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Not Caring About Unintentional Insults

Back on February 5th, Kojo Nnamdi had a show discussing how some compliments are actually interpreted as insults. Examples given on that show included saying an African American is "articulate", saying a woman is "strong", or that a Jew is "generous". All in all it was an interesting discussion, but I think my overall view is that we as a people might be taking our sensitivities just a bit too far these days.

In fact Conor and I joked about calling Irish "sober", Americans "geographically aware", etc. Obviously most of us can figure out why people find these things insulting, but when do we let go of these historical sensitivities? Certainly there is nothing wrong with complementing someone for being articulate, so why should one race take that as an insult? Not everyone who compliments a black person for being articulate is making a racist statement. The assumption that the person was making racist statement could itself be interpreted as an insult. Where does the cold war of sensitivities end?

Chill out is what I say. Last night I was at a beer party thrown at RailsConf by Pivotal Labs. I ended up chatting with a recruiter for a large internet company that everybody has heard of and probably uses on a daily basis (not too hard to guess). Anyway, she made the comment that we Rails developers had more social skills than most programmers. She further stated that we had more fashion sense than most programmers, as evidenced by the number of people wearing designer jeans.

Did any of this offend me at all? No way. Why would I care? Is it true that all programmers (or even most) lack social skills and fashion sense? I don't know. Maybe. Maybe not. It is a stereotype, which do come from somewhere. Sometimes stereotypes are out of date, sometimes they aren't, but I think intelligent people can recognize that they aren't always true regardless if they are out of date or not.

Am I being insensitive by equating my little experience with those experienced by minorities who have a history of discrimination based on hate and race? Well, firstly I wouldn't say I'm exactly equating them, but I am recognizing some similarities. I know there are still racists out there, and when they call an African American "articulate", I'm sure it is a racist comment, but lets give people the benefit of the doubt... chill out a little, and assume we are just being given a compliment. I think the world would be a better place if we assume people are being nice to us rather than insulting where there is a possible ambiguity--after all, what does getting mad, hurt, or insulted by them really accomplish?

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