Guest Blogger

The N-Word? Please, Use It Any Way You Can.

Filed By Guest Blogger | July 23, 2008 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Elisabeth Hasselbeck, insults, Lalita Amos, negro, nigger, racial slurs, The View, Whoopi Goldberg

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Lalita Amos is Founder and Managing Director of Total Team Solutions, LLC, a 12 year old leadership and team development firm offering strategic planning and executive coaching to entrepreneurs and intrepreneurs and runs Like Nobody's Business, a blog and podcast of the same name, where she challenges conventional business wisdom in an unconventional business world. As an extension of that commitment to looking at things in new ways, she is also a regular contributor on the American Values Alliance weblog where she writes extensively about politics, race and culture.

image001.jpgI am an authentic American Negro. I'm descended from freemen and slaves, slave bosses and slave owners, and the Native people who gave them sanctuary, family and hope. I say all this to offer my credentials, my Certificate of Authenticity, so you know I'm qualified to speak for at least one Black person: me. Now, so you don't get confused, that doesn't mean I'm suggesting that I am authorized to speak for all the Negroes of the Great Diaspora (settle!), but as a wise, old white guy (Carnegie, Zigler, Bozo? I'm not sure and don't care to look) said: "I've lived this life and I have the right to talk about it." The current debate over the use of the "n-Word" (that's "nigger," in case you're confused) has become so nettlesome that it has set the flower of fecund, white womanhood tearfully a-twitter.

Pay close attention, people. This is terribly important and very few of my ilk will say this, even in sotto voce.

The "n-word?" Use it. You have my express permission. Let me break this down.

I usually don't watch The View. The idea that a revolving group of imitation Sistah-friends can sit in an ersatz living room talking about mostly nothing but babies and menopause and trifling shit gives me the dry heavie geebies.

Elisabeth Hasselbeck hates "nigger" so much so, in fact, that when her attempts to tell two grown Black women not to use it weren't immediately met with gladsome sighs and "Thank you ever so for liftin' that heavy burden, Liz, we's a-feeling better now," she began to sob. And I, the teetotaler, began thinking about the location of the nearest liquor store.

Co-hostesses Whoopi Goldberg and Sherri Shepherd tried, instead, to check that chick with the usual: "You don't understand, Elisabeth. We're Black and looking through the white prism into the Black experience is shortsighted, blah, blah, fucking blah." Frankly, watching these women try to explain the value of a word that has simply no equal in the English lexicon was otherworldly.

See, Jesse Jackson, in a video clip that sent the good people at Fox News into a masturbatory orgy, was overheard saying Senator Obama deserved an involuntary sex change for "talking down to Black people." The women of Da View were "discussing" it. Pointlessly and poorly.

iPhone users: Click to watch

To put this into ghastly perspective, Reverend Jackson is on record for not being a friend of the "n-word." Here's Jesse holding forth about the use of the n-word, the h-word (shit! "nigger," "hoe," and "bitch" -- those euphemisms are tiresome) after having successfully lobbied for Don Imus' firing over use of the same a year or so ago. Lest Fox let us forget, here's part of Jesse and an unknown guest discussing the merits of emasculating Senator Obama and the latest revelation: Rev. Jackson suggested Obama was "talking down to Black people, telling niggahs how to behave." Guess Reverend Jesse is the "n-word's" Superfriend: "Power of...hypocritical irony!"

iPhone users: Click to watch

In a written apology, Irreverent Jackson said:

"I am deeply saddened and distressed by the pain and sorrow that I have caused as a result of my hurtful words. I apologize again to Senator Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, their children as well as to the American public" Jackson said in a written statement. "There really is no justification for my comments and I hope that the Obama family and the American public will forgive me. I also pray that we, as a nation, can move on to address the real issues that affect the American people"

Huh? As if the swirling, sucking eddy of psycho-ontological despair that is the state of our ability to discuss race relations isn't a "real issue" that's effecting the American people. Pish! And, yeah, I said "pish!"

