I recently read this July 2020 article written by David Waldstein about whether racial slur words should be officially banned from Scrabble tournament play, and while some black Scrabble players want the ban, others do not. (There are supposedly 225 offensive terms on the chopping block.)
Proponents (those in favor) of the ban say words matter. Opponents disagree, one of which being Noel Livermore who says that he refuses to lose a game for not using a slur. If a word exists that will win him the game, he’ll use it. I surmise that he’s more of a “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” kind of guy, which leads me to think he’s drinking his own Kool-Aid.
I don’t believe there’s any half-reasonable person who sincerely believes words don’t matter. In fact, Rudy Kipling once said, “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”
If words didn’t matter, why then are people bedazzled by books, poets and playwrights? Why then do people spend hours and hours playing Scrabble? Furthermore, sociology and psychology have long established that the negative impacts of verbal abuse are far more damaging and last much longer than physical abuse.
A Scrabble player myself, I believe it’s obvious why Livermore wants to leave the slur words. I’ve played many guys like him. Unfortunately, they’re willing to win at all costs and by all means. They’re more interested in the accolades of winning than the impact words have on others. They’re egocentric and lack “Wintegrity” (i.e., grossly lacking in game-winning integrity).
When I play guys, sometimes there isn’t a dictionary handy to challenge one another’s words. So I tell them I’ll do my best to inform them on the correct and incorrect words. They look at me sideways and say why should I believe you? I tell them that I’m fallible, but also that I’d rather lose one game to them rather than raise doubts as to my winning reputation that took me years to build.
I literally caught guys cheating during games in just about every way imaginable. I never made a big deal out of it because I understand that the desire to win compels people to compromise their wintegrity. In fact, I see opponents’ cheating as a compliment to my stellar gameplay — I must be good if my opponent feels he or she has to cheat to win.
This issue is far from black and white. For example, John Chew, a nonblack chief executive of the National American Scrabble Players Association (NASPA), said he was told by black players that it wasn’t his fight. And John McWhorter, a black professor of linguistics at Columbia University, says the matter should be decided by Livermore and players like him.
But this issue CAN be decided by someone not black. Deciding this issue has more to do with rightness than blackness. McWhorter’s suggestion is patently erroneous because Livermore’s “blackness” doesn’t qualify him to speak for black people and how they feel. In addition, it’s clear that Livermore is an outlier, a one-off who speaks for himself and disregards the feelings and thoughts of the majority. Indeed, Livermore admitted that he once apologized to a woman for using a female slur but used it anyway to win.
I’m offended by McWhorter’s suggestion that Livermore (and black people like him), a self-centered player who is virtually devoid of wintegrity, should speak on behalf of black Scrabble players. Too often, we blindly assume that an expert’s mastery of one field constitutes his or her good judgment in another. It’s like assuming a psychologist makes excellent parenting decisions.
I’d rather have Chew decide the matter based on his internal rightness than Livermore decide it based on his external blackness. Although the matter makes considerations based on race and color, it doesn’t necessarily require the decision-maker or fact-trier to be a person of color. Judges and jurors — white, black, and otherwise — make just and equitable decisions regarding race and color all the time.
Chew needs to push back against the nonsensical deterrences of those who say it isn’t his fight. Undoubtedly, it’s his duty to ensure that NASPA respects the race and ethnicity of all Scrabble players. If it does not, then he should act swiftly and with full license to stamp out those shameful, offensive embers of the past.
Scrabble is not only a game. It’s also a crucible for testing the integrity of those who engage in a war of words and do so according to the rules of “ethical” engagement. How you win “always” dictates whether you ultimately win in the game of life.