That NEW Adage

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A Few Words About the WORD…

Last week, on that feminist staple, “The View,” a big dust-up broke out about the use of THE “N” WORD. The thick-tongued titan of civil rights, Jesse Jackson was caught saying it in an off-air moment. The black cast members of the show were trying to explain to the white ones why there is an acceptable double standard in the usage of that fully loaded word.

Off the subject, are we still looking to Jesse for guidance? For what to do or NOT to do? That’s like me trying to get my butter from the milkman. I was through with him when he went on Bill Maher’s show and talked about “the mythology” of the Genesis account of creation!

I have a few hairs I have to wax off my chest…

Who is really surprised that some — many — most — black folk use it in their speech? Is it really that , “OMG! I can’t believe the Right Reverend would stoop to say such a vile thing!”? Or is it that, “If HE says it, why does the world stop when someone white says it?”

I posit that it is the latter. By a landslide.

The truth — that only God (and I) know — is that many white folk use the word, too. At the very  least all those white kids who buy up all the hip-hop can’t help but use it! More on that later. White folk, represented here by Elizabeth Hasselbeck and Barbara Walters, imply, “If YOU use it, why can’t I?”

I will tell you why, and in the foregone words of my parents, “Don’ asss me no moe!” I’m tired of this!:

The reason you can’t say that word is the same reason you can’t come into MY house and call My kid ugly. (My kids ain’t ugly!) The reason is that there are certain things that can be said in certain environments by certain people at certain times that are unacceptable for others to say. That’s the way it is, and you know it! There are certain things I would say to my own that YOU had better not say. They are the benefits of having a shared experience. People who have been through the same stuff have a fraternal bond that anyone outside that group cannot share. Football players, holocaust survivors, Italians… That is life.

Listen, people are crude. All of us. That’s why we need a Jesus. We do and say rough things. Two old friends greeting each other after a long separation; “Hey! Howya doin, ya tub a’ lard?!? Who’s ya’ barber? God?” Guys talk to each other like that when they are close and are sure of the affection of the other guy. That is key!

Women regularly use the infamous “B” word, a word almost as loaded as that other one. I used to work for the blues singer, Denise LaSalle. She used the word in reference to her self on her album cover. But had I called her that (I love her, but she used to make me really angry when we would stop for her to eat an hour away from home on a twelve hour trip!), I’d have been fired like a Saturday Night Special! Like a cop’s gun in the ghetto. Too rough? I haven’t been what she is, and I haven’t suffered what she has. And I don’t sit and freekin’ long for the right to call her a female dog!

Women can call each other, “girl,” “honey,” and “sweetie” without issue. A man can’t. I’m cool with that.

There are disparaging terms for every racial group. Who sat and thought up these words? The popular ones? Ask yourself that one… And every racial group has within it people who regularly employ those terms in reference to each other. To NO offense! I have heard it, and so have you. I don’t cry about why I can’t use them.

It is funny that the most innocuous racial terms are the ones used in reference to white folk. Shoot, you can still hear them clear as day on Nick at Nite, for goodness sake! “The Jeffersons,” “All in the Family”… Incidentally, the word, “cracker” is NOT a reference to white folks’ skin color. It refers to the fact that in slavery, the white man was the “whip cracker.” Dig that! That makes it a whole ‘nother kind of slur.

When I hear Barbara Walters ask why she can’t say the word, I ask myself why she would want to.

This is what black people have to do; When we meet white people, we have to figure out whether they are genuine or not. When we get overlooked in a store, the added element of, “I wonder if it is ’cause I’m black, or are they just absent-minded” always factors in. We have to add an extra step to most of our inter-racial interminglings. That’s the way it is. And when white folk whine about why “the blacks get to say it and we can’t,” it makes our Spidey Sense tingle. It makes us wonder “You mean, ‘the blacks get to say it, and we can’t in public’, right?”

And when I hear Mrs. Hasselbeck suggest that no one be allowed to use it, I say that if you are saying that on the basis that all crude speech is wrong on a Christian level, I agree. But if you are saying that I cannot, by your edict, refer to myself or a member of my “family” in a certain way, you are out of your yard and need to hit the brakes. Black folk didn’t invent the word anyway. I submit that it is not wise to go around trying to tell those at the bottom of the pile what they can and cannot say.

To be honest, that word is a rope that pulls every bit of centuries of shed blood, broken families, hacked-off limbs, raped women, forced labor, disconnected heritage, “Christian” hypocrisy, castrated bucks, burned and lynched bodies, subjugation, segregation, disenfranchisement, misrepresentation, beating, terrorism, third class education, and intimidation with it, and rather than deal with it, many would simply wish it away than hear it.

White people, in spite of the rantings of The Angry White Man, have all power — Obama notwithstanding. And just as television makes the daddy the buffoon and comedians make endless jokes about politcians, the person on top has — or should have — thicker skin due to having all the control and all the privilege. Black folk have pig knuckles and chitlins ’cause that was all that was left. All the little people have is a joke or two. Do you have to say the word, too?

It is the same reason that it is more acceptable to mock a white person’s vocal inflection than a black, asian, or Mexican’s way of speaking. They have more likely had the benefit of a high-caliber education. It is hard to slur someone who has all the stuff!

And all that stuff about “we took the pain out of the word” is a bunch of Bug Snot! (Can we still say bug snot? ) That word still has pain. Black folk never had a meeting and said, “How can we take the pain out of that word? I know! Let’s take it from white folks and use it among ourselves all the time and on records and in various media, and soon it won’t hurt no more and white folks will have no power!” The fact is that people often say rough things. That is why folks aways want to learn the curse words when visiting a foreign-language-speaking country. The “N” word is no different. There was no conscious effort to take the sting from the word.

The entertainers and rappers I her parroting this nonsense make me as angry as the folk who want to say it do! It is a cop- out. A one-legged rationalization! (No offense to all the one-legged folk out there…) You say it because it is fun to cuss, and that is all. There is no artistic, scientific reason behind it. Quit trying to be DEEP! (Richard Pryor was a genius, I think. He took authentic black life, language and all, and made it political satire)

I am ashamed when I hear the word used around white folk. And with the devolution of hip-hop, we have critically injured ourselves artistically and are probably being laughed at by many of those who hear it. I am a musician, and I think that hip-hop is very close to being the black face, Jim Crow minstrelry of the new millennium! Being a musician, I can say this without repercussion. I’m in the group…

A lot of times when black folk see other black folk engaging in embarrassing behavior (house shoes and rollers in the grocery store) that word is uttered in shame. “They makin’ it hard on the rest of us!”

A lot of the white folk who use it in secret will say that they only use it in reference to those who make trouble, King, Malcolm, Sharpton, Jackson, Ali, etc. In other words, those who holler when they get hit! In still other words, black folk they see!

Interesting dichotomy.

My kids will be taught not to use that word. But on the basis that God doesn’t accept crude speech. Not because it offends white people.

I wish the word didn’t exist. I wish rappers would stop using it. I wish that I didn’t KNOW that some of my neighbors mutter it when they see me outside. But I also wish that leaves wouldn’t die and that milk didn’t turn sour.

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July 22, 2008 Posted by | Barbara Walters, Black Life, Celebrity, Civil Rights, Culture, Current Events, Entertainment, Race, Racial Reconciliation, Racism, Rant, The N Word, The View, Whoopi Goldberg | 18 Comments