Toledo Talk

Question About Racist Epithets

Is the term "water buffalo" a common racist epithet for African American women?

I'm asking this because I truly do not know, and I'd sooner not pollute any response to my question with my own opinion or circumstances. I'm looking for a consensus of opinion here, and I'm not trying to start a flame war - hence leaving this question on the front page instead of moving it to the political section.

created by madjack on Feb 21, 2012 at 11:34:35 am     Other     Comments: 16

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Using that term certainly created a problem for a college student trying to get some studying done (he said) by yelling it at a group of African American women outside his dorm. This occurred some years ago.

I remember hearing about it when it happened. Low and behold, thanks to the Internet, here's a link:

I apologize for not being able to answer your question though - I have no clue if it is a common term of reference. If it is, it sounds pretty stupid.

posted by Foodie on Feb 21, 2012 at 11:46:18 am     #  

Look MJ, I'm always a fan of better safe than sorry, so do what you feel is right.

Here's the history of how "water buffalo" got to be a quasi-racist term...because some people were offended.

Wikipedia: Water Buffalo incident

Here's some other coverage from the Los Angeles Times and The Daily Pennsylvanian (the latter being the end of the lawsuit).

Particularly interesting is the John Chancellor commentary quoted within the Wiki entry:

Eden Jacobowitz is a student at the University of Pennsylvania. His studies were interrupted by a noisy crowd of students, many black and female. He yelled out his window, "Shut up, you water buffalo." He is now charged with racial harassment under the university's Code of Conduct. The school offered to dismiss the charge if he would apologize, attend a racial sensitivity seminar, agree to dormitory probation, and accept a temporary mark on his record which would brand him as guilty. He was told the term "water buffalo" could be interpreted as racist because a water buffalo is a dark primitive animal that lives in Africa. That is questionable semantics, dubious zoology, and incorrect geography. Water buffalo live in Asia, not in Africa. This from the University of Pennsylvania. Mr. Jacobowitz is fighting back. The rest of us, however, are still in trouble. The language police are at work on the campuses of our better schools. The word cops are marching under the banner of political correctness. The culture of victimization is hunting for quarry. American English is in danger of losing its muscle and energy. That's what these bozos are doing to us.

posted by oldhometown on Feb 21, 2012 at 11:46:50 am     #  

i have never heard the term used in such a manner.

were you thinking of using the term for some purpose but was afraid it sounded bad? did you hear it used in a confusing/potentially racist way? you want consensus on what exactly?! if it is offensive to some and or has been used in a racist offensive way in the past, what is there to agree upon?

it is really strange thing to bring up without context. it certainly sounds as though you might be trying to be provocative and feigning some degree of ignorance to accomplish it.

and, yes, in all likelihood it will be incendiary.

posted by enjoyeverysandwich on Feb 21, 2012 at 11:52:41 am     #  

And I don't know if anybody here remembers the uproar over some official in Washington D.C. using the word niggardly ...correctly (meaning stingy). Niggardly

1. reluctant to give or spend; stingy; miserly.
2. meanly or ungenerously small or scanty

1. word that will get u fired...even though it doesn't mean anything offensive

The Straight Dope has a good piece talking about this particular "racial" controversy:

You might look in a better fargin' dictionary. Sure, the origin of "niggard" is unclear, but not its timeline, which predates the N-word in the English language by a couple hundred years at least. "Niggard" comes up as early as Chaucer, late 14th century. The most commonly speculated origin is Scandanavian nig/Old Norse hnoggr, meaning miserly.

