Friday, June 09, 2006

If A Black Newspaper Uses the N-Word, Is It Still Wrong?


I've known Chicago Defender executive editor Roland Martin for years, and he's a talented, brash, in-your-face brother who knows sometimes the best way to make a point is to make a splash.

Which is why I wasn't entirely surprised to hear Brother Roland had set tongues wagging yesterday with his cover for Chicago's venerated black newspaper, which included the word, "Nigger."

The actual headline, according to Editor and Publisher, was "TAKE A STAND. Black America, isn't it about time we made up our mind about the word nigger?"

The headline and subhead were an incendiary introduction to a more conventional Associated Press story about the implications of falling taboos about use of the n-word, including a defendant in an assault case who is trying to avoid being charged with a hate crime by saying "nigger" is no longer a racial slur. (somehow, perhaps with more than a few well-placed dollars, he got Randall Kennedy, author of the book Nigger to testify on his behalf)

Even E&P's coverage of Roland's aggressive move unsettled some: The trade magazine chose as its headline, "Black Daily Shocks Many With Front-Page 'Nigger' Headline," printing the racial slur rather than euphemizing it, as so many traditional news publications do.

E&P's story says Roland "thought the headline would finally spark a debate the word in the African-American community" about a word that is used variously as an insult and a term of endearment.

What I think Roland did was get a bunch of publicity and reader attention by slapping a jolting headline on a story that broke little new ground.

It didn't really take Roland's wire story and column to spark a debate among black people on this issue. It's something black folks are always talking about, especially those of us who straddle the different worlds of white and black America. Some have decided to never use it, others have accepted that curious double standard where we use it ourselves and deny it for non-black people.

But that's nothing new. Gay people call each other the three-letter f-word, women call each other the c-word, Irish people crack drunk jokes and Jewish comics spend hours on their lack of athletic prowess and suffocating mothers.

People use terms about themselves and their own groups that would be considered horribly insensitive if used by someone outside the group all the time. Why is it such a big deal when black people do it?

Frankly, I think it is time black people disengaged from this phony debate. Yes, many black people have a double standard about use of the word nigger, white America. Get over it. You got to use it for 400 years; it's time to leave it alone for our expert utilization. (Roland has written a column saying he won't use it anymore; wonder if that extends to his headline writers?)

And maybe the next time somebody decides to shock readers by placing a racial epithet on their front page, people won't react so predictably.

11 Comments:

  • At 11:17 PM, June 09, 2006, Mr. Gator said…

    Dude,

    You are so right. I had someone call me a Honkie the other day. I wish we could all just get along.

     
  • At 1:45 PM, June 10, 2006, formerly mr anonymous said…

    the question is: why is this big news when a newspaper uses it once, but no one bats an eye (or ear) when every hiphop artist since afrika bambata in the early 80s uses it about a bazillion times on any random rap cd?

    it is spoken often enough in movies, probably on some cable tv and likely written routinely in many magz. so whats so peculiar about a newspapers use of it?

    yr right on one thing: time to get over it.

     
  • At 9:26 PM, June 10, 2006, Khan of the Wastelands said…

    Yes, many black people have a double standard about use of the word nigger, white America. Get over it. You got to use it for 400 years; it's time to leave it alone for our expert utilization.

    Last I checked, I was only 30 and my relatives came here LONG, LONG after the civil war and late enough that any culpability for America's treatment of blacks hardly falls on our shoulders.

    Frankly I find your use of the term White America to be borderline racist, if not overtly so.

     
  • At 8:10 PM, June 11, 2006, Eric Deggans said…

    Why would you find the term white America racist, when many people use the term black America to refer to African American culture all the time?

    I'm curious: what exactly is racist about using the term?

    I've found in the many years I've spent writing about race that this is the toughest concept for some people to confront -- that mainstream culture is largely a product of white American culture and is distinctly different from the culture created by African Americans, Latnios in America and many other, non-mainstream ethnic and racial groups. From my standpoint, it's hardly racist to distinguish between those categories...

     
  • At 10:24 PM, June 11, 2006, Khan of the Wastelands said…

    Why would you find the term white America racist, when many people use the term black America to refer to African American culture all the time?

    I find the term "Black America" to be equally as offensive.

    Lumping any group of people together, and assuming there is a monolithic school of thought simply because they share a common skin color is, if not racism itself, surely close to it.

    Why not just use the phrase "You people" and be done with it?

    that mainstream culture is largely a product of white American culture and is distinctly different from the culture created by African Americans, Latnios in America and many other, non-mainstream ethnic and racial groups.

    Really? I find that to be an interesting assertion.

    I've just paused watching a movie to check my email and figured I'd check in here.

    The movie? "Ray" As someone who grew up loving rap, I always find the transition from field hand hymns, to gospel, to jazz, to the blues, to hip hop to be a fascinating process.

    Dinner prior to the movie? Chipoltle. Having grown up in Texas, in a very hispanic part of Texas, you'd be hard pressed to convince me that latino culture isn't rapidly merging with mainstream "White" culture.

     
  • At 4:31 PM, June 12, 2006, Anonymous said…

    eric:

    love to read your take on how the kansas city royals pulled the credentials of two radio reporters (one of which was a veteran beat reporter with the team) becuase, the team claimed, the reporters asked the owners "tough" questions.