Truth is, as a people, we Black folk have got nothing on white folks, who gave us such pejoratives as (avert your eyes) prick, cunt, bitch, kike, wop, dago, gooks, jungle bunny, sand niggers (appropriate for use in sunny Baghdad), jiggaboo (my all-time favorite), porch monkey, wetback and the like. The best race and gender related comeback we have? Whitey, cracker (and crackah or cracka) and hoe (which should be disqualified as a riff on an existing favorite).

To my fevered mind, the issue isn't getting Black people to stop using "nigger." It's getting white people to use their considerable verbal prowess in more wholesome ways. To break that down for you, in case there's any confusion: Stop making this crazy, fucked up, insulting shit up and, maybe, we won't have it to use... on anybody.

Now, the truth is Black people were just as offended by Irrelevant Jackson's use of "nigger" in person-oriented public parlance as anybody else (including Juicy Fruit Hasselbeck). For most of us, being called "nigger" will get you sent to the trauma center, in separate, tidy little Ziploc bags. I don't call people "nigger" and my Momma, a believer in the tenet "It's not what you're called, but what you answer to," taught me not to respond to "nigger." "That's not what I named you," she'd say after listening to me regale her with tales of white kids at school trying to wreck my day.

Aside from the ample Mother Wit she was blessed with (Mother and Father of the Universe keep you, dear lady), she was later a brilliant psychotherapist and knew that the word had the fetid stink of internalized self-hatred on it. But she was quick to point out that, as a corollary to her statement above, "There will be those who will try to call you 'nigger' and others who will just treat you like one." To her, and to me, name calling is on a sunnier circle of hell than race-baited ill treatment. Still horrible, though.

To be clear here, I'm not, on the other hand, afraid to use the word... to turn it over and examine it... to place it in history and society, but never to use it on anyone (still thinking about "Negro, please," though). But I'm not going to pretend it's an anachronism to be assigned to the reliquary. It just won't stay there.

Back to the Goldberg-Hasselbeck smackdown. Elisabeth really took up her rant when Whoopi suggested that we have different world experiences and, therefore, live in different worlds. "It isn't balanced, and we would like it to be, but you have to understand, you have to listen to the fact that we're telling you there are issues, there are huge problems that still affect us," Whoopi said. "We don't live in different worlds," was Liz's thoughtful and heated reply. Explain to me why even brand spanking new immigrants, when asked, will tell you they may have it rough, "but at least they're not Black" or why North Africans, darker than Whoopi will ever be, will soon be listed as Caucasian (!) on census forms.

More from Elizabeth (watch the video and the Young Turks' take on it):

iPhone users: Click to watch

"When we live in a world where pop culture then uses that term, and we're trying to get to a place where we feel like we're in the same place, where we feel like we're in the same world... how are we supposed to then move forward if we keep using terms that bring back that pain?"

Ever so troubling is what Elisabeth is pointing to: white kids like hers are/will be taking the worst out of the American subculture and adding it to the crazy quilt which is whitespeak.

This from GQ:

Other words say the same thing as bro but don't stimulate the same level of derision. The king of slang pronouns, of course, is dude, which now competes with the F-word for its sheer number of meanings and uses. ... You can get away with man, but steer clear of my man. Careful with pal and partner, you could sound like you walked off the set of Mayberry RFD. The word guy sounds precious. Buddy can be smarmy. You still hear lots of suburban white guys coopting gangsta speak like dawg, nigga, and homey, and they always come off moronic doing so. Brah is lame when used by anyone but a real Hawaiian. Holmes? For some reason, white guys can use it but black guys can't. Do not even think about home slice. One of the best things a guy can call another guy, I think, is bitch. 'Sup, bitch? It's cool.... If you coach high school football, go ahead and use chief. Otherwise, no.

At this point, I find myself considering the merits of Everclear as a means to "take me away," but there's been a recurrent battle cry throughout segments of the white world of late: "If rappers and poets and plain, ole Black peeps on the street (Note to white people: drop peeps, 'cause you've ruined it, too) can use 'nigger' then I don't understand why I can't." Which brings me back to my main point: You can.

