Bigotry and hate speech on the python mailing list

Rurpy rurpy at
Mon Apr 17 22:23:28 EDT 2017

On 04/17/2017 04:38 AM, Ben Finney wrote:
> Rurpy via Python-list <python-list at> writes:
>> A couple weeks ago a frequent poster here (Steve D'Aprano
>> <steve+python at>) called another participant an "ugly
>> american" [*1].
> He gave no explicit reference, and so I can see why you would think he
> did what you describe.
> In fact, though, Steven in the message you link to stated:
>     If you think that all these people, and hundreds of millions more,
>     will just "quietly change the filename" to ASCII because you're too
>     lazy, self-centred and arrogant to move on from 1963, then you truly
>     are an example of the Ugly American.
> Again, it's not stated explicitly what Steven is referring to, so I can
> see why you would initially be confused.

There is no confusion on my part.  I don't like SJ discussions in technical 
newsgroups any more than you or anyone else here.  I read the relevant posts 
multiple times and thought long and carefully before deciding a response was 

> But by now, with plenty of time to look into what was actually being
> discussed, surely you have noticed that Steven was *not* using physical
> appearance as an insult; nor was he using mere national origin as an
> insult.
> Rather, the message is a reference to the Ugly American. Note the
> capitals Steven used; that is how a title is spelled.
> The title “Ugly American” is a reference to a stereotypical *attitude
> and behaviour*, given that name by the 1958 political novel of the same
> name <URL:>.

I am and was well aware Mr. D'Aprano's reference was to the book and
derivative stereotype.  I am also aware that book titles are usually 

(Just as an FYI that you might find useful... I find your response to
be rather condescending in tone.  I have a thick skin and am not easily
offended so no apology necessary but you might want to think about
your communication style sometime.)

> This is not using ugliness, nor American nationality, as an insult. It
> is a reference to objectionable behaviour as Steven described.
> Whether you agree that the behaviour described is objectionable, you can
> hopefully agree that naming objectionable behaviour to discourage it, is
> not in itself something to be discouraged.

Both now and in your original apologia for Steven [*1] you fail 
to recognize that there are different ways to point out what one
considers to be objectionable behavior.

Saying that committing crimes is bad, is one thing.  Employing 
the stereotype of African-Americans as criminals and saying that 
one shouldn't act like some black drug-dealing pimp is not. [*2]

> I can fault Steven for assuming that the reader would, by the novel's
> title alone, know of a mid-20th century novel reference or the
> stereotype it describes. That's not a breach of PSF CoC.
> I can fault Steven for assuming that those who *don't* get the reference
> would not leap to the conclusion you've leapt to: that he was using
> national origin as an insult. That assumption on his part is
> unfortunate, and perhaps an apology would be good. Regardless of that,
> it is not a breach of the PSF CoC.

You are focusing here on minor issues, rather like criticizing 
a bank robber for not stopping at a stop sign during his getaway.

And let me repeat what I said above: I leapt to no conclusions; I 
thought carefully before replying.  Your presumption that I am just 
confused because I didn't get his reference is completely off the 

> What I can't fault him for is using national origin as a verbal weapon.
> He simply did not do that in the message you link to.

He used a stereotype based on national origin to attack someone
whose views he did not agree with.  He subsequently used a different 
stereotype based on age to dispute a view he didn't agree with.
In both cases he could have made his point without dragging in 
millions of other people who he implicitly criticizes on an issue
that is mostly subjective and opinion.

Both are fairly called bigotry as can be demonstrate by transposing 
the statements to other target groups we are more sensitive to
bigotry towards.

Both are in conflict with the PSFs CoC and Diversity statement.
You may nit-pick the words used to describe it, or its importance
but the facts are pretty clear.

>> Further, failure to censure Mr. D'Apano's comments communicates that
>> bigotry is acceptable here which understandably would give pause to
>> members of other groups often subject to bigotry.
> Similarly, my elaboration here – to give it the prominence you rightly
> say that the original sub-thread did not achieve – should demonstrate to
> you that D'Aprano's comments did not constitute bigotry against any
> national origin.
> The charge of bigotry is a strong one here, rightly so, and I think you
> for taking it seriously. Will you drop that charge now? If you won't, I
> think you need to show how this analysis is incorrect.

