Who Gets to Decide If Language Is Racist?

How some people defend their racist actions.

Posted Aug 07, 2019

Image by Javier Robles from Pixabay
Source: Image by Javier Robles from Pixabay

As an Asian-American, people shouldn't call me certain names deemed racist such as, "Chink", "Jap", "Gook". If someone does so, it's likely to incite strong feelings within me.

The same goes for non-Black people using the N-word. Even people who "feel" Black shouldn't use it. As someone who was raised in a mixed African-American neighborhood, I once used the N-word in front of Black friends only to have one hit me and say I couldn't use that since I wasn't Black. Lesson learned. And that was within a context of brotherhood and bonding. Using the N-word as a means to retaliate against African-Americans would be even worse.

This is what occurred last week at the Bone Fish restaurant in North Carolina. Nancy Goodman, a white patron, saw two African-American women having dinner. She felt they were "too noisy" and told them so. The audacity of her complaint is enough to cry foul. Would she have made the same complaint to two white women? Probably not. This is why, as a psychotherapist, speaker, and workshop facilitator specializing in cultural issues, it is important to educate the public about implicit bias. Goodman was likely biased against the women due to the color of their skin.

Goodman told the NBC-affiliate WRAL on July 24, 2019, that she should have handled the situation differently, but that she wasn't sorry. "I’m not going to say I’m sorry to them because they kept pushing at it," Goodman said. "I would say it again to them. They are the rudest individuals I have ever seen."

The two women, Chanda Stewart and Lakesha Shaw, said they were enjoying their dinner when Goodman called them rude and complained that they were being too loud. Stewart posted a video of the confrontation on Facebook. Shaw said in the video that the two women were "paying for our food just like everyone else." "Let me show you my money," Shaw said after Goodman approached the table. "It's just as green as yours."

In a video posted on Facebook, as the camera focuses on Nancy, Chanda Stewart, who shot the video, begins describing how Goodman walked over to where she and her friend Lakesha Shaw, were eating and Goodman called them “the rudest people” that she had ever met claiming they were "too loud." 

Shaw turns to Goodman and tells her, “Let me show you my money; it’s just as green as yours.” Goodman responds by saying “Oh, you’re such stupid niggers,” and begins to walk away. 

What's worrisome is this woman appeared on a local television station to defend her behavior and insist she's not racist. She also doubled-down and said she'd use the racist slur again. What people need to know is that racists don't get to decide what is or isn't racist. Ask those being victimized how it impacts them.

This kind of justification and rationalization for racism is unfortunately an extension of our current social climate where racist words and phrases are used under the veil of patriotism. Despite recent gains in social justice and equality, these incidents are reminders of how racism is alive and well. If we truly strive to end racism, we all have a responsibility to confront these unconscionable behaviors when we see them and call them for what they are—racism, not patriotism.  


Sam also speaks on Asian cultural issues.  For more information go to his speaking website at www.SamLouieSpeaks.com