“Intent” Ethics: The “Grape Soda” Caper

Grape Soda

Little noticed when it was reported a month ago, but of special interest now that the New York Times is on record that the use of a racist slur is to be regarded as a racist act regardless of the intent of the speaker, is the decision by The New York Racing commission to ban a prominent trainer from competition for giving a horse a name that isn’t racist but apparently intending it to be a racist slur. Yes, it’s a reverse Donald McNeil! What do you say, Bret Stephens?

As Alice said in Wonderland, “Curiouser and curiouser!” The banned trainer is Eric Guillot, whose horses have earned more than $13 million in purses and have won 259 races. “Racism is completely unacceptable in all forms,” David O’Rourke, the association’s president and chief executive, said in a statement. “NYRA rejects Eric Guillot’s toxic words and divisive behavior in the strongest terms. Our racing community is diverse, and we stand for inclusion.” What were the “toxic words”?

“Grape soda.”

Yes, grape soda. I confess, I’ve used the words “grape soda.” I like grape soda; always have. But Guillot, see, named a horse “Grape Soda” after tweeting on New Year’s Day that he was giving a 3-year-old colt a “unique name in honor of a TVG analyst.” The tweet had a Black fist emoji. Apparently “grape soda,” in addition to meaning, you know, grape soda, has been used somewhere I’ve never been as a racial epithet. So bad an epithet is it that the New York Times wouldn’t dare print it in its headline: “NYRA Bars Horse Trainer For Using Racist Name.” I couldn’t find out what the “racist name” was until six paragraphs into the article. The Times didn’t even call it the “GS-word,” though it says it “can” be a racist term, presumably based on context and intent. But now, as a Times columnist discussed in a banned op-ed, the Times says intent and context doesn’t matter. If that’s true, then “Grape Soda” must be presumed to have the same meaning in the case of the horse as it is presumed to mean anywhere else, like when I say to my wife, “Hey, while you’re at 7-11, pick me up a grape soda please!” But that does not seem to be the case in this story, and the Times itself doesn’t challenge the logic that “Grape Soda” as a name for a horse is racist simply because it was dedicated to the only black horse-racing analyst. They think. Or someone thinks.

Confused? Me too, and I have some questions:

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