Location: Indianapolis, Indiana, United States

I'm just trying to develop an online body of work (even if the work is throwaway nonsense) to advance my writing career.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Kramer vs. the Volcano

I am not altogether sold on this new Puritannical approach to the "N" word just because one loud mouthed, C-List celebrity unleashed a racist tirade at a comedy club. Why give this man undeserved power and influence? I thought the goal was to not let racists control your destiny. And yet, I hear a lot of rumblings lately that Kramer's--the only name he deserves now is "Kramer" and even that is debatable--outburst served as a kind of "wakeup call." I must still be asleep.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating additional usage of the word, nor do I have a problem with someone making the personal choice of "N" word abstinence. What I find distressing, however, is the insinuation that African-Americans who don't make the same decision to abstain are somehow bad people and should be made social outcasts. Rappers and comedians apparently top this list of individuals being pressured to alter their linguistic choices. Well, I'm fighting for the right to say "nigger" and "nigga" in certain circumstances.

Leonard Pitts, the very levelheaded Miami Heral columnist with whom I often agree, decried the distinction between "nigger" and "nigga" as "pseudointellectual", saying that black people who try to make them into two entirely separate words--one for white racists and the other for cutting edge African-Americans-- are deluding themselves. I'll agree with him on this point, but within it there is another matter that is equally pseudointellectual, and even that is putting it charitably. This is the idea that black people can say the word and white people can't is a "double standard" and double standards are wrong. Well, they aren't wrong, at least not always.
Double standards are why your girlfriend can call you "sugar plum" but your male friends can't. They exist everywhere; it's called nuance and most people understand nuance whether they realize it or not. That is, they understand it in cases where they want to, but in matters of race, nuance is a tricky business. Essentially, I'm saying the guideline that blacks can utter the "N" word and whites can't is a double standard, but a fair one. Notice I say guideline and not absolute rule. Absolute rules are dangerous.

Ultimately, the "N" word is an ugly one and the use of it should not be encouraged. But the reasons for its frequent appearances in black vernacular are many and varied and can't be conquered overnight. Some observers have found irony in the fact it was a word created by whites to marinalize and emasculate blacks and now blacks use it among themselves. Again, this is a fair point, but there is also a sense I get of taking the hater's word and making it one's own, throwing it back in their faces, as it were. Women, after all, have done this sometimes with the infamous "B" word. I'm not a sociologist or a historian, so I can't tell you to what extent this is an example of self-hate and to what degree an act of defiance or any of the other complex emotions and sensations in between. But I can tell you this: Chris Rock, Ice Cube, Dave Chappelle and any other individuals who frequently utter the word "nigga" do not deserve our anger here, Kramer does. Save your antipathy for him and all those like him of all shades, complexions and nationalities who still confuse color with quality.