This sad story is cobbled together from two stories at the Washington Post (here and here), two at The Daily Beast (here and here), and then one at the New York Times itself. This is getting to be a familiar tale: someone at the New York Times commits an act seen as “hate speech”, and that person is giving a stern talking-to but not let go. Then the Times staffers, a bunch of entitled, privileged, and easily offended members of the Outrage Brigade, protest that only firing will slake their thirst for blood. The editors then decide to fire the “hater”.
That is what happened to op-ed editor James Bennet, who (horrors!) published an op-ed by Republican Senator Tom Cotton, and had to leave the paper. And it’s just happened to science writer Donald G. McNeil, Jr., a prize-winning science reporter, known for his coverage of the AIDS and Covid-19 epidemics, who’s been with the Times for 45 years. The episode reflects very badly on the paper, and in fact has got me quite depressed. During all the time I’ve been criticizing the NYT for wokeness, I hoped that it would turn around and get back to the admirable organ it once was. Perhaps, I thought, it didn’t need to be so woke once Biden was elected. But now I see that I was wrong. Wokeness is here to say, both at the NYT and in America, and the major liberal media have become hopeless. I see no abating of the authoritarianism of the Left.
Here’s a precis of the events that led to McNeil’s firing.
A. McNeil took a group of 26 students to Peru in 2019 as part of a regular program in which students pay $5,500 to get an educational experience with a Times reporter.
B. On that trip, McNeil committed the firing offense, using the n-word. The context: McNeil “had used bad judgment by repeating a racist slur in the context of a conversation about racist remarks.” Apparently the student had said the word first, and McNeil repeated it, but not using it as a slur or in a racist way.
The students complained about this to the travel company and then to the Times, also noting that McNeil had made other offensive claims. These include an assertion that he “did not believe in the concept of white privilege” (!). Finally, there are unspecified complaints that McNeil “used stereotypes about Black teenagers,” though there’s no report of exactly what he said.
C. The complaints reached the ears of Times editors, including executive editor Dean Baquet. They launched an investigation and found that while McNeil had overstepped his bounds, his offense was not a firing one because his remarks were not hateful or malicious. As the Daily Beast reports (emphases henceforth are mine):
A Times spokesperson told The Daily Beast on Thursday, “In 2019, Donald McNeil, Jr. participated in a Student Journeys as an expert. We subsequently became aware of complaints by some of the students on the trip concerning certain statements Donald had made during the trip. We conducted a thorough investigation and disciplined Donald for statements and language that had been inappropriate and inconsistent with our values. We found he had used bad judgment by repeating a racist slur in the context of a conversation about racist language. In addition, we apologized to the students who had participated in the trip.”
Times executive editor Dean Baquet addressed the controversy in an email to the newsroom Thursday night, saying that when he first heard about McNeil’s remarks, he was “outraged” and expected to fire him.
“I authorized an investigation and concluded his remarks were offensive and that he showed extremely poor judgment, but it did not appear to me that that his intentions were hateful or malicious,” he wrote.
Baquet went on to acknowledge criticism that the Times has been “too tolerant in disciplining high-profile journalists” and said he welcomed having that conversation. “Fair treatment has to be the foundation of the diverse and equitable newsroom we are building,” he wrote.
Baquet is a African-American.
D. McNeil tendered a fulsome apology. This was probably part of the sanctions that the paper imposed on him
As Andrew Sullivan said in a tweet, “This reads like a confession procured by the Khmer Rouge. It’s both ridiculous and terrifying.”
E. In the meantime, the investigation reached the ears of Times staffers, the public-relations department, and publisher A.G. Sulzberger. There was also a meeting with black staffers, including Nikole Hannah-Jones of the 1619 Project. The final blow: 150 staffers wrote to Baquet and other top officers of the paper. Their plaint was that the discipline meted out to McNeil wasn’t nearly harsh enough, and that they were in “pain”. And Baquet’s conclusion that McNeil didn’t utter the n-word with malicious intent was irrelevant. From The Daily Beast:
But the company’s conclusion about McNeil’s intent was “irrelevant”, the irate staffers wrote in the letter, adding that the paper’s own harassment training “makes clear what matters is how an act makes the victims feel; Mr. Mcneil’s victims weren’t shy about decrying his conduct on the trip.”
