Monday, July 09, 2007

Nothin' But an "N" Thang

The good news: The word "nigger" is dead.

The bad news: Laughably stupid and ineffectual symbolic gestures apparently aren't.

Today in Detroit (city slogan: "Now With 30% Fewer Random Devil's Night Fires"), the NAACP held what it called a "funeral" for everyone's favorite linguistic pariah -- the dreaded "N-word."

During a surreal ceremony that included not only full funerial dress but a horse-drawn carriage pulling a coffin covered with black flowers, city Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick -- who may also be addressed by his hip-hop name, "K-Kill" -- did a fine impression not only of NWA's Real Niggaz Don't Die, but of every uneducated minstrel to ever stereotypically butcher the English language.

“Good riddance. Die N-word. We don’t want to see you around here no more," he said, while somehow keeping a straight face.

Also on hand to pay her disrespects, and coincidentally appease the whim of a rather large voting bloc, was Michigan Governor and whitest-woman-alive Jennifer Granholm.

In keeping with tradition, several 40s were tipped onto the casket as it was lowered into the ground, and after the funeral everyone took their large, ornate hats over to Denny's where they were all denied service.

Okay, so I'm taking a few cheap shots.

It's rare that I launch a preemptive strike against what will surely be the angry reaction to one of my admittedly worthless opinions, but it should be known that each time I tried to put something articulate and serious down in regards to this story, all I kept coming back to was, "Oh come on -- you've gotta be kidding me."

Convincing the general public to drop the word "nigger" from its vocabulary once and for all is a task that's as gargantuan as it is commendable -- and maybe that's why it deserves better than farcical burlesque. I was painfully aware before this morning that America had a grotesque appetite for memorial rituals, but I never thought I'd see one applied in such an unnecessarily meretricious manner. Holding a mock funeral to declare that a word is officially dead and buried is pretty much the quintessential example of an utterly empty gesture.

It's stupid over substance, and it insults the very audience it's trying to play to, in the tawdriest manner possible.

Back in November of last year, I published a lengthy column in reaction to the now-infamous rant by former Seinfeld goofball Michael Richards (The N'th Degree/11.21.06). In it, I put forth an argument which I didn't believe at the time to be very incendiary: That refusing to say the word "nigger" -- instead, insisting on it being replaced with a childish colloquialism like "the N-word" -- is in fact more offensive toward the black community than simply being candid about what is essentially a word, and nothing more.

I wrote at the time:

"Despite whatever heft, whatever power to destroy or dehumanize, that we've unwisely granted a single word -- any word -- in the end it is still just a word, and nothing more.

Except that in the most advanced and preeminent culture to ever exist upon this Earth, in the early days of the 21st century, it isn't just a word. On the contrary, the word "nigger" holds an unparalleled level of ascendancy in our society. There's no better testament to the truth of this statement than the fact that otherwise educated, intelligent people -- the type who normally would rather step on a live land mine than be taken for an idiot -- will gladly allow themselves to be reduced to spouting the vernacular of a four-year-old to avoid speaking it.

No matter the alternative's power to offend and instigate, is there anything -- anything -- more painfully ridiculous than a grown man or woman saying, "The N-word?" It's an absurd verbal tip-toe that not only proves that there is apparently no safe context in which the actual word can be uttered, but also that there exists an unspoken implication that those whom one would expect to be angered by the use of such a word are so stupid that they can't discern between the desire to dehumanize and subjugate and the need to openly discuss, and therefore should be protected from hearing the word altogether -- for the good of everyone. This latter possibility -- an indictment of an entire culture, whether out of condescension or outright fear -- is infinitely more offensive than the utterance of any one word."

Controversial or not -- this statement holds true.

Today's "funeral" was a great show.

It's almost sad that common sense never got such a ceremonious send-off.


Vermillion said...

Requisite supporting black man here.

You were absolutely right in how stupid this funeral was. It was a pathetic and painfully shallow attempt at 'our' community trying to rid ourselves of 'nigger'. Too bad one could turn to a number of radio stations or walk into many a music store and still hear it blasting over the airwaves, or have it pounded into your skull by some jackass with a tricked out speaker system who can't comprehend that MAYBE not everyone in a 3-mile radius shared his taste in music.

But one thing I noticed you did not point out: Funeral are supposed to be about saying goodbye to someone you cared about. In quite a few places, it is a celebration of their time on earth and a final parting. You have funerals to honor the dead. Why would they do that for such a vile word? I doubt they honestly were trying to say they were going to miss "nigger", so the only other answer is because it was an empty ceremony insisted on by idiots and followed through by utter imbeciles.

Neil said...

Thank you, Chez.

I can't believe how ridiculous this entire thing is. They are making it such a big deal.

