Watch CBS News

Baffoe: Understanding Why Some People Don't Get To Use Slurs

By Tim Baffoe-

(CBS) You'd think there would be a sign next to sportscasters' teleprompters nationwide reading "FOR THE LOVE OF LAWYERS AND OUR PR DEPARTMENT, NO ASIAN PUNS OR JOKES DURING JEREMY LIN HIGHLIGHTS." Certainly in Bristol at the very least.

But there it was Thursday evening, an attempt to be all hip sportscastery dude by using a reference to Lin's cultural heritage. And the subsequent hysteria-defusing apology.

A Facebook friend of mine took exception to the apology part, commenting that had the highlight been about a Polish player described as "dicing the defense like a kielbasa" or about a Canadian who'd later celebrate with some Tim Horton's that this would be a nonstory. My friend is correct. Using European American or Caucasian heritage aspects that aren't blatantly derogatory or malicious in order to season a sports clip is fair game.

If an Irish American like myself stole the ball in a hoops game (unlikely, but bear with me), and a commentator said "You'll never get me Lucky Charms!" I would have no issue. I wouldn't have a problem with that same player being described as "drunk on basketball" or something similar, but I'd understand why some might and why that shouldn't probably be said by a non-Irish person.

What to some are seemingly innocuous quips or catchphrases regarding people of color, though, do not fly with the same immunity, nor should they, even if the intent wasn't harmful, as I'm sure that of Jorge Andrés was not (and that line may have been read from the prompter and not of his penning).

Coincidentally the latest "dude, really?" Lin jokepology occurred on the same day that there was some pointed discussion on more than one outlet regarding a recent tweet by Los Angeles Clipper Matt Barnes (now deleted) that read "I love my teammates like family, but I'm DONE standing up for these (ni**as)! All this (stuff) does is cost me money.." Barnes has since apologized and been fined for his on-court and online actions.

But the tweet nonetheless sparked debate about use of the n-word. Predictably many people—mostly white—who now live in this postapocalyptic United States where racial, ethnic, and cultural minorities have dominated and oppressed the straight, white Christian males saw this as another battle in a long struggle over hundreds of years to free themselves from the chains of censorship. Richie Incognito and Riley Cooper say the n-word and get accused of racism, but Matt Barnes does it and nothing happens (besides the fine and being forced to publicly apologize). And Lady Liberty wept.

The most prominent voices Thursday in the discussion of the etiquette of using the most loaded, vile, and historically offensive word in the English language were ESPN's Michael Wilbon and TNT's Charles Barkley, both of whom said on air that they regularly use the word in private conversations. More importantly, they both said they do not believe that white people should be allowed to dictate their use of the word.

And they are right.

"But what about-" Stop. "The Constit-" Stop. "Saying I can't use it is rac-" Stop.

I don't pretend to be some great liaison between white people and minorities just because I choose to avoid using slurs and understand why minorities get offended by the majority using them. But I beg of you. For the sake of the human race and not looking really stupid in history books a hundred years from now (even the ones printed in Texas)—please, please stop saying that it being acceptable for minorities to use slurs about them within their group and it being unacceptable for you to do so is unfair or unconstitutional or reverse racism or any of the other really bad arguments that get made to try to salvage any shred of acceptable bigotry or perceived loss of freedom.

Nobody is taking away your rights. A white person is constitutionally protected from legal penalty for saying the n-word (and holy hell stop saying "I use '-a' instead of '-er, so it's okay" because that is massively ignorant). The Westboro Baptist Church is constitutionally protected from penalty for protesting military funerals. The First Amendment allows people to be really stupid that way.

Stupid in not attempting to understand why a black person who has had a much more difficult life amid society than you because of the beliefs and choices of other people would take issue with you using a word that encapsulates hundreds of years of history of not only raping, killing, and subjugating that person's ancestors but a capsule that hasn't quite dissolved and maybe never fully will, the residue of which has that person judged every day he or she walks out the door. That word, regardless of suffix, along with many other slurs and stereotypes, is very offensive to many and problematic to people being able to overcome prejudice, regardless of your intent of use.

Stupid in feeling you are somehow being unfairly oppressed by intelligent society asking that you remove some hateful words from your vocabulary even if you don't think you use them with hate. Stupid, too, in failing to try to see why a person might find it condescending or obtuse for you to police his or her use of a word that was created to oppress him or her.

And as has gone on for thousands of years, when a word is used as part of subordinating a group of people, it is often adopted by that group as a term of affection and familiarity within that group in order to help strip the word of its toxic power and to laugh as best as can be done in the face of the oppressor. That is why it is okay for what is deemed a slur out of your mouth to be perfectly acceptable in conversation between people the slur is about.

Even millionaire athletes and entertainers. And that is why you, a nonmember of that group, don't get to use it with social immunity even with the best intentions. Nor do you get to call for an end by everybody, even members of that group of which you are not a part, to using that word (and I will admit that ideally I'd like to never hear many slurs used ever again outside of an artistic or historical reference, but it's not my place to shut it down inside the groups to which they apply).

Not a single productive aspect of your life will be impeded by this, I promise. You'll still get to meander about a convenience store without the clerk's eyes piercing and questioning you. You still won't have people cross the street to avoid getting close to you on the sidewalk. You still won't have your coworkers wait for you to leave the room before belittling you for your skin color or your accent. You still won't have dozens of assumptions made about you by total strangers upon initially seeing you just because of your level of melanin. You, as a non minority, still have an incredible advantage over most on a daily basis.

If by now you still cannot comprehend the linguistic separation that exists between the haves and have nots that will always exist, make a promise to yourself to stop using those words that get others so hot and bothered, even if you find that silly or a threat to liberty or an affront to tradition. Better off will you be.

Take this as a reminding sign next to your proverbial teleprompter, if you will, and save yourself the risk of some very big headaches and maybe even an epiphany in the future. You'll thank me.

Jeff Pearl
The author. (credit: Jeff Pearl)

Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa before earning his degree from Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for, Tim corrupts America's youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). Got a comment for Tim? E-mail him at You can follow Tim's inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @TimBaffoe , but please don't follow him in real life. He grew up in Chicago's Beverly To read more of Tim's blogs click here.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.