Issue Of The Week XXXXV: Are You Guilty Of Unintentional Racial Slurs?

January 28, 2013
Written by Marlene Caroselli in
Latest News, National Collegiate Dialogue
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ESPN apologizes for another racist slur, when a ESPN reporter makes “chink” comment in the headline about New York Knicks’ guard Jeremy Lin. Photo Credit: Ted Jacobsohn/Getty Images

We’ve heard and seen the gaffes occur right before our eyes…every few months it seems. Recently, there was the Brent Musburger brouhaha: he used the word “beautiful” in reference to Katherine Webb, girlfriend of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron. And before that, there was the “Chink” comment, made by an ESPN reporter, about New York Knicks’ guard Jeremy Lin.

And Fuzzy Zoeller’s comments 15 years ago, about Tiger Woods and fried chicken and collard greens. And a decade before that, Jimmy the Greek’s assertions that blacks are better athletes because they’ve “been bred to be that way….going back all the way to the Civil War….”

Then Al Campanis, Los Angeles Dodger vice president and general manager, during that same year, asserted that blacks lacked the “necessities” to move into management positions.

The slurs come from all sides, of course. There’s Michael Irvin commenting on Tony Romo’s heritage and pondering whether there was a “brother down in that line somewhere.” And Bryon Scott seen in a tie with the swastika symbol on it; Floyd Mayweather’s reference to Philippino Manny Pacquiao, calling him a “yellow chump,” and suggesting Pacquiao make him sushi and rice. And former NBA star Charley Barkley’s famous “This is why I hate white people” remark, even though he’s been married to a white woman for more than 20 years.

Note that all of this emanates from the sports arena alone, but race-insensitive, gender-insensitive, age insensitive, religion-insensitive, and sexual-orientation insensitive remarks are found in every field of endeavor.

What’s the lesson to be learned here? In all likelihood, many of these racial, ethnic, and gender slurs were not intended to be unkind. Even Jeremy Lin acknowledged that possibility when he told a reporter, “I don’t think it was on purpose or whatever.”

Purposeful or not, words can wound, and it’s up to each of us to ensure we are not, intentionally or inadvertently, harming others with words that might be inappropriate or, worse yet, downright mean.
Have you experienced an inappropriate or harmful remark? Did you make a harmful remark to someone, and did you learn anything from that experience?

What do you think?

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Accidental slurs with sports

Submitted by NIAGARA-S2013-33 on

If you have ever played a sport you know that there are accidental slurs made quite often. I believe the ability of professional athletes has caused these slurs to accidentally slip. Im not looking at the ethnic relation of the Tiger woods joke about eating fried chicken and collard greens but the "traditional" stereotype of black people comes out in verbal terms when on the basketball court. Most people have heard the expression "white men can't jump" and if you have ever played a game with a black group of people you most likely have heard that expression. I believe that sometimes people do intend to say racial slurs to harm and hurt others feelings but I also people that sometimes people forget that the stereotypes of black men eating chicken and jumping aren't always true. I am sure there are some vegan black men and I bet that some black men cant jump an inch of the ground. It is all based on the awareness that these "facts" are simply just sayings based on a few black people jumping and eating chicken instead of the whole Black population doing such.

Reply Comment # 1

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-7 on

I too believe that sometimes people forget that stereotypes are not always true. It is just a cultural thing, we've allowed ourselves to get to this point. With the recognition of such stereotypes I feel that we are more able to extinguish he flame that is racism. Just because it is a stereotype does not by any means define the group of people. I think that this was an excellent reply to the article and I fully agree.

Slurs and Stereotypes

Submitted by UCCS-S2013-9 on

Racial slurs do come from all sides and we do use stereotypes on a daily basis. I do not think that stereotypes are bad in and of themselves but it is how we use them that makes them inappropriate. Stereotypes help us classify and quickly try to learn about people. This is not to say that we should assume every black person eats fried chicken, every asian is good at math, or that every white man is terrible at basketball. But it also helps us to learn something quick about that person and then modify what we learn after that. To think of it another way, if you learn a woman is a doctor, you might quickly assess some things about her, whether they are true or not. Regardless, this is not harmful.