VOTAR said...

Well, like I said,

what a waste of time.

So much easier just to hang 'em.

Karl and Mia said...

Is it still okay for me to be called Whitey, Wonder Bread, Pasty, Honky, White Boy, and Cracker? I was just wondering, because I work with a lot of black people and many of them don't know my name, so they just use those.

If I don't take offense at being called these names is it still wrong?

Karl "Blanco" Crose

Angry Monkey said...

I do believe that the 'N' word will unsurprisingly make a quick return from the dead.
The mockery of a funeral actually makes me want to say it just to get on their nerves for such a stupid idea.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why I even bother to respond/read at this point(?). the only thing I can summize is that somewhere along the way I've given you (or you've earned) the respect of a voice in my world often reserved for actual friends and the great Oral Roberts, in absense of that same respect being received.

In any instance, for those who have not walked in those shoes to make scathing statements about how they fit is absurd at best, complete and utter bullshit at worst. You will never fully grasp the depth of this issue no more then I'll ever know what it means to be white, and I would never be callous enough to make sweeping statements to anything otherwise.

I most definitely agree that the execution of accomplishing the objective leaves something to be desired, but we seem to live in a vacuum in which it's so much simpler to criticize everything then to appreciate the intent or more importantly...(ominous music in the background)...get off our asses and help with a solution. If a ceremony (that we can all agree in this venue) as absurd as this is able to begin to change a consciousness (even slightly) then it's worth suffering through to reach the light.

Rather then constantly rail on an issue you live from one side only, try to exist in a way that assists in our evolution. Your ramblings on these topics probably have the adverse affect on some, in which case your as guilty as those who would stand in the way of progress towards equality. We all create our own universe and because of which we do not all rationalize things in the same manner. What makes sense to some will NEVER make sense to all. I would take the liberty of assuming many questioned what an "empty" gesture like sitting in the back of a bus could ever do to change anything as well, and if you had a flex capacitor and a Delorean you could no doubt go back, write a piece and find people to agree with such a notoin.
I guess my question would be what do you do to change any of this? Blogging is easy, but action isn't.

Grow a set...DO SOMETHING. Since you seem to always see the error of others ways you no doubt can apply that gift to help find a solution.

Three things I love:

-white people who downplay (racial) physical and mental oppression
-black people who overplay (and perpetuate)racial oppression and,
-fried chicken

In two of the three the system wins because it's objective (beyond the obvious control aspect) is to perpetuate a divisive environment to distract from the truth. In the third the only winner is the Colonel.

Jaedon Woods

Stepher said...

What Neil said.

[I'm in love w/the way you weave words.]

Robo said...

you know what word always made me laugh....Wigger. Now that's some funny shit. White Suburban kids came up with this word to "dis" their peers that chose a more urban lifestyle or clothing choice. Little did they know that most of those Wiggers were happy to be tossed into the fray of being as cool as a black guy. That's why they were trying so hard to emulate them. Always made me about idiotic.

Anonymous said...

You can take away the "n-word" but the meaning and hate behind it will always exist. What's done is done no matter how many ways people try to stop the use of the word. History won't change with a funeral.

John said...

Jaedon, THANK YOU for what you said. Chez is sometimes funny, but frankly these days sound more like a jackass. And he's lazy getting any real posts out.

You used to be smart. What happened?

Chez said...

I love publishing your comments John; you always manage to make youself look like more of an idiot than I ever could.

Look dingbat -- I have a life, and no responsibilty whatsoever to keep you entertained and/or educated.

Don't like it? Tough shit. I notice you're really taking bold steps to make the world a better place.

Now run along. Let the big kids do the thinking.

Anonymous said...

You and John aside, I'm here out of respect for your intellect, love for my place in this world and a healthy need for discussion.

My two final questions on this subject (since you don't seem to want to engage in an exchange)are:

1 are you in any way rascist? If so, anything else is a moot point

2 when faced with such a daunting task as beating a system for mental oppression that the oppressed help to perpeutate, how would you propose we begin? I would suspect that any striking point will seem absurd in its overall objective.

Don't be scurr''s only discourse...


Manny said...

My vote is to replace it with "Snickerdoodle". Let's see 50 Cent turn that into a club hit.

Anonymous said...

Like Chez said. It's a word. It was a very corny attempt to put the nail in the N-word coffin, so to speak.

But don't automatically assume that because someone is white they haven't seen that other side of that very ugly coin.

Some of us have had the pleasure of being bussed to inner city schools, or having to live on the wrong side of the tracks. Some of HAVE BEEN the only white kid in class, and have been mercilessly taunted and threatened as a result of their skin color. And some of us have moved the fuck on without developing a chip. Some of us are better for it, and I suppose some are probably not. But it works both ways, believe me.

