… to forget is not divine
People have been asking me for my take on news anchor Kristi Capel blurting out the word “jigaboo” on the air the other day.
I suspect they’re asking me because I’m a retired journalist. Or perhaps because I’m no stranger to the black community. For years I served as a volunteer driver for a busing program that had been started by the Black Panthers and primarily served Cleveland’s African-American community. I also lived in a predominantly black neighborhood in Cleveland Heights.
Obviously, Capel wasn’t aware of what the word meant. She said it and repeated it right in front of her co-anchor, Wayne Dawson, who is black. (On the video, Dawson seemed taken aback but managed to maintain his composure.)
In the aftermath, Capel apologized profusely.
She was not suspended. But, from my journalism experience, I’d imagine she got a good dressing-down from her superiors. Her ears are probably still smoking.
I’m convinced that Capel didn’t know the meaning of the word. Others who have commented, particularly younger people, said they didn’t know what the word jigaboo meant or that it was a racial slur. Capel used it naively to describe Lady Gaga’s dancing at the 87th Academy Awards ceremony on TV.
However, Capel should have known better. She works in a profession in which words are tools. A journalist worthy of the title should be familiar with them and know how and when to use them. Or when not use them.
Sensitivity to cultural and racial issues should be taught in journalism school. It’s hard to imagine that it isn’t. But what do I know? When I studied journalism in college, we thought the IBM Selectric typewriter was cutting edge.
If journalism professors are looking for course material, I’d suggest they expose their students to the song “Colored Spade” from the Broadway musical “Hair.” The lyrics, sung by black performers, are basically a catalog of racial slurs set to music. It’s a perfect example of how humor can be used to drive home a point. As a white person hearing the song, it struck me how horrible it was that black people had been subjected to this litany of verbal abuse for decades.
The term Capel used is somewhat archaic. In fact, if there is a silver lining to the cloud hanging over all of this, it’s that the word has fallen out of use.
Regardless, journalists should have enough background in the history of our culture to know these things. After all, the older folks in their audience were around when the word was commonly used as a racial slur.
In researching the media response to Capel’s blunder, I noticed that some news outlets refrained from using the word. I disagree with that policy. We need to get these things out in the open and discuss them frankly and in context. Otherwise, history — and another news anchor — will be doomed to repeat it.