I tend to make light of the language police when it comes to the Saturday Night Card Game, but it’s actually a very serious subject.

The incessant attempt to turn race-neutral phrases into racial testing grounds is part of a larger political war in which race agitators seek to turn everything into a discussion of race all the time in every sphere of life.

Here are some prior examples we have considered: Black List, Baa Baa Black Sheep, RejiggerProvidence PlantationsBlack FridayGobbledygook, Illegal Immigrant, Undocumented Immigrant, Master Bedroom, and even the use of white copy paper.

We also addressed the idiom Chink in the Armor after a sportscaster was suspended and a copywriter (who happened to be married to an Asian woman) was fired for using the phrase in connection with discussing basketball player Jeremy Lin’s on-court weaknesses.  The controversy was contrived, but it drove race into the headlines:

“Chink in the armor” is a non-racial idiom, not a single word, denoting:

A vulnerable area, as in Putting things off to the last minute is the chink in Pat’s armor and is bound to get her in trouble one day . This term relies on chink in the sense of “a crack or gap,” a meaning dating from about 1400 and used figuratively since the mid-1600s.

Now “chink in the armor” is back in the news because a CNBC reporter used the phrase in assessing whether Wendi Deng, the Chinese wife of Rubert Murdoch, could overcome trust agreements as part of their divorce. The phrase was not used to refer to Ms. Deng, but to legal arguments Deng’s lawyer would use to allow her to access the Trusts which contained most of Murdock’s vast fortune.

Here’s the discussion, via Hot Air:

“What do you think the chink in the armor here might be, that’s what [the lawyer] is so good at, is finding a chink in the prenupts and all these trusts.”

This was a perfectly reasonable use of the phrase. But, outrage was swift and certain led by Media Matters, via Hollywood Reporter:

CNBC Reporter Accused of ‘Offensive’ Slur in Report About Wendi Deng (Video)

…. On Tuesday during CNBC’s Power Lunch, Frank was discussing Deng’s hiring of a new lawyer to represent her in her divorce from Murdoch, the CEO of  21st Century Fox and executive chairman of News Corp, when he asked a guest: “What do you think the chink in the armor here might be?”

Hours later, Media Matters fired off an email to journalists nationwide that detailed the exchange and cited the AAJA’s media watch chair Bobby Caina Calvan, who said he has reached out to CNBC to help the business network identify “words that many of us feel are offensive.”

The Media Matters email also says that, while Calvan acknowledged Frank’s question may have been “spoken innocently,” he also called it a “no brainer” that the phrase should never be used when discussing Asian Americans…..

Congratulations Media Matters for further denigrating public discourse by taking a wholly innocent use of a non-racial term and turning it into a racial issue.

But that was not the worst of the week for the language police.  Seattle is considering banning the use of the term Brown Bag when referring to workers bringing food to work because it’s racially insensitive:

City officials urge ban on ‘potentially offensive’ language

An internal memo at Seattle City Hall is causing quite a stir.

It suggests government workers no longer use the terms “citizen,” or “brown bag.”

According to the Office for Civil Rights, the terms are potentially offensive and other words should be used. “Luckily, we’ve got options,” Elliott Bronstein of the Office for Civil Rights wrote in the memo. “For ‘citizens,’ how about ‘residents?’” Bronstein wrote.

The Office of Civil Rights says Seattle serves all residents, whether they’re United States citizens or not. And while city leaders publicize “brown bag” lunch meetings as a way to designate a bring-your-own lunch time event, the term has a sordid history.

“It used to be a way people could judge skin color,” Bronstein said in a phone interview. Does the public find it offensive? Most people agree it’s not.

But the City of Seattle isn’t alone. State lawmakers have voted to remove gender specific words in official records. Freshman are now “first-years,” journeymen are “journey-level,” and penmanship is simply “handwriting.”

To offend or not to offend, turns out to be a very sensitive question. So what is a person supposed to say instead of brown bag? According to the memo, people should try “lunch-and-learn” or “sack lunch.”

The reaction has been widespread ridicule, as reported by NBC News:

A Seattle official who advised that city spokesmen avoid the term “brown bag” as racially offensive has defended his position in the face of national ridicule over what critics called political correctness run amok.

The Seattle official’s explanation is that there was a past practice of using brown bags to judge whether someone’s skin was light enough to gain entrance to events, but as the NBC report details, the brown bag was used by black fraternities and groups, not whites:

For a lot of, particularly, African American community members,” he said, “the phrase ‘brown bag’ does bring up associations with the past when a brown bag was actually used, I understand, to determine if people’s skin color was light enough to allow admission to an event or to come into a party that was being held in a private home.”

Scholarly research and touchstones of African-American popular culture show that Bronstein is right.

In a 2006 book, Audrey Elisa Kerr, a professor of African-American literature at Southern Connecticut State University, documents reports throughout the 20th century of the use of paper bags by African-American fraternities, sororities, churches and social clubs to determine whether a potential member was light-skinned enough to be socially acceptable.

Who knew this?  Who knows this? And if true, what does that have to do with the term brown-bagging as it relates to brining food to work in a, um, brown bag? Is there any evidence that people actually are offended by the phrase?

This is a brown bag used for lunches:

Brown Bag

Equating the race-neutral phrase “brown bag” used in the context of bringing lunch to work with some esoteric past-practice of inter-black skin tone testing is so ludicrous that it may have revealed a chink in the armor of the language police, which can be exploited by the vast majority of Americans of all races and colors who just want to get on with the conversation.

 
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