{interlude} Looking for racism where it doesn’t exist

I’ve been watching soccer on TV for years. Over a decade. Long enough to have become a fan of regular anchors (like Bob Ley) and those who became anchors or color folks after their on-field career ended (like Alexi Lalas or Eric Wynalda). Max Bretos has been a colorful character, for sure, seemingly hyper-caffeinated on-screen and maybe Alexi’s BFF off-screen. I was glad to see that his career continued to progress, until it apparently came to screeching {suspension} this week thanks to a turn of phrase taken WAY out of context.

Bretos asked former Knicks player Walt Frazier about current Knicks phenom Jeremy Lin: “He’s handled everything very well, as you said, unflappable – but if there is a chink in the armor, where can Lin improve his game?” The world then seemed to have spun out of control with people accusing Bretos of racism because he used the word “chink” in the same sentence as “Lin”. Lin is of Asian descent, and much of the press about him seems to be focused on him not because he’s a fantastic player but because he’s a fantastic Asian-American player, and yet Max is the one who gets called out for being a racist? I’m sorry, but that’s nuts.

In the context of the phrase (speaking to its origin), “chink” refers to chain mail that’s got a hole or a snarl in it, creating a weak spot in the armor. In other words, what Bretos was asking was, “What are the weak spots in Jeremy Lin’s game?” In fact, if he had used this very same phrase when talking about ANY other NBA player – say, Kobe Bryant or LeBron James – NO ONE WOULD HAVE CARED. The reason no one would have cared is because the phrase was uttered innocently and in a completely valid, non-racist context. The people who are making a big deal about this, to the point where people are being fired or suspended, are the ones who should check their own heads.

Don’t get me wrong: racism is bad, mmmkay? Calling people bad names because you think they’re inferior is just wrong. However, picking up words that have been used for racist terms and calling them racist when used in complete other contexts is just silly.

Here’s another example:

The mid-90’s song “Alright” by Supergrass is a catchy, amusing tune that I remember hearing in the movie “Clueless”. One of the lines goes: “We wake up, we go out, smoke a fag, put it out, see our friends, see the sights, and feel alright.” OMG THEY SAID FAG. OH BUT WAIT…turns out that the band wasn’t talking about actually lighting a gay person on fire…they were just using a British slang word for “cigarette”. OOPS. So, given that the song got picked up by movies and even Intel, does that mean all those people are homophobes? Uh, no. Not remotely.

Words aren’t inherently bad until they’re used by bad people to do or say bad things. Many words have more than one definition or use, and not all definitions and uses of a bad word are bad. And it frustrates the hell out of me that someone who used a word innocently is being denied the ability to work because other people with their own racism issues have decided to make the word seem less than innocent. They’re the ones using the word badly, and if anyone should be suspended, it should be them – not Max.

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