Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Water Buffalo

One of my readers took exception to my use of the term 'water buffalo' (here) on the grounds that it is a common racial epithet used to refer to African American women.  I didn't agree, and after doing some research and inviting public opinion from an elite cadre of contributors on a local Toledo site (ToledoTalk) I haven't changed my mind.

All that being the case, the research provided me with a nice walk through history.  Along the way I learned the origin of the term 'water buffalo'.

From the site Adversity, I found a succinct explanation and short history at Other Niggardly, Politically Incorrect Terms!.  I followed this up by reading a whole host of stories archived at Philly, followed by Water buffalo incident at Wikipedia and two archived newsgroups. If you're curious, the Wikipedia entry provides a fairly accurate summary, and you can also read the stories from the Philly archive:

At End Of Hate-speech Hearing At Penn, No One's Allowed To Talk The Panel Hasn't Revealed Its Decision Over The "Water Buffalo" Remark.

'Water Buffalo' Bias Case Dropped The Five Black Sorority Sisters Pulled Their Complaint, Calling The Process "Corrupt." The Penn Defendant Agreed.

Penn Women Drop Charges

Penn Scrutinizes Free Speech In A Politically Correct World With A Racial-harassment Charge Came Criticism. Had The School Abandoned A Precious Mission?

Penn Dumps Speech Code And Plans A New Approach

Former Student Settles Suit Over `Water Buffalo' Case Eden Jacobowitz Had Alleged That Penn Conspired To Pursue Racial Harassment Charges Against Him.

One anonymous contributor from the Adversity site claimed to be an eyewitness and provided some interesting information:

Having been there (the High Rise South dorm) when this incident happened, the noisy students were "stepping" which is a visually and aurally interesting cultural phenomenon performed by students wishing to enter historically black greek houses. The men tended to do it in private or on stage. The women tended to do it during finals week at night in front of the dorms when people are studying.

Many people yelled things a lot worse than Water Buffalo. [The ritual] involves stomping on the ground in heavy boots and clapping and shouting, which echo like a WWII battle in that area of UPenn.

In short, Eden Jacobowitz was in a dormitory busy studying.  Around midnight his concentration was interrupted by a group of black females in the courtyard outside who were performing some sort of sorority ritual.  Eden yelled out the window at them, calling them a herd of water buffalo and demanding peace and quiet.  The Keystone campus cops got involved and the fertilizer struck the blades of the turbine.

I like some of the comments from the newsgroups, which I've included here without permission from the authors.  From  News Group 1:
But let's look at attempts by liberals to regulate speech through speech codes. PC people believe that minorities have the right be free from being offended. But minorities do not. No one has the right not to be offended by speech. If you do not like what you read or see, then do not read it or look at it. Moreover, living in a free society means that, at times, you will be offended by what you read or see. Its part of of the perils of living in a free society.
- Damon Chetson
I like Mr. Chetson's observation.  From time to time, you will be offended.  Count on it.  When you are offended, by all means don't just sit there.  Feel free to speak up and voice your own opinion - just don't expect the rest of the world to conform to your ideas of what is offensive and what is not.

Here's another comment I liked, from the same newsgroup:
An interesting side effect of this whole PC witch-hunt is going to be that, regardless of the student's intentions when using the phrase "water buffalo", we have now witnessed the birth of a new racial slur. From now on, I'm sure it *will* be used as a racial epithet.
This will be especially true if the university finds (as it should) that it was not "racial harassment", or whatever nonsense they're trying to label it. Then, the next time someone wants to insult black people, he/she can call them "water buffalo", and later claim that "water buffalo" has been legally shown to not be a racial slur.
The PC crowd, in their efforts to eradicate the use of racial insults, have just helped to create a *new* one.
Oh, the beautiful irony of it all!

- Ken Luther, Mathematician Extraordinaire
How prophetic.  Clearly Mr. Luther's crystal ball needs no dusting.  Here's another comment I liked from another news group: News Group 2.
Leftist American academia and Rightist American religious fundamentalists deserve each other in a deep and fundamental way. They both believe in censorship, thought control, thought crime, the suppression of individual rights and the idea that certain groups are entitled to rights at the expense of the rights of others on the basis of some perceived ``evening of the score''. They both oppose freedom of speech and freedom of thought. They both have a collection of scapegoats (Secular Humanists, White Males) and a list of unspeakable ideas.
Ian G Batten
To which I would add that both will claim to believe that speech should remain free and unencumbered - just so long as it's the right speech.

All this happened a good many years ago, and while I was reading about it the things that came to mind were:

  • Authorities were quick to assume Eden Jacobowitz's motivations and racial prejudice without any investigation at all and without any proof, and they did so at the urging of a group of minorities who were angry because their ritual was disturbed.
  • I see no evidence that the group of the five young ladies disturbing the peace of everyone within earshot were ever criticized for their behavior.  This provides them with tacit approval from the authorities for their behavior, meaning that they are free to prevent the rest of the world, their world, from enjoying the serenity of their surroundings.
  • As is typical of bureaucratic demagogues, the authorities at the university immediately held meetings and tried to write new rules limiting the freedom of speech on campus.  This resulted in the university being ridiculed in public until the notion was finally dropped.
I note that the government of the United States has become more oppressive, not less, and that this trend is escalating.  I don't see that changing anytime soon.


Unknown said...

Well, at least I learned something new this week.

Beat And Release said...

I thought a water buffalo was the large trailer of potable water we took to the field with us when I was in the Army. Huh.

Older School said...

A bunch of more-than-likely over-weight teenagers, stomping on the floor in boots, no doubt sounds like a herd of buffalo.
I say over-weight because it is a fact that our present crop of electronic devices addicted teenagers are over weight and lazy. They survive on sugar and junk food while sitting in front of some kind of screen.
Freedom of speech is that....
Why must we tolerate the endless profanity spouted from the mouths of one race only to be chastised or worse yet, assaulted, because the other race has interpreted it as a racist comment?

Mad Jack said...

I hadn't heard about the portable water trailer. Well, there you have it - the water buffalo.

Mad Jack said...

Why must we tolerate...

Truly I do not know. I can tell you that a fellow I used to know, one Joey Brown, used to approach anyone who was playing loud rap music and tell them to turn it off. This led to a few fights and a quieter environment. Joey was built like a fireplug and he actually knew how to fight. Joey was black, and hated rap music with a passion. He liked swing music and the big band sound.