What IS harmful is how we use those stereotypes, verbalize them, and insult people. The biggest thing to combat this is education and awareness, as this article puts out. We also need to be aware of how other forms of media perpetuate stereotypes, such as country singers always singing about their truck and their dog. Not everyone in the country drives a truck and wears Carhart jeans (although a lot do). We need to realize that it is not okay to stereotype in a professional setting, especially if it impacts the image of the person who is stereotyped. Stereotypes are there for a reason but we need to remember they are not always true. They help us figure others out quickly but are not a be-all end-all.

You made a valid point in

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-32 on

You made a valid point in stating that the fact that people stereotype is not necessarily a bad thing. The information you posted really connects well with a course I took in social psychology. Stereotyping is part of human nature so that we are not mentally exhausted from trying to categorize people and make sense of our surroundings. The harmful aspect of stereotyping comes into play when we make a snap judgement about someone that is false, yet we do not try to correct our thinking. We experience a type of cognitive dissonance and will only seek out information about that individual that confirms our original judgement. People will never be able to stop judging others by how they look, but it is important for us to strive to seek out the truth about someone before we go and spread more negative stereotypes about them.

Accidental Racism

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-32 on

Although I can't recall a specific instance, I know for a fact that I am guilty of accidental racial slurs. Our society seems to resist talking about racism as a serious subject, and the media continually perpetuates racism. I find this to be especially true in the music industry. If someone uses racial language in their music, it tends to rub off on the general population. We get desensitized to the true nature of these slurs because we are bombarded with them continually. It is not too difficult to see that the Jeremy Lin/reporter incident did not stem from the reporter's malicious intentions. He is just a reporter that fell victim to the desensitization of racism while trying to come up with a clever headline. Even though Lin was not offended or hurt by the remark, it is still important to keep this type of language out of our news. Several people read that chink remark and will go on to repeat it only because they feel it's acceptable.

Unbidden Thoughts

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-15 on

I agree that our over-exposure to mediated racism causes an insensitivity to the painfulness of such remarks. My biggest challenge, as opposed to speaking a racial slur, is fighting the unbidden judgmental thoughts that come into my head when I encounter an individual of less privileged status. As a result of a media-indoctrinated childhood - a norm today - my first thoughts are often negative stereotypes. I quickly challenge these thoughts and attempt to reevaluate the individual as a unique and valuable person. The fact that they still come unbidden disturbs me. Those without the motivation or desire to challenge them often become slaves to them.


Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-30 on

I agree that there is an element of normality to statements like this but I feel people should be somewhat socially competent and accountable for their words. It really bothers me when people make comments like "I don't know what's PC anymore. The terms are always changing." Perhaps but if it sounds unkind, don't say it, or better yet ask the person how they would like to be addressed. Describing someone as Asian or Mexican is not offensive but using a racial slur in an article title because someone thought it was clever, clearly insensitive.


Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-41 on

You make a very valid point that the music industry does perpetuate not only racism but also sexism and many other negative ideals that create a detachment and desensitization from the true meaning of these words. An example, in most hip-hop music the "N" word is repeated so frequently that it becomes just another lyric there is no thought into the negative connotations attached to the word itself especially when it comes to influencing impressionable young people. I don't believe that under any circumstances should racially charged words be discounted and allowed to be promoted especially as you said in the public arena.


Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-20 on

I totally agree with you. I absolutely hate the use of the "N" word. I personally, have never said that word in anger to a friend or stranger. However, I know I am guilty of singing it with a song. But now that I am older and more educated, I can't stand the use of the "N" word, by anyone. Like this discussion is going, the music and movie industries seem to perpetuate the use. This word represents hate and biotgry, nothing more.

