My Lisa Lampanelli essay for Salon asks: Should white people ever use the n-word?
When controversial comic Lisa Lampanelli used the n-word to describe her new pal Lena Dunham, creator of the diversity-challenged HBO show Girls, the online magazine Salon asked me to think about an essay on what it means when motormouthed white celebrities start slinging around such an incendiary word.
I had already written a piece for them defending Quentin Tarantino's n-word filled film Django Unchained, so I was feeling a little guilty. Was this, as predicted by so many activists who oppose the appearance of the n-word in any form, what happens when you don't come down hard on anyone who slings that awful slur, black or white?
I came up with the following essay, which captures my passions at the moment and my wariness of performers like Lampanelli -- who seem to enable racial stereotypes and slurs more than they lampoon them.
Check out the beginning below, and click through to the whole thing here (one note: I dash the n-word out in the excerpt below, in accordance with the style of the Tampa Bay Times. But it is not dashed out in the Salon piece):
"To begin with, I’d like to apologize.
My mea culpa goes out to anyone who had to behold the shameless spectacle that involved button-pushing comic Lisa Lampanelli using the word “n---a” in a tweet, then arguing against a torrent of condemnation from the Twitterverse that it was socially acceptable.
You see, I have argued in print for years that people are too precious about avoiding the word “n---er” when the subject is at hand . When the NAACP held a funeral for the word, I wrote a column praising their intentions but opposing their actions.
A word should never be banned out of context, I argued. Especially a word with such conflicted and confusing history for those of us who are darker than blue.
When Spike Lee and other well-known cultural commentators began to pile on Quentin Tarantino for his liberal use of the n-word in his Blaxploitation Western masterpiece “Django Unchained,” I wrote a story for this very outlet insisting that Tarantino had tapped a proud history in creating modern Hollywood’s first black superhero.
Sometimes, when trying to capture the peculiar mix of pride, rebellion and from-the-streets flavor evoked when dropping that word, only the real, fully written out “n---a” will do.
Clearly Ms. Lampanelli was paying attention. And for that, I must apologize.
Because somehow, she got the idea that in arguing for some uses of the word when it makes creative and contextual sense, someone was saying its okay to sling it around like a slap on the back to another highly paid celebrity, like sharing a joint with the cool kids behind the school at recess."