Should Universities Recommend (or Demand) Epithet Filtering on Students’ and Professors’ Internet Devices?
Some students, faculty, and administrators have argued that even hearing racial epithets quoted is traumatic or at least highly offensive to students, and that decent people therefore should not quote them. Most of these complaints have arisen with regard to quotes of the word “nigger,” whether from court opinions, court case files, historical documents, literature, or otherwise. My view is that these words shouldn’t be rendered taboo for serious academic discussion, and that there’s a sharp difference between improper use of the words (especially to insult someone) and proper mention of how the words were used in a case or book or speech.
But let me try to approach the problem in a slightly different way; tell me if you think it’s helpful.
I take it that if it’s so damaging and unjustifiable for students to have to hear the word, it’s also damaging and unjustifiable for them to have to see the word. Indeed, one of the recent complaints has been about a Stanford professor writing the word on the board; a commenter on this blog seems to be objecting to my even quoting the word in blog posts; others have mentioned similar objections.
And it’s not surprising: We are all literate folk, and we all know the power of the written word; no-one would doubt, for instance, that e-mailing someone to call them by an epithet would be extremely insulting. If the use-mention distinction doesn’t matter for oral statements, why should it matter for written ones? Yet whatever a professor may or may not say in class, students will likely see the word written in many places: It appears in over 10,000 court opinions on Westlaw, in thousands of law review articles, and in many other places, including history books, novels, and more.
Enter Advanced Profanity Filter, a Chrome app that expurgates whatever words it is set to expurgate. (That’s its logo above.) The default list in
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