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WHAT’S RACIST TODAY: The Word ‘Spooky’?

Scotland’s premier theatre company has denied banning the word “spooky” from its Halloween promotional materials over racism concerns.

THE REPORT

A source in the government-funded National Theatre of Scotland told the Daily Record Sunday that the term would no longer be used in the nonprofit arts organization’s marketing materials.

“No one has complained about it but there were worries they could in the future,” the anonymous source said. “There might not be many people who know that ’spooky’ can also be used as racist but, even if it’s one person who is offended, it’s one person too many.”

  • The word “spook” was used as a slur against black people in the 1940s, but its common uses as a word for ghosts or spies is much older.

THE DENIAL

The National Theatre of Scotland denied the Daily Record report in a statement to Newsweek Monday even as the group reiterated its “antiracist” principles.

  • “[F]ollowing the commitment by NTS to becoming an anti-racist organization, the company will now always interrogate language choices on all materials to try and ensure that no offense or hurt is caused by inappropriate language or by words that have historically oppressive connotations,” a spokesperson said.

IS IT RACIST?

National Public Radio examined the etymology of the word “spooky” and its potentially racist contemporary connotations in a 2017 blog post.

  • “Be thoughtful about the fact that [spook] now might have the connotation of referring to a black person in a disparaging way,” sociolinguist Renee Blake told NPR. “If someone says, ‘Did you get spooked?’ and there are no black people there, then, OK, you mean ‘Did you get scared or frightened?’ That’s fine, I get it.”
  • NPR’s Leah Donnella urged Halloween-goers to “be a little cautious when it comes to describing your surroundings. And don’t be afraid of creeping into the thesaurus for a spooky synonym.”
  • In Oct. 2010, Target pulled a toy called “Spook Drop Parachuters” from shelves amid liberal outcry.

 

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