I used a racial epithet in my last column. I didn’t mean to use one. It didn’t even occur to me that I had at the time. While sitting in my family’s home and digesting a holiday meal, I was thinking about which teams would come out on top in the upcoming football games. I wasn’t thinking about how my use of the name of the Washington, D.C. football team, the R-word, would denigrate an entire race of people. But none of that changes the fact that it did.
The irony that I did this just a few weeks after writing about the national anthem protests and “enduring crisis of institutional racism” is not lost on me. How could I condemn the lingering evil of racism in one column and contribute to it in another? I’ve asked myself this question since realizing the effect of my words. The only answer I’ve found is this: when consciously addressing racism it was easy to identify and confront. But when distracted by other issues, I blindly allowed prejudice to pollute my writing.
That is the nature of racism in America. It is embedded in our foundations, pervades our institutions, and is a part of our popular culture. Racism insidiously weaves itself into our everyday conversations in a way that we often fail to appreciate at the time. The R-word is one example of how our nation’s long history of racial injustice is not buried in our past. It is an open wound, especially for the Oneida Nation and other indigenous nations who have suffered uncountable wrongs.
The fact that a professional football team stubbornly clings to this hateful word does not sanitize it. It does not make it okay for others to use it as well. When any publication, The Record included, uses the R-word, they compound this injustice by promoting bigotry. Accordingly, I join with the Oneida Nation in asking that we no longer tolerate the use of this hateful word. If I had understood the effect of this team name at the time, I would have used alternative neutral descriptors, and I will personally do so in the future.
Words have impact. They have meaning. And mine, however intentioned, have caused pain. It has been difficult for me to confront this reality, but it has also been an opportunity for introspection. I hope this incident gives us all an opportunity to reflect on the innumerable subconscious ways that we contribute to institutionalized racism, and the conscious efforts we must take to combat it.