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photos by Lara Shipley

Someone Warn Chris Rock

January 25th, 2007 · No Comments

The (white) mayor of a Texas town is proposing a ban on (avert your eyes if you have issues with the use-mention distinction) the word “nigger,” the use of which he rather stunningly describes as “the most controversial issue throughout the United States today.” The law would require a complaint to trigger any prosecution, apparently to avoid punishing people who use the word as a “term of endearment,” an exemption that doesn’t really seem to cover, say, this classic Chris Rock routine. Of course, it always underscores the (well, one) problem with the notion: Words are inert. The offense they inflict is a function of how the speaker intends them and how the listener interprets them, with intent and interpretation trapped in subtle feedback loop: Speaker intent is partly determined by the speaker’s belief about how the listener will react, interpretation turns on deciphering what was intended, and so on. Fortunately, this one’s a First Amendment no-brainer, so assuming it even gets that far, it shouldn’t be long before some judge gives this guy the legalistic equivalent of “Cracka’, please.”

Tags: Nannyism