‘New York Times’ Confirms: Racial Slurs Still Not Okay, Even When Repeating Jokes

‘New York Times’ Confirms: Racial Slurs Still Not Okay, Even When Repeating Jokes

It’s the kind of advice column question with a built-in answer, a response so rooted in common sense and basic human decency that it barely requires putting it into print. But here we are, New York Times, with a headline in your Social Qs column that reads: “I Used a Slur for Accuracy When Repeating a Joke. Why Is Everyone Upset?”

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We’ll just jump right in with the letter to the Social Qs column, written by a charming gal who goes by HOSTESS: My son is a comedian. When his comedian friends come to my town for gigs, I put them up. Recently, I hosted a Black friend of his — I am white — and we talked about a famous Black comic. I paraphrased one of the comic’s jokes that impressed me. A TV censor allowed the comic to use the N-word but objected to his use of a gay slur. When the comic asked why, the censor said: “Because you’re not gay.” The comic replied: “Well, I’m not a N-word, either.” I used the full N-word, as the comic had, for accuracy. Later, the guest told my son that my language had made him feel unsafe and that I am a racist. My son is angry with me. But I am stunned that he and his friend can’t distinguish between quoting an antiracist joke and being racist. Do I have to apologize?

Before we get to the New York Times response, we’ll just point out that Dunder Mifflin had to hire a consultant and devote an entire workday to diversity training after Michael Scott pulled a similar stunt by repeatedly reciting a Chris Rock routine verbatim. Despite the episode’s point that Michael was an insensitive idiot, Comedy Central pulled the “Diversity Day” episode from its rotation for fear of offense. 

So somehow, everyone in Scranton except Michael knew this was unacceptable behavior in 2005, but Hostess still believes that accuracy is the most important part of the equation. The New York Times, of course, begged to differ. “Your use of the slur was insensitive, and your claim to know better than your guest how he should have felt when you used it is presumptuous,” the response began. “There is no reason for you or any white person to use that word — even in quotes.”

Go ahead and research the complex history of that racist slur, suggested NYT.  In the meantime, the letter’s use of “N-word” was plenty accurate to get Hostess’ message across. “Arguing for your need to use an explosive term, when a common euphemism will do,” finger-wagged the columnist, “makes you seem defensive and tone-deaf.” 

Boom! Please offer a heartfelt “sorry” to your guest, the Times advised Hostess. Unintentional hurt is hurt all the same. And if you’re ever curious if you’re on the right side of an issue, just ask yourself what Michael Scott would do. If you and Michael are on the same page, chances are damn good you owe someone an apology.

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