Humor, Rhetoric, And Power

Lots of discussion in blogtopia recently concerning humor. Left-wing bloggers seem split on whether the New Yorker Obama fist-bump afro black-power muslim flag-burning cover is delicious satire of delusional far-right-wing wackaloon assholes versus dangerous fodder for delusional far-right-wing wackaloon assholes. There have also been differing views on whether it is appropriate for white folks to use “nigger”, either humorously or as a rhetorical device.

White versus black use of “nigger” has even been discussed in the vacuous mainstream shitbag media on a show called The View. Apparently, one of the hosts of the show–a wealthy white right-wing asshole–started crying about how she can’t understand how black folks can call each other “nigger”.

Why is it different for Jesse Jackson to call Barack Obama “nigger” than it is for a white comic to call a black audience member “nigger”? It’s actually very simple: There is a huge difference between humor or other rhetorical devices when deployed by the privileged to reinforce their privilege and when deployed by the less-privileged to prick the privileged.

CORRECTION: Commenter Teresita points out the Jackson did not call Obama “nigger”. Rather, he apparently took issue with Obama telling “niggers” what to do.

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76 Responses

  1. Raging Moderate
    Raging Moderate July 20, 2008 at 9:55 am |

    How does Jackson calling Obama a nigger prick the privileged?

  2. Holly
    Holly July 20, 2008 at 9:59 am |

    Didn’t this whole “wait a second, how come I can’t use that word if you can” schtick get played out like five years ago? I mean, how many stand-up comics have to do bits about it, how many dorky editorials have to be penned, before everyone is clear on the concept? Of course, I don’t think it’s that most people don’t get it. At this point they do — they just don’t like black folks being allowed to do something that they can’t.

  3. Peter
    Peter July 20, 2008 at 10:34 am |

    Note to white people: stop being such little whiny crybabies. I don’t care if african-americans, jews, or homosexuals are allowed to use words that I’m not. The context and motivations for how they use it are entirely different from how white people used it for 300 years. I understand that the word “Chicano” used to be a slur on hispanic people, until the hispanic community of their own accord took back that word and destigmatized it. Stop crying white people. You’d be able to use the N word too if it hadn’t been associated white people stringing up a black person in a tree for several centuries.

  4. Posted At Feministe: Humor, Rhetoric, And Power « PhysioProf

    [...] 20, 2008 Snippet of this post: Lots of discussion in blogtopia recently concerning humor. Left-wing bloggers seem split on [...]

  5. Lauren
    Lauren July 20, 2008 at 11:05 am |

    I like Ta-Nehisi Coates’ explanation because it’s the most common-sense explanation that I think racist dumbasses might comprehend:

    “I don’t get white people who have a hard time with this–you call your mother “Mom,” I call her Ms. Phillips–same deal here. Nigger means one thing when used amongst a group of people with similar experiences, and something else when used by people outside of that experience.”

    You call her Mom, I call her Ms. Phillips. Awesome.

  6. Lottie
    Lottie July 20, 2008 at 11:29 am |

    Exacly! Context and intent…

  7. Teresita
    Teresita July 20, 2008 at 11:29 am |

    Why is it different for Jesse Jackson to call Barack Obama “nigger” than it is for a white comic to call a black audience member “nigger”?

    Jackson didn’t call Obama a nigger, but he takes issue with Obama “telling n-words what to do”. Jackson betrays a resentment that Obama is getting so far in US politics without hanging out with self-appointed priveleged gatekeepers Jackson and Sharpton and paying his due, which “pricks the priveleged”.

  8. Renee
    Renee July 20, 2008 at 11:32 am |

    Just stop it! Look it does not matter who uses that word it is offensive. it is a hate word period. When someone of color uses it, it is clear that they have internalized racism. You cannot re claim something that was never yours to begin with.

  9. Yuri K.
    Yuri K. July 20, 2008 at 11:36 am |

    I forget who said this first, because I’d like to attribute it, but I really like the line “How come white people always complain that they can’t call black people “nigger,” but never that they can’t call black people “brother?”

