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Nigger Politics

Here we are again back in the discussion of the word “nigger.” I spoke out on this back when Paula Dean was the culprit and although this time the context is completely different, I still feel the need to speak out on it because, as a Black person, it is imperative that we weigh in on the discussion each and every time it comes up.

The most recent incident is with late night show host and comedian, Bill Maher. During an interview with Republican Senator from Nebraska, Ben Sasse, Bill Maher made a joke that included the use of the word “nigger.” All of the clips of the incident have been removed; however, the transcript of what occurs goes as follows:

“Adults dress up for Halloween, they don’t do that in Nebraska?” Maher asked.

“It’s frowned upon,” Sasse replied. “We don’t do that quite as much.”

“I gotta get to Nebraska more,” Maher said.

“You’re welcome; we’d love to have you work in the fields with us,” Sasse joked.

“Work in the fields,” Maher scoffed. “Senator, I’m a house nigger.”

“You still working in the fields out there, huh?” Maher said.

“Yeah,” Sasse said. “We want our kids to suffer.”

Now first I have to say, the joke is funny. The timing was perfect and it did reflect the natural sarcasm any funny person would have in response to the senator’s comment. Despite the fact that the joke was funny and that Maher clearly wasn’t using the word in a racially derogatory manner, it’s one that probably should have stayed in his head. Especially with all of the racial tensions in the country as of the last few years, there isn’t a White person in America who should bother with using the word.

In fact that is the biggest part of the problem with the word “nigger.” The fact that as an entire country we continue to debate – not discuss – who can use the word and when they can use the word. There’s no debate to be had there. The people with the direct connection the word and the history of the word have spoken.

There was a time in this country where there term “jew” was used satirically to call someone cheap. Using the word in that way is clearly derogatory to Jewish people as it stereotypes them. But these days you would never hear someone come close to making that statement. But somehow when it comes to Black people the non-Black public wants to have an opinion about a word that is derogatory when used by a non-Black person. The fact that there isn’t enough respect to resign to not using the word is the greatest offense. I think that offends me more than if I hear them use the word because it represents an insistence to dictate to another culture what is an appropriate way to engage them as we almost never see with other underrepresented groups. That feels like an assault, which is why White people that use it receive the vehement responses that they get when they publicly use the word.

The Point

The entire video is a good watch but specifically around the 15:18 – 19:42 when one girl can no longer stand the blue eye experiment in which Jane Elliott creates classroom rules for all the people with blue eyes in order to imitate the limitations that people of color experience every day. This is the most genius exposing of White privilege that I have seen. Mostly because I believe it forces the White participants to not just conceive of what it means to be a person of color but it makes them feel it. The biggest problem when it comes to issues of race is that White people can intellectualize the notions but they cannot empathize with the nuances. It is this lack of being able to empathize that causes them to miss the point that when they use the word “nigger” or continue to debate about whether should be able to use it, it is violent. It is an assault upon Black folks and it is an exertion of the privilege they are afforded.

The end of White privilege is a concept that will feel uncomfortable to some White people and foreign to most, but there has to be acceptance and understanding that it is time for humanity to evolve. The time has come for the playing field to be leveled for all of the historically underrepresented groups and that is going to feel different because for most White people, their privilege comes so ingrained in their perspective and the fact that its difficult to separate what notions actually do not apply to everyone simply because they experience them. As well as understanding that are some things that only members of that particular population or culture have say so over. The use of the word “nigger” is one.

As far as Maher is concerned, I think that his show is live and it does lend itself to improv and the best improv comedy is both edgy and quick witted. So I can see how he slipped with the joke. I wouldn’t call him a racist and I wouldn’t call for him to be fired from his job. Should there be some punishment, certainly. He did release an apology for it. His apology sounded very scripted and PR driven where I would have wanted a sincere apology and intelligent acknowledgement of the many ways that his joke affected and/or offended Black people because I noting else can be said about any White person’s use of the word “nigger’ is that is always inconsiderate and disrespectful if not derogatory and offensive. It’s 2017, just don’t say the damn word.

 

I’m not saying; I’m just saying,

 

An Angry Black Man

2 Comments on Nigger Politics

  1. charlesgreen // June 7, 2017 at 8:53 am // Reply

    This is the single best piece I’ve seen on the Maher incident. I felt in my gut at the time that it was both very witty and even empathetic, but at the same time, still somehow quite inappropriate. I think you nailed just how, and why, those two things can coexist. And you still managed to come out with a single conclusion. Which also makes sense to me.
    Well seen and well said.

    • Thanks so much for reading and responding. Discussions on race and racism are understandably personal and emotional but I think in the larger discourse we have to be pragmatic in order to root the problem and solve it. Please feel free to share and continue the discussion. I appreciate your support!

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