Racism will only subside with time provided it is openly addressed and thoroughly discouraged. You can't FORCE people to stop hating — only educate the young against it.

And I'm sure eventually when we're all brown and have the same IQ and everything is equal and EVERYBODY'S finally happy, our differences will be long forgotten. The gray race of aliens will make themselves known to the world, and we'll all take up arms in brotherly and sisterly unison to wage war against those gray-skinned beasties... Jus' cuz we don't like de wayz they look.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous...I guess by your example I could speak to what it's like to run a marathon because I run a few miles 3-4 times a week. The difference being, when you stepped in, you were able to step back out to the warm glow of the dominant culture of this country.

I appreciate what you're saying and I definitely respect your point of view.
I'm' not sure how you make the notion of change versus the hip-hop world who rages against that notion as perpetuation of the oppression, but maybe something like this at least helps parents, teachers, anybody open a few eyes and start a dialogue. Education alone in schools and homes isn't going to match a global behemoth like the American entertainment industry. All I'm saying is reserve the knee-jerk cynacism for at least a moment because it does NOTHING good.

Our ADD riddled psyche's will probably forget ANYTHING that happens a couple days after at this point anyway. Anybody seen New Orleans lately?

By the way, thanks for your thoughts Chez


Paul said...

In a smaller ceremony "niggardly" was cremated and "sniggering" was shot.

Luckily "meretricious" doesn't sound like any unpleasant racial insults.

BTW, Chez is not a racist, he hates everyone the same.

Jayne said...

I always said that Chez was an "equal opportunity offender." When going out with a new group of people, I warn them ahead of time that by the end of the evening, several of them will be pissed off at my husband. It's anyone's guess who those people will be, but I let them know up front that it is completely out of my hands.

Robert said...

Snickerdoodle please...

heh I love that..

"and maybe that's why it deserves better than farcical burlesque."

No, that's exactly what this "funeral" deserves.

I'm glad all of the real problems have been solved so we could finally get around to burying a word.

Chez said...

Jaedon -- You and I have been in contact since I started this thing, and you seem like a good guy.

That said, I think that asking someone if he or she is racist is a bit silly; only the most deluded would admit to such a thing while still hoping to be taken seriously among polite society.

If you're asking if I believe that the color of someone's skin or that person's ethnic heritage is an acceptable predictor of his or her behavior -- absolutely not.

But I've mentioned before that stereotypes exist for a reason; good or bad, they weren't just pulled out of thin air, and that presents a problem.

I'm Italian, and while I don't believe that I fit any particular ethnic stereotype, I've met enough Guidos in velour track suits -- the kind of people who confirm every negative cliche' about Italians -- that I can't possibly be offended when someone cracks a joke or makes a rude comment acknowledging as much.

I don't blame someone for noticing that far too many members of a certain race or culture adhere to a particular prototype -- I blame those perpetuating the image in the first place.

Put it another way: When I lived in L.A. back in the 90s, most of my friends were Asian. I remember one night we were all sitting around watching TV, when an interview came on the news with a local Asian politician. At one point, he started spouting quasi-philosophical, vaguely Zen-sounding profundities about the need for all Angelinos to pull together as a community and so on -- which caused one of my friends to jokingly hurl something at the TV and bury his head in his hands. "NO, NO," he huffed in frustration. "DO NOT START SPEAKING IN FUCKING PARABLES. YOU'RE SETTING US BACK BY CENTURIES YOU ASSHOLE."

I imagine that this kind of feeling was exactly what inspired Chris Rock to write his now infamous "Niggers Have Got to Go" bit.

Sometimes you realize that there are those among you -- whoever you are -- who are their own worst enemy.

So, am I racist? I'd like to think not -- but I have a feeling that many in this day and age feel that it's not my place to decide. Perpetual victimization dictates that someone else gets to make the "expert" decision as to what the true intentions of another happen to be.

Now, as for your thoughts about discourse: Once again man, I like you, and I'm more than willing to discuss this kind of thing with you -- but I'm not obligated to. As I said in a previous comment -- I do have a life that requires my attention on occasion, which means that I can't be around to constantly defend my opinions; I kind of feel like that's what the main page of the blog is for in the first place.

I mentioned to someone else a couple of days ago that my intention in maintaining this site is NOT to make the world a better place; at least two phrases on the main page should clue everyone in to that: "Making a Mockery of Mockery," and the part about me being a "misanthropic pain in the ass."

I don't have all the answers, nor do I pretend to. If you believe that this somehow renders my opinion irrelevant -- well, I guess I'll have to live with that.

I use this site as a forum for my thoughts. It admittedly is "my house," and although I'm always willing to listen to dissenting opinion, the holder of that opinion may not get the "fair fight" that he or she might hope for -- at least not here.

