Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Whitlock on "Burying the N-word"

I love Whitlock's column so much I'm just going to reprint the whole darn thing:

Burying the N-word a Big Event

Thanks again, Don Imus. And this time I really mean it.

Your ignorant attempt at humor in early April seems to have awakened us. You called a group of mostly black women’s college basketball players nappy-headed hos, setting off a national controversy and costing yourself a cushy talk-radio job.

But you also did much more. You inadvertently and undeniably made us examine what Ebony magazine labeled in its July issue a “culture of disrespect,” a destructive self-hatred that has been preventing us from taking advantage of the freedoms won by Dr. King and the civil-rights movement.

Thanks, Don Imus. History might remember you and your stale radio show fondly.

I know I will. You played a role in one of the most significant days in my life — Monday, July 9, 2007. That’s the day the NAACP held a mock funeral for the N-word at its national convention in Detroit. I was only there in spirit, but I was there nonetheless, a most enthusiastic supporter.

“Today we’re not just burying the N-word, we’re taking it out of our spirit,” Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick told “mourners” and media gathered at the funeral. “We gather burying all the things that go with the N-word. We have to bury the pimps and the hos that go with it.”

I’m done with the N-word. I’ve spoken it for the last time. I’ve rapped it for the last time. Spoken with an “er” or “a,” delivered by a black or white person, I’ll be offended every time I hear it. The word serves no useful purpose. It cannot be remade into a positive. It was invented to aid in our enslavement, kept around to prevent our advancement and distinguish us from the mainstream.

We have embraced our own use of it foolishly and recklessly, much like a long-living, lifetime smoker who believes all the other lung-cancer victims smoked the wrong brand of cigarette.
Only the ignorant will pray for the N-word’s resurrection. And only the ignorant will minimize the importance of the symbolic funeral. It was necessary. We needed the funeral to sound the alarm that we’re pushing for a new day, a new level of self-respect.

I’m very proud of the NAACP, an organization that has struggled financially and philosophically over the last decade. The NAACP, with its long, respected history, is the perfect institution to call for a heightened awareness and end to the destructive behaviors we visit upon ourselves.

“While we are happy to have sent a certain radio cowboy back to his ranch,” NAACP National Board Chairman Julian Bond told an audience at the 98th annual convention Sunday night, “we ought to hold ourselves to the same standard. If he can’t refer to our women as hos, then we shouldn’t either.”

This is basic common sense. Obviously, just because the NAACP says we shouldn’t use such words doesn’t mean that those words will be immediately eliminated by all black people from regular use. This is going to be a process. There has to be an intellectual awakening to the damage that is caused by maintaining a verbal “culture of disrespect.”

Monday was important because it put the conversation at the forefront. It helps make it possible for people to raise an objection when black people use the N-word. I know teachers and coaches — both black and white — have struggled with this dilemma for years. The N-word is tossed around nonchalantly by black athletes (and some white athletes) in mix-raced locker rooms. Visit just about any college or high school weight room and you’re likely to hear rap music blaring that uses the N-word, “bitch” and “ho” liberally.

Now you can object strongly, and you’re backed by the NAACP and every sane black person I know.

“We don’t believe it’s a violation of the First Amendment to say to somebody you ought not to talk that way, you ought not denigrate women, you ought not condemn people because of the color of their skin,” Bond told reporters on Sunday. “I heard somebody say that when Jay-Z talks about hos, he gets a gold record. When Don Imus talks about hos, he gets fired. We believe in equal justice and equal justice for everyone.”

Thank you, Don Imus. Thank you for being the idiot who made us confront our own foolishness.

Rock on, NAACP. I join Jason Whitlock in being through with the idea of "reclaiming" this reprehensible word and glorifying a culture of institutional misogynism. Julian Bond's quote says it all: "If [Imus] can’t refer to our women as hos, then we shouldn’t either."

Also, today is my birthday.

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  • At 7/15/2007 3:21 PM , Anonymous Mira said...

    Happy Birthday!!!

  • At 7/15/2007 4:16 PM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    First- Happy Birthday Andrew! Hope your performance this evening enhances your celebration.

    To the point of this posting: Thank God, it's about time. Nowhere else in our culture does any such damaging word have such a clear double standard for use. It's not uncommon for small groups of friends or colleagues to use denigrating terms within their inner circles to mildly tease one another: Gay people may refer to one another as "fag" or "mo", for example, but you would NEVER hear Melissa Etheridge or k.d. Lang use those terms in one of their songs. And that IS the huge gulf between "the n-word" and all other similar usages. The n-word is not simply used in the black community, it is literally CELEBRATED as something they can toss around with style and humor, a cache they (and ONLY they) may embrace - and should you violate that mandate, prepare to apologize ad nauseum before you go into rehab and endure countless pop culture indictments, from late night talk shows to "Saturday Night Live" and "The Family Guy".

    This word is meant to harm and oppress and belittle. It was frequently used in my own family, amongst grandparents and aunts and uncles, and my sibling and cousins and I made a deliberate, collective choice to allow that practice to die with their generation. Great progress has been made, but the work isn't finished - why muddy the waters? Let's all get on the same page on this issue. It's this kind of linguistic division, clearly bounded by color lines, that serves to reinforce REAL divisiveness among those of all colors who are not inclined to embrace racial diversity. It's easy enough to abandon this practice, and the time to do it is NOW.


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