Ask the grumpies: Should I report a racist comment?

K asks:

My job is full of awful people but today I very clearly heard my director making a racist comment about one of his employees. I still cannot believe it was said and it clearly is an inside joke with the two managers he was on a zoom meeting with(he was virtual, they were in an office a couple doors down from me). And they clearly did not know I was in the office based on their attitudes when later on they encountered me.

I have always had a target on my back in this office for being smart and asking good questions.

If I complain they will know who reported. I cannot live with myself if I don’t do something about what I heard.

What was “weird “ too was this same “joke” was made years ago by someone in the small town I grew up in, I was out with my daughter one night who was maybe 4 at the time and a dude thought it was funny or some shit to say this same thing about another black child in the area, who was also out that night.
F*cking sucks.

Racists suck.

I appreciate the conversations here. Not because I am looking for people who necessarily think exactly like me but because the community is intelligent, thoughtful and REAL things are talked about…..all sorts of things.

That sounds terrible and it’s a terrible position to be in.

You will have to decide whether to report or not.  The trade-offs are probably pretty clear to you– they’ll potentially make your work-life worse if you report, but morally you feel that you need to report it.  You know your calculus about how much you need this job and what your options are if you need to walk away because you can’t take it anymore.  You’re not in an at-will state and you’re likely high skill, so it may be difficult for them to just fire you, but there may be a non-zero probability.  We can’t give advice about whether to report, only you can decide.

In either case, you should be looking for work at a different company if you can’t trust upper management to take care of racist managers if brought to their attention. Similarly for being punished for being smart and asking good questions.

Racist managers make employees less productive.  Hopefully you will find a place that doesn’t have a culture of racism.

Good luck!

Grumpy Nation, what thoughts and advice do you have for K?

Why I don’t want to list my pronouns

I’ve been thinking a lot the last couple of years about gender and sexuality.  I’ve been learning a lot more about other people and about myself too.

I’ve mentioned before that I only recently learned that demi-sexual is a thing, and is in fact, a thing that explains so much of my life (and why I will never ever be able to do modern-style dating if something terrible happens to DH).

I have *always* thought that gender was just a construct and an unfair one at that.  I have never understood the actual concept of people being male or people being female.  Male and female to me was always something that society assigned and assigned roles for based on my chromosomes and physical characteristics at birth.  I’ve never cared about my clothing being masculine or feminine, just that it be comfortable and appropriate for whatever venue I have to be in (I LOVED grunge in the 1990s, and my pandemic wardrobe is DH’s old t-shirts with workout shorts/pants). I have always figured I was female because it is much easier to be female than it is to be a trans man.  If DH was ok with it and I had a magic wand, I would totally switch sexes and reap the benefit of all that male privilege.

At some point, I realized that other people do identify as male or female and not because society has tricked them, because trans women exist.  In order to give up that male privilege, they must really truly identify with being female.  Thus it makes sense that some people truly identify with being male, even if their chromosomes are XX.  And there are likely XX-types who feel they must be women and XY-types who feel they must be men.  This is just one of those things that I don’t understand, much like the way my demi-sexuality makes it so I don’t understand instant sexual attraction.  But just because I don’t understand something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  People are different and that’s ok.

After a lot of thought, I have decided of the types of genders listed out there, I am probably non-binary.  But I’m also the kind of non-binary that doesn’t have gender dysphoria (so I can’t even answer many of those “am I non-binary” online quiz questions). That is because I don’t understand the concept of gender at all (except as a construct of how society views me). I don’t care if people gender me male or female or non-binary or what have you.  People who are non-binary who really identify with not being male or female might have negative effects being mis-gendered as something they’re not.  Me, I don’t care.  It’s not that I need to come out because I’m fine with how other people gender me (other than the whole misogyny thing) because my view of gender is exactly that– how other people gender me.

Lots of people have started listing their preferred pronouns on their zoom profiles and email signatures.  The idea is that if CIS-gendered people (that’s people whose gender identity matches their chromosomes/sex characteristics) start doing this, it will seem more normal for trans and non-binary people.