In fact, I'd like to urge you to use "nigger" and its legion derivatives in every way you can -- adjective, noun and Lolly-Lolly-Lolly-get-your-adverb-here. Try it out on as many people as you can and in as many circumstances as you can. Start with work and church, oh and see what happens after you call your boss or priest -- or better yet, your momma -- "My niggah."

I'll be watching and eating popcorn and calling for a mop.

What whites fail to understand about "nigger" is that it's an "as is/no warranty" kind of word. They don't see the beat-downs that happen on playgrounds and parking lots when we use it on each other. They fail to recognize that, aside from a perverted view of "what's cool," those Blacks found using it publicly are considered diss-grace-full (gracefully full of "diss?").

But still, all that being said, have at it. Enjoy.

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Nice job, Lalita!

- John Good

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | July 23, 2008 10:23 PM

Thank you for this excellent post, Lalita!!! Sadly, I couldn't watch the videos (my internet connection being too slow) but on the other hand, I don't mind missing the clip from, The View, it being a show that sprung up while I didn't have a TV and now gives me shudders just to contemplate.

I wish this country would progress faster on race issues. It seems generally better than when I was a kid in the 1950's--nobody was even talking about race at all in white culture then. Still, judging from the MSM, most white Americans aren't even aware that they're not aware! And with the economy tanking, you know it's going to hit black folks harder in general than white folks. An article on the Nation website last week talked about how the sub-prime meltdown is moving vast sums of hard-earned money and equity from the African-American community into the hands of the banks and financial institutions.

Makes me sorry, sad, and really angry.

"If rappers and poets and plain, ole Black peeps on the street (Note to white people: drop peeps, 'cause you've ruined it, too) can use 'nigger' then I don't understand why I can't." Which brings me back to my main point: You can.

In fact, I'd like to urge you to use "nigger" and its legion derivatives in every way you can -- adjective, noun and Lolly-Lolly-Lolly-get-your-adverb-here. Try it out on as many people as you can and in as many circumstances as you can. Start with work and church, oh and see what happens after you call your boss or priest -- or better yet, your momma -- "My niggah."

I'll be watching and eating popcorn and calling for a mop.

Absolutely. Thanks for the snarky post. I loved it!

This post is absolutely brilliant.

Not only is Lalita one of my favorite people in the whole wide world, she's also written one of the best posts ever run on Bilerico Project.

I've never seen the need to use the word that wasn't angry. My vocabulary has never failed me in coming up with another word to describe whatever specific quality I want to point out that would generically fall under "Nigger." Does the black man down the street never go to work? He's not a nigger. He's lazy. Did I just meet my friend on the street? I don't need "My nigga." I can say, "Hey. How's it going?" or even "Hello." Am I angry at the Pakistani clerk? I don't need to call him a "Sand nigger." I can simply say I'm angry at the clerk for being stupid/incompetent/smelly/whatever.

So when I hear someone use the word, I automatically assume they aren't smart enough to know other words to describe their anger. Hence, as we hear all the time, education is the key.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 24, 2008 3:53 AM

As a born Catholic "Mackerel Snapper" I have to say I loved it. Your lessons are hardly "G" rated, but very true. I have always felt that people who used hurtful, hate filled, dismissive words towards others are speaking from their own ignorance and often fear of what is not familiar.

This has got to be one of the most well-written and honestly accessible pieces on race discussions that I've ever read. Thank you so much for writing this. (And from now on, I'm only referring to a certain person as "JuicyFruit Hasselbeck.")

Lalita, you obviously are a brilliant and skillful writer, but I am going to be courageous enough --- or stupid enough --- to challenge you on a few points.

First, authors use the n-word when pursuing historical reality: Mark Twain did in Huckleberry Finn, Langston Hughes did in Not without Laughter (I once tried to count the instances, but gave up when I reached over one hundred), and more recently, James McBride did (Song Yet Sung). So, even if the word should never be used in present tense, there is the historical reality that the word indicates the racism, hatred and imputation of sub-humanity that once existed.

Secondly, the n-word can be used to criticize racism. As I've cited before, songwriter and performer Randy Newman did this expertly in his song Rednecks.

