Who Gets to Use the N-Word?

This guy can...

 

In the circles I travel with the N-word is used about as often in normal conversation as “antidisestablishmentarianism.” When the N-word does come out to play it is usually as a sudden epithet such as, “NIGGER, PLEASE!” You learn to pardon it like it was a particularly loud fart. That or we’re trying to throw lines from a Chris Rock routine or Blazing Saddles

Otherwise, I’m of the mind that it’s primarily youngsters saying it so casually. Partially because they don’t know any better and partially because they do know how much it ticks off older folks and what normal teenager doesn’t take sadistic pleasure in ticking off older folks as much as it is humanly possible to do? 

Some of them grow older and hopefully smarter and outgrow both the word and the need to tick off old folks. Some just grow older and stay dumb. They never learn how truly wretched a word it really is so they keep using it and the next thing you know they’re stuck talking like Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction for the rest of their lives. 

Speaking of which, the most stilted dialog in the whole movie is when talented director but talentless actor Quentin Tarantino starts dressing down Samuel Jackson with his wholly unconvincing “dead nigger storage” harangue. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I mean. It sounds totally artificial and not the least bit authentic. Normal White Folks say “nigger” but they don’t say it like that. At least I’ve never heard any of them ever say it that way before, after or since. 

...and these guys can...

 

Dr. Laura did not say the caller “Jade” was a nigger. She simply used a racial slur in a clumsy, spectacularly clueless and totally inelegant and inappropriate way. In retrospect she should have just farted. 

Still, even her moronic outburst is an opportunity for a “teachable moment.”  Why does it seem that a Black comedian can drop N-bombs without a care in the world, but let a White talk show host try the same thing and we’re fitting her for concrete sneakers.  

Here’s why. Comedians are by nature of their job description supposed to try and find the humor in anything even when it appears there’s nothing funny about it. A good comedian can take an eyebrow-arching word and make it funny. George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Mel Brooks, Redd Foxx, Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks, Margaret Cho, Lisa Lampanelli, Chris Rock can do it. A bad comedian throws out a “bad word” and it kind of just lies there like a soiled diaper. I’m looking at you Andrew Dice Clay, Katt Williams, Jackie Martling and especially YOU, Michael Richards. 

I believe Dr. Laura was referencing the long vanished from the airwaves Def Comedy Jam series when she talked about Black comedians saying, “nigger, nigger, nigger.” Her reference point was out-of-date by 13 years, but she was pretty much right. You could turn on Def Comedy Jam and hear comedians saying “nigger, nigger, nigger.” Pretty much because the majority of them were lousy comedians and a lot of lousy comedians swear when they can’t think of anything else. Like Richard Pryor said he tried to mix some jokes in with the cuss words. Too many comedians learned the second part of the formula and suck at the first part. 

...and so can these guys (though they do way too much)...

 

There’s no double-standard here. Ignorant people reach for ignorant words because it troubles them too much to find smarter ones. 

As a writer and I wouldn’t dream of telling another writer they can’t use the N-word, the C-word, the MF word or any other word simply because it offends me. There are times people need to be offended and a well-applied epithet, vulgarity or swear word utilized by the right person can have as deft a touch as surgeon’s scalpel and cut deeply without drawing blood. As far as it goes for a painter, poet, actor, author, singer or rapper, I won’t be the one to tell them “You can’t say that.” But when if you do be prepared to suffer the consequences. There are limits even to artistic license. For those who are not comedians or artists such as Dr. Laura they should step lightly lest they step on their own tongue. 

She didn’t. She stomped all over the joint in big honkin’ combat boots. And all she ended up doing was kicking her own tush. There’s probably a way she COULD have used the N-word without being a total arrogant, condescending rhymes-with-witch. 

Unfortunately, that would require the bad doctor being something more than a totally, arrogant, condescending rhymes-with-witch. Anyone who has the chutzpah to practice psychology without license and get it away with it this long doesn’t do humility. 

Does this mean Black people can say “nigger” and White people can’t? 

No. 

White people called Black people “nigger” a lot longer than Black people ever called each other “nigger.” There are still some die-hards on both sides who won’t let go. Blacks can still shock and offend Whites by using it casually and it’s always a hold card to be played by Whites when they really want to get raw with Blacks. There is no equivalent retort a Black person can throw back in retaliation. 

“Honky?”
“Cracker?”
“Whitey?”
“Ofay?”
“White devil?”
“Redneck”
“White trash?”
“White MF?”
“Dick Cheney?”
 

Nothing quite seems to measure up in comparison.  “Nigger” is still the go-to smear when you absolutely, positively want to hit us where it hurts.  

Which makes it something of a verbal hand grenade.   Anyone can handle it, but’s it’s best left to those who know how to use it in the proper circumstances. 

...but no N-word for you!

The Boondocks serves up a Tyler Perry smackdown.

  

Hey Aaron, you wouldn't hit a lady would you? Or a man pretending he's a lady?

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Aaron McGruder’s The Boondocks.  I loved The Boondocks as a newspaper comic strip and raised hell trying to get my local fish wrap to carry if.   I’ve found The Boondocks the cartoon on  The Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim to be occasionally funny and other times totally laugh-free.   A recent episode where thug wannabee Riley goes on a vandalism rampage with a psychotic classmate who arms himself with a gun wasn’t the least bit funny.   In its third (and last) season The Boondocks has been more miss than hit.  

