Short Take: Qu’est-ce que c’est

No doubt most of you would turn to Slate’s “Care and Feeding” column if you were in need of advice for your child. Sure, the brilliant and rational Emily Yoffe no longer gives advice as Dear Prudence, but where else would a loving parent turn if they had a difficult issue? Well, perhaps SJ can help too, offering solutions that may not have occurred to Doyin Richards. It’s worth a shot, right?

Dear Care and Feeding Simple Justice,

My son, “Jack,” 14, has been maintaining a spreadsheet that tracks all of his classmate’s problematic actions. Jack has always had difficulty fitting in, but he is a compassionate and intelligent boy. We do not allow our children to have their own computers to prevent the risk of them being radicalized by alt-right websites, so our kids share a laptop that we monitor and control access to. We found an excel spreadsheet in Jack’s folder that listed the names of all of his classmates, as well as dates and descriptions of their problematic behavior. Some of the descriptions I saw include “has a mom who is a cop,” “no pronouns in insta bio,” “laughed at a fat joke,” “lists problematic show as one of their favorites,” “mimicked a foreign accent,” and “used cis-normative language.”

While I am pleased to see Jack taking an interest in his peers, I get a weird feeling about his spreadsheet. As much as I don’t condone the behaviors mentioned, it seems a bit creepy for him to be monitoring his classmates. I also wonder what he is trying to do with the document. Another concern is that we are white and some of the kids on the list are Black. Given the long history of white people policing Black existence, I question whether Jack is the right person to be taking on this task and whether it would be more appropriate coming from a BIPOC person.

We have asked Jack about the spreadsheet and he denies involvement, but we know that it couldn’t be anyone else. Am I right to be concerned about Jack’s list? I don’t know that it is the best way for him to engage with his peers and promote social justice. On the other hand, I am proud of how committed he is to this cause and I don’t want to stop him from bearing witness to injustices within his own community.

—Problematic or Productive?

Richards’ reply was, to be frank, underwhelming.

Based on what you’ve mentioned here, his list does seem a little creepy. Kids at that age should be having fun, not documenting every transgression his peers are making.

A little creepy? Is that what it’s called when you’re raising a psycho killer? But that wasn’t what really concerned Richards.

Also, the fact that he’s blatantly lying about his involvement in creating this list should be a huge red flag. If everything is on the up and up, then what does he have to hide? I would personally call his bluff and say, “OK, if this spreadsheet has nothing to do with you, then let’s delete it.” If he raises a stink, then you know that something bigger is at play here.

It’s not the list, but that he’s lying about the list, that really burns his butt. But then there’s the good news.

On a positive note, there are far worse things Jack could be doing than this—and it seems as if his heart is in the right place by being in the corner of marginalized groups.

After all, if he walks into school and blows away his problematic classmates, at least he’s doing so for marginalized groups. That’s something to be proud of. As for the negative, that can always be fixed with a little therapy.

I just think the spreadsheet is something that could end up being bad news for him, and I hope you enroll him in therapy so an unbiased mental health professional can tell him the same thing.

Is this “advice” the right response to PoP, who may have had a hand in creating Jack’s issues? It seems we could crowdsource this at SJ and do a bit better. Do it for the children.

35 thoughts on “Short Take: Qu’est-ce que c’est

  1. Beth

    I’m at a loss for words here; I thought you were making this up.
    I need something stronger than coffee.

  2. MLA

    Dear PoP,

    Haha, excellent work, sir or ma’am. You almost hit the sweet spot and had me fooled, but you went just a tiny bit over the top with “question[ing]…whether it would be more appropriate coming from a BIPOC person.” I could have even believed that by itself, but the detail about not letting the kids have their own computers because you fear radicalization from the alt-right – not porn, not bullying, not sex weirdos, not the black hole suck of the screen, not any of the things normal parents fear, but *radicalization from the alt right* – turned that bright yellow PROBABLY PARODY flag into a bright red ALMOST CERTAINLY PARODY flag. Still, a strong effort, and the important thing is that you played Slate so hard that they put it at the top of their column.

    On the extremely small chance that this is real, your son is blossoming into a Very Scary Person. Be a parent, delete that spreadsheet, and tell the little twerp to go outside until he can act like a normal person again.

    Warmest regards,

  3. Guitardave

    So it’s better that a psychopathic brown person should do the ‘monitoring’? Jeeze Louise.
    It seems to me that everyone involved could use some therapy.

    1. Guitardave

      (This brought way too many songs to mind, but I’ll stop at one more…the best of the others..)

