The founder of Papa John's, John Schnatter, is under fire. His company just lost $96 million in market value in a single day. All because he used a well-known racial slur against black people in a conference call.

(Update: After I posted this story, Schnatter resigned as chairman of Papa John's.)

I don't even have to say the word, or even the first letter. You know which word we're talking about.

I also can't believe this is the second time in a month I'm writing about this same subject. The Schnatter call comes on the heels of Netflix CEO Reed Hastings firing his company's communications chief, Jonathan Friedland, for "descriptive use of the N-word on at least two occasions."

Like Friedland, Schnatter didn't throw the word at someone as a personal insult, or speak it out of rage or immediate animus. Instead, he used it while accusing Colonel Sanders, the late founder of KFC, of having used the slur. 

I guess that's not quite as bad as calling somebody this word. But it's still flat-out wrong. And so, please: For the love of God, stop saying this word in any context.

750,000 other words

This goes triple for my fellow white people. Don't use it as an attack, obviously. But also: Don't use it ironically. 

Don't sing along with rap lyrics that contain it. Don't quote someone else who used it, even to condemn them for using it. 

Don't use it even if you've heard a black friend say it, or if he or she doesn't seem to be uncomfortable with your saying it.

There are roughly 750,000 words in the English language. We're only asking you not to use one  of them. And there are at least three reasons why:

  • The word itself
  • The perception of the word
  • The effect of that perception

1. The word itself

There was a time, barely memorable to our oldest readers, when some otherwise normal people still said this word. The taboos of that time were other curse words, like what we sometimes call the F-word. 

But it's 2018. It's completely unacceptable. I think what makes this racial slur worse than other "forbidden words" from our history is that it's a word that was coined purely out of hatred. You can't really say that with most other curses.

2. The perception of the word

You might not agree with that first point. You might retort that a word is only what we make of it. That's arguably true, but it doesn't matter. What does matter is that the word is deeply offensive--and especially to black people. 

So why would you, in any context, use a word that is guaranteed to offend at least part of your audience? Why not simply display some respect?

3. The effect of the perception of the word

We'll take this a step further. Maybe you think it's just a word. Maybe you think other people who are offended are just being too sensitive. 

Regardless, if you're representing an organization, the practical effect of the offense other people take is that it hurts you. See the $96 million that Papa John's lost in one day. True, fear of how using this word could hurt you is the least noble reason not to use the word---but it's still a valid reason.

So, really, please stop--especially my fellow white people. I'd really like to stop writing stories about corporate executives who are so tone deaf that they don't know better.

Then we can all just get back to bashing Elon Musk.

Published on: Jul 12, 2018