I completely agree that we

Submitted by UCCS-S2013-32 on

I completely agree that we have become desensitized. Through desensitization, people have become careless and revealed their true nature of bigotry. You made a good point on mentioning the "White men can't jump" comment as something without ill intentions, but it is a completely different story when a reporter remarks on fried chicken. That is completely offensive and was meant to strike a cord. I find it hard to believe that the commentor did not understand that his words would reveal bigotry and hate. As you said, this type of language should be kept out of our news.

"Unintentional" Racial Slurs

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-41 on

Personally, I have had many encounters with racial slurs both intentional and "unintentional" throughout my life. There have been times I was the recipient and also the instigator. I don't feel there is ever a time when racial slurs are excusable. In moments of anger, frustration or inadvertent thought the repercussions of our words are felt whether by the person or group it was intended or a bystander who by happenstance overhears those careless and damaging words. Overall I think that people have a responsibility not only to select their words wisely but also be accountable when they don't. I strongly believe that racism will always be a huge issue in our society and unfortunately there are people who simply have no regard for other people. I also place the word "unintentional" in quotation marks because truthfully I don't feel that racial slurs are ever unintentional. My reasoning is this, in the situations where I have used these words they were deliberate and intended to incite a reaction. People may argue that is not always the case but most reasonable adults understand that in any context racially charged words are never harmless and very seldom do I think they are intended to be so.

Sports Comment

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-20 on

In this article, "Chink in the Armor," I think this was blown out of proportion. This was a harmless comment, a sports metaphor that is often used. The person who they were talking about happened to be Asian. I highly doubt the ESPN reporter was being racist or knew that comment would have so much blow back. As for the comments Brent made on the BCS championship game. I watched the game so I remember. He was going fine until he started sounding creepy. Saying a women is beautiful, should not spark controversy. I'm not getting these two examples, the others in the article I know are inappropriate and terrible. Remember Don Imos comments (Rutgers womens Bball) that got him fired a few years ago? Someone help me understand.

I think things get "blown out

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-8 on

I think things get "blown out of proportion" because people are not as sensitive to these issues as they should be. We are so embedded in a culture of racial slurs, gender biases, and intolerance of many kind that these comments often go under the radar and are deemed socially acceptable, especially by those who are privileged and in the dominant groups. For example, the comment that was made about the woman being beautiful: the controversy was not about a compliment but about the emphasis placed on physical characteristics for females, as opposed to intelligence, humor, or kind-heartedness. The comment reduced her down to an object to be looked at rather than a subject to get to know. Imagine if this exact same emphasis were placed on a male, I'm sure the controversy would have been much larger.

I agree with your idea that

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-4 on

I agree with your idea that we should not make a habit of objectifying people, but the reality is that our language creates our reality. Our subject/object language places us in a long stream of subject object positions. Throughout the day we objectify and subjectify those around us as well as ourselves. I believe it to be important to focus upon all the characteristics of an individual but also do not necessarily believe just because you find something or someone visually stunning that it somehow demeans the other characteristics of that object or person. If we continue to politically and socially limit our ideas, comments and beliefs then I believe we are distancing ourselves from honesty and authenticity. You can be honest about how you feel and be cognisant of the feelings of others simultaneously. We should be moving towards honesty in all of it's manifestations as opposed to moving away from it. Be Caring and Conscious.


Submitted by UCCS-S2013-32 on

I believe if people are making racial, ethnic, gender, or religious slurs; their error of judgement is rooted from deeper feelings of prejudice on some level. I understand when ball players are throwing comments back and forth in order to rile one another up, but there are some boundaries that should not be crossed. When a commentor is looking at the color of someones skin and saying they will never be in a management position due to their skin color, there is no denying their bigotry. When a commentor is talking about the beauty of a woman, but not being derogatory, there is no harm in his remark. The woman was interviewed and agreed that his comment was not sexist, nor full of ill will. Historically, racial slurs were intended to degrade those in inferior positions while uplifting those in dominant positions. Bigotry, whether intended for harm or not, should not be tolerated.

