Sunday, March 25, 2012

When you meet the racists on the road, correct their usage

There's a U.S. presidential campaign bumper sticker making the rounds that at once purports to take advantage of free speech while at the same time devolving into racist taunting.

In an attempt to play on the word "renege," the bumper sticker shouts out "Don't Renege in 2012," only renege is deliberately misspelled to use a racial epithet. See how clever? The makers of the bumper sticker picked up on what they believed to be a double-entendre.

The problem, aside from the ugly racist undertone, is that the way the bumper sticker is worded, it actually seems to call on people not to reverse - not to renege on--the vote they made for Barack Obama in 2012. (There's small type on the bumper sticker that's more specifically anti-Obama, but who can read the small type from a car's length away?)

It's unclear if masses of people are actually putting these bumper stickers on their cars. The photo posted on Facebook, The Huffington Post and elsewhere all seem to feature the bumper sticker plastered on the back of a gray vehicle that also features a promotional decal for a well-known brand of shotgun.

People posting pictures of the bumper sticker are asking their readers and followers for their opinion. Or, as in the case of a friend whose post was the first I saw, they're just writing an observation like "Sigh" without further comment.

One question that looms large is whether those who might see the bumper sticker should say something to the person who's placed it on his or her vehicle. Just as those using the bumper sticker have a right to free speech, surely others who find it offensive have an equal right to freely speak to how offensive they find the words.

So, what's the right thing to do?

If you harbor a strong feeling about just how offensive something is, the right thing to do is to speak up.

It's no different if you find yourself in a setting when someone offers a joke that is racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic or anything else that you believe goes against your core beliefs about what is appropriate discourse. If you don't find the joke funny, it's acceptable to tell the teller that you find such jokes offensive. Doing that upon the first telling (these jokes tend to come in multiples spread over time) establishes that while someone has a right to spew such stuff, you would prefer that he or she not do it in your company.

Those who display such bumper stickers should know that there are people who find them offensive.

Granted, the accompanying sticker for a shotgun manufacturer might give you some trepidation. So, use your judgment in deciding how you deliver your response.

My suggestion would be to let the motorist know - from a far-enough distance - that you don't plan to renege on your vote in 2012, that you do plan to change how you voted, or that you never voted for the fellow in the first place - but that regardless of your political leanings, racist language does little to advance whatever his cause might be.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
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(c) 2012 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune MediaServices, Inc.


Anonymous said...

Let's say you are not a racist, but that you are so disgusted by the nonsense that the American Public-the ones who don't listen to the typical media outlets-are experiencing-high gas prices-for quite a while now-poor economy-living on half your salary-with the knowledge you are not getting your job back-or another job paying what you based your mortgage payment on and you have been trying to stuggle and hold on-while hoping anyone can change things......for the better.And they have not-not for you not for your children-and you know the social services-and unemployment cannot continue forever-no matter how much the media portrays to the contrary the present administrations wonderful qualities. Perhaps because the people-media-are not on social services and suffering to feed their families---and provide gas. Pay my mortgage or feed my family or buy gas? I fear more than racism-I fear a deep and abiding loathing of aggravation errupting into the streets. Times are really hard everywhere and just because the media wants to put a lovely spin on bad times-doesn't mean things will not get worse. Try to imagine, when you encourage that person, that is exhibiting the racist bumper sticker, not to, that you will possibly feel a bit of this deep rooted anger that really, media b/s aside-does exist.

Anonymous said...

p.s. Point being-when there is total anger and disappoinment-people-do things they would never normally do-and exhibit what they would never exhibit......racism.
Is it deep-seated and deep-rooted in all of us still? Sigh, indeed.

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