Some of this is taken from a conversation with my good friend NB, who is Caucasian and reads this blog.
So as y’all know, there were different punishments for ESPN editor Anthony Federico (pictured above) and ESPN anchorman Max Bretos who respectively wrote a headline and made a comment about “chink in the armor” when talking about Jeremy Lin. Quite a few people on FB and e-mail (and here!) have pointed out that the situations are different because it’s easier to misspeak than it is to mis-write. I’ve read about the ESPN editor, and it seems that he’s claiming that he had no idea what he had done, and that he feels bad.
So…it’s possible that it was unintentional–for both guys. I do think it’s good that they punish both guys in order to send a message, but I think they should’ve done it equally, regardless of whether it was spoken or not. Sure, it’s much easier to make verbal gaffes when speaking. However, if you look at both Bretos and Federico, neither seemed to think twice after the fact–which makes me think that maybe it was the same experience for both of them. Both seemed to go home without even being cognizant that a slur was uttered/written. If Bretos was a writer rather than a speaker, he might’ve done exactly the same thing. So maybe there is a difference between what non-Asians say in some circumstances and others–for them, it could be an entirely different word, much like “dissent” and “descent.” (I got that comparison from this fascinating essay on Braille.) I don’t know if the same is true about the Asian hearers of the word.
I remember learning the word “chink” in grade school, during our English/vocabulary lessons. I had just been called that and had the crap kicked out of me by my White classmates the week before. (I’ve posted about my adventures in youthful racial violence before.) At that time, the violence was out of control–I was getting kicked, punched, and rocks thrown at me every other week. My teachers were useless in stopping it–it was simply too much for them to deal with, and they weren’t up to the task. When I saw that word on the board, I thought I was going to get more violence. Sitting in my seat, I was breaking out in a sweat, wondering what to do and what I’d say when we were learning racial slurs in class. On my vocab test, I was even thinking of writing two definitions of “chink”: “a narrow opening or crack,” and “what my White classmates call me before the racial violence starts.”
But the funny thing is this–not a single one of my White classmates ever drew the parallel between the words they used to disparage my race and the word that was up on the blackboard. Instead, it seemed that they were just trying to remember what the word meant for their vocabulary test! There was never any linkage in their minds between the classroom and the fact that they had a non-White person in the classroom.
In this case, I think they should’ve punished both Bretos and Federico, regardless of whether it was intentional or not. ESPN has a responsibility to make sure that they are sensitive to the meaning of the words their employees use, and how that word has historically been used as a means of inciting both fear and violence. But I do think they should’ve been equal about it. They should’ve fired both, or suspended both indefinitely.
(pic from the Gothamist)