I think the paper needs better harassment training.
Signees called on the paper to study how racial biases affect pitches, editing, and sourcing, and reiterated a commitment to the paper’s existing non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies.
The letter also called on the Times to reinvestigate the 2019 trip as well as “any newly surfaced complaints,” noting that in the days since The Daily Beast’s article, current and former staffers have also said that McNeil had shown “bias against people of color in his work and in interactions with colleagues over a period of years.”
These other accusations apparently had not been reported before, and I suspected were recalled post facto. At any rate, what got McNeil fired was clearly his use of the n-word [JAC: see below; John McWhorter agrees]. The Beast report continues:
“Our community is outraged and in pain,” the signees wrote. “Despite The Times’s seeming commitment to diversity and inclusion, we have given a prominent platform—a critical beat covering a pandemic disproportionately affecting people of color—to someone who chose to use language that is offensive and unacceptable by any newsroom’s standards. He did so while acting as a representative for The Times, in front of high school students.”
F. Apparently the editora “rethought” his sanctions after the letter from the staffers and the meeting, and fired McNeil. Here’s their announcement:
Apparently the n-word had now become a firing offense regardless of intent. That means, of course, that those who use it didactically, as McNeil may have done, have committed an unforgivable offense, because the simple sound of the word, no matter how it is used or what intent was behind its use, is sufficient to get you dumped, and put a 45-year career into the toilet.
The whole affair stinks, and reflects badly on the paper’s staffers and executives. To my mind the initial discipline, whatever it was, was sufficient: McNeil was kept on the paper and forced to apologize, as cringe-worthy as that apology was. Since he didn’t mean what he said in a hateful way, and wasn’t trying to be racist (for crying out loud, many of us question the idea of “white privilege”!), it wasn’t as if he had donned a white robe or burned a cross. Remember, McNeil had served the paper well for 45 years. All he needed was a strong lesson about how to behave in the company of impressionable teenagers (and NYT staffers!).
This clearly shows that the paper is ruled by the mob, the mob being the oh-so-easily hurt NYT staffers who had no patience with McNeil staying on. After all, his mere presence in the building could be seen as dangerous and harmful! (They said the same thing about James Bennet and about Bari Weiss, who left the paper after being declared persona non grata by the staffers.)
But in what world should intent not matter? If someone reads a passage of Huckleberry Finn containing the n-word to her students, is that really as bad an offense as screaming the word in hatred to a group of black people? And why should people be just as hurt by the former as by the latter? That’s not right! We should not accept the contention that one’s intent is irrelevant in judging one’s language, particularly when people these days are histrionic, often pretending to be more offended than they really are. After all, the more offended you act, the more goodies you get and the more power you can wield.
The New York Times has now become terminally woke, with its staffers constituting a Star Chamber about what language can and cannot be used by other staffers. And the editors are apparently so fearful of the staff that they’ll bow to their wishes, whatever they may be. Those editors are not leaders, but craven followers. The paper just gets worse and worse, and woker and woker.
After I wrote the above, I got an email from John McWhorter’s new Substack site noting that he had just written a short piece about this debacle. Click on the screenshot to read it, as it’s free (but consider subscribing):
As usual, McWhorter is far more eloquent than I in analyzing this episode. First, he uses his expertise as a linguist:
That is, for people like this [the staffers], the N-word has gone from being a slur to having, in its mere shape and sound, a totemic taboo status directly akin to how Harry Potter characters process the name Voldemort and theatre people maintain a pox on saying “Macbeth” inside a theatre. The letter roasts McNeil for “us[ing] language that is offensive and unacceptable,” implying a string of language, a whole point or series thereof, something like a stream, a stretch – “language.” But no: they are referring to his referring to a single word.