But hey, those people can very easily get their own blogs.

Anonymous said...

A funeral for a word that symbolizes years of pain and suffering? Ridiculous, and not even a drop in the bucket of accomplishing what people hope to accomplish. Bringing needed attention to the underlying racial issues that are undermining our country? Absolutely necessary.

I agree that you need to live through something in order to truly understand it, but I don't think you need to live through something in order to have a valid and meaningful opinion. Many people in this country don't have to live the way many of our black citizens do, but I can guarantee that most people have felt alienated, abused, or victimized at some point in their life. In fact, despite all of our beautiful and (should-be) celebrated differences, this is one thing we all share.

We each have a choice. You can choose to be a victim, and spout bitterness about your oppressors--we have little control as to how people approach and react to us--but as individuals, we have complete control as to how we react to others. And the more you react to something, the more power it has. Choose wisely.

I like to react to negative things by drinking profusely, complaining loudly, and bumping Pantera in my truck as high as it will go.

Chez said...

Words of wisdom man, words of wisdom.

jason said...

Our local NAACP chapter had a similar event back in May which also entailed "burying" the vernacular "cousins" of nigger: bitch and ho.

About 70 people showed up. All of them were black, which struck me as kind of odd. Granted, blacks calling other blacks "nigger" is reprehensible, but isn't the REAL racism coming from whites using the word? I didn't see a single white guy at the event to lend any credibility to it.

And, living in the WASPy suburbs, I cringed thinking about Skip and Liz watching the news at home and saying to each other "look at those people and their ridiculous culture." No one could possibly take this thing seriously.

Last week, our state legislature passed a resolution to "discourage use of the N-word." Yeah, I'm sure that will make all the backwards rednecks in Central PA change their ways.

Emily Blake said...

It's not about being racist, really. It's about being practical. In no way will this funeral thingee have an impact on anything. It's silly. Telling people to stop being racist is not the way to make people stop being racist.

We should start using more Shakespearean insults to replace the words we don't like. Chez, thou art a heartless hind.

Anonymous said...

Why weren't these niggas working?

Anonymous said...

To everyone...with the exception of John...I enjoyed this discussion, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

I get caught in some of the same conversations constantly and I completely agree with your notion that the stereotypes exist for a reason, which speaks to my thought of our own willingness as a culture to perpetuate those things in which we have an issue being judged negatively for, and at how deep this whole goes when looking for a stable ground to initiate change from.

And as far as calling you out, that was just a way to get something more from you...I'm a bit of a shit at times myself with a penchent for affecting others to continue discourse. Probably lucky for both of us we were not in La at the same time...might have caused a misanthropic vortex.

As always, I appreciate what you bring to the table. SOMETIMES I'd just like to see you use your powers for GOOD...

We now return to the regularly scheduled programming.


Robo said...

Yeah Nexus it's like mom always said...if you show the bully that what he's saying is bothering you then they will make it worse. If you ignore it he won't find it "fun" and will eventually leave you alone.

JustJoe said...

First: "an uttery empty gesture" should probably be utterly. Sorry, eternal stickler here.

Second: One of my most disturbing recent experiences was seeing that under the polite veneer many of my elderly relattives have applied to themselves, they are still products of the deep south pre-MLK.

I remember when I used to think racism was dead or dying. I went to an integrated magnet high school where literally everyone got along. Going to college in the south has changed that, and I've seen nastiness from all sides.

I think it's up to individuals. Hear a friend spitting foulness? Call him on it. Hasn't always been received well, but what the fuck do I care what bigots think.

Chez said...

Sorry -- the staff of Deus Ex Malcontent is sorely lacking an editor.

Paul said...

Chez, I know two good editors you could hire.

Chez said...

Because the quality of their work is so excellent at their paying jobs.

Karl and Mia said...

Um, excuse me. After all this being said... I still a honky, or what?

Lorenzo said...

I've gotta find out. . . Nigger. Shit. Either the funeral was just a stupid lie, or we've got us a ghost. Damn, guess they'll have to try again.

Chez said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

erm, I'm a new one to this site, so reading it backwards hence the rather late posting(!) Just had to say that I agree with most of your observations, and despite the fact that I perhaps appear a tad on the freaky side, state that I think Harry Potter is a leeetle bit relevant here: He who shall not be named was a name bestowed on Lord Voldemort by the fearful. (aka the eeejits saying N-word not Nigger) It is all easy for us to sit around blogging, but it is perhaps understandable that some people are a bit confused and afraid of doing harm. After all, we can't all be brave. I wish I was as brave as Dumbledore...
anyhooo, yeah, I know, us Brits are deep!