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The Coded Language of Modern-day Racism In America

"Speak English"

Photo by Sung Shin on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Sung Shin on Unsplash

Critics often ask why I have to talk about issues related to race and culture. To them, it’s as if I’m the one inciting racial strife and division by discussing these issues, and if I stopped, they believe we’d live in racial bliss and harmony here in the U.S.

Yet, here in my hometown of Seattle, Washington, this week’s resignation of Kevin Mather, the CEO of the Seattle Mariners was indicative of how much race is still an issue, especially to people like Mather who espouse disdain, contempt, and hostility towards those of us who aren’t as “American” as he is.

Earlier this month, on February 5th, 2021, Mather spoke via Zoom to the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club (see the full transcript here ). He made what I believe were racially incendiary comments around the team’s top prospect, Julio Rodríguez, and former Mariners’ pitcher and current special assignment coach, Hisashi Iwakuma. Rodríguez is from the Dominican Republic and Iwakuma is a Japanese native.

Mather shared anti-foreign sentiments in the following manner, “Julio Rodríguez has a personality bigger than all of you combined. He is loud. His English is not tremendous.” For Iwakuma, Mather shared his indignation of having to pay for a Japanese translator for him by jokingly telling the audience that Iwakuma’s English got better quickly once he mentioned to the former pitcher they were no longer paying for an interpreter.

Mather’s “joke” was potentially a veil to hide scorn and racial bigotry against Iwakuma. His description of Rodríguez appears more nuanced, yet it is glaringly apparent to ethnic minorities. In describing him as “loud” we know what Mather is insinuating. “Loud” is coded language that white people use as a derogatory comment against certain ethnic minorities, especially those who are Black or Brown. Somehow, being “loud” is a cultural character flaw that is seen as a scourge to white society.

The other coded interpretation is the description, “His English is not tremendous.” This was unprompted and unsolicited from the attendees. No one asked about Rodríguez’s ability to speak English. In other words, Mather offered insight into his potential contempt towards those who can’t speak English. This is an affront not only to any International athlete in the United States but to all people who have moved to a new country but understandably may not be able to speak it as fluently as a native speaker (i.e. without an accent).

Put bluntly, Mather may view Rodríguez and Iwakuma through the optics of white Nativism, power, and oppression. As a CEO of a Major League Baseball team, Mather wielded tremendous power and authority. Consequently, Mather may not have uttered these words out of ignorance or a “slip of the tongue” but because he has beliefs of racial animus and resentments against ethnic minorities.

Finally, we should be reminded that no one instigated the issue of race in this incident but Mather himself. He willingly brought the issue of race and language proficiency to the forefront. So to those who claim that race is a manufactured issue brought forth by rabble-rousers, Mather’s words should give all of us pause as to how race does matter in this country and why we need to continue having conversations addressing issues of both personal and systemic racism.


Sam also speaks on issues of race & culture. Go to the site for more information.