The kinds of people who got McNeil fired think of this new obsessive policing of the N-word as a kind of strength. Their idea is “We are offended by this word, we demand that you don’t use it, and if you do use it, we are going to make sure you lose your job.” But the analogy is off here. This would be strength if the issue were the vote, or employment. Here, people are demanding the right to exhibit performative delicacy, and being abetted in it by non-black fellow travellers.
After remembering that several decades ago the n-word wasn’t seen as always taboo, with people able to differentiate betweens its didactic versus offensive use, McWhorter says this:
Even Times executive editor Dean Baquet understands this, one can tell. He at first retained McNeil after an apology, but has now caved to this body of ever-aggrieved Times workers. I guess after they managed to hunt out James Bennett, Bari Weiss and now McNeil, Baquet worries that he might be next. Or maybe it’s a matter of racial loyalty to him – it is not mine to know.
Finally, McWhorter reaches a few conclusions that only a black person would be able to say in public:
Upon that, two matters require address. One is that it is only a certain mob who are making this “determination.” The idea that it is inherent to black American culture to fly to pieces at hearing the N-word used in reference is implausible at best, and slanderous at worst.
But the second and more important is that insisting on this taboo makes it look like black people are numb to the difference between usage and reference, vague on the notion of meta, given to overgeneralization rather than to making distinctions.
To wit, the get McNeil fired for using the N-word to refer to it makes black people look dumb. And not just to the Twitter trollers who will be nasty enough to actually write it down. Non-black people are thinking it nationwide and keeping it to themselves. Frankly, the illogic in this approach to the N-word is so obvious to anyone who does make distinctions that the only question is why people would not look on and guiltily wonder whether the idea that black people are less intellectually gifted is true.
. . .The reason a black person engages in this kind of inquisition is not ill-will, and it isn’t stupidity. It’s insecurity. Slavery and Jim Crow have many legacies, and one is on black psychology. People who really like themselves can’t be destroyed by someone referring to a word, even a word that has been used against them.
. . . It’s pretty simple – if you are genuinely proud, then you spontaneously recoil from the idea that some stuff somebody says in passing can hurt you. You’d be embarrassed to engage in the transaction. If you really like yourself, it takes a hell of a lot more than some cranky stuff a Donald McNeil says one day to ruin your day, or even affect it in the slightest.
The only problem with McWhorter’s analysis is that it’s not just African-Americans who signed that letter to the editors. It’s not just black people who continue to enforce this taboo. He leaves out that a lot of this faux offense comes from whites—who sometimes object even more vociferously than do blacks. And that’s because whites have an additional fear: if you don’t go along, you can be called a racist. And that, too, is a kind of insecurity.
54 thoughts on “Craven New York Times editors discipline a distinguished science writer for using the n-word in a non-malicious way, but then fire him after staffers call for his head”
I have long subscribed to The New York Times and will continue to read it forever, but I agree that this is an extremely low moment for the paper. Shame on them.
I wonder when the NYT and the woke staff will go after all of the rappers who are prolific users of the n-word for profit.
As soon as I read the cost to attend the excursion was $5000 + I knew there would be trouble because we are dealing with privileged young people. I have to wonder how many people do these entitled people prevent from engaging and attaining positions they enjoy. Ironic.
“I knew there would be trouble because we are dealing with privileged young people.”
Exactly! Perhaps it’s time our media elite began addressed that problem. But it won’t, because it’s largely made up of privileged young people. The ruling classes rarely question themselves in ways that count.
And the woke always say it is race not class that is the cause of inequality. So, basically they exclude themselves.
I think people should realize by now that these kids are entrapping journalists and professors in order to topple pedestals for cred. It would be better to refer to “a slur” rather than repeat it or even say “the n-word” since even that got a professor removed from the classroom.