I remember when that sports

Submitted by UCCS-S2013-10 on

I remember when that sports announcer called that woman beautiful. The next day i was listening to a radio show and they had the same point of view that you said here. It would have been offensive for the man to say she was sexy, or hot, but beautiful has a different connotation.

Where Do These Slurs Come From

Submitted by UCCS-S2013-18 on

I agree with you that it is important to look at where racism is stemming from. Racism is a learned concept. People aren't born with a 'racist gene.' Many of the racist attitudes in society today have been handed down from previous generations. I believe that we are a product of our environment. If we grow up in an environment in which racism is present, we will many times hold those same racist attitudes. This learning starts from the moment we leave the womb. I believe that this is why many times people don't understand why they think a certain way about people of a certain race. People with racist attitudes aren't forced to analyze these attitudes until they enter a new environment. I believe that it is important for people to be aware of where these attitudes stem from so that they can work on changing those attitudes.

Unintentional or Intentional- We still have a problem

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-12 on

Whether the words that are said are intentional or unintentional they still find themselves burned within the minds of the millions of viewers. It could be argued that many of the comments were meant in jest but not everyone will see it that way. When a person within the public realm makes a comment that is socially insensitive or racially charged we create a public space that is based on fair play and good sportsmanship that is tainted. Many youth look to sports figures as a role models and when they see them saying hurtful things or making jokes at the expense of a players race, age, nationality, or gender they instill the wrong image in our youth. Even worse is that when such role models are called to the mate for their comments, those comments are often brushed aside with an apology. There has to be a reason why a person would make such a comment, much deeper than making a joke, it calls into question whether there are deep rooted discriminatory beliefs. I believe that it is important that we hold those within the public view accountable for their actions.

Unintentional Racial Slurs

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-31 on

I have been guilty of racial slurs in the past. Like many others they come out in a time of frustration and are not necessarily meant. I have also become more aware of what I am saying since becoming a mother. I monitor my words much more carefully especially since my children are now talking and they repeat much of what they hear even if they do not understand what they are saying. Like many other parents, I want my children to be good citizens of the world and much better people than I am. I think some of the examples in the article were inexcusable, especially the comment by Fuzzy Zoeller about the fried chicken and collard greens. Other comments such as the one from Brent Musburger could be on the fence. Most people would not be offended by it, but some people could. It is interesting looking at some of the comments about music genres and how they have perpetuated the use of negative slurs, not only racial but gender based. Many songs use the N-word, but they also freely refer to females as B**ches and W**res, which as a woman I find degrading. I tend to agree with others when they say that some times racial slurs are intentional, but many times they are unintentional. Many times people do not feel that they are doing anything wrong because our larger society enforces some stereotypes such as Asians being extremely smart and Southern people being backwards. On a personal level, we need to let others know when we are offended by what they say.

Intentional or Accidental and what does it mean?

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-4 on

There is a lot of talk about whether racial slurs are intentional or accidental. For me I have had only a few times in my life when I made accidental slurs most of which were a learned response from elders that I had been exposed to as a child. In all those cases I quickly learned that those comments were unacceptable and I owed an apology and a quick change of thinking. I believe that as humans we are prone to mistakes but not all of us believe it is necessary to change about us what is wrong or misguided. It is what we do when faced with our mistakes which molds us into the people we are. Intentional slurs are unfortunately a product of crappy individuals and the world will unfortunately never be rid of jerks. But those people who have made mistakes in their lives have the opportunity to fix them if they so choose. It is this choice which will make you into who you are. This of course is not to take away from the severity of these accidental comments but for all of us to rather learn from our own mistakes as well as the mistakes of others.

