Donald G. McNeil Jr. was a science writer at the New York Times. Now he is unemployed.
Here is how he described the event that triggered his forced resignation:
On a 2019 New York Times trip to Peru for high school students, I was asked at dinner by a student whether I thought a classmate of hers should have been suspended for a video she had made as a 12-year-old in which she used a racial slur. To understand what was in the video, I asked if she had called someone else the slur or whether she was rapping or quoting a book title. In asking the question, I used the slur itself.
To be more precise, he did not use the word. He mentioned it. He talked about it. He did not, if I may be permitted to commit the same offense, call anybody a “nigger.”
This was reported to his bosses at the Times. It was also mentioned – and this is important – that he expressed opinions that rankled the students’ sensibilities. Some concrete examples are that he “scoffed” at the concept of “cultural appropriation,” suggested that the high black incarceration rate was due to a high black crime rate and not an “oppressive and racist power structure.” One student even related that he said that “white supremacy didn’t exist.”
So we have an older white man who apparently holds some un-woke, even conservative opinions, who uttered a word that is forbidden to whites. That word, which (according to Times writer Nikole Hannah-Jones of “1619 Project” fame) “was created by white people to justify the slavery, racial apartheid, violence agnst [sic] Black people.” It is, she says, “the most offensive word in American English,” which “stops the heart” of a black person against whom it is used.
Hannah-Jones explains why she thinks it is permissible for blacks, but not whites, to use it:
Clearly, CLEARLY, there is difference when a word created by white people to justify slavery, racial apartheid and three centuries of anti-Black violence is said or written by a white person then [sic] by a Black person, the race this word was deployed against. …
You can’t logically apply a colorblind usage status to a RACIST word used to reinforce racist systems, to the verbal manifestation of white supremacy and anti-Black violence.
This argument has a serious logical flaw (I know, logic is racist). If the reason that the word is so offensive is that its function is to justify oppression of blacks, then what is offensive is when someone uses it for that purpose, not when they simply make the sound. If it were only the sound then blacks (even black hip-hop artists) using the word would have the power to offend. But if the word is used with appropriate intent, then even a black person can use it to offend. When Malcom X called certain black leaders “house niggers,” he intended (and succeeded) to insult them. Intent is the key.
Hannah-Jones and others will claim that blacks are so damaged by their experience of racism, even when the black victim in question is a middle-class student numerous generations removed from slavery, that just the sound of the word from a white mouth harms them. I don’t buy it. Are they so fragile? I believe that this argument is intended to bully white people, who – in the woke world – are not permitted to express their own opinions about matters connected to race.
The fascist Left tries to get around complaints that they want to limit free speech by saying that just the utterance of certain words or the expression of certain ideas causes “harm” to members of victimized groups. This depends on the idea that psychic “harm” is a privately observable fact, which nobody but the subject has a right to question. This is the same argument they use for declarations of gender.
They can’t have it both ways. Either it’s private and subjective, in which case it can’t be the basis of rules that bind other people, or it’s objective and can judged as true or false by others.
Because I say Zionist things on Twitter, I’ve been told more than once to “jump into the oven” or “gas up, Jewboy.” And yet, even though much of my family didn’t make it out of Europe, I still allow people, even German people, to use the words “oven” and “gas” around me.
McNeil certainly was talking about the word, not using it to insult anyone. But there is more to it. The students, mostly white and progressive, apparently didn’t like his un-woke ideas in general. And after the Executive Editor of the Times, Dean Baquet (who is black) said that he didn’t think that McNeil’s “intentions were hateful or malicious,” 150 Times staff members signed a letter saying that their “community is outraged and in pain.” They said that “intent is irrelevant,” and that they felt “disrespected” by McNeil’s actions. The management took a second look at the situation, and announced his resignation with the statement that “We do not tolerate racist language regardless of intent.”
There is only one word that adequately describes the position that the intent of a speaker is irrelevant but his color is: racist.
McNeil did accede to the staffers’ demand that he apologize, and produced a typically craven apology of the type previously associated with Stalin-era show trials or Maoist self-criticism sessions. But he’s still out of a job.
Let me say first that I’m not a progressive, not by any stretch. But I can understand why blacks are offended for whites to use the N-word, even the way Donald McNeil, Jr. did. It has been used against them for so long, is such a bombshell, that to have it bandied about, even quoting someone else, is a slap in the face and heart-stopper for many. As far as blacks using it, the closest comparison I can come up with is in a Yiddish context. There was a time not so long ago when a Jew could approach Jews he hardly knew or didn’t know and greet them with, Sholem aleichem, Yidn, vi geyts eych? If a non-Jew, on the other hand approached such a group and said, “Hey, Jews, what’s going on?” his use of the word “Jews” would certainly be perceived as offensive.
Having said that, the current consequences of uttering a word in innocence and then being banished forever is extreme and unacceptable. It is a form of bullying. It is meant to show who’s boss. It is especially hypocritical at the NY Times where they employ real racists, like that Asian woman they hired who had a history of plainly racist tweets against white men; they couldn’t have cared less.
I can’t agree. The failure to distinguish between using a word, and mentioning or talking about it, is stupid. In this and other cases it’s been used as a trap to catch people whose opinions are in general not acceptable to the wokeniks in charge. The fact that a black person is allowed to use the word but a white one is not even allowed to mention it, is simply racist, a way to get back at whites for anti-black racism. I don’t think that racism is a good solution to the problem of racism.
And to be honest, I don’t believe what he said was a slap in the face for anybody. I think that the fragility — words are violence, etc. — that the wokeniks use to shut off dissent is fascistic.
Well done, Vic! I just read McNeil’s apology. It is frightening; though, I can’t help thinking what it would be like if we could deploy this tactic in defense of Israel and Jews: Clearly, CLEARLY, the Jewish people has been hounded by lies, smears and murder campaigns promulgated by Christians and Muslims over the last 2,000 years, following Rome’s exile of us from our indigenous lands, continuing through the Nazi’s Final Solution and the current campaign of lies, smears and murder being carried out by Palestinians against Jews in the world’s only Jewish state. This can not and must not be tolerated, under any circumstances.
“This argument has a serious logical flaw (I know, logic is racist).”
The fact is that protecting black people from words is itself racist, since it assumes that black people are too psychologically fragile to take it. Protecting middle class white students from these “offensive” words is stupid and cowardly. None of the above is surprising when the NY Times is involved.
As I understand it Bret Stephens wrote an op-ed defending McNeil that the Times refused to publish. It was then published in another New York newspaper. So much for freedom of opinion at the Times.