Dear PoPville – Should this License Plate be Allowed even if it is Unintentionally Offensive?

Hateful DC license plate

“Dear PoPville,

We have twice seen the vanity license plate with the name “N1GR8TR” (see photo attached).

As an African American professional living in the District this was pretty disturbing. One can only assume this is translated into “ni*ger hater” or “ni*gerator”. Either way, we would like to know how the DC government could allow this hateful “slogan” to be put on a license plate in a city.

Could you help us get an answer from the DC government and perhaps readers can let us know if its possible to ask that a license plate be recalled due to a hateful saying.”

DC DMV replied:

“To me, this license plate says none or possibly no one greater. What is the person finding offensive about it?”

They have not responded to the OP’s explanation above.

Update 1:48pm: By telephone DC DMV reiterated that the license plate stands for no one greater. They would not comment on the OP’s interpretation.

Update via email 1:59pm:

“Since the license plate stands for “no one greater,” DC DMV does not have a basis to recall it.”

122 Comment

  • It should read, N1 GR8R then.

    • Agreed, that it is meant to convey that there is no one greater…..

      who knows could be a tribute to the big guy in the sky. Either that or he is a total racist.

      • Where was this spotted?
        If in upper NW… it probably has the racist meaning.
        If in Anacostia… it’s probably a tribute to the big guy.
        If in Foggy Bottom… it’s some bratty GW kid who thinks no one is greater than him.

      • It’s in upper NW, but east of the park (I see it all the time in the Brightwood/Takoma area).

    • Should be NO1 GR8R… how does “N” translate into “no”?

    • there was no room for the space… clearly

  • So the question is…Should free speech be allowed?

    • Prince Of Petworth

      Not at all. Offensive license plate requests are denied all the time.

      • I have a feeling that because of this post alone the owner will be getting a replacement tag notice within a week.

      • Yeah, and the list of banned plates is huge and contains a lot of letter/number groupings that don’t seem offensive. Surprised the DMV let this one slip through.

    • Free speech is absolutely allowed… hate speech is not.

      • lukecolorado

        I’m pretty sure that’s allowed too.

        • no it isn’t.

          • PDMtP

            IAAL, and yes it is. Did you miss the memo on the KKK and Westboro Baptist?

            That said, DC could ban this, and I wouldn’t have a problem with it, but I also think we all probably have better things to do. This could be either one; choose the better story. Worse things happen in the comment section of any news site – not to excuse those worse things, but if this person is a racist with a stupid license plate he/she isn’t worth your time, and if it’s just a stupid license plate that goes double.

          • Ignoring the issue of license plates and moving onto the broader picture: Hate speech is protected and free speech. There isn’t some ‘exception’ constitutionally for speech that offends.

      • Allison

        Hate speech is allowed, and this isn’t a free speech situation either.

        There’s a government intermediary here– the DC govt–which has to allow you to pay for and print the special license plate for you. The government is under no duty to subsidize or otherwise enhance your speech, whether hateful, joyful, or what have you. Therefore, the government could simply deny my request for a license plate that says “SQRLLVR” even though I love squirrels and it’s just a stupid plate.

        There is no such thing as free speech on government issued vanity plates.

        • Allison

          I’ll add the exception that the state can’t force you to spread message on your license plate, however. (The “Live Free or Die” motto license plate case.)

        • That’s not entirely true. There’s government speech, which doesn’t require the government to print your message if it doesn’t want to, but, depending on the specifics of the state/city’s program, this may be a hybrid public space, in which case the agency may publish rules and guidelines and then has to approve/deny based on those rules and guidelines. In a hybrid scenario, they couldn’t just bar SQRLLVR unless the denial fit in with other rules/guidelines/denials.

        • Great points. Also, if the concept of “unintentional offensiveness” had any basis in law, any DC vehicle with any variant of “Redskins” for a vanity plate would be in trouble.

      • So…we’re regulating emotions or…?

        Are you saying I’m not allowed to hate someone? For whatever reason? If I express that publicly..It’s Illegal???

        I’m a private citizen. And I can hate whoever I wish.

  • Unintentionally?

    Seems like a pretty well thought out plate whose entire purpose is to be offensive.

