Ablist language in Magazine article, Author comment

Hi all,

Sadly, the original topic was already closed before I was able to respond. Since this is a topic that directly involves me, I’ll take my changes and I’ll just open another thread.

Original thread:

There are a few points I wish to address in this discussion, both from a procedural stance as well as on the actual use of the word ‘Cripple’.


procedure

I think that it’s a shame that I have in no way been contacted concerning this single comment on Twitter. As the author of the article, I think that it’s very concerning that the editors did not inform me of this issue and that the editors intervened without consulting me. While I respect editors and their changes, I do think that changes in response to complaints should always happen in accordance with the author. This should be standing procedure for all complaints, for all authors and articles.

This also coincides with the actual legal terms on the page: The opinions expressed in the articles are those of the authors, not Red Hat/IBM. Any changes to articles, should be discussed and approved by the author since else Red Hat/IBM can’t claim that they have no involvement with the content.

See the kanban board for the author-editor discourse:
https://teams.fedoraproject.org/project/asamalik-fedora-magazine/us/393?kanban-status=193


Cripple

I think that there are three topics to discuss here in detail: The use of the word cripple, the lack of cultural context, and the clear political take.

The word

First, let’s talk about the word Cripple. Luckily, I can be quite short on this topic since there is a famous American comedian who already vocalised all the things I could reasonably say:

George Carlin, Soft Language

The context

The second issue, is that of cultural context. In my mother’s tongue, there is no such thing as Ableist. This is an American English neologism that I had to look up. Cripple is a proper English word though, and “to cripple yourself” is a common expression thought around the world in International English. If all current and future articles should be read through the lens of American English, including a subset of neologisms that most Americans likely wouldn’t know about, then you’re setting yourself up for failure.

In a great sense of irony, by trying to be as inclusive in your edit as possible, you’re inversely doing a great disservice to people for whom English is a second language.

proportionality

The last point is that of proportionality. This is a single complaint on Twitter by an account of a week old, with 1 retweet and 1 like. Are you really so soft-boned that you’ll edit an article for a single complaint? In response to this single complaint, there are now already multiple statements of support. It baffles me that one twitter complaint outweighs the support of three project contributors.

We (Authors and Editors together) are R&D volunteers for Red Hat/IBM, a US military contractor who is also active in China. By acting like we’re in touch with the some political subset of society, will only shine more light on the fact that we do not have the moral high ground. We contribute to an excellent Operating System because we’re personally motivated by it, but I’m not kidding myself and believing that this is some social justice project.

Closing words

I think that there have been some editorial shortcomings in this affair.

  • There should be a better procedure for handling complaints
  • The editorial team should be more down to earth
    • More acceptance of English as-is
    • More alignment with English as it is spoken worldwide
    • More proportionality when acting on complaints

PS. It’s funny that a single English word triggered such a strong response. Initially the editor-team was concerned about promoting non free software, and violent murder simulators that push gambling onto minors.

That’s a bit circumspect, whether RH/IBM employees in the community pointed it out or not is irrelevant. The Fedora Magazine content is very much a community effort. As such, it is a diverse and inclusive community. Having to, very occasionally, modify the wording to suit a more neutral presentation of any topic is completely in line with an editorial role (please read https://docs.fedoraproject.org/en-US/fedora-magazine/writing-guidelines/) as well to note is the point to avoid problematic or sensitive language.
There are a good many proper english language words that are excluded simply by Fedora’s CoC. The editors did the right thing in this case.

2 Likes

I wasn’t involved in this, but I support the decision and actions made — and for that matter, the way it was done. In the past sometimes we have contacted authors, but here it just seemed to me like no big deal. There’s a more clear way to get the intent across without using language that people feel is hurtful.

You’re not in trouble for using that word or anything, and, crucially to your point, “ableist” may be a new word, but that isn’t what was put in the article. The editors chose a common English word. If there was a need for a big re-write for some reason, then pulling in you as the author would have made sense, but I don’t see anything like that here. In fact, I think this is exactly in line with the proportionality you mention.

Along the same lines, I don’t think we need to have, like, overwhelming demand to make an edit. If someone noted that we’ve misspelled something, we’d fix that without waiting for several more people to say so. It therefore seems even easier to make a change when even just one person notices hurtful language.

You’re right, this isn’t a “social justice project”. But is a project where people matter, and how we treat and speak about people matters. The Fedora Vision Statement says:

The Fedora Project envisions a world where everyone benefits from free and open source software built by inclusive, welcoming, and open-minded communities.

… and I think this simple thing is obviously in line with that. I don’t think this is political, except in the sense that all interaction between people is political in one definition of the word. (See more on thoughts on that from my Nest with Fedora keynote. And for that matter, it might be useful to take a look at Welcoming Nomenclature - YouTube from last year.)

3 Likes

Thanks for the comments @jakfrost and @mattdm. This closes the case and while I still disagree with your reasoning, there would be little point to continue the discussion. I do fear that this could have a chilling effect to all non-American contributors in the future (in direct conflict with the mission statement you quoted) but that’s a topic for you to discuss internally.

Best wishes, and let’s see what amazing US-American English nitpicks will make it onto Twitter when Docker and Fedora 35 hits the web :shushing_face:

1 Like