I agree that the word should never be used in the present tense as an insult to a Black person --- or anyone else. But I also don't believe it is possible to remove it from the English language without being guilty of re-writing history in a way that is counter-productive and disloyal to the reality that once was.

If Russell Simmons chooses to refer to Tavis Smiley as "house nigger" (as Mr. Simmons once did) then Mr. Simmons was wrong. If Tavis Smiley wants to refer to himself as "niggah" simply for the sake of adopting a stylistic nuance (which I have heard him do once or twice on his very own show on PBS), then I think that is up to the discretion of Mr. Smiley, who I observe to usually use very good judgment in this area. If a screenwriter chooses to use that word to indicate affection, as Halley Berry does to Warren Beatty near the end of the movie Bullworth, he (or she) proceeds at their own peril.

But it is clear in this tricky world we live in that not every person who avoids the n-word is a friend to Black people and/or the African race, and that certain people who do carefully use that word are very often among the finest artists and thinkers within that race, or their finest champions from without.

Of course, it is proper to teach young people not to use this word, because its proper place in history is so nuanced that it takes adult judgment --- and then some --- to determine when it can be utilized without inflicting true insult. There are some things in this world that really are adult material --- nuclear warheads and the n-word both definitely fit into this category.

Now, Lalita, I do respect your viewpoint and thank you for it even if I somewhat disagree. And if my body parts belong in x-number of Zip-Lock bags, please use the kind with the little zipper-slides --- they are stronger, more convenient, and hopefully will protect future generations from my rotting stench for a few extra decades.

Much, much love. Thank you for this.

Much, much love, Lalita. Thank you for this.

This is a great post and a great discussion on this issue.

A agree, Alex--great discussion, ya'll. And I know we'll keep it going where it really matters: in our lives. Full frank discussions of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, weight -- well, it all makes a difference. We're just not as good at it as we could be. And on blogs like this one, we're all developing mastery--that much needed "muscle"--in having them, of getting to the edge where it stops being comfy and our points of view don't leave us looking good and smelling rosy....and stepping into thin air. No more "We're the Black community and of course we love each other (just don't be gay)" or "Our Rainbow Flag includes us all"--while Black and Brown brothers and sisters suffer.

That's why I love this blog and what the Projectors are getting done here.

What I am beginning to think, though, is that though we're schooled in thinking of all of these conversations of difference like they're separate, they might be holographic elements of the same kind of thing. When I used to teach a class in diversity (race, gender and sexual orientation), I found that those who had a bit of a breakthrough in gender were able over time to generalize that to sexual orientation. Same thing with those who began to see something new in terms of sexual orientation and race.

I was asked to convene a group to talk about the CNN "Black in America" series. I agreed, but only if people brought all of their experience and desire for further understanding with them. I'll be sure to let Bil know so those in Indy can come play.

Peace and chicken grease!

Whatever makes you think i need your permission?

sorta towards ewe, do you remember the old days when people of European ancestry actually listened to Black people instead of lecturing them on how to be better Black people?

That must have been dreary work for Black people, whose evenings were pretty much accounted for for quite a while. As a European-American, I'd like to start the national conversation by listening.

With a little luck I may be invited to join America again (the show that's already in progress).

Race: I haz one too. And I'm not too thrilled about what it stands for these days.

DIRECTLY TO REV.BOB: My comments were in response to what the author stated. She gives her permission to use the word nigger and i do not need her permission. That was my point. The rest of what you say is your sorry attempt to silence exactly what you believe to profess. By the way, there are many many many people who became enlightened long before you. Stop stroking your ego. With a title to boot.

thanks, ewe. I'm sorry.

Encouraging people to listen strikes me as a damn strange way to "silence" discussion. I wish we were all a little more silent in that regard.

About the (wholly ironic) "Rev", I've been using it on the net since 1989, so it's a little late to change now. But I'll consider it.

But dropping egos, I think it would be good for European-Americans like me to start evaluating our recent accomplishments toward the solution of our problem of racism.

I love you too. (nigga)

Ewe, I totally didn't give you permission.

REV.Bob: I totally do not need or am asking for your permission.