If I learned anything this past week, it's that some people will find any context in which an ethnic slur is not an ethnic slur, or will find some justification for its use, from the name of a video game to that of a football team.
Really, the reactions were almost swappable. In Washington, rumblings that the Redskins might relocate to a stadium in the city limits sparked a city councilman's call for the team to reconsider its nickname of obviously racist origin—and the usual backlash against it. In video games, a student project out of the Netherlands billed itself as "Starcoon," borne of an understandable language disconnect but one that still invoked a top-five racial slur in the company of "spade," "spook," and the big N.
"Starcoon," however, changed its name, recognizing the embarrassment it would inevitably suffer if the game became a success in an English-speaking country. Yes, right, the protagonist of the platformer is a raccoon. Unless the truncated word is preceded by "Maine" or followed by "hound" you will have a problem on this side of the Atlantic, and in this case, it sounded like a ridiculous sci-fi blaxploitation film starring Bull Connor as the villain. Wisely, the creators bailed on the original name, rebranding it as Curio's Starquest.
The reaction was depressingly predictable. We're told all the time that the average age of gamers is getting older, but their emotional maturity and concept of life in a pluralist society seems to be stuck somewhere around the freshman year of high school. On average, it's a demographic no more sophisticated than meathead sports fans. "Ever wonder why racial slurs for white people never caught on?" said this commenter in one of our posts on "Starcoon."
No. Please, enlighten us.
"Because white people have higher self esteem in regards to their racial identity."
Yes, that's it. After everything they've gone through, for all for which they have stood, and suffered, ethnic minorities are simply insecure. Once they get over that, hey, racial equality.
No, racial slurs against white people never caught on here because white people, through the laws, textbooks and periodicals they largely control, have a demonstrable, centuries-long head start on deciding what words get used, and how.
One of those uses is in professional sports, where white people have such "higher self esteem" that thousands identify themselves, as fans of Washington's football team (or of other teams in high school), with a straight-up racial epithet.
"Redskin nation." "Redskin pride." They smear on warpaint and wear headdresses and go to the games. Then, when someone points out how childish all this is, the official newspaper of white people writes a hoary defense of the right to use the word, a vortex of circular logic that reads like an email from your grandfather with FWD:FWD:FWD:FWD:FWD: in the subject header.
It doesn't matter if the entirety of an ethnic minority is or isn't offended by a word and it doesn't matter if you say you knew a black guy or a Native American who has no problem with it. Good for you; I doubt he really exists.
It doesn't matter if a majority in a poll say they're fine with the name, and it doesn't matter that the word is inoffensive if it describes peanuts or potatoes. And "political correctness," the "liberal media," and every horseshit straw man you construct has nothing to say here.
What matters is that a billion-dollar business and its loyal consumers, in the year 2013, identify themselves with a racist insult. It matters that a term of derision, inferiority and hatred is being directed at the product on the field—by those who sell it and buy it. How is it different from "Washington Shitheads?" How is it even dignified?
That is why "Starcoon" changed its name. That is why the Washington Redskins should change theirs.
Stick Jockey is Kotaku's column on sports and video games. It appears Sundays.