I remember when I was a kid, around 8 years old, I was describing the Super Mario Brothers game on Nintendo to my Dad. I enthusiastically told him about power-up flowers and the Koopas and those little guys who looked like shitake mushrooms called “Goombas.”
My Dad was kind of shocked. He grew up in the New York metro area in the ’50s and ’60s and to him the term “Goomba” had always been an ethnic slur against Italians. Now obviously the word didn’t have the same kind of sting if it was part of a video game in millions of kids homes, and why would an 8-year-old in the ’80s know about a racial slur popularized in the ’50s and ’60s? Nevertheless, I knew better to use the word “Goomba” again, and I was only 8 years old.
On Monday morning Kristi Capel, one of the hosts of a Cleveland Fox affiliate morning show was commenting on Lady Gaga’s performance at the Oscars and said:
“It’s usually so hard to hear her voice with all that — jigaboo music, whatever you want to call it [in the background]”
Comfortable in her newfound lingo, Capel says “jigaboo” one more time and giggles just to make sure the audience heard her. And they did. Not just the local Cleveland audience but the whole internet. The clip went viral and suddenly a sleepy morning show in the 20th media market became a hotbed of Twitter scorn and media commentary. Capel made a statement on the Tuesday morning show about the ruckus her Oscar commentary caused:
“I just want to take a moment to address a comment that I made yesterday that got a lot of attention,” Capel said at 6:45 a.m. Tuesday. “It’s important for me to let you know that I deeply regret my insensitive comment. And I truly did not know the meaning of the word and would never intentionally use such hurtful language.”
Capel has since been taken off the air for the rest of the week. And it is reported that she has met with African American clergy to discuss the gravity of her inappropriate comment.
Sometimes news anchors just say stupid racist things on air. Sometimes it’s a Freudian slip where you can give someone the benefit of the doubt. (Remember the “chink in the armor” comments about NBA player Jeremy Lin?)
Other times it could be reflective of the anchors repressed feelings about black or brown people. Usually someone else on the set will try to bail an anchor out who’s being offensive or just downright racist. (I think Capel’s co-anchor Dawson kind of left her hanging there). But in the end, people are entitled to mistakes, as long as they are sincere in their apology and it’s not part of a larger pattern. That’s why Capel’s limp apology is not accepted; her explanation for her behavior is ridiculous and it comes off more as an excuse than an apology.
When you get caught using a racial slur, don’t compound the problem by insulting the public’s intelligence by claiming you didn’t know what you were saying. Back in 2006 former Virginia Governor George Allen tried to claim he didn’t know “maccaca” was a racial slur after he was caught on tape hurling the insult at a 20-year-old South Asian college student. No one was buying that.
In the same way, the idea that Kristi Chapel had no idea that “jigaboo” was a negative reference to black people is a total stretch. She didn’t make an “insensitive” statement she made a racist statement, and to believe her story you’d have to believe that a woman with a degree in journalism uses words on television that she doesn’t know the definition of.
The jig is up Kristi, you aren’t fooling anyone. The only times I’ve ever heard anybody use the word was in School Daze and an old Ice Cube lyric. In other words, I didn’t hear it much, but I knew well enough that “jigaboo” was a negative reference to black people. I’m assuming Capel has the same capacity for discretion and discernment.
If we have any hope in this country of improving race relations or at least public discourse on race, the conversation has to move beyond identifying and shaming racist behavior. Own it, say you’re sorry and don’t do it again. Don’t spin some crazy justification to avoid responsibility.