, according to Wikipedia) make a blanket judgment about my thoughts just because I’m white…well, maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m taking too much offense here, but isn’t that a racially biased opinion? For him to say he knows what I mean when I say thugs without meeting me or knowing a thing about me, is prejudice. Just as much as me saying that all blacks are criminals or subhuman or any of those kinds of things. I’m making a judgment based solely on skin color or stereotype, with not a single fact to back it up. And he reinforces this biased opinion by saying it’s okay for blacks to use the word, but not whites. Sound familiar?

I could go on and on about this subject, but I’d likely start repeating myself in a lot of ways, rehashing the same old points ad infinitum. So let me close with this: we will never patch over this festering sore that is prejudice until we drop the agendas, the desires to balance the scales by fostering white guilt over honest dialogue. The word thugs, in its modern usage, originated with gangsta rap. Tupac Shakur had the words Thug Life tattooed on his stomach. It’s a term used to describe life in a gang. Tupac came from the streets, not from a private school. He has the right to use that term, according to Professor McWhorter, while a poor white guy who grew up running Southern dirt roads doesn’t have a right to use that word when referring to those who tear up their neighborhoods and loot black business owners as a way to “honor” someone killed by police.

first-they-cameWhere is the outrage when a black cop shoots a white guy? Or a black cop shoots a black guy? Why not have outrage anytime a police officer shoots someone in questionable circumstances? That’s fair, and balanced, and will benefit everyone, not just one class of people. And shouldn’t that be the ultimate aim of all this business? After all, Hitler started with the communists. But he didn’t stop there, as the Jews can attest. If we let the cops continue to abuse blacks, how long will it be before they decide they can extend that abuse to other groups?

Later,
Gil

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I Wanna Be A Writer

NPR is in the middle of Round 8 of their Three Minute Fiction contest, which my daughter and I are both entering. If you’re not aware of it, the basic idea is to write flash fiction: a story that can be read in under three minutes. That translates into 600 words or less. While the basic rules don’t change, each round features a different way to write the story. For instance, Round 7 had to have a story where one person came to town and another left. There was a round where a photo was the prompt. This time around, your story has to start with the sentence She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door.

I don’t usually do well with short fiction. My ideas are too big. Even my “short” fiction isn’t very short. My first attempt ended up at over 11,000 words, a novella entitled “The Voices of Angels.” Subsequent stories have ended up shorter, but 600 words? Man, I’m just getting started with 600 words. Getting wound up, setting the atmosphere for the next scene.

But I digress. The reason I’m bringing up Three Minute Fiction is something that happened over the past weekend. On Saturday’s broadcast, when Weekend All Thing Considered reached their Three Minute Fiction segment, they talked about an eleven-year-old girl who’d emailed them, asking why you have to be eighteen to enter the contest. She’d written a story that met the standards, but because she isn’t eighteen, she couldn’t enter.

So, they brought in one of NPR’s legal eagles to explain that, by entering the contest, you are also engaging in a contract—I believe they called it a continuous use contract—with NPR, and that state laws specified someone under eighteen couldn’t do that. If a minor enters a contest on a cereal box, that’s different. It’s not a continuing use contract, and therefore is perfectly legal. But, because you can go to npr.org and read the winning stories from past rounds, you are entering into one of these contracts with NPR. (As an aside, I’m curious to know if you can resell the story later, or if you give up all rights.)

NPR interviewed the girl, and I have to say that she sounded awfully mature for an eleven-year-old, but so many of them do these days, at least to me. I don’t remember any of my eleven-year-old contemporaries sounding that way, but then, I don’t remember a lot about being eleven years old, either.

The girl—and I wish I could remember her name, but I’m horrible with them, can’t even remember my own characters half the time—said that she wrote the story in about half an hour, that she’d been writing since she was “young,” but that she mostly wrote stories for school assignments and that was more or less it.

