Renault has decided to pull the "N-word" advertisement I wrote about in Tuesday's blog posting. This is the statement the company's U.K. office sent me today:
"The latest press and radio ad campaign from Renault UK has been created with a simple game of Yes/No as its theme. The aim of the campaign is to promote Renault UK's unbelievable offers over the next 10 days, which are so good it will be very difficult for customers to get a dealer to say 'No'. The 'N' word headline is one of three print advertisements that are complemented by three radio commercials explaining the game and Renault's offers. Any misunderstanding of the 'N' word is totally unintentional. However, this specific print advertisement will be removed with immediate effect, so as not to cause any offence. The other advertisements in the series do not include an 'N' word reference."
So, the ad in question was pulled. Two other print ads will continue, headlined: "We Don't Have a Swear Box, We Have a 'No' Box" and "For 10 Days, the Word 'No' Does Not Exist."
When I asked Renault UK press officer Mike Gale what exactly the N-word in question was in the ad that caught my eye--"For 10 Days, We Can't Use the 'N' Word"--he said it was "no....That's obviously what it means." When I asked whether most people in Britain would think that "the 'N'-word" means "no," he said, "I wouldn't know, to be perfectly honest."
There is a great deal of debate about the N-word (and by that I mean the six-letter one, not the two-letter one). Originally a racist epithet, it's now often bandied about by hip-hop artists and others who see it almost as a term of endearment or fraternity. Activist Dick Gregory used it as the title of his autobiography. Its usage has become a subject of serious scholarly attention (as in this book by my former Washington Post colleague Jabari Asim, and this one by Harvard Law professor Randall Kennedy). There's also a movement to abolish the N-word.
That gets too close for censorship for me. "Huckleberry Finn" wouldn't be as moving or illuminating without it. My objection to the Renault ad is that the advertising copywriters were playing with something too charged and dangerous for a flip newspaper ad. I hope I'm not sounding overly politically-correct, starting us on a slippery slope where soon not only shouldn't we say the real N-word but we shouldn't even say "the N-word."
Do I believe they really had no idea that using the expression "the N-word" might cause some readers to think they were referring to what Kennedy calls the "paradigmatic" racial slur in the English language? What do you think? But even giving them the benefit of the doubt, they should have known. They have led sheltered lives indeed if the thought never occurred to them.
I mean, give me an F-wording break. And by that I mean...well, you know what I mean, don't you?