Thursday, January 24, 2008

Nas: A Role Model for Young Black Men

Newsweek had an article last week with Nas to discuss his latest album, the tastefully-titled "Nigger." Newsweek, penetrating periodical that it is, got to the heart of the matter:

Newsweek: Don't you think that giving your album that title gives other races more reason to use the word?
Nas: No. A white person should never use that word. It's insane to think that's OK, no matter how many times I say it or another black says it.

See, I have a problem with this...I was about to call it "logic," but I'm not sure the word can be appropriately applied in this case. It really boils my potato when black people assert (with such unmitigated impunity) that they should be allowed to say "nigger" and "nigga" when white people shouldn't. One black girl at my college even demanded that any white person who made such utterances be expelled, because America's about freedom. There are two aspects to said boiling of said potato.

The first is principle. When black people say they can say "nigger" and white people can't, they're defining acceptable behavior for a group of people based entirely on skin color. I'm pretty sure they have a word for that sort of thing. I think it's pronounced "racist?"

Granted, the loss of the word "nigger" from my vocabulary hardly constitutes a significant infringement on my daily behavior. Like I said, it's just the principle of the thing.

But there's actually a more serious issue at work in this debate, and this is my second issue. The "nigger" debate is indicative of the overall dynamic of the race debate in America, which is this: black people believe their opinion is the trump card. They think they should always get the last word. If a black person says "White people shouldn't do this because it offends me" we're expected to prostrate ourselves before them and apologize for ever doing something that might bother them. Which is fair, because black people clearly live their lives with the same concern.

I understand why black people think they should get the last word, and I don't think it's unreasonable. Racism affects them more than it affects me. But I become worried when you start letting the parameters of the debate be defined entirely by one side. At what point do you say, "No, stop, you're being ridiculous"? At what point do you say: "You know what? Some things in life you just have to move on and get over"?

I can think of at least two examples where black sensitivity went two far in my opinion:

1. When my mom worked at the DOJ someone put up a cartoon that said, "The beatings will continue until morale improves." One of the black employees demanded that the cartoon be taken down because it offended her. And why did it offend her? Because it made her think of slavery, obvi! Make a note, children: anything that may make a black person think of slavery is not permissible material.

2. On The Real World: Chicago Theo, the token black dude, complained that one of his house-mates' ghost stories made reference to a character being hung by a noose. The noose, for him, was synonymous with lynchings. Did it matter that people were being hung by the neck centuries before Jim Crow came around? Did it matter that if you took all the white people who had been hung, and all the black people who had been hung, and put them all together, you'd get way more salt than pepper? No. He was offended, and he was black, and that was all she friggin' wrote.

I think white America needs to stop being victim to its own indifference and/or guilt and start admitting that sometimes black people are just being ridiculous. In the end, racial honesty is probably the only way real progress is going to be made.

The racial debate is supposed to be about right and wrong; it isn't supposed to be about black people's feelings.


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