In the latest instance of an organisation finally acknowledging racism is a thing they should maybe do something about, the North American Scrabble Players Association will soon vote on whether to ban slurs in tournament play. Because apparently the N-word was considered acceptable up until now.
The members of the NASPA’s Advisory Board will vote on whether to expunge 226 offensive terms from its word list within the next few days, after CEO John Chew proposed the move on behalf of the Executive Committee.
“I have felt for a long time that there are some words in our lexicon that we hang onto in the mistaken belief that our spelling them with tiles on a board strips them of their power to cause harm,” Chew wrote in a June 20 letter to the association’s members.
“When we play a slur, we are declaring that our desire to score points in a word game is of more value to us than the slur’s broader function as a way to oppress a group of people.”
Chew stated discussions concerning the use of slurs in Scrabble had been ongoing within the NASPA “for many years.” The game had also previously been criticised for allowing bigoted language.
However, this latest development only came about after a player in the NASPA’s Facebook group asked what the association was doing regarding the Black Lives Matter movement. This prompted another player to suggest removing the N-word in solidarity, sparking “a spirited discussion.”
“I couldn’t have found a bigger wedge issue if I tried,” Chew told the New York Times.
Some of that debate was recapped in Chew’s letter, in which he listed reasons given for and against removing slurs. One of the arguments against it was that doing so would be “like tearing down statues of Confederate figures.” This was also an argument for it.
Though Chew formulated the original list of potentially banned words, it was subsequently revised following invited input from the public. The list currently under consideration includes offensive words regarding ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, and disability, as well as anatomical and scatological insults.
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Scrabble manufacturer Hasbro is not involved in maintaining the NASPA’s word list, however the company does license the name “Scrabble” to the association. Speaking to the New York Times, Hasbro spokesperson Julie Duffy stated the company will be changing the official Scrabble rules “to make clear that slurs are not permissible in any form of the game.” The NASPA’s decision will likely impact online versions of Scrabble as well, as the association licenses its word list to software developers.
Mashable has reached out to both Hasbro and Chew for comment.
It’s good that literally spelling out slurs will probably be banned in Scrabble tournaments soon. However, it’s also disappointing that there had to be global outcry before people stopped using racist, discriminatory language to literally score points.