My mom called today to tell me about a friend of our family who was recently fired from Pepsi. This man is one of the kindest we’ve ever met, and has worked diligently for Pepsi for about as long as I’ve been alive. He went back to school in order to be promoted within the company and has never even been reprimanded during his time there.

This man (who will remain nameless) was in a conversation with some co-workers when he used the “N” word. He was not calling anyone by that term, nor were there any people of color participating in the conversation. A black man overheard his use of the “N” word and reported it to supervisors. Our friend was called in and fired on the spot.

One thing that first must be understood is that the use of that word is common among people in the rural south. My grandfather, for example, uses the word regularly, despite not considering himself a “racist” (nor would I consider him one). Country-folk in the rural south tend to view the “N” word quite differently than northern city-folk.

I wonder if the man who reported our friend would have been fired for using the word “cracker,” “white trash,” or something of the sort. Doubtful.

I’m not saying that our friend should not have been reprimanded. The use of slang – especially racial slurs or derogatory terms – in the workplace is unprofessional at best. My problem is with the fact that Pepsi fired a man without question because he used a word that someone found offensive. I find a lot of words offensive, but I’m certainly not going to have someone fired because they use them. I may request that they receive a good old fashioned “talking to,” but firing them on the spot would be far too extreme. I point back to the fact that those raised in the rural south don’t take the same offense to the “N” word as others may, so there is a good chance that our friend didn’t even realize he had done anything wrong. My guess is that Pepsi was so afraid of being sued that they decided to fire a good worker to simply cover their hind-quarters.

How much further is this going to go? How many other words are we going to be prohibited from saying for fear of hurting someone’s feelings (and the lawsuits that follow)? I’ll have to admit that there’s a tiny, tiny piece of me that wants to go scream that word from the rooftops just out of spite for not being allowed to say it. And I’ll tell you this, I won’t be drinking a Pepsi anytime soon…

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