Whether this is the right way to be going about things or not is entirely up to you. For it is you – and me, us collectively – who determine what statements or words are beyond the social pale. If we think that referring to women’s ankles is sexist – or seeing them sexy – then references to women’s ankles are sexist and seeing them sexy. It isn’t true that such ankles or references to them either are or are not sexist or sexy. It’s entirely down to the attitudes of the society around and observing them.
So it is with the use of the N word. A century ago it was on its way out as a normal and acceptable word to use, half such ago it was a useful marker of racist attitudes and today it’s entirely verboten in any form of polite society:
Papa John’s founder John Schnatter has stepped down as chairman of the company’s board after apologising for using the N-word in a conference call.
The pizza chain founder used the racial slur in a media training session in May.
If the use was “You damn N—, now you can F!”£ Off!” then I think we’d all agree that by those current standards he’s out. Recall, what is socially right or wrong is determined by the society around the action or speech.
A marketing agency reportedly moved to cut ties with Papa John’s after the pizza chain’s controversial founder, John Schnatter, used the N-word during a conference call.
Mr. Schnatter has the absolute right to use whatever language he wishes of course. Subject only to the usual libel and incitement to violence restrictions. He also has the duty to accept the consequences of what he says. Again, something socially determined outside those legal restrictions. And yet, and yet:
In May, Schnatter participated in a conference call between Papa John’s executives and marketing agency Laundry Service. The call was intended as a role-playing exercise, to help ensure that Schnatter wouldn’t make incendiary remarks in the future. Six months prior, he caused a public-relations flare-up after he referred to national anthem protests in the NFL as a “debacle.”
During the call, Schnatter was asked how he would distance himself from racist groups. He responded by minimizing the significance of his NFL remarks. “Colonel Sanders called blacks n—–s,” Schnatter said, before insisting that Sanders never faced public outcry.
In the same conversation, Schnatter also cited his upbringing in Indiana, where, he said, African-Americans were once dragged from trucks and killed. He apparently intended for the comments to illustrate his opposition to racist behavior. However, multiple individuals on the call found the graphic nature of his statements to be offensive, a source with knowledge of the event told Forbes. After hearing about the incident, Laundry Service owner Casey Wasserman moved to terminate the company’s contract with Papa John’s.
Even the use of that N word to point out how different things are today as opposed to that past is to be verboten? In a media training exercise?
Well, yes, it appears so. As with the various versions of Huckleberry Finn which excise the word – despite its centrality to the moral point that Twain was making.
Do note the point being made here. Which isn’t that there’s some problem with the resignation or firing – Schnatter was running a business using other peoples’ money, offending the mores of the time and place loses them money, bye bye. It’s to ponder whether the mores are quite what they ought to be. The use as an epithet we’re all on board with being unacceptable. The use as an historical reference perhaps less so.