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Scrabble bans 236 'bigoted' or 'offensive' words from official lists - manufacturer Hasbro follows suit with rules

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July 8, 2020

Dear NASPA Members,

I spent the last weekend poring over more than 1,000 heartfelt responses to our poll on what to do with the problem of offensive slurs in our community’s most important publication, the NASPA Word List.

They ranged from White supremacist screeds to naive expressions of faith in the fundamental goodness of all people. Some members threatened to leave the association if a single word were removed; others threatened to leave the association if any offensive words remained. There were a lot of good and bad arguments on both sides.

Should we be wasting time on words when deeds were called for? Does someone who is not Jewish have the right to defend Jews from anti-Semitic language, or someone who is mixed-race like me have any say where racial slurs are concerned? What about dated slurs that might only cause offence to our oldest members? Did we not already deal with all of this in 1994?

How can we in this day tell prospective members that they can only play with us if they accept that offensive slurs have no meaning when played on a board? If the youth of SCRABBLE are our future, then why do we haze them by making them memorize lists of offensive words? If a word is so offensive that it can only be referred to by its initial, does that not indicate that it retains its meaning in all contexts? How can we say words have no meaning, when the meanings are there for anyone who holds down their finger on a word in SCRABBLE GO?

I learned a lot about our community in the past weeks. We have a lot of racists, and we have a lot of bleeding-heart liberals. We have people of every colour on every side of the debate. Somehow, we have all managed to set that all aside when we meet over SCRABBLE boards. It’s what I love about the game.

Yes, I even love that we have racists in the game. It says so much about the power of our game and our community that even racists - not just the hardcore ones that actively spread their toxic hatred, but the softer ones who stand by rather than get involved, who say “I’m not offended, why should they be?” or “If you can’t accept that the words have no meaning, you’re not welcome,” or “If I’m not offended, why should you be?” - can set aside their deep-seated beliefs to spend time playing a board game with people who do not share those beliefs.

I was also overwhelmed by an outpouring of kindness and understanding. There were so many players who thanked us for taking on this challenge, and agreed to abide by whatever decision we ultimately came to; again, because the game and the community mean so much to so many people.

Our NASPA Advisory Board has been doing an excellent job of debating the issues, reading your responses, and reaching out to their own constituents to solicit more submissions, and they will ultimately render their verdict this week, no later than Thursday night.

In the meantime, Judy Cole and I had a frank conversation with Hasbro on Monday afternoon, where both sides presented their cases. We have different priorities, and come at the issue from different directions, but we align on a necessity to take action on issues of diversity and inclusivity.

Hasbro has recently stated publicly that they “believe that supporting all people and promoting inclusion across our business and society makes the world a better place for all.” NASPA does not yet have any such public statement, beyond the technical verbiage that is in our Code of Conduct, which no longer seems sufficient to me.

As diverse and inclusive a community as we think we currently are, we exclude those who think that the N word is always meaningful. We exclude Jewish people whose idea of recreation does not include having their opponent spell out anti-Semitic slurs against them. We exclude LGBTQ+ people who think that the time is past for slurs targeting them to be accepted. We exclude not only these players, but their families and friends.

We may be split quite evenly as a community about what we should do, but that is because we have insulated ourselves from the rest of the world, clinging to the notion that our use of words is privileged. The world has moved on past us, and as more than 90% of our outside poll respondents told us, it is time for us to catch up or be left behind.

As has been reported in the media, during our meeting with Hasbro, I personally agreed with them that all the slurs should come out of our lexicon. It’s the right thing to do, and I will make sure that it happens. I have asked the Advisory Board to vote their consciences, because I think this is an important moment in the history of our association. Everyone should know how their board represented them on this weighty issue.

I know that if the Advisory Board does not vote in favour of my proposal to remove the offensive slurs from our lexicon, and the Executive Committee has to overturn their decision, then at least a quarter of our members will hold me personally responsible for autocratically damaging their beloved game. I understand, and accept the responsibility and the blame. On the other hand, I know that at least another quarter, who would otherwise have blamed me for not standing up for what is right, will instead at least momentarily rejoice. Either way, please let me know how you feel, so that I know where we stand.

Once we are past the blaming and the rejoicing though, we still have a lot of work to do. As people have said across the spectrum of responses, removing slurs is the very least that we can do to make our association more inclusive. I will be reaching out to the community with suggestions and for suggestions in coming months, and look forward to working with everyone to make our community a larger and happier one.

John Chew