And not a moment too soon. Motherlode, the parenting blog at the New York Times, ventured into somewhat similar territory with a post on a Chicago writer who, in a very serious story, used the term "ghetto parenting" to describe a particular kind of neglectful childrearing that produces everything from kids with their belts at their knees to young adults bound for prison.
Question: is the term "ghetto parenting" racist? Does it affect your answer to that question to learn that the writer who coined the term is, herself, black?
The next day, talk show host Rush Limbaugh stepped in it (actually, he gleefully jumped in it with both feet) by describing the late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner as a "cracker" who made a lot of African Americans rich while firing a lot of white managers.
The comment seemed calculated to provoke outrage somewhere, somehow, from someone. Al Sharpton rose, or stooped, to the occasion by decrying the comment and suggesting an apology was in order.
Nonsense. The only thing that was offensive about Limbaugh's statement was that he neglected to mention the number of Hispanic millionaires Steinbrenner created. I hate when Latinos are left out of stories, especially when the stories are about millionaires.
I thought Limbaugh was rather clearly playing with people's perceptions of himself and making a serious point, too: while his detractors search vigorously for the smoking gun that proves his racism, he contends his real passion is not for white supremacy, but colorblind capitalism.
And it was funny. He calls it "illustrating absurdity by being absurd." Limbaugh calling someone a cracker is like me calling someone a hypersensitive p.c. cop (at least, according to MY critics).
My point is that we are bombarded daily by examples of people using words that provoke: sometimes they provoke pain, anger, hurt, or offense. Other times they provoke righteous indignation, resolve, determination and courage. At the very least, we can hope they provoke thought.
Did Rush Limbaugh go too far, using Steinbrenner's legacy to make a political point when the body wasn't even cold yet? Did Mary Mitchell go too far, coining the phrase "ghetto parenting" and not expecting race to overwhelm the ensuing discussion?
As parents, we are charged with the mission of teaching our kids right from wrong, good from bad, polite from rude. In doing so, we should also be able to see that intending offense is not always a matter of black or white.