Grassroots charity promoting the right for people with learning disabilities to have a choice about how they live their lives

Descendents new LP – hate speech update

16
Sep
2016

What we learned from the Descendents incident

In my previous post I was reflecting on why I was thinking of taking down our petition calling on US punk band Descendents to change the name of the new LP which features the word ‘Spaz’.

Unwittingly I unleashed a whole torrent of abuse from across the pond telling me to keep my nose out of cultural issues that I don’t understand, and then how we started to hear from citizens in the USA who also find the word ‘spaz’ offensive and harmful.

For this post I’m going to reflect on some of the things we’ve learned through this experience so far, and in true Spinal Tap style we’re turning the lessons learned up to ‘11’.

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The 11 lessons that I’ve learned through all this

  1. Some punks think its all about the right to abuse people and say what you like. I see it as much more of a way of disenfranchised groups changing societal attitudes and improving the communities they live in. Punk is more than music, mohawks and offending people. And it’s certainly not about replicating mainstream, common discrimination to sell records.
  2. Before you start an online petition do consider the amount of time a potential backlash will take. The online trolls can be exhausting to deal with and will try fiendish things to try and take you down so:
  3. Make sure you’ve set the comments section of your website to be moderated and set the permissions on your Facebook page so visitors can’t create bad reviews of you. Keep screenshots of abusive posts just in case – you may need to call on them later.
  4. Monitor your Facebook Page often to take down any bad comments. Set yourself a rule for dealing with abuse. If they swear or abuse you just delete/block/ban them. You don’t need their noise in your life.
  5. And before you do No.2 really think through if you want to be getting in to all this. Chat with your colleagues, or a mentor, about what you’re planning on doing to try and get some of their wisdom on the potential fall-out. Here’s a little ‘Be your own mentor guide for campaigning’ I’ve now written to help me in the future.
  6. Whoever swears first loses the argument! Just don’t swear back at people, no matter how tempting it is. It’s also really tempting, and easy, to get caught up in a Twitter battle with a troll. You’ll never win an argument with them but you can use sarcastic tweets against people if you ReTweet carefully. (An amusing moment was when I ReTweeted a Trolls sarcastic tweet and another Troll laid in to him. Perfect!)
  7. Godwin’s Law will be proved. This law states that as an online discussion grows longer, (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or Nazism. This certainly happened to us several times.
  8. The Descendents are peace loving dudes who wouldn’t hurt a fly. They wouldn’t mean to hurt anyone and we believe this too. But for a peace loving band they don’t half have an awful lot of very hostile, aggressive and abusive fans.
  9. A fair amount of fans said that ‘spaz’ isn’t an offensive word in the US and then, as if to reinforce that they weren’t being offensive then went on to use vile homophobic, racist and ableist language! (The R-Word in particular).
  10. Whilst our motive wasn’t to create ‘clickbait’ for our website we have never seen so much traffic from all their enraged fans. We’ve never known anything quite like it!
  11. Don’t take on a US punk band with a loyal following and criticise them for using language which some people do find harmful to them. That is unless you want threats, foul abuse, insults about deceased relatives and loads more hits on your website.

I hope they found something of interest there too and in all of the noise and that there are some people who are able to think differently about language as a result of all this.

Puzzlingly a lot of people will take the time to send anonymous abusive messages which won’t get published and can’t be replied to – why would they bother doing that?

What can you do?

When we started the petition we never seriously thought that we could get a band to change their album title, but we did want to create a debate around the power of language to harm people, even if it was unintentional. Milo from The Descendents totally got this and was very gracious about it (read more about this here.)

However, if you just look on social media for people using these words depressingly you'll see 'Spaz', 'Retard', 'Mong', 'Spastic' etc used frequently. (In fact I'm boycotting the Sleaford Mods gig at Brighton Dome due to one of the support acts liking to use the word 'Spaz' in his Twitter profile. I'm just not spending my money on this sort of thing. If you are going to that gig I'd encourage you to make sure you're in the bar for his set!)

Here's three accounts that took no time to find today, all using hateful language:

Descendents

Descendents

Descendents

The crowd defending the use of the word ‘Spaz’ really are shouting the loudest at the moment. That's why we need to challenge and end this cruel and lazy use of language. We'd encourage you to 'call people out' and challenge them when you see it or hear it.

Are we sorry we started this?

Milo from the band was genuinely upset that they'd called the album something so offensive in the UK, and also at the behaviour of some of their fans.

So are we sorry? No not at all. We don't mind upsetting a bunch of people who think they're punks, but have now maybe learnt they actually aren't or have forgotten what 'punk' really means.

We think they should just 'get over themselves' and realise that their vocabulary is not only outdated, it's also causing real harm. All they have to do is show the humility to change their ways and apologise. Something the band had no trouble with.

Shame there's so many bigots our there who feel so challenged by us just trying to create social equality.

Punk is dead, long live punk!

Perhaps for the horrible minority of Descendents fans though punk is dead for them. They just haven't realised it yet!

Paul - @heavy_load

Descendents

 

 

 

 

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