Last week the Graham family sold off its crown jewel, The Washington Post, to Amazon owner Jeff Bezos but kept its own brainy, digital property Slate.
Not sure if Bezos’ deal comes with free two-day shipping, nor if it was conducted on the internet to avoid any excessive sales tax, but Slate did make news in its own bold way on the diversity front by doing something no major Washington-based media outlet would ever do.
It took a stand on an issue that goes straight to the heart of Washingtonians, and anyone who believes Mark Rypien is a demi-god.
Slate fought racism by making a hard editorial and stylistic decision.
By declaring that it would not utter that insulting name of the Washington football team, Slate essentially, “N-worded” the “R” word, the football team’s racially charged name that rhymes with “porkskins.”
In the future, Slate will refer to the team in the less offensive, and more generic way: The Washington football team, or simply “Washington.”
Slate Editor David Plotz wrote:
We now live in a world, for instance, in which it’s absolutely unacceptable for an NFL player to utter a racial slur. Changing the way we talk is not political correctness run amok. It reflects an admirable willingness to acknowledge others who once were barely visible to the dominant culture, and to recognize that something that may seem innocent to you may be painful to others. In public discourse, we no longer talk about groups based on their physical traits: No one would ever refer to Asians as yellow-skinned. This is why the majority of teams with Indian nicknames have dropped them over the past 40 years.
So while the name Redskins is only a bit offensive, it’s extremely tacky and dated—like an old aunt who still talks about “colored people” or limps her wrist to suggest someone’s gay.
Now one can be snarky (and most have) and say it’s an insignificant style change.
But in journalism, every outlet does have the privilege of creating its own style books.
This is how the revolution really begins—with one’s word choice.
It’s amazing that few others have chosen to do the same during all these years debating this topic. I remember bringing it up myself when I hosted a show on DC talk station, WRC in 1991, during the height of what would be a Super Bowl year. As one of the few non-white hosts on the air, I could tell my stance meant more to me than my colleagues, or most of my listeners for that matter. And I knew colleagues like the late Morton Downey Jr. thought I was crazy (Of course, I thought he was crazy).
But that didn’t mean I had to say the team’s insulting name. I insisted referring to them on the air as “the Washington football team.” I wouldn’t say the “R” word, only when quoting someone, or forced to read ad copy.
Like when you say the phrase “N” word, it gives people pause. It makes people think. It turns the symbol into another symbol. And it keeps you from being complicit in the racism.
None of my antics moved owner Jack Kent Cooke back then. And the team’s current owner, Daniel Snyder, only remains even more defiant on protecting his racist brand.
But he’d stop using it if people were more turned off by the name. So far, most polls indicate they’re not.
That’s why the Slate stand is much more admirable than you think. It’s an example of a personal choice we all can make to take a stand against racism and for diversity.
The team owners won’t stop using the “R” word. But we can. Or we can go even further. We can root for another team. Stop buying tickets. Stop buying merchandise. Take up a new hobby besides wasting 8 hours a week watching football games.
Take your cue from Slate, but listen to the real final arbiters in this matter—the Native Americans themselves.
If they’re offended by the use of the name, and they are, then we should be too.
That’s all that matters.
Now about that Tomahawk chop at FSU.
Emil Guillermo is an award-winning journalist who writes for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund at www.aaldef.org/blog.