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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Cultural (In)sensitivity in Opinion Pieces

Bella Rios

Bella Rios was a 2018-2019 Hackworth Fellow at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

Student reporters Ishmael and Jennifer are writing opinion pieces about the popular Taiwanese drink boba. Ishmael plans to criticize boba for its taste and texture. Jennifer will write in favor of boba for its sentimental value and sugary goodness.

Upon reviewing Ishamel’s section, Jennifer voices reservations. Ishamel compares the boba tapioca to “frog eyes rolling in your mouth” and asserts his credibility by referencing a trip to Taiwan where he tried the drink. Ishamel says he included this language not to be malicious, but to be humorous and satirical. He anticipates that people would condemn his opinion, which is why he referenced his trip as evidence that he is a reliable boba critic.  

Jennifer considers her school population, which consists of students from different cultural backgrounds. She believes that many will deem the article culturally insensitive.

Jennifer foresees negative ramifications of the article: namely, the alienation of students of color who cherish boba as a cultural drink. In contrast to Ishmael’s view, the drink is deeply rooted in the rich Taiwanese culture; it is not merely a trendy drink.

On the other hand, Jennifer recognizes and appreciates the importance of freedom of expression in opinion editorials. Authors convey both popular and unpopular ideas to spark conversation and promote alternative ways of thinking.

Jennifer believes that censorship of opinion articles must be reserved for pieces that promote hate. Ishamel’s piece, through culturally insensitive, is not necessarily hateful. His creative license is also protected by the First Amendment, in Jennifer’s view. Yet she still worries about backlash if the article is published in its original form.

Discussion Questions

1. Do student newspaper staff members have a responsibility to be culturally sensitive?
2. What are the implications of publishing an article deemed culturally insensitive?
3. What course of action should the editor take?
4. Would deleting Ishmael’s piece following backlash amount to censorship?

Jun 7, 2019