Reader Publishes Racial Slur in GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER Review

Update 3/29/18 12:00PM: Justin Hayford has posted an apology on the Reader website. The word has been removed from the published review.

By Jason Epperson

Chicago Reader critic Justin Hayford utilized a racial slur — often considered the most offensive word in the English language — in his recent review of GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER at Court Theater, drawing the ire of many on social media. The review, which calls Todd Kreidler’s adaptation “unnecessary,” offered some mixed critiques, then described one of the later moments in the play as follows:

“Or rather, not until Mr. Prentice’s pointed outburst late in act two, during which he paints for his son a horrifying picture of the life he’ll face. At best, white America will take credit for his research. At worst, it will leave him with a cracked skull, tormented children, and a wife who’ll come to believe he’s nothing but a [redacted slur]. It’s an extraordinary moment, when monstrous social forces finally crash the dinner party and threaten to crush everyone.”

After a swift social media backlash, the Reader has edited the review to place quotations around the phrase “nothing but a [redacted],” adding an editor’s note that “during the play, one of the characters uses a racial slur. We have updated the text to show that the offensive language came directly from the script. We apologize for the confusion.”

The actual line is “and she’s the one gonna wake up mad one morning and call you a [redacted],” says Wardell Julius Clark, associate director of the production. “I am personally deeply hurt, offended and appalled that any white reviewer would think that the use of the n-word is okay in any context in print,” he added. “It is not and will never be okay to use, and on behalf of our entire production team I request a full apology.”

The review comes quick on the heels of a controversy at the publication that had its Executive Editor, Mark Konkol, fired after just 17 days on the job. Konkol published a cover illustration by a white artist featuring a caricature of candidate for governor J.B. Pritzker held up by a Black lawn jockey. Konkol pushed the author of the piece, Adeshina Emmanuel, to utilize the word in the headline, deleting the original in a shared Google doc, “J.B. Pritzker’s ‘African American Thing'” and replacing it with, “Uncoding J.B. Pritzker: He Wanted The ‘Least Offensive’ [REDECTED] In the U.S. Senate.” Konkol continued to press the use of the word or some other racially-charged language until Emmanuel began ignoring his communications.

Some social media reactions:

A white writer tossing out the n-word in a review about a play that “ignores the realities of Jim Crow America”. How apropos ?

How on earth did this get past your editors? Your readership deserves an apology and a retraction. It’s beyond unacceptable for a white writer to use that term, especially given the context of the piece. Unreal. 2018, the new 1963.

In other news, Justin Hayford uses the N word in his review of “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” for no other reason than shock value. @Chicago_Reader does anyone read the theatre reviews before you publish them? Didn’t we learn from Konkol’s mistakes?

About author

Jason Epperson

Jason is a producer, manager, and designer with 17 years of experience in Chicago, New York, and in the touring market. In 2015, he founded Lotus Theatricals - the publisher of Performink, and an independent commercial producing company - with Abigail Trabue.