    (fyi, the royals are owned by a big muckety-muck of wal mart.)

     
  • At 9:22 PM, June 12, 2006, Eric Deggans said…

    Walking into a Mexican restaurant or watching a film about the life of a black entertainer is not the same as experiencing the culture of an ethnic group in America.

    If you want to experience African American culture, hang out in a black barbershop for a few hours, or spend an evening at the potluck dinner at a black church or get to know the kids playing basketball at the community center in the black neighborhood of whatever city you live in.

    You must find places where people feel free to be themselves and echo the culture they were raised in. And you must be in the minority.

    You're not going to experience it in some anglicized knock off of a Mexican grill or a big budget hollywood movie. This happens at the human level.

    I always find in curious when I run into people who insist that we all must be homogenized into some neutral glob of humanity to feel confortable tlaking about race and ethnicity. The key to understanding these issues isn't to force some non-existent consensus on us all. It's about enjoying our differences -- digging the fact that the hispanic guy and black and the white guy grew up in different places with different cultures and different influences.

    I think you should move past your knee-jerk rejection of my words and think a little more about what race and culture difference really means in America. Because it exists, and pretending it doesn't only insults people who know the live in cultures much different than the American mainstream....

     
  • At 10:11 PM, June 12, 2006, Khan of the Wastelands said…

    Walking into a Mexican restaurant or watching a film about the life of a black entertainer is not the same as experiencing the culture of an ethnic group in America.

    The neighborhood I grew up in it was not uncommon for people to have goats, chickens, rabbits, or any other smallish farm animal raised for sustenance.

    You're off base if you think I don't understand mexi-american culture.

    However I prefer to regard it as a subculture within America's melting pot. Which is exactly how I refer to black culture, german culture, irish culture, or any other ethnocentric or nationalist culture in America.

    My grandparents (both sets) came here from Germany in the 1930s. I'm sure I don't have to go into WHY they came here during that time period, but they were a group of many germans that settled in the northern Iowa, Southern Minnesota region.

    My WIFE's grandparents are both natives of Irish and Norwegian descent.

    You can imagine the family get togethers where lutefisk and haggas are served at the same time. If you don't know what either dish is, trust me you don't want to know.

    During the rare instances my family gets together there is a very german-centric feel to things.

    We all have different cultures, different backgrounds and we all add those to the big American quilt.

    I'm sure it sounds like bullshit to someone whose ancestors were dragged here in chains rather than saw America as a safe haven and true land of opportunity.

    But perception and reality must be seperated and broken down before we can decide which is which.

    Anyways, my primary point of contention is with your "White America" comment.

    It's an ignorant statement in my opinion.

    Not unlike if I had said "Black America, wake up! It's time to get over it and get a job!"

    Like I said before, why not just refer to "White America as "YOU PEOPLE" and be done with it?

    There is no such thing as a monolithic white america no more than there is a monolithic black America.

    And frankly, I don't see much of a problem with rappers and pop culture icons using the word "Nigga" so much as I do with pop culture "Bitch-izing and "Ho-izing" women.

    Oh and the worship of bling bling and celebrity has to stop. It's not good for our youth.

    And by "Our youth", rest assured I include "You people" as well.

    (and yes that was VERY much tongue in cheek)

     
  • At 10:15 PM, June 12, 2006, Khan of the Wastelands said…

    I thought I should add in case it wasn't obvious, I've been in the minority.

    I grew up in the minority among my peers.

    I've felt the occasional hatred from those who viewed me as an outsider due to the color of my skin (despite my ability to speak spanish) and the difference of my ethnicity.

    Mostly I just felt like a kid growing up, rather than a kid growing up in a mexican neighborhood.

    Just a kid growing up.

     
  • At 10:16 AM, June 13, 2006, Eric Deggans said…

    I dunno...I still don't see what's so wrong about admitting you grew up in a neighborhood filled with Mexican-American culture, as you obviously did. Surely you noticed the way our neighbors did things was a little different than the way anglo families do things. Noticing difference doesn't mean practicing racisn or prejudice -- it just means perceiving and appreciating the obvious.

    As far as being offended by the term white (or black) America, I guess that's in he eye of the beholder. Of course, white culture can be very diverse; just as black culture can be diverse in America.

    But I think it is misleading to pretend that there is not a common culture that links the mainstream of this country that springs from white culture -- just as I think it is misleading to pretend there isn't a common culture that links many African Americans across the country that is different; it has different priorities, histories, perceptions and values.

    Particularly when you tlak about something like the use of the n-word in popular culture, you are talking about cultural values that have a lot of history and are spread across a wide variey of subcultures. So, forgive me if the phrase "white America" strikes you as insulting. I didn't mean it that way. But as a term which describes the manistream culture, I think it fits. And if you look over my history of writing, you will see I have used he term black America in the same way.

     
  • At 5:18 AM, June 14, 2006, Eric Deggans said…

    Hey blog pals --

    Because Mother Times is changing some things about its blogspace, mty most recent post is not viewable at this URL. They may correct the problem in the future, but until then, you can see my latest posts at

    http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/media/

    Boy, working in an emerging medium sure is fun!

     

Post a Comment

<< Home