Time is ripe to bury this slur

There’s no pride in con­tin­ued wide­spread use of a word used by racists to den­i­grate Black peo­ple

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - MARY MITCHELL mmitchell@sun­times.com | @MaryMitche­l­lCST

In­ever gave the word “mas­ter” a lot of thought.

In fact, a cou­ple of years ago I thought it was funny when my podcast sis­ter, au­thor Les­lie Bal­dacci, sug­gested we do a seg­ment called: “Who put the Mas­ter in Master­Card?”

But I’m not laugh­ing now.

All hell broke loose when a white Min­neapo­lis po­lice of­fi­cer killed

Ge­orge Floyd, a Black man, by putting his knee on his neck.

The af­ter­math of that cold­hearted act left more than bro­ken glass and ran­sacked stores.

Just like the coro­n­avirus has changed ev­ery­day life, the killing of Floyd (which re­minded many of a pub­lic lynch­ing) has changed the way many of us see our racial his­tory.

That change is now rolling across Amer­ica:

From the board­rooms — where cor­po­rate lead­ers de­cided to re­tire pop­u­lar long­stand­ing brands like “Aunt Jemima” and “Un­cle Ben”— to sports teams, like the for­mer “Wash­ing­ton Red­skins,” which re­cently dumped its of­fen­sive mas­cot, peo­ple are re­ex­am­in­ing their racial at­ti­tudes.

These changes didn’t come overnight.

Na­tive Amer­i­cans have cam­paigned for decades against cul­tural mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion by col­lege and pro­fes­sional sports teams.

Trag­i­cally, it took a cruel act of racial op­pres­sion for de­ci­sion­mak­ers to lis­ten.

Now, we are in the midst of not only con­fronting our racist roots, but we are try­ing to dig them up, which brings me back to “mas­ter.”

Be­cause of this racial reck­on­ing, so to speak, what was once a so­cially ac­cept­able term used to de­scribe a per­son’s dom­i­nance has come under scru­tiny.

In Hous­ton, one of the fastest­grow­ing cities in Amer­ica, real es­tate agents, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent CBS News report, will no longer use the term.

“…More mem­bers viewed the terms (mas­ter bed­room, mas­ter bath­room) as sex­ist than racist, although some did view them as racist,” ac­cord­ing to a state­ment from the Hous­ton As­so­ci­a­tion of Real­tors, CBS News re­ported.

Chicago-based real es­tate firm @prop­er­ties has also dropped the term “mas­ter.”

The Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Real­tors, how­ever, told the Hous­ton Chron­i­cle that the U.S. De­part­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment ad­vised them the term

“mas­ter bed­room is not dis­crim­i­na­tory and that its us­age does not vi­o­late any fair hous­ing laws.”

“Mas­ter” is chiefly de­fined in the New Ox­ford Amer­i­can Dic­tio­nary as a “man who has peo­ple work­ing for him, es­pe­cially ser­vants or slaves.”

What was once ac­cepted as an in­nocu­ous term used to de­scribe a per­son’s dom­i­nance is now be­ing de­nounced as racist.

Frankly, I would pull out my “Master­Card” credit card with­out ever mak­ing the con­nec­tion that “mas­ter” is as rooted in our slav­ery lex­i­con as “mammy.”

The fact that peo­ple in the real es­tate in­dus­try are de­bat­ing this is­sue shows the depth at which Amer­i­cans of all races are re­ex­am­in­ing racial bias.

Maybe now African-Amer­i­can lead­ers, artists, mu­si­cians and in­flu­encers will launch a se­ri­ous cam­paign to stop the use of the n-word.

The NAACP tried in vain to bury the word more than a decade ago.

But Black youth, par­tic­u­larly, have been bam­boo­zled, as Mal­colm X would say, into be­liev­ing that a word rooted in the out­right ha­tred of Black skin could ever be used to de­scribe a Black per­son — no mat­ter who uses it.

It pains me to hear that word blast­ing from car ra­dios and from the lips of Black co­me­di­ans, as if they don’t know where the word comes from.

Like so many oth­ers in my gen­er­a­tion, I’m proud of the ac­tivism young peo­ple con­tinue to show around crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form.

They are right to go hard when it coms to fix­ing our bro­ken and in­equitable sys­tem, in­clud­ing polic­ing in Black and Brown neigh­bor­hoods.

But we have a lot of in­ter­nal work to do.

It is easy to de­mand that stat­ues of slave-own­ing his­tor­i­cal fig­ures be taken down and hid­den from pub­lic view.

Right on.

We should re­place those mon­u­ments with stat­ues of Amer­i­can he­roes that peo­ple of ev­ery race can be proud of.

But there’s no pride in the con­tin­ued wide­spread use of a word that was used by racists to den­i­grate Black peo­ple.

It was a racial slur back then. It is still a racial slur to­day.


As the na­tion reeval­u­ates his­tor­i­cal mon­u­ments to po­lar­iz­ing fig­ures like Christo­pher Columbus — taken off dis­play at Grant Park re­cently — it’s time to bury a racial slur that’s been used to den­i­grate Black peo­ple yet still gets air­play.

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