By Zettler Clay
The more things change, the more things stay the same, and when it comes to a certain word, it’s Groundhog’s Day.
This was proven by none other than Mel Gibson, who was allegedly recorded as telling his ex-girlfriend that if she was raped by a “pack of ni**ers,” it would be her fault. He also levied misogynistic statements that would make Too Short proud.
Naturally, national outrage centered on Detective Rigg’s usage of “ni**er.” But few sounded off about the sexist tone of his rant. Or the inherent inferiority complex about his masculinity. Or the subtle jab at black women, who tend to be the recipients of sexual assault from black men.
Nigger. That word seems to generate more attention than any “bi**h,” “ho” or “a woman deserves to be in the kitchen, bare-footed, with an apron and a smile” sentiment. The collective response falls short because of this lack of nuance in interpretation. If alcohol was the trigger for Gibson’s rant, then I can forgive that. He was having a private conversation. He got angry.
Perhaps the woman he was talking to loathed black men and shared that with him previously.
Perhaps her greatest fear is being raped by a “pack of ni**ers.” And perhaps, in the heat of the moment, Gibson wanted to verbally hurt her as much as possible by bringing her fears up. After all, isn’t that what people who are in the throes of an argument do?
Perhaps none of this really happened (the tape has yet to be released).
Perhaps Gibson is really a douche.
Perhaps this is all irrelevant.
The knee-jerk response is to unleash “hell hath no fury” venom at Gibson, demand an apology and a public renunciation of the n-word. But what is an apology, besides another reminder that black people are dependent on White people’s approval? Gibson’s statements were revealing, but the reaction was even more so.
Gibson could have replaced “ni**er” with “the Great Descendants of God” and it still would have been offensive. After all, context rules everything in regard to the usage of the n-word and race. If Michael Steele or Jay-Z said the same thing as Mel, what would have been the real difference? All three people would be complicit in perpetuating the stereotype of black men as primitive, savages, rapists and gangbangers. A race doesn’t have a monopoly on negative usage of the n-word. Not even black people.
Two people can say the same thing, but convey two different meanings. Consider it the beauty and blemish of language. Uncle Ruckus and Strom Thurmond both shouted racial epithets against black people. Should the Uncle Ruckuses get a pass just because his body produces a higher amount of melanin? Months ago, Harry Reid faced heat for his comments in a private conversation, stating that Barack Obama doesn’t sound like a typical Negro. He also said because he is light-skinned, he is more acceptable.
Obama defused the situation, saying that Reid’s record spoke for itself. Reid apologized. Amazingly, many people were aghast that Reid would have the gall to say something black people say among themselves quite often.
Back to the n-word. Many black people are so confused about using the n-word that they want to barricade anybody else from using it. “Ni**er” is a racial slur in one context; a term of endearment in another. It’s not uncommon for words to have more than one meaning.
It is uncommon for a word to have totally disparate primary and secondary meanings; typically word meanings are close in application. That’s what makes the duality in context so troubling. Black people go to great lengths to defend using a word that has never spurred greatness. The dominant excuse: “When they say it, it’s racist. When we say it, it’s art. We made it positive.”
Black people still lag far behind other races in unemployment, educational achievements, home ownership and health care. Unless you consider the revenue stream that rappers have accrued over the last 20 odd years a positive, the manifestation is lacking.
Hip hop, in its quest to become a global phenomenon, has normalized the n-word for a myriad of cultures. It’s not any more surprising to see an adolescent from Taiwan recite “Nigga what….nigga who” than it is to see a teenager from Columbia Heights saying the same thing.
Cultures can be appreciated by anybody. The use of the n-word is cultural. Why should I get mad about another race addressing me in a language that we address each other in all time?
Fact: People of other races say “ni**er.” If that offends you, then cringe when you hear your favorite rapper say it. Stop uttering it in private conversations. Become more tolerant. Realize the word is dehumanizing in any context. I’m not unaware of the racial history behind this word; I’m also not unaware of the meaning of hypocrisy.
There was little focus on Gibson’s sexist utterances, which is another indication that society has dropped the ball in sensitizing people to occurrences of sexism. Racial tension is a hypnotic factor, a lucrative industry even. Television shows, news and movies benefit greatly from espousing the racism angle. Until we realize this, we’ll continue to be up in arms about the next white guy who is revealed as a bigot.
The primitive response is a call for an apology from Mr. Gibson. But we don’t need an apology. We need a shift in ideology.
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