Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Flowchart: When White People Can Drop The N-Bomb


(Click to enlarge)
Look, White people, I’m trying to help you out here.
First, a little background: Over at Angry Black Lady Chronicles, Imani justifiably blew a rhetorical gasket over comedian Lisa Lampanelli’s favorite rhetorical device – i.e., using that particular racial epithet to appear cool and edgy. So that got me to thinking, which is always dangerous.
But, as I say, that got me thinking: When is it okay for White people to drop the n-bomb?
And the answer seems pretty obvious. Never.
Well, no, actually, I’m not going to say never. I can see some narrow exceptions to the general Never Drop The N-Bomb rule, like when you are directly quoting someone who earned the right to use it, and whose use can’t be questioned – like Dr. King in this passage from his 1963 Letter From Birmingham Jail:
Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; … when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; … when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness” – then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair.
If I’m quoting a passage like that, I’m not going to censor Dr. King’s words because who the hell am I to tell Martin Luther King, Jr. he shouldn’t have used a racial epithet that he often found himself on the business end of?
But aside from that narrow exception, fellow White people, take my advice: Ixnay on the en-word-ay.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. I know because I’m White, too, and I know you can’t help yourself. You’re thinking … But Louis CK says it, and he’s cool. Look. You’re not Louis CK. Lisa Lampanelli isn’t Louis CK, and she gets paid to crack wise. So until you’re able to come up with something as insightful and brave as this –


Just. Say. No.
And while we’re on the subject, here’s a partial list of other people you’re not: Mark Twain; William Faulkner; David Foster Wallace (who used the term once or twice in Infinite Jest, speaking, as Twain and Faulkner did, in the voice of certain characters); and Jello Biafra (see “Holiday In Cambodia”). Hell, you’re not even Jamie Kennedy in Malibu’s Most Wanted.
Whether or not any of those people managed to use the word effectively and in an appropriate manner is an issue I’ll leave for others to decide. In fact, I’ll leave it first to Black folks to decide, quite honestly, because they have, shall we say, a vested interest in the matter. But one thing I can say, fellow White people, is that nearly every time one of us uses that word, he or she makes a complete, unmitigated ass of him/herself. In the hands of us rank amateurs, it’s never cool/funny/witty/clever/edgy/bold/brave/insightful/deep/thoughtful/ challenging …
It’s just plain racist.
You’re welcome, White people. Glad I could help.


7 comments:

  1. Man, even when I read it in Faulkner, I'm full of discomfort. How do people get to the point where they are SUCH assholes that they are all "Yeah, I'm all about this now". BRAINSPLODE

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    Replies
    1. I know, I have a hard time with it even in that context.

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  2. But, it's okay if I use the word, 'cuz like some of my best friends are, y'know, um, like, uh, y'know...Oh, it's not? Shit.

    I actually had my moment of awareness when I was about 11 on a city bus, telling a racist joke while a black woman stood right behind me. Her voice was calm and soft when she said:

    "Your mother would be ashamed of you."

    She was, I think, incorrect; my mother was a lifelong racist and I say that of a woman I loved.

    I, otoh, was lucky to have that black woman on a bus in 1960 drive home a point with grace and gentleness.

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  3. But, it's okay if I use the word, 'cuz like some of my best friends are, y'know, um, like, uh, y'know...Oh, it's not? Shit.

    I actually had my moment of awareness when I was about 11 on a city bus, telling a racist joke while a black woman stood right behind me. Her voice was calm and soft when she said:

    "Your mother would be ashamed of you."

    She was, I think, incorrect; my mother was a lifelong racist and I say that of a woman I loved.

    I, otoh, was lucky to have that black woman on a bus in 1960 drive home a point with grace and gentleness.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Does that mean that black folks can't say Charlie, Cracker, Peckawood, or Wigger? What about Aryan, Bacon-Bits, Betty Crocker, Bird Shit, Bird Turd, Boss, Brady, Bubba, Bucket, Caulkie, Cheesehead, Cowfuck, Cremlin, Flatass, Flatback, Flour Bag, Hayseed, Hick, Hillbilly, Honkie, or Wasp?

    In all seriousness, I agree with you. It isn't right. Shouldn't happen. But the fact is that it does. In absence of what should happen and in the process of endeavoring to make the should a reality, the best thing any of us can do is realize that words have no meaning or power unless we choose to give it to them.

    ReplyDelete