    How does the District Government, the DMV in this case allow it? Easy, the folks at the DC DMV have to be the dimmest bulbs around and I’ve lived here for quite a while. It is the employer of last resort for an entire demographic of DC that is functionally illiterate and otherwise unemployable.

  • I’m with the DMV. I saw the plate before reading the OP and immediately thought it was supposed to be No One Greater since the number one is used not the letter ‘i”.

    • I’ve seen it for years on GA AV. I alwas kew it was “No One Greater” becuase the car has never been lit on fire.

  • With just looking at the license plate I immediately read No one greater.

  • I see no problem.

  • I wonder if one’s race/background influences what they see here. I’m black and I definitely read “n*gger hater” before reading the post.

    • I’m white and read it the same way.

    • ledroittiger

      I’m white and I initially thought n*gger, but then realized it could be no one greater before getting to the bottom of the post to read DMV’s reply. Maybe if you were religious or totally full of yourself you would see the latter first?

    • I’m white and that’s what I saw. But I wonder if I was prompted by the headline to read it in an offensive way.

      • The whole post was set up to imply it was hateful so that’s what people say. Honestly if I saw it on the street I would just think it was random letters and numbers.

    • I definitely agree that someone’s background could influence how they read it. But, I’m white and I read it “N*gger hater” upon first glance. Then I tried to figure out what else it could mean, and only realized the other possible meaning when I read the rest of the article.

    • I read n*gger ate her. Still offensive, but also just weird.

      • Too bad it’s No one greater.

        This is the problem with “hate speech” interpretations. Anyone can interpret something however they wish.

        • Okay, but in this case it looks like at least half the people are reading it as the hateful message. Isn’t that enough to suggest it be removed?

    • Sorry. I am black and I definitely read no one greater. I don’t see how you get to that other reading. No one would use a 1 for an”i” in a vanity plate. And GR8TR translates to greater, not Gr Hater.

    • That’s what I saw too, but I think it had something to do with the fact that the photo was underneath a blog headline that said it was offensive. If I saw it on the street, I don’t know if my mind would have gone there.

      • My eyes always go to the photo first, so I don’t think I was influenced by the headline.

    • I’m white and I thought it said nigger and not “n*gger” with a star replacing the “i.”

  • People get offended by the use of the word niggard, so no surprise this is controversial.
    Since we already have an extensive list of letter/number combos deemed inappropriate for license plates I don’t think it would be a terrible to ban combos that unintentionally resemble offensive language too.

  • For real? My first instinct was that it said “Anyone Greater” but i guess no one greater makes more sense.

    N Hater seems to be a stretch, since there’s no H… perhaps N Ater…?

    Since vanity plates are generally a medium for self aggrandizement, I think DMV’s explanation is spot on.

  • Why did the OP have to classify his/her self as African American “professional” as if that to distance themselves from other African American “non-professionals”?

    and I am african american, just curious as the “professional” is what sticks out in the post.

    • Agreed. That is curious.

    • Not the OP, but maybe “professional” was meant to signify/distinguish that the OP is an African American who finds the n-word offensive, as opposed to an African American who tosses it around as it’s used sometimes in rap/street parlance (that is assuming the possible interpretation of the license plate as n-ator, and trying to be boastful/funny rather than n-hater). Not that I personally think there’s a correlation between someone’s education/job status/income and their use of that word to refer colloquially to fellow African Americans, but just a guess as to the intent.

    • i figured it was to label themselves as a nuanced, critical thinker, not a reactionary, in an attempt to give their complaint more credibility.

  • If you read the plate as either benign or as racist, you’re inserting a letter that’s not there. In the former, it’s the “o” in “no,” if it’s the latter, it’s the “h” in “h8tr.”

  • ledroittiger

    hehe

  • I would not have read it as “no one greater,” but who knows–maybe that’s because after my first glimpse at the narrative lead-in (ie, seeing cue words like African American and offensive), my brain subconsiously steered me to the more offensive interpretation (and I tend to be bad at word puzzles anyway, so I’m highly succeptible to the power of suggestion). I’m guessing this was an unintentional slip on the part of whatever DMV reviewer, who saw the “no one greater” interpretation and mentally locked onto that. I’m also guessing the poor license plate owner didn’t realize, either–you would have to be one of the biggest idiots in the world, and practically begging for your car to be keyed or your tires to be slashed, to intentionally put a racist slogan on your license plate in the District of Columbia. (Granted, those idiots probably *do* exist, but it seems likely that’s not the case here.)

