Wednesday, September 17, 2008

White privilege and the N-word

Resolved: Whereas you can say the N-word, I cannot. I am fine with that.

For y'all following along at home, take a look at this link to read up on White Privilege and to arm yourself with some perspective on the issue.

Then watch the following episode of The View and try to hear why white people are in no position to lead the charge on getting past racial-divide bitterness. Listen especially closely to the last half where Whoopi Goldberg and Elisabeth Hasselbeck discuss the legitimacy of using the N-word (and try to ignore the "girl fight" aspect that many men instinctively turn off to...the point here is about race, not gender).

(Alt. link here)

In summary caricature: Post-racial Barbie insists on teleporting to the Promised Land already ("why won't you take yes for an answer?"), while Angry Black Woman demands first an admission of guilt before letting her move on ("you're not hearing me").

Here's the reality. White people do enjoy an advantage over black people in America. This is true whether either group wants to mention it, fight against it, or deny it. To be angry about this undeserved privilege, or to repurpose and arrogate to themselves the exclusive right to use a single sometime slur, is the right of black people. To acknowledge the undeservedness of this privilege (however unsought or undesired) is the duty of white people. Until this is agreed on, there can be no leaping to a post-racial utopia.

If you think it is unfair to be blamed for something you didn't cause, or to have one English word that you didn't even want to use put off limits to you but not to others, it is. But don't move this injustice to the top of your queue just yet. Those slots are already taken by far worthier indignities.

I'm sure I'm preaching to the choir. I just wanted to go on record. There has been far too much "get over it already" white indignation for my taste in the discussion over the role of race in the Presidential election, and there needs to be some push back. We now resume our regularly scheduled blogging...


H. Lewis Smith said...

More about the n word:

Unknown said...

h. lewis smith, thank you for the URLs. I took in both of them and will be ordering your book Bury That Sucka!: A Scandalous Love Affair with the N-word to educate myself further.

As I said, I as a non-black man don't feel I have standing to render an opinion on intramural use of the N-word. As a gay man, however, I do have a thing or two to say about the F-word.

Trajectory of the word "fag":

Gay men feel free to call each other "fag", but now almost never do. Its usage has changed over the years, though, progressing through roughly the following meanings:

0) People think you're gay. If I distance myself, maybe they will think I'm straight.
1) Stop acting so gay. You're an embarrassment to the cause.
2) Way to go, acting so gay. It's about time they see us.
3) Don't think you can excuse your flakiness or childish behavior with me by acting outrageous. That may work for straight people, but I'm not fooled.
4) It's so nice to be able to use that word without an inner sense of self-loathing. At last!
5) How dare you young Miss Thing twinkbot presume to understand how it was back when. You may think we're post-anti-gay, but you don't know what we went through. It could happen again anytime...
6) Hmm, Maybe it won't happen again. I guess maybe we are post-anti-gay, at least by the support for same-sex marriage in California. Why am I still using this word that I've fought against for so long?

Comparison with the N-word:

The N-word received a well-publicized burial, and lives on in an afterlife. The F-word fades away, unmarked and unlamented.

I suspect this may be because gays in American have realized a meteoric rise in the popular culture, starting from unmentionable status below blacks, to now nearly trendy yet able to enjoy the revolving door of our closet to tap into non-gay privilege when desired. This trajectory has completely taken me for one completely by surprise, and I have had to jettison my own internalized homophobia rather abruptly.

My hunch is this: to the extent that African Americans continue to use the N-word, it may reflect the simple belief that their struggle is not over. Gays see the light at the end of tunnel (or is it headlights about to run us over?). For the moment, we have individually and collectively decided to be optimistic.


I am not boycotting the word "fag". I think I have just outgrown it. I think maybe I will take yes for an answer after all.