  10. Peter
    Peter July 20, 2008 at 12:19 pm |

    Just stop it! Look it does not matter who uses that word it is offensive. it is a hate word period. When someone of color uses it, it is clear that they have internalized racism. You cannot re claim something that was never yours to begin with.

    I know what you’re saying, but I don’t think its up to me to decide what words the black community can use. I realize there’s two sides to this, but I think its up to the black community to decide if there is an appropriate context in using that word. I will defer to them to sort it out. As for me, I think the word is of course hateful and offensive, given the context in which it was used by white people for two centuries.

    That’s just M.O. Likewise, I don’t think I can tell homosexuals whether or not to use the word queer, and and I don’t think I can tell women, latinos, or jews whether or not they are allowed to used certain words in reference to each other.

  11. Lottie
    Lottie July 20, 2008 at 12:27 pm |

    This might be considered off-topic, but I have a serious question that I think is at least slightly relevant. And I’m not trying to be an ass here, I just honestly have a hard time keeping up with the ever-changing PC rules.

    Is “black” no longer acceptable, in PC terms?

  12. Peter
    Peter July 20, 2008 at 12:40 pm |

    Is “black” no longer acceptable, in PC terms?

    No, I don’t think people should be paranoid about “black” versus “african american”. I don’t think its a big deal. I’ve had several girlfriends who were women of color, and they actually preferred the word “black”. They hardly ever used the term african-american. I don’t think either term is offensive, they are interchangeable.

  13. grannies child
    grannies child July 20, 2008 at 12:53 pm |

    My family is “mixed”.
    Our family rule, given to us by our elders, is to not use the word, regardless of your skin tone- period. Ya’ hear?
    It is derogatory and offensive.
    Now, I know for a fact that my son and spirit son (like a god son to Christian’s, but, not Christian) listen to Ludacris and other Rap artists who use the word constantly. Still, it is not OK for them to use it. They were raised differently. They were not raised with more money or even in better neighborhoods, they are not white, it was a rule from within our family.

    People use derogatory remarks in describing themselves and each other, in jest and to seriously offend.
    it’s a free speech choice that borders on slander and hate crimes at times.

    Really, it can boil down to this simple statement,
    Do unto others ya’ll.
    And the women no one here cares for from the view, be careful in how you describe people you don’t like. It says more about you than them.

    That comedian showed his self, not those he was calling names.
    Jesse Jackson showed how much work he has to do from within, to walk his talk, more than he said about the people he felt Obama was addressing.

  14. brklyngrl
    brklyngrl July 20, 2008 at 12:56 pm |

    Is this really so hard to understand? I have my doubts. Putting all that stuff about who’s in a position of privilege aside (although I agree with it all, for the record), this really follows one of the most basic rules of human social interaction:

    I can say bad things about my family, because they’re my family. But you better not.

  15. Sarah J
    Sarah J July 20, 2008 at 12:56 pm |

    How about those of us who just thought the New Yorker cover failed at whatever it was trying to do?

  16. Manju
    Manju July 20, 2008 at 1:32 pm |

    “delicious satire of delusional far-right-wing wackaloon assholes versus dangerous fodder for delusional far-right-wing wackaloon assholes.”

    If National Review attempted this satire, there would be no argument as to whether this was offensive. But there in-lies the problem for th New Yorker. Who are the satiring? Themselves?

    The racist and xenophobic smearing of Obama is primarily, though not exclusively, a liberal/democratic phenomena, especially if one focuses on prominent people as opposed to anonymous blog commentators.

    John McCain did not infer Obama was Muslim, Hiillary Clinton did on 60 minutes. Bush and Cheney did not try to label Obama a radical black reverse-racist, Gerry Ferraro and Bill Clinton did by falsely accusing him of playing the race card on them.

    McCain staffers did not spread the madrassa smear, Clinton staffers got fired for it in Iowa. McCain did not send a picture to Drudge of Obama in a Somalian dress, Clinton staffers did, not to mention Stephanie Tubbs Jones refering to Somalia as his “native” country.

