That which must not be spoken

Posted by Joanne Spataro on Fri, Jun 8, 2012 at 12:40 PM

When I'm playing Scrabble, I sweat over how to use my last three tiles and still get the triple letter score. I resort to dictionary words, even abbreviations if I'm playing by the rule that allows them. Yet there's one word I will never play, even if it cost me a game against my savvy Scrabble champion of a mom.

The owner of the Growers Retail Outlet in Pineville, who has worked in the nursery plants and equipment business for 60 years, wanted to spell out Japanese Maple, a woody shrub found in a variety of colors, on his store sign on North Polk Street. However, Bill Stamey didn't spell out "Japanese." Instead, he used an offensive abbreviation.

"We have Japanese customers here, and they're fine people," he tells me. "We just don't have enough letters to go on our sign. It doesn't mean a thing."

Apparently it means something to at least two people who called complaining about the sign, but Stamey says the complaints he heard were not from patrons of Japanese descent. As if that makes the word OK to use.

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 - which caused the U.S. to officially declare war on the country during WWII - President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which permitted the military to profile Japanese people in the name of national defense. Subsequently, the measure sent 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast, many of whom were U.S. citizens or permanent resident aliens, to internment camps for many years. Some died due to poor living conditions while others were killed for allegedly not following the rules.

The three-letter term is a haunting reminder of these atrocities. During the war, the word was used on the covers of newspapers and in offensive cartoons of Japanese people. There was even an attempt to legally discourage it when Rep. Michael Lowry presented the House Concurrent Resolution to Congress in 1986 that would have recognized "Jpn" as the "appropriate abbreviation" and mark the other as racially derogatory and offensive. While this bill was not enacted, Congress later passed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which paid $20,000 to each internment victim.

Sure, there isn't an "official" go-to term in case you run out of space on your sign for Japanese Maples. But as the dictionary proves, the word denotes a dark side of American history marked with racism, fear and violence. Stamey asked me to send him research on why the word is so offensive. Consider it done, sir.

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Comments (7)

Showing 1-7 of 7

This just sounds like an honest mistake. Don't we have bigger issues to worry about? If you're looking for racism, it's out there -- but this ain't it. I agree it may have been in poor taste, but it's pretty apparent he was just abbreviating and meant nothing malicious. No need to crucify the guy.

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Posted by friday on 06/08/2012 at 2:05 PM

Much ado about nothing. That term is no more offensive than using "Yank" to describe an American.

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Posted by DLP on 06/08/2012 at 4:35 PM

As a member of a different minority I understand how derogatory terms, even when not meant in that way, can be offensive. In my day-to-day life I try to give people the benefit of the doubt and try to politely remind them that a given term is offensive and why.

That said, those of us who are not in a given population should not try and tell that group whether or not a term is offensive.

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Posted by Ms Paige on 06/11/2012 at 10:15 AM

Ah, but Ms Paige: DLP just loves telling people what should or shouldn't be offensive to them. DLP, you see, is the master of all knowledge -- all knowledge, that is, from DLP's point of view. And to DLP, that's all that matters.

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Posted by Brian, your Savior on 06/11/2012 at 11:42 AM

Oops. Just checked other DLP comments and it looks like I was mistaking DLP for Pokeinthenose. I would expect more of DLP.

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Posted by Brian, your Savior on 06/11/2012 at 11:51 AM

It is offensive, period. The fact they don't have Japanese customers should not justify the reason to use the word simply because they don't have enough space for characters. People use many excuses so they can say offensive or derogatory words.

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Posted by Albundy on 06/13/2012 at 12:55 PM

I totally disagree...it may have been an innocent mistake but the owner now that he has been given honest feedback that the sign is offensive needs to do the appropriate thing and modify his sign. Seriously...how difficult is it to modify the sign given the negative attention. If the owner disagrees with modifying the sign then we know there was an ulterior motivation to use racism as a way to draw attention to his business for commercial purposes.

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Posted by David Joo on 06/13/2012 at 3:14 PM
Showing 1-7 of 7

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