Apparently the founder said something bad Credit Ildar Sagdejev CC-BY-SA-4.0,3.0,2.5,2.0,1.0

Whether this is the right way to be going about things or not is entirely up to you. For it is you – and me, us collectively – who determine what statements or words are beyond the social pale. If we think that referring to women’s ankles is sexist – or seeing them sexy – then references to women’s ankles are sexist and seeing them sexy. It isn’t true that such ankles or references to them either are or are not sexist or sexy. It’s entirely down to the attitudes of the society around and observing them.

So it is with the use of the N word. A century ago it was on its way out as a normal and acceptable word to use, half such ago it was a useful marker of racist attitudes and today it’s entirely verboten in any form of polite society:

Papa John’s founder John Schnatter has stepped down as chairman of the company’s board after apologising for using the N-word in a conference call.

The pizza chain founder used the racial slur in a media training session in May.

If the use was “You damn N—, now you can F!”£ Off!” then I think we’d all agree that by those current standards he’s out. Recall, what is socially right or wrong is determined by the society around the action or speech.

A marketing agency reportedly moved to cut ties with Papa John’s after the pizza chain’s controversial founder, John Schnatter, used the N-word during a conference call.

Mr. Schnatter has the absolute right to use whatever language he wishes of course. Subject only to the usual libel and incitement to violence restrictions. He also has the duty to accept the consequences of what he says. Again, something socially determined outside those legal restrictions. And yet, and yet:

In May, Schnatter participated in a conference call between Papa John’s executives and marketing agency Laundry Service. The call was intended as a role-playing exercise, to help ensure that Schnatter wouldn’t make incendiary remarks in the future. Six months prior, he caused a public-relations flare-up after he referred to national anthem protests in the NFL as a “debacle.”

During the call, Schnatter was asked how he would distance himself from racist groups. He responded by minimizing the significance of his NFL remarks. “Colonel Sanders called blacks n—–s,” Schnatter said, before insisting that Sanders never faced public outcry.

In the same conversation, Schnatter also cited his upbringing in Indiana, where, he said, African-Americans were once dragged from trucks and killed. He apparently intended for the comments to illustrate his opposition to racist behavior. However, multiple individuals on the call found the graphic nature of his statements to be offensive, a source with knowledge of the event told Forbes. After hearing about the incident, Laundry Service owner Casey Wasserman moved to terminate the company’s contract with Papa John’s.

Even the use of that N word to point out how different things are today as opposed to that past is to be verboten? In a media training exercise?

Well, yes, it appears so. As with the various versions of Huckleberry Finn which excise the word – despite its centrality to the moral point that Twain was making.

Do note the point being made here. Which isn’t that there’s some problem with the resignation or firing – Schnatter was running a business using other peoples’ money, offending the mores of the time and place loses them money, bye bye. It’s to ponder whether the mores are quite what they ought to be. The use as an epithet we’re all on board with being unacceptable. The use as an historical reference perhaps less so.

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One presumes that had he used the term derived from Aenglish rather than that derived from Latin that would have been more acceptable. Why do we have such a down on the users of Romance languages?
Maybe we don’t. Maybe there’s just a bunch of obnoxious individuals desperate to make an issue of something and they’re running out of substantive issues.


It is astonishing that Schnatter could be forced out of his job for quoting someone else using the N-word. To be clear, this happened months ago, and he was forced out months ago, the details just emerging now; so the offense is not that he ever used the N-word. Papa John’s being a private company, they have a perfect right to have whomever they want as their executives; and as they are retailers, they will be especially sensitive to potential public furor. But Schnatter would have had enemies, in the organization and among franchisors and vendors, and they seized on… Read more »


I am partly wrong above (at “To be clear”!); this months-old action has just now percolated up and out of the organization and Schnatter’s firing is indeed news.


Wasn’t there a British academic fired a couple of years ago for saying something like “we have moved on since xxx centuries ago when historical-person said “now offensive thing””?

Esteban DeGolf

Not that everything connects to Monty Python, but this brings to mind the Knights who say “Ni”. They were greatly distressed because King Arthur was using one of the words they were forbidden to hear. They couldn’t tell him what the word was, of course, leading Arthur to ask “how can we avoid saying the word if you won’t tell us what it is”? Imagine for a moment that you had a visitor from another country who had no idea what the magic word was – would you (assuming you are a white person) dare to tell them? Sorry, Forlup,… Read more »

Esteban DeGolf

This episode exposes a massive double standard BTW. Not long ago Samantha Bee called Ivanka Trump the C word. The result – she had to apologize. No resignation mind you, and she used the word with malice and applied it to a person. Papa John used the word in the abstract.
To quote the great Chris Plante “if it weren’t for double standards, liberals would have no standards at all.”


Bee now claims she was “affected” by the resulting fallout. (Her career, not so much.) Dittoes on the double standards, but again, the lifetime-banishment standard is about to vanish, the moment it appears to be less of a risk to Trump than to Gropin’ Joe Biden.