The one part of my gender identity that seems real is that I do not want to label myself. I do not want to bring attention to my gender.  I don’t want to list she/her because I resent being treated in the way that women are treated.  I don’t want to put down he/him because people look at me and see a woman and that would cause cognitive dissonance and problems I don’t want to deal with, even though I would prefer to be treated as if I were male.  (I wish we were *all* treated like white men on the lowest difficulty setting and given the benefit of the doubt etc.)  I don’t want to put they/them because it doesn’t bother me to be referred to as she or he and I know it’s hard for people to get used to the they/them construct and I don’t want to be the person they practice on.  (Maybe that’s selfish?  But I don’t think I have to always sacrifice myself.  I’m already gendered as a woman by society.)  I don’t want to draw attention to myself or to have to explain this whole, “I don’t understand gender” thing.  Someone would likely try to explain it to me(!)

On a recent anonymous survey, we were given multiple choices for gender and I happily picked female and non-binary.  When I only get to pick one of male/female/other, I assume they mean “how do others view you” so I pick female.  I think this is different from the pronoun listing because with the pronoun listing it really feels like I am saying, “this is what I *prefer*” and it isn’t.  I would prefer people treat me (and everyone else) like a dude.  I would prefer there not be genders at all!  (But I understand that some people prefer gender, so as long as it isn’t hurting others, do what you will.)

If I were forced to do the pronoun thing, I would write: (whatever/whatever).  But I know that seems flip and not helpful for people who want to make their genders clear because it is part of their internal identity.  So I’m glad we’re not forced.  (Briefly considers an email sig with “pronouns:  it’s all good,” rejects it.)

And I think this is ok.  I’m not making fun of listing the pronouns.  I understand why they’re important, and I think it is great that CIS people are adding them to their profiles.  But I do not want to do it myself.  Not because I think they’re bad or wrong but because I really do not want to label myself with a gender.  I hope this absence doesn’t harm anyone or make me less of an ally, but there’s so little that I care about when it comes to gender that the fact that I do care about this one thing… well, I think I should listen to myself, especially since I’ve determined it isn’t coming from a place of internalized bigotry.  I don’t want to lie and say I prefer she/her when I in fact do not prefer it.  It turns out that I really do care that I don’t care.

Also, I love the comic strip, egscomics even though the beginning is immature and the storylines take years.  I think it’s neat how the author has played with gender identity and how different cast members have different levels of it.  Now I have the Ranma 1/2 season 1 theme stuck in my head.

Have you put pronouns on your stuff?  Why or why not?

Words matter: language changes that can help everyone (except bigots) feel included

  • Don’t say men and women unless you specifically mean men and women.  Do say people or adults or whatever subgroup you’re talking about.
  • Dont say blacks.  Do say Black people.
  • Start using the singular they, or if you have difficulty with that, switch examples to plurals.
  • Include “other” options in demographic surveys.
  • Don’t say ghetto even if it is a jargon term in your field.  Say ethnic enclave if that is what you mean.
  • Instead of God giving you something, you got it from Nature or picked it up at the physics supply store (where you can also buy infinitely thin string and frictionless surfaces).

What are other language changes you’ve made?

RBOC-Racism

  • I am so sick of hearing white women talk about their journeys to wokeness.  Like… I just don’t care?  Like, get there, but I don’t need to hear about the journey and your feelings?  Especially not Ted talks and videos and Zoom “conversations about race” led by white women.  And I’ve only been having to deal with this for a few years… No wonder POC who have been having to hear these confessionals all their lives don’t want to hear them from strangers on twitter.
  • I suppose me listening is still a service to POC since it means the white woman gets to talk to someone… so I can probably handle listening to students and colleagues (So… Many… Colleagues… and so many white men who think they’re there but really aren’t anywhere near it yet)… but please not the Ted talks and required videos and definitely don’t give anyone a forum when you could be paying a POC with actual expertise to talk instead.
  • I do talk about race a lot.  But… it’s not about me.  I think it’s ridiculous to make it about me (ironically, because this bullet *is* about me).  I’m part of the systems of oppression so I have to help dismantle.  I have to check my biases.  I have to do things now and in the future because I still screw up a lot.  It’s hard not to, so I keep trying.  But I’m not the one being negatively affected.  I’m benefiting in many ways.  So most of what I talk about is the research base (Racism is REAL, and the older I get the more of a sociologist I become regarding its causes) and how it is our responsibility to fix things.  And here are some things we know don’t work…
  • What I really hate is that so many of our minority students have been treated so badly throughout their lives that just being a decent person can give a prof a reputation for being “one of the good ones.”  Like, we should all be good ones so it doesn’t seem worthy of extra gratitude.
  • Upon reflection (and watching two videos on white women’s journeys to wokeness directed at other white people), I think white women have been trained to talk about difficult things through the lens of ourselves… we use the “I” language and use ourselves to illustrate because that seems less threatening.  We’re able to say, of course, YMMV.  It’s like when we talk about childrearing stuff– it’s all, this worked for me.  (Though I also… don’t really talk about childrearing stuff unless someone asks*… and also I could have scooped Emily Oster with how much PubMed and books etc. on pregnancy and infant rearing I’d read with DC1, so much of my discussion is research-based rather than me-based.)  So basically, our stupid patriarchal society makes us do this, but we can stop doing it at minority people?
  • *I realize this statement is not actually true because I certainly have talked a lot about it on the blog and not just under the Ask the Grumpies Friday column.  But like, in person not so much.
  • If your department wants to do a racism training, I recommend Bedelia Richards.