This is a predatory, gaslighting movement and people need to realize that. I won’t mention my work situation, but it’s penetrated there, too.
They are old enough to understand the context, but without conscience, seize an easy way to cause a brouhaha with no consequences to themselves
Of course not. It’s also obviously false. Black people are not harmed when the n-word is used in a non racist context, as witnessed by the fact that it seems to be quite popular for black rappers to use it in their lyrics.
Furthermore, we all know the word to which the phrase “the n-word” refers. Why does “the n-word” not trigger black people in the way the n-word allegedly does?
If intent were to be rejected, it would mean the rejection of all mitigation. Our justice system would change fundamentally, and not for the better.
At this rate, I guess we won’t have long to wait. Soon it will be “the word formerly used to insult
Negros, sorry Blacks, sorry Coloreds, sorry People of – ” Aw fuggedit.
One of the worst outcomes of this episode is the NYT let a go a stellar science writer doing exemplary and critically needed reporting on COVID, one for which he may be awarded a Pulitzer. What a stupid tradeoff, and the public pays.
Another example in our institutions where the inmates have taken over the asylum. Like what almost happened on the 6th of January.
I can’t take it anymore – I just cancelled my digital subscription. 🙁
“What do wanna do with your life?”: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=4xmckWVPRaI
The word “niggardly” is already taboo, of course. So are Chinese words that merely sound like the outlawed English word, as professor Greg Patton of USC discovered, to his cost. To be prudent, probably all words that start with the syllable “neg” (such as “negative”, “neglect”, and “negotiate”, not to mention “negligee”) should be avoided.
I guess that the offense brigades are made of three groups, including both Black and white individuals. There might be a few cranks and neurotics, who actually feel “pain”, or think they do, when exposed to words which have evil magic. A much larger group consists of narcissists who claim the same “pain” in order to get attention. The third group, which probably overlaps with the second, is simply concerned with gaining and exercising power. Once upon a time, in a land across the sea, the activities of the third group, backed
by the state, succeeded in associating the word “gene” with evil magic.
Re ‘niggardly’, wasn’t there a British paediatrician mobbed for being assumed to be a paedophile?
Of course that is different from using ‘nigger’, (is that worse than ‘the n-word’?) in a context that is a quotation from a text or something said, but still.
Here in South Africa the word is the k-word (kaffer, ironically derived from arab ‘kafir’: unbeliever – non-Muslim that is) and to a lesser degree the h-word (hotnot). I must admit that when my wife used it it didn’t do anything (I guess the same way rappers use ‘nigga’), but when a visiting German professor used it to show the times had changed, it somehow mysteriously stung.
Her house was vandalised, after a News of the World “name and shame” campaign:
Who are these elusive gremlin ‘staffers’? ‘Dean and Joe’ sounds like an unidentified female cadaver in the morgue (Jean Doe?). Do they subliminally indicate the NYT has turned into the morgue of good journalism? Wasn’t the goddess of journalism female? Or what?
This latter post was meant as a separate answer, no 15, not a reply to Jon.
I like Sullivan notion this confession sounds like a confession extorted by the Khmer Rouge -or the red brigades for that matter. Not just ridiculous, but demeaning and terrifying. AND -of course- not enough. The resemblance is striking.
I think it is time these “Dean andJoe” ‘staffers’ be investigated and exposed for the bigots they are. Bullies like that tend to deflate when seriously confronted.
Chinese censorship? Indeed: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_censorship_in_China
If “what matters is how an act makes the victims feel,” then any- or everything can be construed as unacceptable harassment.
Remember a few months back when a USC Prof was suspended for saying “nega”, a Chinese filler word, explaining that it was used to indicate a pause (like we use “uhh” in English). It sounded too close to the rap version of the N-word, even though it wasn’t intended to be that word, it wasn’t used in reference to blacks, and it perhaps never even occurred to him that there’s a similarity.