      What immediately came to mind when reading the upside down ‘virtue signal’ of the dopey, control freak parent was…you should be proud, hes a chip off the ole’ block…

  4. DaveL

    it seems as if his heart is in the right place by being in the corner of marginalized groups.

    Does it? Does it really? Because I’m not seeing much there about befriending the lonely, or comforting the afflicted. This looks very much like kompromat, material to be used against others, to gain leverage over them. That this leverage consists of cataloguing supposed sins against “marginalized groups” doesn’t mean that it will be used for the benefit of those groups, any more than “People’s Republic of China” is ruled by popular vote.

    Surveilling one’s peers for minor sins has long been recognized as a morally dangerous pastime in many cultures. The fact that these are being compiled and stored has more than a whiff of the “Wound Collector” to it, a term used by former FBI behavior analyst Joe Navarro to describe a personality trait commonly found in terrorists and mass murderers.

  5. Dan

    “We do not allow our children to have their own computers to prevent the risk of them being radicalized by alt-right websites”

    …because we prefer to radicalize him on the left ourselves.

  6. Howl

    Dear Problematic,

    Find a therapist for “Jack.” I mean NOW. He is a volcano that could erupt at any moment.

    If you have any guns, give them to someone you can trust for safekeeping. If that isn’t possible, put them in a locked gun cabinet, and make sure you have the key on you at all times. Then put that gun cabinet in a combination safe, one that only you have the combination for. Then put that safe in a concrete room with a locked steel door, that only you can enter.

    None of us wants to hear another horror story.

    1. Pedantic Grammar Police

      Don’t worry, they don’t have any guns. In fact, the whole family is weeping in the corner of the living room, trying to process the trauma of reading the word “gun.”

  7. Elpey P.

    Probably a Sokal Letter. The “transgressions” being observed in his peers are exclusively cartoonishly overreach, even though the peers are 14 years old and the parent is trying to sell the argument that he’s doing it for a good cause.

    1. Miles

      I wonder how long it will take for the brilliant commenters who saw right through the letter to realize that this post wasn’t so much about the letter, as about Slate publishing it and Richards’ responding to it? Any minute now…

      1. Elpey P.

        I wonder how long it will take the commenters who took up the challenge of offering better advice to the parent instead of to Slate.

      2. Guitardave

        Dear Miles,
        How much more is there to say about about a rag you couldn’t pay me to read, publishing and responding to shit like that?
        Ever consider that some of us might know we’re getting trolled and chomp that shiner anyway…so we can get the bouncer to say something snarky and hilarious?

        OK, I’ll give it a whirl…I am outraged they would print this!
        Oh-you-tee-our-aye-gee-eee-dee!!!, I say.
        Sorry, but that’s all I got.
        Regards, The not so brilliant.

        1. Elpey P.

          This feels like it should have been aimed at me, not Miles. But who knows anymore. Well done, PoP.

          1. Miles

            I’m not messing with Guitar Dave. He could write a song about what an asshole I am and then I would love the song and hate myself. It’s more than I could take.

  8. B. McLeod

    From a Scottish perspective, it’s encouraging to see a lad looking forward to establishing himself in a useful trade. When the new wokey society finally establishes the thought police, he will already have his dossiers underway with people who are suspect. Until that day, he can use this as his list of people to attack and try to destroy on the Internet. Basically, he sees the society his parents are advocating, and is positioning himself to take advantage of it.

  9. Drew Conlin

    Someone responded believing this is a parody; it’s real. I looked it up.
    I wonder if it’s not more about a sycophantic Richards follower trying to garner virtue points from Richards. The idea that alt right sights are lurking everywhere suggests a distorted perception.

      1. David Meyer-Lindenberg

        They’re in the Yellow Pages, under “P.” (Did I fuck up this old-timey reference? Please advise.)

  10. Paleo

    Really sad that neither the mother herself (I’m assuming her pronouns here) or the Slate writer seem to recognize how much this mother has screwed up her kid. Mom is a cop? No pronouns? This guy might just be messed up beyond fixing.

  11. Denverite

    It’s definitely time for some heavy duty regrooving. Can’t link per the rules but check out some vintage Firesign Theater – Le Trente-Huit Cunégonde.

  12. Skink

    Dear PoP:

    Before I solve your dilemma, You need to be fixed. Get some rancid meat, I’m sure some is laying around your abode. You’ll also need a couple paper clips. Put the meat on the clips; clips on your ears. When the roaches come out, pull both and stomp on the roaches with your feets. Make sure they’re on the floor when you stomp.

    Otherwise, the solution is simple: Jack is a roach.

    You’re welcome.

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