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“As with many other racialized terms, there were efforts to reclaim the word after it had become a slur.  [snip] So what does all of this mean for people who want to, well, “call a spade a spade”? I urge caution. [University of Vermont professor Wolfgang] Mieder concludes his case study [titled Call a Spade a Spade: From Classical Phrase to Racial Slur] with the argument that “to call a spade a spade” should be retired from modern usage: “Rather than taking the chance of unintentionally offending someone or of being misunderstood, it is best to relinquish the old innocuous proverbial expression all together.”

Is It Racist To ‘Call A Spade A Spade’? by Lakshmi Gandhi, NPR, September 23, 2013