The moral of the story is, this is what happens when people insist on relying on folk etymology and speculation. Howard was pressured to resign by people who, as columnist Tony Snow put it, "actually demanded that he apologize for their ignorance." There are hundreds of words in English, or any language, that sound similar--or even identical--to others, but have completely unrelated origins and definition.

posted by oldhometown on Feb 21, 2012 at 11:59:05 am     #  

I cannot believe the power some have given simple words. People have become hyper-sensitive to words that just shouldn't be that powerful.
Water buffalo has always been used to describe someone who takes too long of a shower. Especially in the navy where water use was restricted.
And while we are on the subject, nigger was never a term I thought was ever used to refer to slavery. I thought it was used to describe lazy, or less than acceptable civilized behavior. Since the word has become the "N" word, I have heard more definitions that I ever thought a word could have, with the exception of "Fuck". I find it somewhat frustrating that the word "nigger" is so freely used by those who were supposedly so offended by it's use.
Of course, that is why I'm not a race ambassador.

posted by hockeyfan on Feb 21, 2012 at 01:58:52 pm     #  

Honestly, Fred Flintstone is the first thing that pops into my head when I hear the term "water buffalo" used to describe a group of people.

posted by mom2 on Feb 21, 2012 at 02:44:22 pm     #   5 people liked this

Fred Flinstone's theme music used to end in "We'll have a gay old timmmmme!!!"

guess that'd offend some folks today too.

posted by billy on Feb 21, 2012 at 02:57:20 pm     #  

I would never have given a second thought to it being a racist term until today. I would have guessed it meant a loud mass of people moving. Odd.

posted by tlm0000 on Feb 21, 2012 at 03:24:32 pm     #  

In modern British novels, the phrases "you old cow" or "you fat cow" are used by younger women to describe the behavior and/or girth of older women. Race does not seem to be a factor.

In the American South, "heifer" is used to describe a certain type of sassy, nonskinny young woman. I only ever heard it used by white people (to describe whites).

posted by viola on Feb 21, 2012 at 04:30:21 pm     #  

How about this as a guideline: No name calling, racist or otherwise. Period.

posted by luvtoledo on Feb 21, 2012 at 04:35:47 pm     #   2 people liked this

oh yeah, that will work. Why didn't we think of that before?

posted by hockeyfan on Feb 21, 2012 at 06:30:05 pm     #   7 people liked this

luvtoledo, quit being a water buffalo.

posted by hunkytownsausage on Feb 21, 2012 at 06:52:39 pm     #   3 people liked this

Thanks guys 'n gals, boys and girls, men and hotties all.

I was bored and wrote a rambling diatribe which you can read as you like, although it isn't particularly insightful, enlightening or informative: General News and Ramblings.

In this essay I referred to Oprah Winfrey and her fellow TV executives. I wrote: What isn't being said is that the queen water buffalo isn't alone here. The herd of TV executives would do anything, and I mean anything, to bribe even one tenth of the Nielsen families to watch their channel instead of a competitor.

Someone reading this somewhat scurrilous drivel informed me that the term 'water buffalo' was a traditional racist epithet for black women. I didn't think so, and after a little research I found the Penn State story which made for some entertaining reading. I concluded that just because I couldn't find a decisive reference doesn't mean that such does not exist, and so posted on Toledo Talk.

Now, I'm certainly not above posting an offensive comment (yeah, I know that's hard for some of you to believe, but even I wake up on the wrong side of the gutter sometimes - right, McCaskey?) and doing so deliberately. The same thing is true of racist, sexist or homophobic comments. I'll cheerfully cast aspersions left and right as it suits me to do so, my only caveat being that what I do, I do deliberately with premeditation. Fracturing a skull by a carelessly cast stone is a thing to be very carefully avoided. Hence my concern here - did I, in fact, trod on someone's toes by accident?

No, I don't think so. But if you don't agree, by all means don't hold back on my account.

posted by madjack on Feb 21, 2012 at 07:56:54 pm     #  

Related: Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo

posted by TheTalentedMrC on Feb 22, 2012 at 11:12:14 am     #  

I should have known better than to try that link.

posted by madjack on Feb 22, 2012 at 10:10:31 pm     #  

That made my head hurt.

posted by Linecrosser on Feb 23, 2012 at 12:33:04 am     #