Sham Shame

What I say here is necessarily brief, but consider one of Andrew’s readers:

A true stigma is so obviously and irrefutably a mark of shame as to make any type of debate irrelevant, no? A given stigma is determined by the unspoken assumptions and customs of the members of a defined people or community. What is a stigma among the Germanic Studies faculty here at Indiana University may be utterly unremarkable from the perspective of my dentist’s oral hygiene staff.

Maybe this is where the disagreement exists: Ross’s community is different from Ta-Nehisi’s, however much they enjoy each other’s company and respect each other.

I’d caution very strongly that we not confuse shame and stigma. Shame is phenomenological; stigma is sociological. Of course the one and the other are interrelated; but a screw is not a screwdriver, and vice versa (if we are even willing to concede that an arrow of causation between shame and stigma points one way or the other!).

Mistaking shame as something that’s just socially constructed offers the best technique for destroying it. ‘My community’ does not control my shame, however much it influences my sense of shame. Andrew thinks we’ll “never reinstate the ‘bastard’ smear.” I’m not sure that doesn’t boil down to saying “Never reinstate the ‘bastard’ smear!” Andrew’s phrasing speaks to ‘us’; the boiled-down rephrase speaks to you. As a command, it’s a stronger way of speaking, in one way — but weaker in another: it doesn’t co-opt ‘the sound of inevitability.’