Scrabble gets a visit from the Woke warriors
It seems inevitable that in any mass movement, the baby eventually flies out with the bathwater. No one saw the George Floyd killing coming and the scale of the protests afterwards. Overnight everyone, corporate America especially, seemed to rush to show how woke they were. Premium channels suddenly promoted black movies. Old television episodes featuring blackface were quickly pulled. Radio stations rushed black music onto the airwaves. I especially felt bad for the LGBTQ community because June is Pride month, the month corporate America panders to them. We got February and June.
So last week the North American Scrabble Players Association announced it would be banning 236 ethnic slurs from it’s tournaments. (Hasbro, the owner of Scrabble, announced the official rules would be changed to ban slurs from the game.) The Association’s CEO, John Chew, said, “When we play a slur, we are declaring that our desire to score points in a word game is of more value to us than the slur’s broader function as a way to oppress a group of people.”
Dude, it’s tiles in a board game. I’m sure words like “murder,” “rape,” “torture,” “pedophile,” and “genocide” aren’t banned words but they all describe something brutal and ugly. Their inclusion in the game certainly isn’t an endorsement of what those words define. It’s a spelling word game. The definitions of the words actually play no role in the game.
There are some words that have multiple meanings and one of those meanings can be a slur. “Spook”, “gook”, “nips”, “beaner” and “cracker” come to mind. How can you ban them?
They’re also removing words related to gender, religion, sexuality and disability. I can think of some pretty vulgar words that are going to be nixed. I don’t have the word list in front of me but I can imagine the word “retard” is getting the heave ho. That’s a shame because it’s a legitimate word that has a meaning apart from any disability.
Part of the reason I loathe this move is that it perpetuates the idea that words alone are offensive. It strips words of context. In today’s America, Kelvin Wade writing the word “nigger” in a column is the same as a Klan member yelling it at a black man. No, it isn’t. And if it is, then go ahead and cancel my ass because I don’t know how to exist in a world that lacks context and nuance.
In some ways this is a rollicking tempest in a tiny teapot. After all, Scrabble removed curse words from it’s official handbook decades ago. And while this topic is very serious to those who participate in Scrabble tournaments, the truth is Hasbro or some gaming association has no control over what rules you want to enforce when you play the game at home. I’ve even played games of Scrabble allowing capitalized words. I know, sacrilege! So people are free to continue allowing ethnic slurs in their Scrabble games at home.
Speaking of Scrabble at home, I come from a family who loves the game. Most people know my brother Tony is a Scrabble aficionado and has participated in tournaments and ran a local Scrabble group for years. I can’t begin to count the number of games I played against our late mother who was a very good player. But since we were raised in a religious home that eschewed profanity I don’t recall us playing offensive words so this kerfuffle would not have been a problem. Except…
I was playing my mom and I had some words that I could play but they were curse words. There was no way I was going to disrespect my mother and play those words, even if I could’ve gotten a killer score with them. So it was her turn to play and she was taking a long time. I began humming the theme from Jeopardy, something we usually did to speed someone up. Still, she wouldn’t play. It was unusual for her to take so long.
She finally picked up some tiles and put down a word for a Triple Word Score. Her hand briefly obscured the word but when she moved her fingers away a voice in my head shouted, “OH NO SHE DIDN’T!” I could not believe the word my mom played. I had to keep my jaw from hitting the floor. A part of me may have died at that moment. I didn’t even know she knew that word! And I couldn’t really say anything. She just calmly retrieved new tiles and acted like nothing happened as I slowly recorded her score. Traumatized.
Maybe there are some words that shouldn’t be played, especially with your sweet, church-going mom. Really, mom? See you next Tuesday?