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How to hold a meaningful discussion with Scouts about ethnic slurs

Lead the following discussion with your Scouts or Venturers to examine the ethics surrounding this scenario.

The Dilemma

Star Scout Brendan knows words like most other members of the Panther Patrol know fantasy football stats. He’ll use a 50-cent word when a 5-cent one would do.

Brendan’s vocabulary skills will help him at SAT time, but they’ve gotten him into trouble more than once, including in Troop 272. Recently, for example, he convinced the Panther Patrol, which he leads, to adopt the patrol yell “You’re haole, and we’re ohana.” In Hawaii, ohana means family, while haole refers to non-natives and is often considered insulting, something Senior Patrol Leader Javon learned after a quick Google search.

When Javon asked Brendan to change the yell, Brendan declined. He pointed out that haole isn’t inherently offensive and that no one in the troop has ties to Hawaii, anyway. If nobody is offended, Brendan asks, why should he change it?

For Discussion

After reading the scenario with your Boy Scouts or Venturers, discuss these general questions about ethnic slurs:

What is an ethnic slur? (One definition is “an insult based on a person’s race, ethnicity or national origin, often deriving from a perceived physical or cultural characteristic.”)

Are any words inherently offensive? Or are they just random sequences of letters?

Who decides if a word is offensive: the person using it or the person on the receiving end?

Can a third party decide a word is offensive?

Can a word’s meaning change over time? Do words that were offensive centuries ago still offend today?
Next, discuss these questions about this particular dilemma:

Do you like or dislike the patrol yell Brendan created? Why?

Do you agree with his argument that the term can’t be offensive since he borrowed it from another culture? Why or why not?

Imagine someone of Hawaiian ancestry joins the troop. Does that change anything? Why or why not?
Finally, have the Boy Scouts or Venturers decide how Javon should proceed (assuming he’s not satisfied with Brendan’s argument). Discuss how their proposed solution affects Javon’s and Brendan’s status as leaders. Discuss how it aligns with the values of Scouting.