Over the past few months, there have been a few terms being thrown around more and more often over social media that cause me to cringe a little bit every time I read them. I cringe because I worry that their overuse is contributing in some small way to the poisoning of our political discourse as well as making it hard to relate to and understand each other. Here are two terms that I wish we would use less as a society.
I was actually unaware that the term “Snowflake” used to refer to “a person who is opposed to the abolition of slavery“. I don’t see a lot of that particular use of the term in modern discourse, but I have been seeing an increasing amount of what Wikipedia refers to as the “politicized insult“. I first started to notice it when commentators on the right would make fun of liberal college students preventing conservative speakers from speaking on campus. It would also pop up in reference to discussions about safe spaces and microaggressions.
Recently, however, I’ve started to see the tables turned. Perhaps it’s because of Donald Trump’s famously thin skin and his tendency to threaten to shut down sources of media criticism. Maybe it’s the controversies he has decided to stir up, such as attacking kneeling NFL players. Or maybe it’s just the inevitable swing of the cultural pendulum. Whatever the reason, I’ve now started to see just as many people on the right being labeled with the term. In fact, the term has become so common that when searching for an image for this post, one of the first images was the one to the right, which came from this article from The Atlantic.
So what’s wrong with “snowflake”? It’s no secret that I believe one of the problems with our political environment is that most people aren’t actually interested in doing the hard work to change people’s minds on issues. Too many people treat political discussions as opportunities to score points and show off their tribal loyalties by poking fun at the “other” side. The term “snowflake” is a perfect example of the type of loaded term that is almost certain to close the minds of everybody it’s directed at. I’m not the greatest parent in the world, but even I know that when a crying child comes running up to me, calling them a crybaby isn’t likely to help improve the situation and is probably going to end up with them stomping off in anger. Why would insulting adults be any different?
If you are truly concerned that we’re raising a fragile generation of young adults who can’t even stand to hear dissenting opinions, might I humbly suggest that mocking said youngsters might be a bad start? If you really want to engage with them and try to change minds, then the attempt should come from a place of respect and not casual dismissal of their points of view. It’s no different when we’re talking about kneeling NFL players, politicians, or any other group of people. Start off by putting yourselves in their shoes, trying to understand their positions, and treating them as you would like to be treated. How would you feel if somebody called you a snowflake? Would you be receptive to what they had to say, or instead become defensive and search for some name to call them?
Note: I’m well aware of the criticism that I am opening myself up to here by essentially complaining about a term that is used to describe people who are overly sensitive. “Aw, Paul doesn’t want us to use the term ‘snowflake’ to describe people. What a snowflake!” I want to be very clear that I’m not calling for any kind of censoring of any terms or punishment for anybody who uses them. I’m not calling on anybody to terminate any of their employees for political protests or withdraw invitations to speak. I’m not even saying that I think less of people for using the term. Some of my favorite journalists and publications have used it. Heck, it’s possible that I’ve even used the term in the past and I can’t guarantee that I won’t use it in the future. All I’m asking is for people to think twice before referring to others as snowflakes. If you really don’t care about changing anybody’s mind or getting them to see your point of view, then by all means, throw around whatever names you want.
Otherwise, maybe consider just using the term when discussing the weather.
I have a friend who, when asked if he wants something to drink, will often reply that he’ll take “something green”. While the response to his request his often incredulity for those who haven’t heard it before, he does claim to have a method to his madness. He claims that everything that comes in a green container tastes the same. There is admittedly a nugget of truth to this. Sprite, Sierra Mist (apparently now known as Mist Twist), and 7 Up are all lemon-lime flavored soft drinks that all taste pretty similar. The theory starts to fall apart when considering Mountain Dew, Ginger Ale, and the newly introduced Coke Life. It really fell apart when somebody offered the friend in question a bottle of Midori.
Now, my friend is a bit of a jokester, so I’m fairly certain he doesn’t really think that all beverages that come in green containers taste alike (at least not anymore). My guess is that he was simply trying to point out, in his own unique way, an interesting coincidence regarding how certain types of beverages tend to have similar color schemes for their containers.
Do not do a Google image search for “pox”.
It’s also an incredibly ill-defined and vague term. Who counts as as Person of Color? Do Native Americans count? Asians? Hispanics? White Hispanics? What about people who are half white? Three-quarters white? Does George Zimmerman count? Elizabeth Warren? Do we go by the one-drop rule when determining, as Halle Berry is apparently a proponent of? Are people allowed to choose whether they consider themselves a person of color even absent any evidence to the contrary, like Rachel Dolezal?
Does somebody count as a person of color if few people realize it?
I had seen his face on screen so many times before, yet I never knew his name, nor that he was a person of color. I never knew he was an Egyptian-American. I never knew that he identified strongly with his heritage, and spoke out about how Middle Easterners are negatively portrayed in the media.
When Rami Malek, star of the television series Mr. Robot, recently became the first “non-white” person to win an Emmy for best actor in a drama since 1998, the accomplishment was rightfully celebrated. Yet there was—in my mind, at least—a profound irony at play on the occasion. How can he be a person of color if at first glance I assumed him to be white American?
For days, I ruminated on the subject because it’s a question I’ve long asked of myself: a light-skinned Cuban American who strongly identifies with Latinxs and the brown experience of growing up in the U.S., but who you could easily mistake for a white dude until you hear me speak Spanish.
–What makes someone a ‘person of color’ or ‘white’ in America? by Daniel Rivero
The author of the piece eventually finds himself wondering where he fits on the spectrum of “white” versus “person of color”.
Which brings me back to the question of whether I, or Malek, are really people of color. Or rather, the question of where we really fit into this minefield of American racial discourse. Does it really make sense that I—a son of Spanish-speaking immigrants who’s never dealt with real discrimination in his life, and who might have very well benefited from white privilege—consider myself in the same group as black Americans who live such a dramatically different racial experience?
–What makes someone a ‘person of color’ or ‘white’ in America? by Daniel Rivero
Which brings me to the thing that bothers me the most about the term “POCs”: the implication that a group of people share some set of common attributes or experiences based solely on the color of their skin. Isn’t that the kind of thinking that Martin Luther King Jr. famously had a dream about us transcending? That we would be judging people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin? Is it any less ridiculous to think that Nikki Haley and Rashida Jones and Cameron Diaz and Ta-Nehisi Coates share the same life experiences than to assume that all green drinks taste the same? It seems misguided to try to draw any common thread among people based solely on their ethnicity. It seems borderline ridiculous to try to do it among people of greatly varying ethnicities whose only unifying factor is that they aren’t “white”.
There certainly can be a time and place for the phrase “people of color” to be used, but it seems to me that if people are using the term so often that they feel the need to create an acronym for it, that probably means they’re using it too often.