Use of the term "boy" to refer to adult African American men is usually thought to constitute some degree of racism. Yet, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has struggled with a case in which that term was used. The case is known as Ash v. Tyson Foods, Inc. It has been to the 11th Circuit four times. It was once heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court overruled the 11th Circuit and found that the term "boy" could reflect racial bias. In that decision, the Supreme Court also rejected the "jump off the page and slap you in the face" test for reviewing comparative employees qualifications. See Worplace Prof blog entry. That test had been used by some courts when reviewing claims that an employee with inferior qualifications was picked over a minority for promotion. Some courts formerly claimed the difference in qualifications should be so stark as to "jump off the page and slap you in the face." The Supreme Court rejected that very subjective test.
Regarding the "boy" term, the Supreme Court sent that issue back to the trial court for retrial, saying it could show racial animus.
On each prior appeal of Ash v. Tyson Foods, the 11th Circuit steadfastly refused to see any racial animus in the use of "boy." Despite the first jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff. After a second trial, the appellate court has finally reversed itself and now admitted to the obvious. See the opinion here. As the court finally noted, the context, tone, inflection and historical usage of such a term affect significantly its meaning. Id., at page 6.
It is hard to understand how some judges are so out of tune with the world most of us know. The Fifth Circuit rejected "boy" as a perjorative term in a case in 2009. See my prior post. The 11th Circuit rejected the same term in another case. See my prior post about that case, Alexander v. Opelika City Schools. As I have discussed before, many federal judges disfavor discrimination cases. I tend to believe that many judges simply come from life experiences where they were just not exposed to raw racism. Unfortunately, that is not the world most of us experience.