  • I read it as no one greater, but I am surprised the DMV let the combo of N1GR go through simply because it looks bad… as this post has shown.

    I don’t think it’s fair to assume that the vehicle owner intended to put a “hateful slogan” on their plate, but eveyone needs a cause, so go ahead and bash away, everyone!

  • Maybe it means “No Negretter”
    They are taking a stand against a certain type of french red grape.

  • How about
    ANUSTART?

  • It’s my understanding that vanity tag requests require the applicant to state the meaning. Perhaps the DMV pulled the application.

  • If this one is disallowed, then the DC plate in question should also be. And yes I understand it is a separate DMV blah blah.

    http://jalopnik.com/5724684/virginia-dmv-revokes-worlds-greatest-license-plate

  • Now, to completely miss the point…

    Anyone else thrown for a loop by the complainant’s inclusion of “professional” in his or hers self-description? I’m not really sure why employment status would be relevant. Just a curiosity. Beyond that, feels like DMV is playing dumb here, though their interpretation makes as much sense to me as the complainant’s. Either way, the potential for offense would seem to be enough to reject this request.

    • Yes I mentioned the same thing above. I was more concerned/confused by the OP’s use of “professional” than I am about the license plate.

      Still don’t get it and I hate to assume, but………….

  • I agree with the DMV interpretation, but even if I thought it was an anti-black slur I’d still say we should allow it. I say allow all license plates, no matter what they say. Suppressing speech because it is unpleasant or offensive to some is a bad idea. After all, the more we allow people to express how stupid they really are, the more free all of us become. And wouldn’t you rather know just who exactly it is that you’re going to be dealing with if you have to interact with this person? As a gay guy I’d fully support the idea of allowing f*ghater or dief*ags or any such plate on a car. If I see one of my neighbors getting out of that car, I know who I’m dealing with in my neighborhood. If I’m in a traffic accident with that car, I know who I’m dealing with and I know to tell the police to step on it and to just stay in my car till they get there. S/he has already revealed their bigotry to me before I reveal I’m something they hate to them – so I start out with the upper hand. And besides, there is absolutely no restriction on bumper stickers in this city. Why censor a plate if a sticker right beside it saying the same thing is legal?

    • If a vanity plate’s message encourages people to vandalize or break into the vehicle it shouldn’t be allowed. We already pay enough in insurance rates because of other people’s stupidity.

  • I hope this individual isn’t getting harassed due to a knee jerk reaction…

  • Reminds me of the South Park episode; “People Who Annoy You” when Randy’s on Wheel of Fortune! I don’t care if someone can interpret this as “No one Greater” because there is no way that on first view your going to do the mental gymnastics to get there. Its N-hater all the way. The question is, how is this car not in the condition of the motorcycle?

    • LOL, I totally also thought of that South Park.. Such a hilarious episode.

      “The clue is ‘people who annoy you.'”

      “Naggers!”

  • As is always the case with that word (or in this case, even the idea of the word, when it is not even the word in question) the definition is always taken by the one hearing / reading it not from the person saying / writing it.

    If every person would ask “what do you mean by that” and accept the answer of the person who speaks a word, the world would be a better place.

    I mean for real tho….. One person says the N word 20 years ago and companies line up to drop her, another person puts it on his album 100 times today and people spend millions of dollars to buy it. In what world is that equality? Equality means equal and equal means all, everybody can say it or nobody can say it, any free passes for any reason = non-equality. Speak your truth, if you don’t mean equality don’t play that game.

    • Paula Deen is not being dropped by companies because she said the N-word 20 years ago. No. Spend some time with the deposition.

  • hate = h8
    great = gr8
    Anyone that reads that license plate as saying “hater” is really stretching it.

    • I don’t think it’s the “hater” (or non-hater) part of it that people find offensive.

      • No but it’s an important clue that the other part might not mean what you think it means.

        • Not really. The second half could be a meaningless jumble of characters (which is basically what it is now) but the first half would still jump out at us.

          • It isn’t a meaningless jumble of characters though. This plate has pretty standard/basic leet. I don’t understand how it can be interpreted as anything other than no one greater.

