Here’s a story that is really, well, dumb. The problem is not so much that it happened. That part is easy to understand. What is difficult to fathom without breaking into fits of laughter is the reaction.
The story goes like this. A couch manufacturer in China used Kingsoft software to translate a product label. The software is an omnipresent tool in computers across China. One particular version of said software, an old version, translated the color "dark brown" into the racially charged "n—– brown". This is definitely not a good thing but I doubt the couch meant it in a derogatory manner or that the software is racist.
So the couch is sent to Canada where it is purchased by Doris Moore, who is black, and takes great offense. A certain (mild) level of offense is understandable. There should be a proofreader of these labels, no doubt. And it probably leaves one wondering about the quality of the couch in question.
But no, Moore says somebody should take responsibility, which according to the version of the story from AP translates into cash.
Some of her friends, Moore said, actually refused to sit on the racist couch and the issue has "taken a toll on her family."
Apparently, Moore’s daughter found the label and questioned her on the word which she didn’t know. She probably hasn’t been watching television or listening to music or going to the movies or reading Huckleberry Finn or going to school. Moore said she didn’t want her daughter learning the word in this random fashion. I guess one alternative would be that she learn the word spoken by a character in a movie who is holding a gun and shooting people, or that she learn it from some white guy in a period piece who has absolutely no tolerance and represents everything that is base about humanity.
Some translations that come out of China are wrong, more often funny wrong than insulting wrong. Yes, it can be a (mild) issue. But how much of a toll can a wrong label have on the family? More than that, where do these friends come from that are holding the couch responsible for the label and preventing it from fulfilling its destiny by not sitting on it?
An official at the Ontario Human Rights Commission (yes, this is now a human rights issue) said it could take two years to resolve this. Two years! How many hearings is that? How much money will it cost? How many inflammatory comments over a simple mistake made by a piece of software that has already been fixed? (By the way, Kingsoft has already apologized and said the whole thing really was a problem with the software.) Will somebody actually pay Moore for this? And, if that is the goal of the entire exercise, how does that affect efforts to deal with issues that are truly important and based on actual racism and discrimination by people, not furniture?
For a little while, I guess, we can put genocide, racial killings, that fact that a racist has a shot at becoming president of France, conflicts in the Middle East, discrimination against minorities in Canada itself and myriad other problems firmly in the back burner. We got a couch to deal with.