Replacing a misogynistic mnemonic

It is easy to get backwards when doing t-tests, especially when you’ve first started.  You have to remember that big t and small p-values mean to reject.  Of course, if you’re a little dyslexic (undiagnosed) like me, when you get confused, you can go back and re-figure out that you want small amounts in the tails and the t-slice to be far away from the mean making it large etc., but that is really time consuming, especially if you’re in the middle of a lengthy problem set or a timed exam.

Many years ago, one of my students shared a dirty misogynistic mnemonic.  When p is low, she said, reject the ho.  This is clever and funny because p is both probability and slang for penis.  Ho is both how a null hypothesis is written and a derogatory term for female prostitute.  When one’s penis is at low mast, it makes sense that said penis-holder might not be purchasing the services of a prostitute.  And it rhymes.

But it’s both dirty (I got into trouble for saying “prick” meaning “jerk” early in my classroom career) and one should not be using derogatory terms for prostitutes or women anywhere, much less in an institution of higher learning.

More recently, I was explaining my conundrum in office hours and one of my sunshiny students came up with a much better mnemonic.  It isn’t quite as clever, but it’s just as memorable and it still rhymes.  “When p is lo, reject H-O!”  Like a cheerleading chant (aich – oh).

It makes me much happier.

What are some good non-racist, non-misogynist, non-ablist, non-patriarchy mnemonics that you know?

things you don’t actually have to do (unless you want to)

As we’ve gotten old and allowed to be lazy, we’ve made some discoveries about things that we grew up thinking everybody did, or found out that other people thought everyone did (even if we didn’t)

  • make your bed
  • fold your underpants
  • declutter
  • puree baby food (they don’t actually need mush)
  • cut old tshirts into same-size pieces to make rags (you can use it as rags without cutting it, you can tear where there’s already holes etc.)
  • shave your “lady-bits” (embarrassingly, I didn’t even know this was a thing until I saw people talking on a mother’s forum)
  • sleep train

ETA:  I’ve heard great things about Drop the Ball by Tiffany Dufu.

Grumpy Nation, what are some things you’ve realized don’t actually need to be done, or that you were surprised to find other people thought were necessary?

I got asked to do a women’s history month thing

I got an email late on a Wednesday in February asking me to let the emailer know by that Friday if I could participate in a women’s history month showcase of women’s research.  See the attached letter for more details.

I opened the attached letter.  It started,

Dear [friendly adjunct in another department, that is, NOT ME],

Then the letter itself didn’t say much.  Like… I don’t know what they want me to do.  Just that they have 24 women participating in 40 minutes and they want to spotlight “my” research and will be a huge honor for them if “I” participate.  Then it repeated itself a lot over three paragraphs without providing any actual information other than the day of the event and time.

Then I looked up previous years and it looks like maybe this part is a poster presentation (with big name speakers previous to this), and, importantly, all of the research being presented is gender research.  I do not have any current research on gender.

My guess is here that someone said no and I am definitely not their first choice.  On the one hand I should go as a public service.  On the other hand it sounds like a lot of work for no good reason.  On that first hand again, it probably wouldn’t kill me to network with other women across campus.  On the other hand, I don’t WANT to.  (Especially if having to make a poster of an already published paper is involved!  I don’t do conference posters.)

Being a woman sucks.

“Pretending” to be a Darth Vader husband is not cool or funny.

There’s this personal finance blogger who often “pretends” to be a jerk to his wife.  It’s a running gag with him and he puts in her commentary as editors notes.

For one of these he spent the entire post complaining about how much laundry she does.  It read very much like a painful other side of a captain awkward post.  So in the comments I told him it wasn’t funny, and explained why.