          • Well a lot of people are reading it differently whether you understand it or not.

  • Come on people! Do you really think somebody would deliberately put “nigger hater” on their license plate in DC? I know a lot of people, but I don’t know anyone who would even consider such a ridiculous thing.

    • You don’t know anyone personally so this couldn’t happen? THAT’s your argument? LOL

    • You don’t know anyone personally who would do this so it couldn’t happen? THAT’s your argument? LOL

      • I know a lot of people around the country who are overtly racist. But getting such a license plate is madness. And in a place like DC? No way.

  • Curious about the 1:59 update. How does the DMV know that’s what it stands for? Do you have to explain the meaning when you apply for a license plate?

  • The car was bought at Easterns Motors. Have you seen their commercials? I don’t think white racists buy their cars at Easterns. Just a hunch. Now, it could be a black rapper who’s named himself “the nigerator.”

  • He’ll get what he deserves with a keying, egging, or brick in the windshield

    • That’s a little harsh. I say give this person the benefit of the doubt. If the DMV read it as being something non-offensive, then it’s entirely possible the owner did too, and the racist interpretation didn’t even cross their mind. Even on this comment thread, there are some people saying they immediately saw a racist expression and others who are saying they immediately saw the non-racist expression. With stuff like this, our eyes tend to “see” what our brain already thinks is there, and then we lock onto that. (It’s like that optical illusion drawing they always show kids–the one where half the people looking at it see a goblet, or something, and the other half the people swear that no, it’s a picture of two faces in profile staring at each other.)

      • It’s definitely an optical illusion, but I disagree that those who want or don’t want to see a racist message are seeing it as such. I think it just depends on whether you tend to read phrases letter-by-letter or are more likely to scan the entire thing at once.

        • True, and I guess I didn’t explain it very well, sorry–I didn’t mean so much that someone “wants” to see a racist message or not, more that people’s brains perceive things differently. I think some people see word puzzles or optical illusions and are just better at visual perception, such that both variations of the optical illusion or whatnot are immediately apparent to them, clear as day. Other people could stare at it forever, and they just don’t see the other variation, unless someone specifically points it out to them. (I think there’s a similar, and fascinating, phenomenon with hearing and pronunciation. For example, I have an unusual name and every person I’ve ever met asks me how to pronounce it. Some people get it right at the first try, or after a few reminders. Others, I’ve known and been friendly with for YEARS, and they still–blatantly, to my ears–misprounounce my name, despite many, many times of hearing others in the conversation prounounce my name correctly, or hearing me introduce myself to others. I don’t think they mean to be rude or blase about it, I just really think the way their brain processes sound, they’re simply not hearing the distinction.)

  • I wonder if there are generational differences in how you read it? Text / 1337 speak types might read it differently from older people.

    The car appears to be some dodge. So I think we can rule out the narcissistic interpretation??

    • I was wondering that too. In this context I interpret “1” as a substitute for “i”, not “one”.

  • While my first instinct was that it was offensive, no one would be dumb enough to intentionally get that for their car. Think of all the keyings, bricks through windows that have been suggested on this thread alone.

  • BOOM

  • yeah, that T is redundant… unless NO1GR8R was already taken, so the person ditched the O (though they could have used a zero, too) and added a T.

    either way, if they meant no one greater or none greater, did they not run this by friends or anyone?! Vanity plates are so stupid.

    All of this reminds me of 30 Rock: “UR V8K8SH1 iz baqon”

  • I don’t think this is offensive. If they wanted it to be offensive they’d put an h in front of 8 and skip the t.
    gr8 is always interpreted as great. I don’t see an issue here.

  • Forget the tag, I am offended by the frame. I can’t believe people actually buy cars from Eastern Motors.

  • Please, authorities! Help me not be offended by something that is suggested but not stated!

    No wonder this country is falling apart. I say that as someone who detests any sort of racism. But this is getting ridiculous.

  • I’ve actually stopped to talk with the woman who own’s the vehicle, having mistakingly read it for it’s darker interpretation. She laughed and even though her mom had warned her (in the car at the time with her) that it could be misinterpreted, that the license did indeed mean…no one greater.
    Everyone can chill.

  • I dont think that this reads as either.

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