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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.