An ArmchairMayor.ca editorial by Mel Rothenburger.
ONE HAS TO BE careful with the use of words, but how careful?
An RCMP report on Wednesday told of a routine traffic stop on Halston Avenue. While the officer was talking to the people in the car, another car pulled up and the occupant of the second car started yelling that there were guns in the first car.
At which point someone in the first car started yelling that it was the people in the second car who had guns.
Backup was called and a very tense situation was resolved when it was found the only ones with guns were the police. When writing the story, I originally said a sort of Mexican standoff had occurred, as it turned out without any guns.
I thought it aptly described the situation but I deleted it and started over because the thought crossed my mind that the term “Mexican standoff” might be considered by some people to be racist.
As it turns out, there’s been quite a bit of debate about whether it is or not. The term itself refers to a situation in which three people face each other with guns drawn. Nobody can make a move because the first one to shoot one of the others will be shot by the third. It’s the stuff of Western movies.
In my view, it is in no way intended as derogatory to Mexicans, but some people think it is.
A lot of sayings involve ethnic groups. “Chinese fire drill,” for example. It describes a prank in which the passengers of a stopped vehicle get out, run around it, and get back in. It’s a form of musical chairs.
The origin of the term itself is unclear, but as the prank itself faded, “Chinese fire drill” began to be used to describe confusion.
Is the term paddy wagon offensive to the Irish? The “hip hip” in “Hip hip hooray” apparently was once (or perhaps still is) offensive to Jews, as the cheer “hep hep” was used as they were herded from their homes in Europe.
“Peanut gallery” is commonly used to describe people who chip in comments that aren’t always useful. At one time, though, it described Black Americans who got the lousiest seats at the back of a theatre.
Many nicknames for ethic groups, of course, are outright racist; it’s when you add a neutral ethnic definition into a saying the meaning of which isn’t self-evident that it becomes more complicated.
The best way to resolve it, as always, is to take the advice of those whose race, culture, or religion is being referenced — regardless of the intention, if they find it offensive, don’t use it.
Mel Rothenburger is a former daily newspaper editor and a former mayor of Kamloops. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.