October 17th, 2007

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07:32 am - on Not These Niggaz Again...

Originally uploaded by chrismaverick.
Note: Originally I was going to use the title "on EFIL4ZAGGIN" but I used it back on Nov 29th, 2006 so I decided to change it up a bit.

This weekend, Bill Cosby and Alvin F. Poussaint were on Meet the Press pimping out their new book Come On People: On the Path from Victims to Victors. beststephi is a big Meet the Press fan and watches it pretty much every week.

The interview sparked an interesting conversation between us, (and later, my mother, mamarayne about the current crusades to "ban the "N-word." Steph and my mom seemed to think the word was inappropriate and could never be accepted and should not be used either seriously or in jest, (as many African Americans do in polite conversation today).

If I can paraphrase both Cosby and my mother (as best I can, I'm sure she'll chime in if she disagrees), they made the point that too many people fought and died to not be called nigger and it disrespects their memory to use the word voluntarily now. To paraphrase Steph (again, she'll correct me if I'm wrong), blacks using the word "nigga" makes white people think its ok to use the word.

I tend to disagree with both arguments.

First of all, no one died for the word nigger. And if they did, they are foolish. They died for respect and for a fight against hatred, intolerance and bigotry. The word is merely a symbol of that. A powerful one, I'll grant, but a symbol nonetheless.

At the end of the day, its just a word. Hatred is hatred and ugly is ugly. If tomorrow, we made it a federal crime, punishable by immediate death with no appeal to say the word "nigger" do you know what would happen? There would be a sudden upturn among racists in the usage of the words porchmonkey, coon, spearchucker and jiggaboo. A Klansmen could run into me and call me "boy" or "negro" and I'd know it was offensive merely by his tone of voice. Hell, he could make up a word and call me a "wrikligrubber" and I'd still no he was hating on me. Why? BECAUSE HE'S IN THE FUCKING KLAN!

I asked Steph if she'd be ok if rap songs junked the word "nigga" for "porchmonkey" and she wasn't. So then I asked her if she'd be ok if they junked it in favor of "buddy" and she said that that would be fine, because it's inoffensive. That brings me to my other problem with it. My rationale for why the word MUST continue. What people were actually dying for during the civil rights movement was the right to culture, respect, freedom, and the ability to live their lives in peace, making their own decisions. It is just as wrong of an older generation of blacks to tell a younger generation what words they can and cannot say as it was of the white populace to tell the black populace which restrooms they had to use or which drinking fountain they could sip from.

I get what the word means to people. Really, I've been called it myself. And it does hurt. But taking the word away doesn't remove the hurt or the hatred. It just removes the word. And taking the word away trivializes all that was ever fought for. Rosa Parks didn't suffer so that blacks had to sit in the front of the bus. She suffered so that they could sit anywhere they wanted to.

Later, Steph and I discussed the names of sports teams. I was wearing my Cleveland Indians jersey, in support of their ALCS fight. She asked me how I'd feel if the team were called the Cleveland Slaves. I felt that's different. It's more analogous to call them the Cleveland Negroes or maybe even the Cleveland Spooks. But you know what. It probably wouldn't bother me. But then I'm enlightened like that. I don't think that renaming the Reds, Indians, Braves, Chiefs and Redskins helps remove racism. I think the fact that its an issue is a testament to the fact that the racism still exists. I for one can't wait til the day that the world is so tolerant that you can have an NHL franchise called the Philadelphia Niggas and not offend anyone. That's what I'll call progress.

Until then.... GO TRIBE!

(37 comments | Leave a comment)

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[User Picture]From: jameel Date: October 17th, 2007 - 11:38 am (Link)
It's funny because you like Cleveland.
[User Picture]From: chrismaverick Date: October 17th, 2007 - 11:47 am (Link)
dude... not that I'd expect a little girlie man like you to know anything about manly sports. But Cleveland is about 40 hours away from being in the World Series. They're arguably the best team in baseball today.

So fuck you! Fuck yo couch!