Next we’ll be firing people for speaking Mandarin if they use “nega” in their own language.
However, it is best to avoid the phrase “a chink in the armour” around certain demographics.
More about intent not mattering. This is purely a dominance claim that the petitioners are making to say that this is a matter on which there should be no debate and no discussion. There is no gray area, as it were. It works well for them in instances like these where they want to make an example of someone. If they were to admit that there were cases worthy of discussion, they would lose their power and their frightfulness. At the same time it is also hypocritical, since undoubtedly these people are also in favor of so called hate crimes, where intent does matter. Unless, of course, we were to say that any attack by a “white” person on a person of color was automatically a hate crime. This would be to re-introduce privilege in its traditional usage (a law that applies only to certain social groups) into the law, destroying the concept of legal equality.
Out of interest, what happens if a film such as Reservoir Dogs gets shown on US TV or Netflix or Amazon Prime? Is that acceptable, or is the film censored?
[For those who haven’t seen it, it involves jewelry thieves using the “letter-after-M” word (is that enough euphemism, or is M uncomfortably close to … err, the succeeding letter?).]
I watched “Pulp Fiction” on Netflix last night partly for this purpose and partly to watch Amanda Plummer as “Honey Bunny” (her dad died a few days ago). Plenty of uncensored n words by lots of Black and white actors.
Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy, in his slender but definitive volume on the subject, defended Tarantino’s use of the word in his films, after Spike Lee criticized it.
Hearing that musta made Quentin feel like it was white-boy day. 🙂
I wonder if some of the criticism of Tarantino’s movie usage was based on Tarantino himself appearing as a minor character with dialogue that is liberally sprinkled with n words? I haven’t read Randall Kennedy’s book or Spike Lee’s criticism so IDK.
As I recall, one of the grounds on which Prof. Kennedy defended him was that Tarantino’s character in Pulp Fiction, “Jimmy,” was married to a black woman — the titular “Bonnie” from “The Bonnie Situation” segment.
“(for crying out loud, many of us question the idea of “white privilege”!)”
Are you questioning the entire idea of white privilege all together? Not clear if you are. Surely white privilege exists in some ways and in some circumstances, even if other privileges exist as well.
Can you give an example of “white privilege” that is somehow exempt from questioning (all together)?
That really doesn’t say much though, does it? Privilege of all kinds exists in some ways and in some circumstances. However, that fact is never acknowledged; it cannot ever be the case where a white person is under-privileged under any circumstances compared to any BIPOC. The only allowable assumption is that white privilege is ubiquitous; a property of all whites in all circumstances.
I know what you mean. But if we look at the concept of ‘privilege’ through the lens of determinism (or indeterminism) then the concept of privilege seems to make less sense.
Say on the Serengeti, carnivores are privileged to catch and eat antelope.
It is pure luck that “I” am a (privileged) old white man. The atoms that have come together to make me (or anyone else) is pure chaotic chance.
Just waxing lyrical.
A native plant society Facebook page got into discussion of Round-headed Chinese Houses, an widely-accepted common name for the wildflower Collinsia corymbosa. Although I was aware of Round-headed Bush Clover (Lespedeza capitata) and vaguely aware of the Roundheads, the protestant / parlimentarian / anti-royalist side of the English civil war, I had not known that “Roundhead” has been used as an insulting term applied to Chinese in America. One side argued that the plant’s descriptive name must be changed because it offends Asian-Americans. The other side argued, Don’t be silly. (I’m with the latter.) The one bit of data we didn’t get was whether many Asian Americans are actually offended by the plant’s name.
In this case, using the plant’s scientific name seems a good choice to me! However, the whole business about having standardized, globally accepted, scientific names for plants has also been criticized in that forum as colonialist. That criticism is, of course, true. However, I think the value of having internationally recognized names far outweighs the issues about the origins of that system.