Two days later we got a bunch of blog hits from him mocking me for calling him Darth Vader (which I didn’t—I was explaining why that humor isn’t funny in the context of Captain Awkward).  Turns out he elevated my comment to a post, twisted it, and accused me of reading incomprehension because he didn’t understand I was complaining about his failed attempt at humor.

So, in short, “pretending” to be a jerk to your wife in a public forum isn’t funny.  Back in the day more people probably thought Ralph Cramden’s  repeated line from the honeymooners about sending his wife Alice to the moon with a punch right in the kisser was funny.  Now we are less likely to laugh about threatened spousal abuse.  I hope that one day doods like this guy will stop their controlling husband shtick because nobody finds controlling husbands acceptable anymore.  Until then, these kinds of posts further the patriarchy by making the unacceptable seem acceptable.  And that’s really not funny at all.

Scalzi says the failure mode of clever is asshole, and misogynistic humor fits right in there.  Even if the woman is “in” on the joke.

Ask the grumpies: Better political and economic systems?

Solitary Diner asks:

Working in an inner-city clinic, I think a lot about the political and economic systems that contribute to the poverty and marginalization of my patients. What do you think can/should be done to make the world’s systems more fair to everyone?

Yeah, these aren’t hard questions at all.

Most economists favor socialism-lite.  We think government should intervene in cases of market-failure when the benefits of intervention outweigh the costs of intervention.  In practice that usually means something like what Europe has (not entirely though), with a lot of focus on making sure that the social safety net is high for everyone and even more focus on early childhood equality.

Of course, the rational-actor model is blind to structural inequalities stemming from racism, and many of our models seem to think that sexism is a feature, not a bug (they start out with the assumption that women are differently-abled and that’s why they get paid less… even in jobs for which they have comparative advantage).  I don’t know how to get rid of -isms.  I can tell you that Marxism doesn’t do it.  Nor monarchy.  I presume a benevolent dictatorship would even have difficulty, though maybe it would have a shot depending on how long the dictator can stay in power and how good they are at forcing behavior.  If we could somehow manage to get rid of segregation, that might also help since so many of our policies use geography as a way to discriminate.  Though perhaps changing those policies to be less local could help.  There’s no reason, for example, for local property taxes to fund schools.  Of course, we would no doubt still see inequalities from “voluntary” requested donations.  Paradise requested a $500 donation from every parent at the beginning of the year, and got it from many– less wealthy areas are not able to do that.

So… what should be done?  More socialism with a focus on the children.  What can be done?  Beats me.  :(  If I knew the answer to that, I’d tell it to one of the economists who hangs out with Bill Gates and they’d get to work!

 

Random comment on a small-penis-man #notallsmallpenismen from like 6 years ago

So about 6 years ago, this douche named Ed Rybicki wrote a really sexist short story that inexcusably and inexplicably got published in Nature, because the board of Nature was (is?) full of sexist asshats.  We talk about it some in this post from November of 2011.

In that post, we’re making note of the fact that tiny-penised* Rybicki kept harassing women who called him out, but completely shied away from giving men who called him out the same treatment.  We assumed he was going to wander into our comments as well because he seemed to enjoy googling himself and going into the comments of women (and only women) to generally be a clueless asshat.  Oddly, even though we dared him to, he didn’t show up in our junk mail filter (or it’s possible he did later and we didn’t notice, in any case, he didn’t do it right away).

We didn’t know if we’d scared him off or if he’d just missed our blog or if someone close to him had finally hit him with a clue stick and told him to get a life.

Well, the other day, for a completely unrelated post, I was wondering why we were getting so many hits from twitter.  Unlike my usual situation, I was on my cell rather than on the computer, and it turns out that searching twitter on the iphone gives a LOT more hits than does searching on the computer (which seems to just limit to major twitter feeds like @DLFreedman), and curious, I followed our twitter cites to nicoleandmaggie back to 2011.

In the middle of years of praise (thanks grumpy tweeters!), I found this little gem:

 

Well, we did get tenure.  And we’re still not on twitter.  And it took us 6 years to see your passive-aggressive whatever that was.  But thanks for playing.  Really hope in the intervening 6 years you’ve become less of a sexist asshat!  No, really!  (But it’s likely we’ll never know.)

*#notalltinypenisedmen — penis size actually isn’t that important, but misogynists tend to think it is