The Army has deleted a tweet posted Thursday afternoon referring to “chinks” in the armor of its Special Operations capabilities after receiving numerous accusations of racism.
The tweet read: “Chinks in special ops’ digital and physical armor poses challenges, experts say.” It included a link to an Army news release with a similar headline that has since been changed. A search on Google Friday morning still showed the old headline:
The Army, whose main Twitter account has 589,000 followers, used the definition of the word that means a weakness or vulnerability — a common expression when discussing security issues. The Washington Post, New York Times and other major publications all use it on occasion, including recently.
But the word “chink” also can be used as a racist term referring to individuals of Chinese descent, as numerous people pointed out to the Army on Thursday night.
— Chanin Nuntavong (@authoriTHAI) January 29, 2015
Lt. Col. Alayne Conway, an Army public affairs officer, said Friday that the service was surprised by the reaction “since there is nothing even remotely racial” in the expression.
“The phrase and word have been in use for more than 600 years; it is a proper noun, meaning a “crack” or “fissure,” as defined by Webster’s,” she said in an email, referring to the dictionary maker. “Nevertheless, based on feedback from some followers who expressed offense, we deleted it. It was certainly not our intention to offend anyone.”
The service’s deletion of the message without an apology posted on Twitter led to more anger. An example:
The use of the phrase has prompted online controversy before. In February 2012, ESPN.com used the phrase “chink in the armor” in a headline for a story about Jeremy Lin, an Asian-American NBA basketball player. It read, “Chink in the Armor: Jeremy Lin’s 9 Turnovers Cost Knicks in Streak-stopping Loss to Hornets.”
The headlines was changed and ESPN later apologized. The editor who wrote them was fired, and later wrote in a piece in the New York Daily News that he meant no harm and was devastated by the situation. In that case, however, the use of the word appeared to refer directly to Lin.
The ESPN controversy led to debates about whether it was time to retire the “chinks in the armor” phrase for good.
“ESPN’s efforts are commendable, but these incidents suggest that it’s time to retire chink in the armor from the lexicon for good,” Huan Hsu, an Asian-American author, wrote in a 2012 piece for Slate. “Yes, I know that phrase has no racial connotations, but it uses the same exact word as the racial slur, for God’s sake.
“Having been called a chink a few times in my life — an Asian-American rite of passage that usually coincides with puberty — I don’t like hearing it, regardless of context, any more than a homosexual might like hearing the word for a bundle of kindling,” he added.
The reaction to the Army’s decision was mixed on Friday, with some saying the service shouldn’t have deleted the tweet in an effort to remain politically correct:
I care very much about eliminating racially insensitive terms, but even I am startled by this outrage. http://t.co/atJwrvEp4t
— Kirsten Browning (@iJournalista) January 30, 2015
— Mike Cernovich (@PlayDangerously) January 30, 2015
— Wright (@WrightBrunoS) January 30, 2015
This post has been updated to include reaction from the Army and more reaction from social media.