NPR decided that, even though she couldn’t enter the contest, they’d go ahead and give her a signed copy of the latest book by the author judging the contest (can’t remember his name, either. I’ve never heard of him before), and they read an excerpt of her story on the air. The grand prize, besides being able to put the win in a query letter, is a signed copy of the author’s book, an interview, and having your story read on-air. So, in essence, this girl got the grand prize already—and the contest doesn’t end until this coming Sunday.

At first, I was a little miffed at this. Sure, okay, she’s eleven, she wrote a good story (I guess—I haven’t been able to read the entire thing), and it’s a bit of a rip that she can’t enter her honest effort because of her age. But, c’mon, man. This is the kind of thing I hate to see: letting someone get something just because they complain.

But I’ve thought about it since (I’m writing this on Sunday the 18th), and now I have to agree that it was the right thing to do. Why? Well, the girl, while she made it clear that she thought she should be able to enter the contest, wasn’t actually complaining. She was asking why she couldn’t enter. She just wanted a good explanation for why she couldn’t submit her honest effort. And when it was explained to her, she accepted it without complaint.

Bravo. Means she’s not a spoiled brat who’s been getting her way with everything. She sounded like a young lady who’s been encouraged by her parents without being coddled. Of course, I’m basing this off a two-minute or less segment. For all I know, she’s a perfect terror most of the time.

But here’s what made me change my mind about what I thought: my daughter has been writing stories since kindergarten. I haven’t had the privilege to see any of those early efforts because I wasn’t in her life then. I won’t go into that story. It’s not germane to this post. But, I have to say, when your kid wants to do the same thing you’ve always wanted to do, and she wants to do it with no influence from you, that’s…gratifying? Amazing? I’m not sure how to describe the emotion I feel. Proud, I guess, is the closest.

Even though I’ve wanted to be a writer for a long time, I can’t claim that I’ve wanted it since kindergarten. I’ve admired good writing for as long as I can remember, but I didn’t become a serious reader until I discovered The Hobbit in fifth grade. And I didn’t entertain the idea of telling my own stories until sometime in my teens. That’s just how I developed. Jesi figured it out sooner than I did, but I’m also convinced she’s quite a bit more intelligent than I ever was or will be.

For instance, when I critiqued her ms for The Doc is In, there were times when I’d suggest a way of rephrasing a sentence. I thought that, even though my suggestions were made off the cuff and never edited (except for typos and clarity), I made pretty decent suggestions. No, I didn’t want or expect her to write them exactly as I did—last thing I want is for her to turn her writing voice into mine. And she knows this. But when I got the edited ms back for another going over, I was flat-out amazed at how she’d made her changes. She took what I’d suggested and made the sentences somewhere around 1000% better than what I’d written. I know cause I compared my suggestions with what she’d done.

Thinking about that and about the girl from the NPR story, I had to rethink my original opinion. Jesi is a great writer, and I say that without fatherly bias (well, mostly). I give her my honest opinion on her mss, because to do less would not be true fatherly love. Writing is her dream. I have to be encouraging, but I’m one of her few critics who’ll give her an opinion tempered with love. I know her, and I want her to be the best she can be. I just won’t do it in as cold a manner as editors and agents will as she goes through the submission process.

But what if it had been Jesi, at age eleven, who’d wanted to enter this contest? And what if NPR had ignored her? Would she give up? Eleven can be a tender age, and the age where you can get thrown off pursuing your dream. Jesi is twenty-three now, and she’s handling the rejections pretty well. Not perfect, but who does? It’s discouraging to get rejected time and again, and anybody who tells you different is either lying or pulling a get-rich-quick scam.

Possibly, by acknowledging this girl’s question, NPR has played a part in nurturing a young writer. I can’t tell from her interview if she wants to be a writer the way my daughter and I want it. We want to have writing as a full-time job (and I’ve achieved that, in a manner of speaking, even if my only pay so far is one contributor’s copy), not just as something we do occasionally. This girl sounded like writing is more hobby than occupation, but there’s nothing wrong with that, either. God knows there can be worse hobbies than writing. John Wayne Gacy and Henry Lee Lucas had some pretty bad hobbies, you know. So did Charles Manson.