I like your view. I was also

Submitted by UCCS-S2013-10 on

I like your view. I was also raised where slurrs were heard, and used in a very nonchalant way. But growing up I have learned that those words are not acceptable. I have learned to catch the words when other people say them and i do my best to make them aware of this problem as well.


Submitted by UCCS-S2013-11 on

I am not sure that it is possible to make a racial slur accidentally. I understand that sometimes racial slurs are used out of ignorance or simply not knowing any better. I have met people from other countries who have made racial surs about other races around me, and considered that okay because I was not of the race they were speaking offensively about. In the case of the "chink in the armor", comment. I believe the person thought that they were being clever and didn't think there would be any backlash. But just because someone doesn't mean to be offensive or believes they are making a joke, that doesn't mean that it was an accident. It was just the hurt feelings that may have been unintended, not the comment.

Sounds like semantics

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-36 on

I hear what you are saying, but I have to say I don't see much difference between saying something was an accident and saying that the comment was not intended the way it was received. If you say something with no wrong intentions, perhaps even out of ignorance, isn't that much the same as an accident? The proof to me would be the way the speaker handled it after they were made aware. If, on one hand they apologize and explain their intent and follow that with a strong effort not to repeat that type of comment, then I would say they can call it an accident or a mistake. If, on the other hand, they shrug it off as though it should not have mattered and it was no big deal and they never apologize or attempt to change, then I would say calling it an accident is more like saying you are just sorry you got caught.

A Slur is a Slur

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-14 on

Whether it is intended or not it can out of someone's mouth. I do believe that sometimes good people say the wrong thing, but that idea had to come from somewhere else. They had to have heard another person use the term and the context should have been picked on. Based on the previous context you should be able to determine if you should repeat the term or not. that being said these terms start at home. As a well blended society people need to stop using the terms in general and start teaching children, our future, the right way to describe people that do not look similar to them. People also need to be mindful of what they say even when they think that they are around people they think "don't care" about the slurs. This is a problem that can only be changed by people willing to change and teach young minds the right way.

It's about growing

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-36 on

When I took my intro WEST class a year or so ago, we talked about lots of laguage that should not be used. I have struggled, for instance, with using the word "retarded." It has been one of my go to terms and I have to onstantly catch myself. What I think is most important, however, is the 'catching myself' part. I think we have all been guilty of saying something that was inappropriate at one time or another. That, to me, simply makes us human. What is most important is that we try to improve, we try to catch ourselves. As long as we are trying, and we apologize in those moments when we slip, then I think we are on the right path.


Submitted by UCCS-S2013-18 on

I think that many times we forget how ubiquitous stereotypes are in society. So much so that people make stereotypical comments without thinking about it until there is some type of backlash. Many times these racist comments are in the form of jokes. By saying something in a joking matter, it is easy for a person to separate themselves from the racism in the comment. "It's just a joke" many people say. As a society, we need to start being more aware of the stereotypes. By drawing attention to these stereotypes, people might be less likely to use them so casually. Talking about the differences of people is sometimes a taboo subject; however, it is essential to realize that everyone has differences. When we realize that, we will realize the difficulty of putting someone in one category.

We live in a society where

Submitted by UCCS-S2013-3 on

We live in a society where every one is out for making themselves look better or sound better than the next person. It doesn't matter what race you are, you unconsciously make racial remarks or racial slurs to or about a certain group of people. Typically about a certain person of that group, then from there elaborate on the stereotypes perceived by that racial group. It sucks, it does, but that's the current world we live in. Again, I think early education is a way to make this problem cease and desist for our future.


Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-35 on

This is a very common thing we see today. A lot of people accidently use racial slurs in today's society most of the time with out thinking anything of it. It has become etched into our brains that some things are just said about certain races and this is not okay. I think that the media plays a big role in this as well, because even sports casters on TV use racial slurs and they don't seem to understand the impact it has on today's society and they don't consider the feelings of others whom they are affecting.