But when it does hit, The Boondocks draws blood.  Last week’s episode where McGruder ripped into Tyler Perry for his crappy plays and movies was one such example.  It had me laughing for all the wrong reasons.  It was a crude and obvious shot at Perry as a down-low, predatory homosexual and Jesus-peddling hack.     For now you can still catch all 22 minutes of the frivolity online, but this link could go dead without notice, so hurry yo’ ass up.   

More details from the L.A. Times (yes, I do read a lot).  

In “Pause,” an episode written by McGruder and executive producer Rodney Barnes that aired Sunday, a thinly disguised version of Perry named Winston Jerome is positioned as a closeted, cross-dressing cult leader whose love of the Christian faith is a mask for his true sexuality. Though the character bears little physical or vocal resemblance to Perry, the reference is obvious to those familiar with Perry’s work. The dancing Ma Duke is a clear parody of Madea.
 
 
The Jerome character wears a pink sweater, is surrounded by bare-chested muscular men and constantly proclaims his love for Jesus even as he attempts to seduce Granddad (John Witherspoon), the guardian of the two boys, Huey and Riley Freeman, at the center of the series. The fame-hungry Granddad is trying out for a part in Jerome’s new play, “Ma Duke Finds Herself a Man.”
 
 
Near the end of the episode, Jerome bluntly asks Granddad for sex; the old man responds, “Do you mean to tell me that this whole cross-dressing Christian cult crap is just so you can sleep with men?” “Uh, pretty much, yeah,” says Jerome.
 
The episode marks one of the sharpest public criticisms of Perry. Huey Freeman calls the script for “Ma Duke” “terrible.” The Perry brand has also been blasted by some critics and entertainers such as Spike Lee, who say Perry’s projects perpetuate negative stereotypes, and present a narrow view of African American life.  McGruder and executives for Turner and Adult Swim declined to comment on the episode. Representatives for Perry did not return phone calls.   
 There are news reports Perry was so incensed by the episode he fired his entire writing staff.   Did McGruder have some inside information as to how things work on Team Perry?    Then again, considering how lousy  Perry’s TBS comedy House of Payne  is and amateurish his movies are,  maybe he probably should have fired his writers a long time ago.  

McGruder is probably safe from any threat of litigation from Perry as parody and satire of public figures is legally protected speech.  Like Michael Hastings won’t be receiving any Christmas cards from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, McGruder is probably feeling rather pleased that his put-down of Perry has obviously angered him.  Still, it’s pretty cold how Perry shit-canned a bunch of writers at this time in this crappy economy because he suspected one or more of them ratted him out.  

Perry has made himself  wealthy and powerful by taking some of the broadest oversimplifications about Black life and turning them into empty entertainment.   There’s no questioning his popularity and that millions of people enjoy his simplistic mortality tales.  Still, what’s wrong with faith-based messages of fidelity, family and honoring one’s commitment to their spouse and religion?    Perry’s greatest crime is shallowness and that makes him a prime target for McGruder’s less than tender mercies.  

While McGruder is on point taking Perry to task for overloading his films with Silly Negro foolishness, he’s equally guilty of falling back on it himself.  There’s not a show on television that tosses around “nigga” as casually as The Boondocks.     Having previously offended some viewers with Rosa Parks being bopped by a flying piece of chicken while protesting the R.Kelly trial, McGruder upped the ante by raising Martin Luther King, Jr. from the dead for laughs and to denounce Black folks as “a bunch of niggas.” That little lapse of bad taste would land The Boondocks on TIME’s  Top 10 Most Controversial cartoons    Al Sharpton  would later come calling to demand an apology from the cartoon’s producers.  McGruder would go on to incorporate the controversy into a later episode.  

What makes McGruder so good at what he does is he’s a first-class satirist and he doesn’t care if nobody else appreciates his sense of humor.  A satirist isn’t the same thing as being a comedian.  Comedians try to make people laugh.  Satirists try to make people think.  Sacred cows make the best hamburgers according to Mark Twain and like Twain; McGruder is butchering whatever trend, fad, or personality in his sights.  In the transition from three-panels on newsprint to 20 minutes of celluloid, The Boondocks lost much of its cutting political wit and all of its topicality.   Some of its rude humor still remains though sporadically.  

That doesn’t mean McGruder isn’t immune to pimping other discriminated groups for laughs.   Ma Duke/Winston Jerome serves up a smorgasbord of broadly exaggerated gay stereotypes.   Winston is swishy, effeminate and the embodiment of the predatory homosexual just waiting to pounce on some poor, unsuspecting straight man.   One musical interlude looks like a straight-up rip off (homage would be too benign of a descriptor) of The Rocky Horror Picture Show)   When it comes to forcibly outing closeted celebrities catering to the most offensive depictions of homosexuals  gives a tingle up the collective legs of McGruder and the suits at The Cartoon Network.   Just say no.  “No homo” that is.  

This is supposed to be the third and final season of The Boondocks.  Having given up the comic strip years ago McGruder hasn’t said what his next move will be.  I can’t imagine that a moderately successful cartoon would justify an animated film release, but if Marmaduke and The Smurfs can be turned into a film anything can.   Why not go all the way and make it a live-action movie with Jaden Smith as Huey Freeman?  Or is that too rude and edgy a character for any child of Will Smith to play?  

In the beef with Perry my sympathies are with McGruder.  I defend Perry’s right to make whatever kind of movies he wants to.  I also defend McGruder’s right to call them crap.  I only wish I felt a little  better about it.    That’s the problems with these cranky social commentators.  They do make themselves pretty hard to defend at times.