Some additional things you missed:

1. Language and culture change over time and 1958 standards are  
not necessarily valid in 2017.  The term "Ugly American" today is 
often used derogatorily.  Wikipedia has an entire article on derogatory 
sense of the term [*3]. For an even more dramatic example of a word 
that had no particular emotive effect in the past but which is virtually 
prohibited today, see

2. Ugly American is a stereotype.  Stereotypes are ill defined 
leaving the details to be filled in by individual and social biases.  
For example:
 What is the definition of ugly?  Is this definition widely 
 recognized and understood when someone hears the phrase?  How 
 many Americans are ugly?  Are Americans, percentage wise, more or
 less ugly then French people?  Chinese people?  Peruvian people? 
 If yes, how do you know that?  If no or you don't know, why is
 the reference to Americans there?
Without clear definitions, there is infinite room for people's biases 
to run rampant which is why stereotypes are so often employed when 
attacking specific groups of people or individuals in those groups.

3. "Old people aren't capable of learning new things" is another 
widely recognized stereotype.  D'Aprano's use of it was to disagree 
with a purely Python-related claim that some features of Python, 
many of them newer, hurt, not help, readability. 

4. Because stereotypes are so ill-defined they have a "kill radius" 
much larger than a target individual -- as a (hypothetical) American, 
am I an "Ugly American" because I once blew my nose on a Japanese 
train?  Exactly how culturally sensitive must an American be not to
be ugly?  The use of stereotypes thus will offend a large number of 
people who feel it includes them, unjustifiably.  This effect is can 
be used of course by by bigots who want to express their dislike of 
certain groups while maintaining: I was only talking about the bad 

5. You and Mr D'Aprano claim he was using the stereotype to criticize
one person whose behavior conformed (in his opinion) to that (ill-
defined and not universally accepted) stereotype but D'Aprano wrote:

  > Not all Americans, perhaps not even a majority or a plurality, 
  > are Ugly Americans, but there are enough of them to screw it up
  > for everyone else. [*4]

How is that "one person"?  US Presidential candidate Trump said:

  > They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. 
  > And some [perhaps even a majority or a plurality], I assume, are 
  > good people," 

Trump's remark was widely denounced as racist.  In form it seems pretty 
similar to D'Aprano's (comment in brackets added to help emphasize 
the similarity.)

6. Mr. D'Aprano made additional unprovoked comments such as this 
reference to the US elections.

  > I'm glad you didn't try to describe it [Ugly American stereotype]
  > as a *unfair* or *unjustified* stereotype, because (let's face it)
  > after November 8th 2016, that simply wouldn't fly. [*4]

While that may be his opinion, the half of the US that voted for Trump
did so for many different reasons and likely would not agree.  If Mr 
D'Aprano has any reliable, factual (in the scientific sense) information
I hope he'll share it with researchers who I'm sure will be interested.
In the meantime, such comments do not belong in this list.

7. Attacks based on stereotypes are unnecessary and gratuitous: simply
criticize the person for the perceived offensive behavior directly 
without using a stereotype as a proxy.

8. This group is for discussing Python, not for discussing the 
characteristics of various national, ethnic, religious, racial, 
political or other groups.  If one criticizes someone based on such 
a characterization then obviously the accuracy of the characterization 
itself becomes open for debate.  Most technical discussion groups 
don't want discussions to devolve into endless, emotional, unwinnable 
arguments over the validity of such characterizations, hence the common
prohibition of them.  

I hope the above makes clear why your analysis was in fact incorrect 
and why I stand by my original claim. 

And sorry for the length, I shortened it as much as I could but you 
missed a lot.

[*2] Obviously I am speaking in the context of discussion on this list. 
 Certainly there are times and places (such as a African-American dad
 talking to his wayward son) where such a comment would not be out of

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