Language: April 2006 Archives

Lying Under Duress

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I've been thinking through the ethics of deceit with respect to April Fools jokes and other kinds of false statements that may or may not be considered lying. The Jill Carroll case has raised an important further sort of case that I hadn't been thinking about. What about when someone says something they don't believe to be true under duress? For background on the details of her case and her deliberate statements (under threat) of things she didn't agree with, see the Moderate Voice's excellent roundup. There seem to me to be at least three issues that may have a moral bearing on how we should evaluate such false statements, and I think the end result is much more messy than we would generally like moral issues to be.

Sheila Jackson Lee's attempt to get hurricanes named things like Jamal or Chamiqua isn't new to me, but it was surprising to see it turn up on snopes.com. I'm not surprised that someone might be offended at the particular email that they're confirming the basic facts behind, given the nature of the speech used in the email's last paragraph. (I'm not going to quote it here. Go read it for yourself.) I'm a little surprised that what's offensive is supposed to be that it's racist. It seems to be quoting a general tendency within a certain subset of African-Americans (and not exclusively among African-Americans either). Can it be racist to put words together that accurately reflect how the mainstream of the hip-hop community actually speaks? How is accurate representation of real people supposed to be racism? Unless it insinuates that all black people are like this, which it doesn't, I can't see how it's racist. It's certainly an offensive way of speaking, but the offensiveness is not something the email author came up with. It's something the email author is simply representing accurately. The most famous hip-hop artists speak in such an offensive way, and they are represented as major moral leaders by many African-Americans.

This is uncharacteristically uncareful for Barbara Mikkelson, who usually does an excellent job with the snopes.com site in sorting through what is accurate and what is not. She just seems to have a strange sense of what counts as racist.

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