But maybe, because of what happened, the girl will go from being a casual writer to one who loves the craft and becomes one of our next great writers. They really liked her story at NPR, and whether I agree with their standards of what constitutes a good story or not (they have a very literary bent, to say the least), that should say something about her writing. And it might be the factor that turns her into someone passionate about wordsmithing.

And there ain’t a thing wrong with that.

Writing is a lonely art. We all know that. It’s not self-pity that makes us say that. Most of us long for more solitude to write, even on the days when the last thing we want to do is pound the keyboard. Any encouragement is a good thing for us, because, while we look at our writing as a good thing, at the same time we often doubt if it’s good enough for anyone else to read. We’re our own worst critics.

So Support Your Local Writer. He or she needs it. If they’re published, buy their books, even if they seem expensive (printing costs are crazy). Who knows but what some kid might pick one of our books and become a writer because of it? And that kid might just be yours.

Later,

Gil

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Uh…

All right, just so you know, this one’s gonna be another rant. A language rant, this time, though it edges into the political, in a way. I think the title probably gives it away: the word uh.

Yeah, I know. People use it a lot when they, uh, talk. But not as much as so many of the talking heads, from Obamanation on down. I can remember thinking, back when the man was campaigning, that one of the crappy things about him winning would be at least four years of listening to his every uttering broken every few words by that pause, followed by, “…uh…” I mean, it was bad enough that I really don’t like the sound of the man’s voice. Something about it gets on my nerves, and it ain’t got to do with the fact I think he’s a crappy president. He could be anybody and I’d get tired of listening to him talk real fast.

But this ain’t about Obama. It’s about language, and our politicians’ apparent lack of skill in same. I don’t really remember noticing it all that much until the last presidential election, and once I did, I noticed a lot of them use it. Now, recognizing that I get most of my news from NPR—a news organization for whom this equation is true: Obama=Jesus Christ—it seems to me that Dems are worse at it than Republicans.

Now, I figure there’s two ways of looking at this, and if you can come up with another, I’d be interested in hearing—sorry, reading it. The first reason that came to mind is that the Dems are so afraid they’ll offend someone, anyone, that they choose their words carefully. We are talking about the party that champions political correctness to the point that it’s an art form for them. Whereas the Republicans speak more directly because they’re already an offense to the vocal minority and don’t have to worry about offending anyone merely by speaking. All it takes is knowing they have an R after their name.

The other possibility is that the Dems are more intellectual than the opposing party. They think deeper and therefore choose their words carefully. The Republicans are less smart and closer to the average person (I challenge anyone to show me an average person) that both parties only worry about every four years or so anyway.

Whatever the cause, our politicians end up sounding like idiots. I don’t hear leaders from other countries injecting so many uhs into their comments, whether rehearsed or off the cuff. It’s an alarming trend that I throw in the bin with the tendency to start statements with the word so, whether it fits or not, and then ending every sentence in that statement with a lilting of the voice that makes it sound like a question.

Are we so unsure of ourselves that we need to talk this way? Have we spent too many years pandering to the lowest common denominator and, as a result, are becoming illiterate?

This is a very real concern for me. Forget the politics. I use the airhead politicians because they’re the most obvious example: we see and hear from them every day, whether we want to or not. But let’s consider something else along with it: flash fiction.

I’m sure you’ve heard stories on how articles posted online are getting shorter and shorter because people these days won’t take the time to actually read the printed word. What’s scary is that I find myself doing the same thing. Someone who shall remain unnamed said my letters to him/her were welcome but needed to be shorter, that if he/she sees they stretch out to more than a page or so, he/she loses interest (I’m not being PC here, just protecting this person’s gender).

