In lieu of the recent controversy about Paula Deen ‘s confession to the use of the word “nigger” in her deposition and Rachel Jeantel’s recounting Trayvon Martin’s use of the word “cracker,” CNN did a special on “the N-word.” In this special anchor, Don Lemon, explored the feelings behind the use of the word “nigger” as well as words like “cracker,” and “honkey.”
Lemon’s street survey revealed that both Black and White people felt less offended by the use of words like “cracker” and “honkey.” There was unanimous agreement that the use of the word “nigger” was more offensive. There were several very thought provoking statements that were made that I would like to address.
Human behavior expert, Wendy Walsh stated:
“The most dangerous thing about a racist culture is not individualized acts of discrimination that happen, it’s actually an overall psychologically internalized sense of feeling less than in a culture because of how the media may portray things”
There are several issues with this statement. First, this is a statement is obviously being made by someone who has never experienced discrimination first hand. Because of that ignorance, Walsh’s perspective is distant and views discrimination through an objective lens that lacks pertinent knowledge that would allow her to see that discrimination as a facet of racism is nothing if not personal, subjective, and individual.
Also, the most dangerous thing about a racist culture is that the racial prejudice therein saturates society to the extent that it spills down into thousands of individual acts and that is what creates an atmosphere of oppression for those who have experienced discrimination, will experience discrimination, and fear experiencing discrimination. That is how institutions such as the media become infected and portray polluted images and messages. That is how the feelings of inferiority become internalized. So actually Walsh has it twisted.
Her misunderstanding of racism renders her efforts to dismantle it impotent because she will always be going after the wrong thing at the wrong time. Such is often the issue with White people who seek to support and help fight the battle against racial prejudice and racial discrimination.
The highlight of the segment is when Columbia professor, Marc Lamont Hill said:
“I always find it remarkable that White people find the n-word usage such a complicated puzzle. It’s not that complicated. Just-don’t-use-it.”
He went on to say:
“You just have to accept that there are some things –at least one thing– in the world that you can’t do that Black people can and that just might be okay.”
Hill brings up a great point about the continuous discussion about the n-word. That point is that the only reason this topic has become a national debate is because White people now find the word offensive and they want everyone to stop using it publicly (everyone meaning Black people). Their grounds for doing so seem to be altruistic, but truthfully it’s self-centered. It isn’t because they know what it feels to have the word used do degrade and dehumanize their identity, its because they can’t use it and they (as usually is the case) want the world to operate under the same rules that they operate. I think there is a subconscious fear of loss of privilege and disliking the lack of freedom granted to others simply because if race. Only one phrase comes to mind in response to those feelings…welcome to the colored section.
It never ceases to amaze me when White people react to discrimination because it is wholly different than their feelings about how others react to discrimination. When a minority cries out against discrimination there is often an apathetic I don’t see what the problem is attitude while when it’s them who are the victims they get vehement and coin phrases such as “reverse racism” or they threaten to revert their own ways with statements about how would you feel if I…. It’s like when children argue and one says “I’m not going to be your friend anymore if you don’t do what I want.”
I have an opinion about the use of the word “nigger” as I’m sure all Black people do. I, personally do use the word and do not believe it should be “buried” as the NAACP foolishly suggested. I can understand why some Black people are opposed to using the word and/or do not want to be referred to by the term and I respect that. However, I believe the subject should not be a national debate. Nor am I particularly interested in White America’s opinion on the subject. I feel that words are contextual and language should never be bridled. James Baldwin once said,
“The world has more than one way of keeping you a nigger.”
This I have found to be true. In this day and age the world is not keeping a nigger by calling me one, they don’t have to. When the police stop me because I’m Black, they have nonverbally called me a nigger. When I am denied an opportunity because I’m Black, that person has nonverbally called me a nigger. When I have to rely on affirmative action to gain opportunity, America has nonverbally called me a nigger. When I am expected to be inarticulate, stupid, poor, and/or incarcerated, America has nonverbally called me a nigger. The degradation is the same. So whether or not I use the word or whether or not I am called the word, racism will persist. Banning the use of the word nigga will not change racial prejudice and racial discrimination in this country. So, I would rather fight a battle that matters.
At any rate, the panel discussion was insightful and honest. One of the best I have seen so far in terms of the debate about the word “nigger.” What we must always remember is that words are contextual. The meaning and connotations attached to a word change depending on the context in which they are used. That being said there just isn’t a context in which a White person can used the word “nigger” and it not hold some racial tension. The acceptance of such a fact would be a step forward in terms of race relations in America. When we stop equating being the same as being equal, we will be able to address the disparities.
I’m not sayin, I’m just sayin,
An Angry Black Man