Monday, July 9, 2007


I'm going to start off this post with a disclaimer - if the comedic works of Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Sara Silverman, or Carlos Mencia offends you deeply then stop reading now. I can't promise that I will be as eloquent as these people have been about issues of race in our society, but I am gonna drop a few "n-bombs."
Today, the NAACP held a symbolic burial for the word "nigger." Citing centuries of whites using the term to racially disparage blacks and blacks using the term to denigrate themselves, the NAACP chose a formal funeral procession, complete with coffin and headstone, as a way to end their use of the word.
I don't want anyone to interpret my comments as racist, and I am 100% in favor of black Americans claiming the dignity and respect they deserve as citizens of humanity. That said, I have a really tough time with the outright elimination of a word from our common usage. First, as the Daily Show pointed out - rappers simply need "nigger" for their lyrics. Case in point from Kanye West... "I ain't sayin' she a gold digger, but she ain't goin' for no broke..." I mean, "bum" doesn't really have the same effect.
Every racial and ethnic groups has various epithets, slurs and insider terms that when used within the group bear greater social acceptance then when used outside. For example, Jews using the term Heeb as the title of a magazine, good. The KKK calling us kikes, bad.
Spike Lee created one of the most powerful racial films with "Do the Right Thing," and its montage of really damn hateful speech culminated with a good ol' fashioned riot. It got us talking about the words we use to describe ourselves and others rather than silencing people and wrapping them in a fuzzy little blanket of ignorance. Back in the 1970s, Mel Brooks created his genius work, "Blazing Saddles," that likewise skewered blacks, Jews, Hispanics, Native Americans and whites - with the latter group hilariously enduring the greatest abuse. What do we learn? Racism CAN be funny and if we lose sight of that, we lose a bit of ourselves.
Finally, words are simply collections of letters strung together until humans embue them with meaning, power, significance, shame or glory. They may go out of style, they make take on implications of badness, but rarely are they stricken from the record OR the dictionary (and yes, nigger is in the dictionary). When we ban words or make them "dirty," we give them the extra power of the forbidden. So what to do about nigger? Or for that matter - chink, spic, WOP, towel head, fag and Republican? While I have no intention about spewing them out the next time I pass a playground, I'm not throwing out my copy of "Straight Outta Compton" either.

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