This all frustrates me. I mean well. I don’t wish to insult people. But virtually anything might be an insult. Think about how the acceptable term for American blacks has changed in my life time from Negro to colored to black, to African-American to black to Black! So easy to be “wrong” when one is simply not up to date. (I’m virtually never up to date except in my limited area of expertise, which is certainly not humans.)
The same caveats apply when we talk of ‘disability’ – you all know the changes from cripples in the 60s, to various new forms of expression like ‘differently abled’…
Heck, the venerable jewfish has had its name changed to “goliath grouper” — even though it’s unclear the name’s etymology involved any type of Semitic derivation, and even though the Anti-Defamation League said it was cool with the original name.
Jewfish Creek, the channel that marks the boundary between the Florida Keys and the mainland, is still “Jewfish Creek,” though. Go figure.
There is currently a controversy in the US over the word picnic. A false etymology that gives the word a racist context has been circulating. It doesn’t matter that this etymology is demonstrably false, people want it banned anyway because of feelings.
If a single data point helps, I’m Chinese American and I’ve never heard of “roundhead” as a slur. I also vaguely associate it with the English Civil War.
Young, second or third generation Asian Americans are almost as overly sensitive to imagined slights as progressive white Americans. They’ve assimilated to the culture, in good ways and bad. First-generation Asian Americans, especially the older ones, tend to be culturally conservative and have nothing but disdain for political correctness. They also have real problems to worry about, including learning English and trying to make a living in the middle of a pandemic, and won’t know or care about the names of plants. Any time left wing activists try to convince you that all Asian Americans are on their side, keep in mind that 1/3 of them voted for Trump in 2020, an increase from 2016.
I switched from NYT to Wapo a couple of years ago over what I thought were poor editorial decisions on headlines and story placement. Wapo also has some issues, but I have lived with them as they have not been so serious to me as NYT. The nub of what amounts to a loss of freedom of speech and the basis for scientific analysis of issues is clearly pointed out in Jonathon Rauch’s short book: “Kindly Inquisitors – the new attacks on free thought”, brought to WEIT readers’ attention by Jerry a couple of weeks ago. I highly recommend reading this book; while one may not agree totally with him, his analysis around five canonical decision-making principles seems to me to be spot on. A simple summing up does not do the book justice, but is appropriate in this time of hurt feelings (students on McNeil’s educational trip) versus actual or very real potential physical harm (storming of the U.S. capitol by armed attackers on 6january or storming of Michigan or Virginia legislatures by similarly armed “protesters” in the recent past). There is freedom of speech; there is no fundamental freedom from hurt feelings. Rauch makes the case that some offense is often the price of free and open discussion that enables what he calls the liberal principle or liberal science to be applied for decision making. The trite adage from my childhood schooling in the U.S. in the 1950’s is simply “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me”. Being Jewish, i was hurt by the discussions of German concentration camps and pictures of the survivors and mass graves…my childhood was just ten years after these events. But the hurt was, i believe, important to my real internalization and understanding of these horrible events and inhuman behaviors.
Here in the UK, there’s been an outcry over a trainee priest who tweeted that there was a “cult of white British nationalism” surrounding the 100-year-old Captain Sir Tom Moore, who died last week.
The tweeter is black and gay, so I suspect he’ll survive.
I actually think that he may have a point! Not poor old Tom himself, but some of those happy to highjack that image of the war hero. One can say these things, just not to the world, & not on social media.
That’s like poor old John Birch, a US Army Air Force captain (and Baptist missionary) who got killed in China after The War and ended up with his name slapped on the far-right-wing Society, even though no less an authority than his buddy Jimmy Doolittle said he wouldn’t have approved.
Immediately after Captain Sir Tom’s death probably wasn’t the time to make the point – and I expect that there are more egregious examples of dubious people exploiting opportunities to wrap themselves in the flag that could be pointed out on nearly any day of the week.
