It seems increasingly difficult for businesses and public figures to navigate the minefield of public sensitivities these days. Thanks to social media, a racial slur or an innocent “oops” moment can be magnified for everyone to see.
In the past few weeks, not one but two TV news personalities were floundering in hot water over the same racial slip up.
On January 7, meteorologist Jeremy Kappell was fired for stumbling over Martin Luther King’s name three days earlier, when he referred to “Martin Luther coon King Jr. Park”. “Coon” is considered a racial slur.
Just three weeks later, newscaster Kevin Steincross apologized on air for making the exact same mispronunciation.
In this time of heightened sensitivities, it’s even hard to determine what is fair game and what is not.
Edmonds Bakery created a number of cute and humorous cookies, including “dedicated to love”, “cool beans” and “Build that wall”. The latter turned out to be neither cute nor humorous, according to plenty of people.
The attacks on the bakery were merciless: “…it shows us who you are to your core — a racist.” And “there is some hate coming out of this bakery”.
The same day as we heard about the wall cookies, we also got news of an investigation into a Duke University professor. He had sent an email to foreign students, urging them to speak only English on campus so as to protect their interests.
While his misguided advice was likely intended to be more friendly than threatening, the threat was real. The professor sent his email after two other faculty members had asked him for the names of foreign-speaking students … so they could hold them back academically.
Meanwhile, in Vancouver, Canada, byelection candidate Karen Wang withdrew from the race after saying on Chinese social media platform WeChat: “If we can increase the voting rate, as the only Chinese candidate in this riding, if I can garner 16,000 votes I will easily win the byelection, control the election race and make history! My opponent in this byelection is the NDP candidate Singh of Indian descent!”
Even Tom Brokaw got into trouble for saying: “I also happen to believe that the Hispanics should work harder at assimilation. That’s one of the things I’ve been saying for a long time. You know, they ought not to be just codified in their communities but make sure that all their kids are learning to speak English, and that they feel comfortable in the communities. And that’s going to take outreach on both sides, frankly.” Not exactly a racial slur, but clearly insensitive to the people he was referring to.
I know that some readers will scratch their heads at one or another of these examples, thinking, “What’s the big deal?” Meanwhile, other readers will look at the same examples, thinking, “How dare he?” or “How dare she?”
How to stay out of trouble
You run a business. You don’t want to be racist, sexist or any other offensive “ist”. Your goal isn’t …read more
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