I never gave the word “master” a lot of thought.
In fact, a couple of years ago I thought it was funny when my podcast sister, author Leslie Baldacci, suggested we do a segment called: “Who put the Master in MasterCard?”
But I’m not laughing now.
All hell broke loose when a white Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd, a Black man, by putting his knee on his neck.
The aftermath of that cold-hearted act left more than broken glass and ransacked stores.
Just like the coronavirus has changed everyday life, the killing of Floyd (which reminded many of a public lynching) has changed the way many of us see our racial history.
That change is now rolling across America:
From the boardrooms — where corporate leaders decided to retire popular longstanding brands like “Aunt Jemima” and “Uncle Ben”— to sports teams, like the former “Washington Redskins,” which recently dumped its offensive mascot, people are reexamining their racial attitudes.
These changes didn’t come overnight.
Native Americans have campaigned for decades against cultural misappropriation by college and professional sports teams.
Tragically, it took a cruel act of racial oppression for decision-makers to listen.
Now, we are in the midst of not only confronting our racist roots, but we are trying to dig them up, which brings me back to “master.”
Because of this racial reckoning, so to speak, what was once a socially acceptable term used to describe a person’s dominance has come under scrutiny.
In Houston, one of the fastest-growing cities in America, real estate agents, according to a recent CBS News report, will no longer use the term.
“…More members viewed the terms (master bedroom, master bathroom) as sexist than racist, although some did view them as racist,” according to a statement from the Houston Association of Realtors, CBS News reported.
Chicago-based real estate firm @properties has also dropped the term “master.”
The National Association of Realtors, however, told the Houston Chronicle that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development advised them the term “master bedroom is not discriminatory and that its usage does not violate any fair housing laws.”
“Master” is chiefly defined in the New Oxford American Dictionary as a “man who has people working for him, especially servants or slaves.”
What was once accepted as an innocuous term used to describe a person’s dominance is now being denounced as racist.
Frankly, I would pull out my “MasterCard” credit card without ever making the connection that “master” is as rooted in our slavery lexicon as “mammy.”
The fact that people in the real estate industry are debating this issue shows the depth at which Americans of all races are reexamining racial bias.
Maybe now African-American leaders, artists, musicians and influencers will launch a serious campaign to stop the use of the n-word.
The NAACP tried in vain to bury the word more than a decade ago.
But Black youth, particularly, have been bamboozled, as Malcolm X would say, into believing that a word rooted in the outright hatred of Black skin could ever be used to describe a Black person — no matter who uses it.
It pains me to hear that word blasting from car radios and from the lips of Black comedians, as if they don’t know where the word comes from.
Like so many others in my generation, I’m proud of the activism young people continue to show around criminal justice reform.
They are right to go hard when it coms to fixing our broken and inequitable system, including policing in Black and Brown neighborhoods.
But we have a lot of internal work to do.
It is easy to demand that statues of slave-owning historical figures be taken down and hidden from public view.
We should replace those monuments with statues of American heroes that people of every race can be proud of.
But there’s no pride in the continued widespread use of a word that was used by racists to denigrate Black people.
It was a racial slur back then.
It is still a racial slur today.