An Italian barbecue food truck has been banned from setting up shop in a busy square due to the name of it’s business: Wandering Dago. The name was chosen as a “playful reference” to the owners’ Italian heritage, despite the predominant use of ‘dago’ as a negative stereotype. Now Wandering Dago is suing the state of New York for breaching their right to free speech. As their lawyer stated: “we don’t live in a society that allows public officials to ban speech that they personally find to be offensive.”
For Australians this case illustrates the danger of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. If Wandering Dago opened in Australia it would breach s 18C, and we do not enjoy the protection of the First Amendment, as Americans do. George F. Carpinello, the lawyer for the Italian food company, makes a great point those too quick to find offence:
On one side of this debate are those…who believe that certain words should be forever banished from the public’s vocabulary. They seek to avoid offense by eternally policing the language. On the other side are those, like Wandering Dago, who argue that there is a role for re-appropriation, humor, and self-deprecation.
Shutting down language that may offend is not the way to combat vile racial attacks. Racism won’t be defeated in the courts, but out in society instead.