• People Talk and My Ear Bleeds


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    Thursday, February 23, 2012

    ESPN, "Linsanity," and Acceptable Racism in America

    Recently, ESPN made headlines in a new sort of way - by firing an employee who made a headline with a racist double entendre. By now we mostly know the story.

    Anthony Federico, 28, made the far more stupid gaffe of the two on Saturday night when he posted the following headline on ESPN’s mobile website: "Chink in the Armor: Jeremy Lin's 9 Turnovers Cost Knicks in Streak-Snapping Loss to Hornets." The headline was posted at 2:30 in the morning, and then removed slightly more than a half an hour later when someone (finally) realized that it may be construed as an offensive remark. (link)
    One interesting take says that,
    By acknowledging this gaffe to such a degree, ESPN increased the social damage exponentially. ...

    From a public relations standpoint, the response from ESPN was a no-brainer. Yet, we ought to care more about the public's continuing recognition of fake words created by hate-mongers. By ignoring pre-existing definitions and acknowledging ridiculous slurs in an effort to not be considered racist, the media does the exact opposite.(link)

    That got me thinking about the collateral damage done by ESPN versus just quietly taking down the headline, and the phrase "the response from ESPN was a no-brainer." Everyone agrees that if "chink" is used in a racist manner, this is a horrible gaff and disciplinary action must be taken. But can we say it was meant that way? "Chink in the armor" is a common phrase used to describe a weakness in a previously perfect person.

    Do media outlets have to fire people who make mistakes with ambiguous intent because they could be deemed racist?

    What if the employee was African American? Asian? Does that change things?

    Recently, the African American community in Dallas, TX protested a gas station owned by a Korean man.
    The customer, complaining that the price of gas at the station was much higher than at other stations, demanded he be able to buy gas by smaller amounts than what the owner set as the minimum sales unit. The owner refused and told him to go to another station, to which the customer responded by telling the owner to go back to his country. The owner responded by telling the customer to go back to Africa.

    That triggered a boycott of the gas station by the black community in the region, followed by them speaking out against Korean and other Asian immigrant communities....

    The gas station owner publicly apologized on a Dallas radio program, attended by African American civic leaders like city councilman Eric Johnson. The Korea Society of Dallas also donated 500 winter coats to NAACP as a gesture of goodwill.(link)
    It's ok for the Black customer to tell the Korean man to go back to his country, but it's not ok for the Korean to tell him to go back to Africa?

    You can say it if you're black, but not if you're Asian?

    I am incredulous that the Korean and the Korean community had to apologize, but the African American community did nothing in kind. I don't think you should get a free pass if you're African American or Asian. Both people were in the wrong here. But clearly society doesn't feel the same way. A person seems to be given more latitude to say hurtful or racist statements if they are a minority - whether by race, gender, or sexual orientation - and perhaps certain minority groups get more latitude than others.

    So why does society do this?

    I don't know the answers. Racism is hurtful for everyone involved, and should not arise from anyone's mouth. But it does seem like - at least on a cursory read - when dealing with racist sayings, in American culture not all speakers are created equal.

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