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My initial reaction was that only someone who had arrived in this country five minutes ago could be ignorant enough to ask, “Why is one racial slur more not acceptable than all the others?” (Cheap Seats, 11/21). Dave McKenna’s argument seems to be that since ethnic slurs are tossed about all the time in the NHL, why should this one be any different? Well, the last time I checked, there was no Civil War fought in this country over the enslavement of “polacks.” “Micks” didn’t require constitutional amendments to be freed, to be citizens, or to have the right to vote. The longest filibuster in Senate history wasn’t against an Equal Rights Amendment for “krauts.” When earlier in this century, a sitting U.S. president (Warren G. Harding) was inducted into the KKK in a White House ceremony, it wasn’t in reaction to the large numbers of European immigrants.

In the white-supremacist ideology on which this country was founded, northern Europeans are at the top of the hierarchy, with Africans at the very bottom (below even Native Americans). Thomas Jefferson was able to write, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” and still hold slaves, because those enslaved Africans were not considered “men.” They were subhumans, mere property, just above apes. In America, there is no racial slur more loaded than the word “nigger.”

This is not to imply that various European ethnicities have not been discriminated against. But their treatment has been both qualitatively and quantitatively different from the experiences of blacks in this country. And that history, along with ongoing discrimination, forms the context for the responses to this incident.

But what happens if we take McKenna’s assertion that ethnic slurs happen all the time in the NHL at face value? The immediate reactions of Mike Grier, the Buffalo Sabres, the Washington Capitals, and the officiating crew indicate that something extraordinary occurred. The Capitals suspended Simon before the league did, indicating that they felt this situation was different. So this wasn’t just a case of the NHL brass trying to protect its image. Clearly, the league’s selective enforcement of its taunting rule is motivated by historical knowledge and a desire to show that the NHL doesn’t condone this behavior. Every once in a while I start slipping and thinking that things are improving in this country. Then someone like McKenna comes along to remind me that we still have a very long way to go.

Le Droit Park

via the Internet