The Church of England (CofE) is notoriously forgiving of its own. After a conviction in 1989 for indecently assaulting a 15-year-old boy – for which he was fined £500 – Canon John Roberts was reinstated within a fortnight. The CofE (in the person of the then dean of Liverpool, now the archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, no less) then took the word of this convicted paedophile over those of his later victims! For the record, despite the CofE’s best efforts in December 2020 Roberts was sentenced to nine years in prison for ten counts of indecent and sexual assault.
Did none of you notice in today’s NYT magazine an article about a black professor named Padilla, in which the N word IS PRINTED IN FULL, EVERY LETTER? I sent a letter to the NYT pointing this out but I doubt they will publish it. Apparently you can quote the full N word in print but you cant quote it orally.
PCC(E) discussed, in a post a few days ago, the subject matter of this NYT Magazine article on “Whiteness” in the field of Classical Studies. Yep, the n-word appears in full, in a self-reflection on a self-reflection of Frederick Douglass.
I suspect that perhaps the user in the article is a person of color, or has the concurrence of a person of color? McNeil, the reporter fired, is white.
As we’ve seen, in real life “hate speech” is really any speech that anyone anywhere hates. As such the very concept of “hate speech” must be removed from American law.
“Hate speech” doesn’t exist in US law now (nor has it ever), so there is nothing to remove. No “hate speech” statute could possibly pass First Amendment muster.
In 1980 Richard Pryor, having returned from a trip to Kenya, was asked by Ebony magazine why he no longer used the N-word on stage. He said: “While I was there, something inside of me said, look around you, Richard. What do you see? I saw people. African people. I saw people from other countries, too, and they were all kinds of colors, but I didn’t see any ‘niggers.’ I didn’t see any there because there are no ‘niggers’ in Africa…There are no ‘niggers’ in Africa, and there are no ‘niggers’ here in America either. We black people are not ‘niggers,’ and I will forever refuse to be one.”
This has always struck me as the best thing ever said on the word. In an ideal world, the “n-word” would rarely be spoken by anybody from any race. The idea that black folks should be encouraged to use it as some sort of consolation prize for racism has always seemed ridiculously patronizing.
Yet it also strikes me that if I were to quote Pryor’s anecdote aloud I would likely get fire/cancelled/vilified, etc. And that is also ridiculous. Turning this word into a taboo—instead of word that should be avoided, unless its context is clearly anti-racist—is the wrong way to handle it. Taboos do not encourage rational thought and clear-thinking. If this reporter had said “fuck” out loud to a mixed-gender group of students in 1920 he probably would have been fired too. It isn’t progress to simply replace one unspeakable taboo with another.
What’s also ridiculous is the staffers’ whine that intent is “irrelevant.” How else in this case could you tell whether a person was being truly racist or not, aside from gauging their intent? That’s how we separate the truly bad actors from those who were either misunderstood or who made a mistake that doesn’t reflect their true feelings and overall conduct.
Furthermore, the staffers’ assertion that what matters “is how an act makes the victims feel” is equally ridiculous. Are feelings to be given primacy before thought and reflection? Isn’t there something off about privileging feelings this way? And how was anyone victimized by hearing someone speak the n-word in a non-racist context? To even assume the role of a “victim” in this case is insulting those who have been the real victims of racist violence and hatred. And did those who reacted in the most hysterical and dramatic manner truly represent the feelings of everyone there?
I think there are definitely forms of white privilege in this country—many African American drivers stopped by the police more often than whites would surely agree—but I don’t see much privilege in the fact that a white man can be fired for saying a word, in a non-racist manner, that an African American can say freely. In a just world those words would almost never be used by anyone, and if they were, people would undertake an honest-faith discussion about whether the usage reflected racist or non-racist intent. McNeil did not make the world a more racist place by using the word, contrary to what the cry-bullies at the New York Times think.
Does any reader or Jerry recommend a news source that tries to be objective,
that does not have a social issue ax to grind and is not ‘woke’? Bari Weiss can’t do it all.