When the Ball Changes in Mid-Air

The trouble with mental catch, Adam Gopnik writes, is that the ball you throw changes in mid-air into another.

Gopnik is speaking metaphorically in his short story The Rookie. He’s telling his son a bedtime tale and the intent gets turned around because the lad interprets the story differently than intended.

Reminds me of the arguments about Indian mascots.

Some folks say they are trying to honor the tribes with cartoon images of Indians that grace t-shirts, caps and duffle bags.

But tribal members who say they aren’t honored by the images are dismissed as being altogether too sensitive.

The scenario is familiar. You may not intend to offend, but you offend none-the-less. The ball you throw dips and swerves then lands in an unexpected place.

I’ve been schooled to follow the lessons of the courts when this type of dispute arises in my workplace. The courts have favored the person who catches the metaphorical ball. If you are offended, even if that wasn’t the intent, that’s what matters.

It may be a pat on the fanny from a co-worker who’s clueless that the friendly gesture is offensive. Or it may be the red-faced Chief Wahoo or black-faced Sambo that turns your stomach. You throw like a girl. You dress like a fag. You’re an Indian giver.

So the decision rule lands on the side of the person receiving the comment: smack in the eye of the beholder.


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in authenticity, ethics, framing, Indian, journalism, news bias and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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