Culture

Wait, the Word 'Chief' Is Racist, Now?!

Native Americans at the Gathering of Nations (AP Photo/ Russell Contreras)

A Canadian chief executive officer (CEO) (sorry, leading executive officer) has renounced the title that denotes consummate success in the corporate world because it is supposedly racist cultural appropriation and offensive to Native Americans, or something.

Catherine Roome, president and chief — drat, sorry — lead executive officer of Technical Safety BC, signaled her virtue to the world in a column in The Globe and Mail. She lamented “systemic racism,” praised the Black Lives Matter movement, and announced her reasons for dropping the oh-so-offensive word “chief” from her title.

“As folks who know me well will tell you, I am a stickler for inclusive language. I often interrupt people – board directors, heads of organizations, politicians and others – if I feel they are using titles for our employees that are outdated,” Roome boasted. “So to receive constructive feedback on my own use of language made me sit up and take notice.”

“One particularly courageous colleague pointed out that I was using a word in my title, president and chief executive officer, that represents something deeply meaningful to many Indigenous peoples. It is a word that is honoured and respected in First Nations culture and conveys a meaning very different to organizational leadership,” the CEO — so sorry! — LEO added.

“I have long been a champion for Indigenous rights and reconciliation. Yet I am ashamed to say, the thought had never even occurred to me that the title I proudly held could evoke such a response, or even be viewed as disrespectful to the very reconciliation process that I support,” Roome confessed, head bowed in shame. “So upon reflection, I have changed my title within the organization to president and lead executive officer.”

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So, is the term “chief executive officer” inherently offensive to Native Americans? Does it involve a kind of cultural appropriation, taking away dignity from Indigenous peoples?

Hardly. As Roome herself acknowledged, “The origin of my original title is European.” She claimed that “that doesn’t give me a pass,” arguing that the term is still tied up with the system of “systemic racism.”

There is, however, little to suggest that the term “chief executive officer” has anything to do with racism at all, much less a “disrespectful” denigration of Native American leadership.

The ancient Romans certainly had no intention of denigrating Native Americans when they used the word “caput” to denote “head.” When the word “chief” was coined in Middle English between 1250 and 1300 A.D., medieval scholars on the island of Britain could have had no inkling that the word would one day refer to people on a continent they did not know existed.

In fact, it appears Roome is offended on behalf of Native Americans who ostensibly have claimed the word “chief” for their own, even though when English settlers first referred to Indigenous leaders as “chiefs,” the Native Americans would not have known the word. It is as if this Canadian CEO — drat, I keep doing that! — LEO is defending a supposed Native American cultural appropriation of a word that was originally used by English speakers to culturally appropriate the relationship between native leaders and their tribes — oh drat! That word’s English, too…

While the term “chief executive officer” appears to date back to 1917 — two years after President Woodrow Wilson screened a Ku Klux Klan movie in the White House — there is no evidence the business term was intended to mock Native Americans. In fact, it appears to have been an extension of the term “chief executive,” which was first applied to the president of the United States between 1825 and 1835.

“Chief executive officer” denotes the head of a corporation or business, the person who is responsible for the company’s successes and failures. The CEO role represents the height of aspiration in the business world, and the job comes with incredible stress and intrusive work demands. For these reasons, CEOs enjoy prestige and large paychecks.

Roome does not intend to renounce the prestige, pay, or role of a CEO, she just wants those in Canada — and presumably other parts of the English-speaking world — to consider the very term “chief” racist and therefore to drop it from the prestigious title. Whatever Roome identifies as, she’s still really a CEO, and she’s capitalizing on that fact to gain power over the words people say.

This presumptuous CEO is far from the first to attempt to find a latent “racism” in everyday language.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced that the NBA phased out the term “owner” when referring to the individuals who own shares of stock in basketball teams. His remarks came after Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green suggested the word “owner” “sets a bad precedent,” “sets the wrong tone,” and “gives one the wrong mindset.”

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said Green owed the NBA an apology “because to try to create some connotation that owning equity in a company that you busted your ass for is the equivalent of ownership in terms of people, that’s just wrong. That’s just wrong in every which way. We own equity. We don’t own people. And there’s a big difference.”

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The actual meaning and origin of words apparently matter less than the supposed “racist” impression certain offended people claim to take from those words. For example, Linux recently abolished the terms “blacklist,” “master,” and “slave,” even though slavery long predated the racial slavery of the Americas and even though King Charles II of England used the term “black list” to refer to a list of people who voted to execute Charles I in the English Civil War. This original meaning is not racist at all, and the idea of such a list goes back at least to the Roman Republic.

Last month, a Texas realtor group announced it would no longer use the term “master” when referring to bedrooms and bathrooms connected to the largest room in a house or apartment. A CNN article advocating the abolition of certain “racist” phrases and terms from the English language traced the origin of the term “master bedroom” to a 1926 Sears catalog, “referring to a large second floor bedroom with a private bathroom.” CNN worked hard to twist the meaning, claiming that it is “unclear whether the term is rooted in American slavery on plantations,” and arguing that it “evokes that history.”

Hilariously, CNN went on to call for the abolition of the phrase “Masters Tournament” for the PGA Tour. “The history of the name goes back to 1934, when the tournament was first held at the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia,” CNN reported. Co-founder Bobby Jones initially rejected the term, not due to any racial concerns but because it was too “presumptuous.”

The PGA Tour clearly uses the word “master” in the sense of achieving mastery in golf, not in any sort of reference to slavery, much less race-based slavery.

Yet CNN was attempting to create a blacklist of supposedly offensive terms in a bid for power. If leftists can claim to be offended at certain words and declare those words verboten, they can go on to declare certain ideas off-limits, as well. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), for instance, smears mainstream conservative and Christian organizations as “hate groups” in an effort to cut them off from polite society and make their ideas seem toxic. They are on the cutting edge of cancel culture, as are the activists who would police basic terms as “racist.”

Catherine Roome is not just engaging in virtue signaling, she’s abetting an Orwellian attempt at redefining basic words according to Marxist critical theory, finding supposed racist oppression behind every innocent syllable.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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