[User Picture]From: jameel Date: October 17th, 2007 - 11:48 am (Link)
Pfft. Baseball.
From: chrismaverick Date: October 17th, 2007 - 11:57 am (Link)
From: jameel Date: October 17th, 2007 - 12:04 pm (Link)
From: chrismaverick Date: October 17th, 2007 - 12:26 pm (Link)
From: jameel Date: October 17th, 2007 - 12:31 pm (Link)
From: sui66iy Date: October 17th, 2007 - 01:20 pm (Link)
From: jameel Date: October 17th, 2007 - 01:23 pm (Link)
From: chrismaverick Date: October 17th, 2007 - 01:24 pm (Link)
From: chrismaverick Date: October 17th, 2007 - 01:24 pm (Link)
From: chrismaverick Date: October 17th, 2007 - 01:22 pm (Link)
From: jameel Date: October 17th, 2007 - 01:24 pm (Link)
From: chrismaverick Date: October 17th, 2007 - 01:26 pm (Link)
From: kdavoli Date: October 17th, 2007 - 03:51 pm (Link)
From: chrismaverick Date: October 17th, 2007 - 04:02 pm (Link)
From: yannaboo Date: October 17th, 2007 - 04:41 pm (Link)
From: chrismaverick Date: October 17th, 2007 - 04:51 pm (Link)
From: ludimagist Date: October 17th, 2007 - 01:32 pm (Link)
From: chrismaverick Date: October 17th, 2007 - 01:34 pm (Link)
From: jameel Date: October 17th, 2007 - 01:53 pm (Link)
From: chrismaverick Date: October 17th, 2007 - 04:03 pm (Link)
[User Picture]From: yannaboo Date: October 17th, 2007 - 04:44 pm (Link)
But taking the word away doesn't remove the hurt or the hatred

I agree with this statement. But on the other side, promoting and engaging in increased use of a stigmatized word by the stigmatized group doesn't remove it, either. So why do it? Leave it for the haters if they're gonna hurt and hate anyways.
[User Picture]From: chrismaverick Date: October 17th, 2007 - 04:56 pm (Link)
sure it does. See: "queer" and "faggot"

As to why? I'd ask why allow the haters to control. If the word is powerful, then we allow them that power by shying away from it. If the haters have guns and we say "guns are wrong, we will not carry guns" then the haters win. Can't a word of power have just as much power in the hands of good as evil. Like the word or no, when you hear it, you pay attention to what is being said, right? Maybe I'm saying "Niggers are worthless" maybe I'm saying "Niggas demand equality." But I've gotten your attrention.

And if I haven't gotten your attention (as per Steph's argument of it becoming acceptable) then maybe the word isn't so much a problem after all.
[User Picture]From: sui66iy Date: October 17th, 2007 - 05:25 pm (Link)
'If the haters have guns and we say "guns are wrong, we will not carry guns" then the haters win.'

Well, Gandhi and MLK, Jr. might disagree. There's such a thing as taking the moral high ground. Now whether an analogy between guns and the word "nigga" makes any sense at all I leave to others.

To me, the interesting thing about the "nigga" debate is that I, as a male land-owning pale-face, am clearly not "allowed" to use that word, except under ironic or quotational circumstances. (Or if I'm "trying to be black.") But black people are "allowed" to use it. There are other, more muddled, instances of this. Isaiah Thomas recently expressed the interesting opinion that a white man cannot call a black woman a bitch [agreed], but a black man can [not so sure!] I think that is one of those instances where people are using the "but it's my culture!" line as a get-out-of-jail-free card. A more egregious instance was the defense of Michael Vick's dog-fighting as a cultural practice. See, it's okay to be cruel to animals, because it's part of the culture of the southern black man.

The problem with the cultural argument is that it's a moral slippery slope. If culture makes it okay for black people to say "nigga" (but not white people), it's not too far to making the Isaiah Thomas argument. And then it's not too far to making the Michael Vick argument. And then people wind up defending sharia law and burkahs, because it's a cultural thing.

In the end, you wind up with moral permission being dictated by skin color, or birth nation, or religion. Maybe that's okay in an isolated homogenous country, but in a diverse global society, it's a recipe for disaster.

Now, if it's okay for *everyone* to say "nigga," that's a different thing. That's just devaluing a profanity, which happens all the time. As you point out, new profanities will take its place. (Like it or not, people need a way to express hateful things, and they will make up words to do it. If "nigga" stops being hateful, a new word will take its place.)