I started out on epics like Lord of the Rings: big, heavy works that take not just hours to read, but days. At least for me, they do. The trend to flash fiction—stories of less than a thousand words, preferably somewhere around 600—disturbs me. Do we want even our entertainment to be fast and uninvolving? I spent several years working as a heavy equipment operator, building roads and such, and one of the things I wondered during that time is Are we trying to do too damn much? When you count dirt moved in the hundreds of yards a day, it’s a legitimate question.

When you count how entertained you are by now many different types you can digest in a day, maybe it’s time to slow down or even stop and take stock. If everyone becomes like the person I mention above, what’s gonna happen to society?

And more importantly, where am I gonna get my large, doorstop epics to read?

I’m not dissing flash fiction in and of itself. Stephen King has often lamented about the disappearance of the short story as an art form. Writing a self-contained story that short isn’t easy—I have yet to even get up the courage to try it. Hell, I can barely define even one character in 600-1,000 words, much less tell you an entire story. I’ve wanted to tackle the monthly story in Writer’s Digest but I’ve never been able to come up with something you can read while the commercials are on.

I did manage to write one of those six-word stories one time, which I reproduce here: He tripped, fell down, and died. It’s got it all: a complete story, some suspense, and an ending that makes sense and keeps the story self-contained.

Just don’t expect me to make a habit of it.

Or enjoy reading them much. They’re too much like wanting a stake and getting cotton candy instead: just not that satisfying. I can’t sink my teeth into them, sit down on a rainy day and lose myself in them for hours at a time. Some of the ones I’ve read are clever. They have to be, considering the limitations. But, see, with the word be in the previous sentence, I passed the upper limit, and I’m still going strong here. Which probably means many of you aren’t even reading these words. You stopped after I dissed Obama. That’s fine.

For those of you still with me, though, I want to wrap this up with one last matter: the word alright. I’m not sure if I’ve brought this up before or not. I know I’ve complained so much about it to so many people that I’m no longer sure where or when. Now, last I knew, that’s not a proper word. It should be written all right. If I remember correctly, already, which is proper, used to be two words that were finally combined into one at some point. I understand that language evolves. If it didn’t, we’d still be writing to-morrow and to-day, along with several others. But as far as I know, the proper form is still all right. Two words, not one.

And yet, I’m seeing it more and more often in published works. I’m reading an otherwise very well written sf novel entitled The Unincorporated Man by Dani Kollin & Eytan Kollin, two brothers from the LA area. For those of you who are sf fans, I recommend it (so far) because it’s reminiscent of older Heinlein. But it’s published by Tor, not exactly an up-and-coming publishing house, and yet they let the word alright through. There’s a member of my writing group who will throw a book across the room if he sees this. I’m not that bad (and their use of OK instead of okay rubs me the wrong way, but those are both correct, as far as I know), but it still throws me out of the story. My version of Word calls alright a non-standard word, grouping it with ain’t and irregardless. That means it’s okay to use it informally, but not in text.

So, has alright become a proper word? Or are our editors getting that sloppy and ignorant of the language they’re working in? If it’s the former, well, okay, maybe I can accept that, though I doubt I will ever write it that way. If it’s the latter, though, that’s worrying, to say the least. Editors are the people who are supposed to weed out that kind of thing, make a writer’s work look even better. Sure, it’s our responsibility to make it right in the first place, but it’s understood that we’re human and prone to typos (I sometimes feel like my fingers have turned into toes).

Editors tell us how to make it sound better, and copy editors tell us how to do it correctly. I understand from some of my reading that at least a few houses have combined the two jobs, which might explain some of this. Unfortunately, that’s a little like putting the boy down in the mail room in charge of IT: he’s good at the general stuff, but he’s not suited for such a technical job. Editors are readers while copy editors are technicians.

Anyway, since I’ve gone over fifteen hundred words, I’d better truly wrap this up. Hopefully I haven’t offended anyone, but don’t expect me to say uh to keep from doing it. Me speak my mind.

Later,

Gil

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