October 18, 2021



A theater company in the U.K. has denied it has banned the word “spooky” following reports that staff had dropped its usage over concerns it is racist.

The National Theatre Scotland (NTS) denied reports it had censored the word following widespread reports in the British media, ahead of Halloween, that it had done so.

Numerous newspapers reported the state-funded arts company had dropped the word “spooky” as it had been identified as a racist slur.

But, an NTS spokesperson told Newsweek on Monday: “Contrary to recent newspapers’ reports, the National Theatre of Scotland has not banned the word ‘spooky’ from being used on the company website or marketing materials.

“However, following the commitment by NTS to becoming an anti-racist organization, the company will now always interrogate language choices on all materials to try and ensure that no offense or hurt is caused by inappropriate language or by words that have historically oppressive connotations.”

According to Merriam-Webster, the word “spooky” is defined as “relating to, resembling or suggesting spooks.”

A further explanation of the word “spook” gives way to the meaning “ghost, specter” or “an undercover agent: spy.”

But, it would take on another meaning during World War II when white American soldiers started to call their Black counterparts “spooks.”

Pilots of the Tuskegee Institute—derived from the first Black military aviators in the U.S. Army Air Corps—were named “Spookwaffe,” which in turn was a play on the German word “waffe,” meaning weapon or gun. The Luftwaffe was the German army’s (Wehrmacht) air branch during World War II.

But, when airmen returned to the post with the nickname, white Americans started to use “spook” to refer to blackness.

It then resulted in the word transforming into a racial slur against Black people and became derogatory.

The Scottish government-funded NTS has campaigned to become, what it calls, anti-racist and monitors language used in its productions and promotional material.

Following the Black Lives Matter protest movement, the NTS took several steps to address and better promote diversity within the company.

In a September 2020 statement, the company said it had appointed a “specialist anti-racist consultant” to handle complaints and concerns in regard to past race issues and “anything that comes up in the future.”

The same NTS statement information was included about staff backgrounds and revealed that 80 percent of employees in the play and project commissions department in 2019/20 were white and that 20 percent were listed as Black or of multiple ethnic groups.

It also found that 91.6 percent of those sitting on the board of the NTS were white while 9 percent listed themselves as being Black.