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.