Earlier this week, xoJane’s sports blogger Daisy Barringer wrote a piece called “Do We Really Think That ESPN Headline Was Intentionally Racist?” In it, Daisy argued that the ESPN headline writer who penned the “Chink In The Armor” headline — after the Knicks lost on Saturday night — might have made an honest mistake when he used a racial slur for Asian-Americans in a story about the player Jeremy Lin. The writer, Anthony Frederico, has since been fired from ESPN; he maintains that he didn’t know “chink” was a racist slur and the incident was completely unintentional. He also has used the phrase “chink in the armor” in other headlines before when he wasn’t referring to Asian-Americans, suggesting that’s just a phrase he likes to use in headlines. So, Daisy gives him the benefit of the doubt because she claims she didn’t know until well into her 20s that “chink” was a racist slur, either.
Daisy begins her piece on xoJane — a blog run by Jane Pratt of Jane and Sassy magazines — by describing her sheltered upbringing as a kid: “I grew up in a home where ‘cuss’ words were not used in front of me.” Of course, racial slurs were not used either. She goes on to explain that “it wasn’t until I went to college at NYU that I began to learn there were derogatory terms used to insult entire races, religions and ethnicities.” This slur-free bubble either something to celebrate, or completely galling, but Daisy nevertheless admits her ignorance to slurs made her/makes her pretty “naive.” In an editor’s comment posted 12 hours after the post went up on xoJane, Jane Pratt wrote that she did not agree with the sentiment in it, could not “agree to disagree about it,” and would not have run it herself.
To be clear, I understand Daisy’s point that not everyone who does something racist intends to be racist. Of course not everyone who does something sexist, or homophobic, or transphobic, or otherwise ignorant, intends to do so. At the very least, I appreciate her honesty about naivete, as I can empathize with having a somewhat sheltered upbringing by accepting and tolerant parents. I grew up in an upper-middle class town in Connecticut with fiscally conservative, proper, WASPy parents; they are socially liberal, however, and taught me to abhor racism and homophobia. Of course, I never heard slurs of any kind in my home. I scarcely heard “bad words,” either. When some kid called me a “cunt” in 8th grade, I didn’t know what that word meant. When my best friend dressed as Monica Lewinsky for Halloween in 9th grade, I had no clue that the white streak she painted on her blue dress was supposed to be Bill Clinton’s semen. So, yes, I understand that you can’t help how your parents sheltered you from the “real world” as a child. It may well be true that, even in adulthood, both Daisy and Anthony Frederico had no clue that “chink” is a racist slur against Asians.
Alas, it is a weak defense.
It is one that should have Seth and Amy trilling, “Really? Really?!”
It is, actually, rather willfully ignorant.
Naivete and a sheltered childhood are not excuses for ignorance in adulthood — and ignorant is exactly what Daisy’s post was, as well as what the EPSN author showed himself to be. Daisy does admit, that, personally, as she has “gotten older and somewhat wiser, I’ve made a conscious effort not to learn what these [racial slur] words mean.” Why, then, would she seemingly circumvent that part of being an adult where you admit your mistakes, apologize, accept the consequences, and try to do better next time by educating yourself? I don’t think anyone should be burned at the pyre for making a mistake, but part of being a grown-up is getting out of your bubble, which happens for all of us by trial and error. If a person is ignorant about what it is like to be a black man or a disabled woman or somebody who is intersex — and unless you are one of those people, you probably are to some degree — you are probably going to make a mistake at some point. Nice people don’t walk around intentionally making ignorant comments about other people’s wheelchairs or skin color. But hey, sometimes something dumb slips out. Being an adult means when you are called out on it, you file that piece of information away in your brain and vow to educate yourself in the hopes you will do better next time. It’s called accepting responsibility.
Now, I know what you might be thinking: “If he really made an honest mistake, it just doesn’t seem fair.” It’s true that at the end of the day, we don’t know whether ESPN’s Anthony Frederico really didn’t know “chink” was racist or if he’s just backpedaling and making excuses. Unfortunately for Anthony Frederico’s journalism career, words are his/our business. Someone working in journalism should know the inappropriate words. This gets discussed in journalism school, it (hopefully) gets discussed in offices, and there are even entire books, like the AP Stylebook, to give guidance on this. Today, the Asian American Journalists Association even released guidebook info about how best to cover race; Middle Eastern orgs, black orgs, women’s rights orgs and gay and lesbian orgs release similar guidebooks on how to cover sensitive topics. From a professional standpoint, he should have known. It sucks Frederico had to lose his job over it, but you can be damn well sure this has been a teachable moment for him.
Professional expectations aside, I can’t feel too sorry for this guy — or do anything more than roll my eyes at Daisy at xoJane’s weak defense of him. It all comes down to the privilege each one of us has. Depending on the social situations we are in, we are privileged by our skin color, our social class, our perceived attractiveness, the ability of our body, our gender, and our perceived sexual orientation, just to name a few. Generally speaking, a lot of the privileges we enjoy are not fully conscious and rather ingrained in our minds. (To give a very basic, if cringe-worthy example, why do you think Tyra Banks just loves, loves, loves putting on a “fat suit” to go out and explore how the other half lives?) We can’t help what our gender or skin color is, but at the same time we have to be aware of the advantages that come with those privileges. We live in a culture where we at least pretend to agree that we should treat other people the way we want to be treated and that includes people who don’t intend to act like jerks — which is probably most of us. Daisy is showing a hell of a lot of privilege — abusing it, you could say — when she tries to defend accidental racism this way. (One of her humdinger lines: “I couldn’t help but think that perhaps it was everyone else who was racist, not the writer.” Because the writer’s accidental racism is somehow everyone else‘s problem?) At the end of the day, Daisy can cling to her ignorance and resist change — good change — because no one is calling her a chink or any other slurs. That’s where she fails.
Ultimately, not being racist, accidentally or on purpose, is not about adhering to some standard of “political correctness,” which gets trashed for supposedly making us all walk on eggshells all the time. Not being racist is about wanting to be a polite and decent human being who treats others with dignity and respect — and accepting the consequences when you don’t. One does not have to walk on eggshells all the time if one makes a conscious effort to realize what’s racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. and what’s not. It’s really not that hard.
Contact the author of this post at Jessica@TheFrisky.com. Follow me on Twitter at @JessicaWakeman.