shweta_narayan (shweta_narayan) wrote,

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ICFA scholarship update: concerns signal boost + rambling

So! I posted about this and therefore am also boosting signal about concerns about this scholarship on a couple grounds.

I'm not being ambivalent about this, I'm being confused. Basically, I haven't the spoons to figure out quite what's going on, just that something is, and I think a number of people are partially right about it, and I have friends on both sides and no brain to either be neutral or to analyze anything clearly. So I figure I'll link & let other people figure it out.


My intuitive sense, and it really is too scattered to be more than that, is that some interpersonal issues here (and rather too many of the RaceFail miscommunications) boil down to, "if people are misreading your intent, perhaps it's time to change how you're saying things rather than deciding that they're mean or just hate you". (i.e. accord benefit of doubt rather than insist benefit of doubt be accorded you).

But. But. It's not as simple as that.

Partly because it is very hard to say "That's actually not what I meant, let me try to phrase it better" without reading as just-defensive and protective of one's privilege. As I have learned by screwing up quite thoroughly. The fact that language is multiply, horrifically ambiguous all the time is not something humans deal with well (this includes humans who study or professionally use language). And if something one said falls close to a bingo-square pattern, even if one's screwup was ignorance of the pattern rather than meaning that particular brand of stupid, it gets doubly hard.

-- Because those of us in oppressed groups are human too. And humans are pattern-matchers; we recognize patterns in the world and impute reality to them, and that's how we understand so it's unsurprising that it's also how we sometimes misunderstand. It's where stereotypes come from -- and it's also where misreading intent comes from, that and assuming that words mean the same thing to people in different communities. Which is one of the most common aspects of culture clash in general. And it's unreasonable to expect that people in oppressed groups should be better than anyone else at analyzing the speaker's culturally influenced language use to infer intent. We all want to get better at it, I guess, but we also all need to be careful not to imply meaning we didn't intend -- speaking as a privileged kid for a moment, part of that privilege is assuming our discourse styles are the default, and not questioning the assumptions they're based on, and often not even noticing we have discourse styles.

I also suspect the requisite discourse changes are really hard to make when one has learned that the good, non-confrontational liberal way to frame troublesome comments is to focus on self and effects on self, rather than on the other people (I feel hurt about X rather than you were horrible). Thing is, that only works if there isn't a pre-existing, disproportionate focus on the POV of the group one happens to belong to. And it's really not so great if it stops one from actually focusing on the concerns of an oppressed group. So I think that in some cases, especially with people who've been through relationship/communication therapy and such, we can both a) come across as and b) unknowingly BE incredibly self-centered when we're just trying Communicate Well, ie not to make claims about other people's mental states. Cause, well, linguistic focus drives cognitive focus to some extent.

And also, some of that probably goes back to The Mean People Upstairs.

Why yes, yes, that was incoherent. I mentioned the lack of braining, right? But maybe something will strike someone as either right or totally wrong. I feel like this just comes from thinking about language use & the brain & such but maybe it's horrible academic privilege, or something else, that I'm not aware of. In which case, of course, I'd like to know...

Tags: discourse, fail, icfa, scholarship, thinky thoughts, update
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