To me, there's no real functional difference between it being okay for *everyone* to say "nigga" (in which case it will be replaced by, e.g., "porchmonkey") and it not being okay for *anyone* to say "nigga" (in which case it retains its definition as a hateful word). But the fact is, it's okay for some people and not okay for others, and that's the slippery slope.
From: chrismaverick Date: October 17th, 2007 - 06:08 pm (Link)
From: sui66iy Date: October 17th, 2007 - 06:52 pm (Link)
From: chrismaverick Date: October 17th, 2007 - 07:02 pm (Link)
From: deholl Date: October 18th, 2007 - 01:11 am (Link)
So what's in a word? In this case,historic pain, emotion and the baggage of overuse. While I for one oppose censorship, I do believe that use of the word for entertainment and art has lost its shock value. In many ways, it is as passe and potentially dull as "It was a dark and stormy night." Sylvester Stewart used it in the title of a song more than 30 years ago. It got little or no air play, but remains an effective use of direct confrontation for those enlightened who choose to live in a complete world. As for its efficacy as a lyric or free style expression, it seems sometimes to be a convenient substitute for truly creative expression.The word "it" can and has been used to demean in just the same way. Those old enough to have dealt with the word during times or under circumstances when there was little or no choice generally tend to be less accepting than those who solely have heard it as a term of self identity, endearment or kinship.... Still, I recall the rapper who experienced an epiphany when he saw the word mouthed bach at him from a mixed audience. We must all decide our own choices regarding language.

As for Chief Wahoo and "The Tribe," I've known the image and the nickname for more than 50 years. It is endearing and should not be changed. Even in their darkest days, the Indians were noble winners....
[User Picture]From: chrismaverick Date: October 18th, 2007 - 03:11 am (Link)
my issue is more one of culture and identity than artistic merit. I will grant that the word is offensive. I will also grant that the word is inoffensive. It all depends on a frame of reference. My problem with Cosby is that he is arguing that those who aren't offended should be, which to me is just as troublesome and dangerous as telling someone they shouldn't be. Possibly moreso.
From: deholl Date: October 19th, 2007 - 12:51 am (Link)
While I would never attempt to place a value on any particular culture, it would seem to me that making one concept or word central to an Ethos elevates that to a level of... hmmmm, would the word be reli-- naaaahhh! No one surely wants to embrace a cult of Nigritude, do they?

Mr. Cosby appears to be simply trying to fill a role he sees as an empty void. Of course, he has taken (earned) a lot of money from Viacom while ignoring their role as distributors of scads of entertainment built around the "N" word. As for the good doctor, a very learned man who could contribute more if he sought out more contemporary allies.

Sadly there is a tendency in mainstream media to trot out the easy spokespersons...perhaps because they are easy to locate, or maybe because producers don't know how to find pertinent fresh faces.

Great discussion. Wish more would weigh in!
[User Picture]From: chrismaverick Date: October 19th, 2007 - 11:40 pm (Link)
says who? If someone wants to embrace a culture of Nigritude, isn't that their right. Isn't that the whole point of the struggle for civil rights? If we are truly to allow people to be whatever positive thing they want to be, we have to allow them the negative as well. The very making of that judgement call is contrary to the motivation.
From: (Anonymous) Date: October 18th, 2007 - 07:10 am (Link)

The Word "Nigga"

Speaking as one of the pasty faced crowd, raised both in the north (NYC) and the south (Mobile, AL), I grew up hearing it both as an insult and as a term of endearment/kinship/brotherhood.

One thing I've found in both cases, is that the speaker makes himself sound extremely ignorant.

Words ceased to have the power to shock me many years ago, and have since become a method I use to determine whether the speaker is someone who has something worth saying. I hear words like nigger, cracker, kike, et al, I tend to tune out anything else that person is saying as irrelevant.

Rappers use it in songs, and it's supposed to be OK. I'm not into censorship, but have had a low opinion for rap lyrics since the early eighties, because it seems like almost every song is saying the same thing
over and over again. From what I can see, there hasn't been an original rap song in 20 years plus.

However, that's another subject altogether.

Fadder Uri
[User Picture]From: chrismaverick Date: October 19th, 2007 - 11:43 pm (Link)

Re: The Word "Nigga"

to be fair however, you aren't the intended audience. My argument is specifically that if you don't like what you hear, you SHOULD tune out. You always have the right to change the channel. For instance, I can certainly say that there has been plenty of original rap music in the last 20 years. But then, I am a fan, so naturally my ear is going to be more discerning. Conversely, I'm not a fan of horror movies and most of them seem identical to me. I think arguing the shock value of the word is a red herring. Who says the speaker is trying to shock anyone?
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