    It was bob kerrey who spread the madrassa rumor while endorsing Clinton, not a McCain supporter. Her NH co-chair, Billy Shaheen, accused Obama of being a drug-dealer.

    Of course, Billy said the republicans would call Obama a drug dealer. There in lies the double-smear, introduce a racially-coded smear into the body politic to get Obama, but maintain plausible denial by blaming republicans. Even Foxnews’ “terrorist fist jab” did not originate with Fox News, but from Slate mag who falsely attributed it to right winger Cal Thomas, as they now admit; and from there the rumor spread, mostly via left-wing publications.

    And of course the vile democrat Larry Johnson of No Quarter started the racially divisive “whitey” rumor by claiming rove and the republicans have the tape, as a way of scaring super-dels right b/f they were about to hand the nom to obama.

    It was a double smear, as is the NYorker cover. I have no problem with satire, but the New Yorker is a problematic platform for this particular one.

  17. Renee
    Renee July 20, 2008 at 1:50 pm |

    @ Lottie Is “black” no longer acceptable, in PC terms?

    I would suggest you ask as it is different for every individual. I hate to be called African Canadian and always ask to be referred to as black if it is absolutely necessary to talk about race. I feel the whole African addition minimizes the fact that I am a Canadian. Here there is the idea that every black person is a recent immigrant despite the fact that blacks have been in this country for generations. I was born here and the maple leaf and good British Columbia pot and mushrooms belong just as much to me as any other Canadian. Though I know that there are differences in American and Cannuck culture I still believe that it is always best not to assume and just ask people what they prefer.

  18. crow
    crow July 20, 2008 at 1:59 pm |

    I never understood why people make such a big deal out of satire. Satire is intended to make the situation look stupid.

  19. Renee
    Renee July 20, 2008 at 2:07 pm |

    @crow the new york times was a failed satire…instead of making people look stupid all it did was reinforce racist ideals.

  20. crow
    crow July 20, 2008 at 2:18 pm |

    Renee: How did it enforce racist ideals? My impression is that it forced conservatives to admit that there are things that are wrong with the anti-Obama campaign.

    Anyone dumb enough to not understand the joke, is not the kind of person who would have considered voting for Obama anyway. So, I don’t see how anything was really lost.

  21. Cecily
    Cecily July 20, 2008 at 2:21 pm |

    I have never watched _The View_ but every clip I’ve ever seen has featured that Elizabeth Hasslewhatsy being totally ignorant, yet sure of herself, and eventually collapsing into tears because others disagree. Admittedly, that’s only two clips, but it makes it hard to understand what she could possibly add to any form of dialogue.

    I thought Stuff White People Do’s article on it was fairly apt. It’s a really squalid example of white privilege for a rich white lady to make a discussion of the n-word all about her pain.

  22. Renee
    Renee July 20, 2008 at 2:38 pm |

    @ cecily I had a completely different take on that clip. First off we are going to talk about racism that means that whites need to learn to listen to blacks but blacks also need time to listen what whites have to say. Conversation is a two way street and implies that both sides need to listen critically and respond to each others argument. I cannot stand Elizabeth but this time she is right, that word needs to go. Whoopies continual dropping of it was offensive and ignorant, furthermore it is presumptuous of her to believe that she can legitimize that word on behalf of all black people.

    @Crow The only thing that makes it clear that it is satire is the fact that it was published in the New Yorker. If you were to stand that image on its own would you still have the same feeling about it? It will be separated from the magazine and serve as confirmation for all of the racist constructions that surround the bodies of the Obama. Have you even specifically looked at the way Michelle was constructed. There were layers of meaning in the Afro alone. It is to remind people that they are black and what blackness entails. Finally if a black person tells you that they feel something is racist unless you yourself are a person of color this you do not get to decide. It is like saying that men get to decide what is sexist. Coming from a position of privilege you are going to have a different point of view.

  23. ilyka
    ilyka July 20, 2008 at 2:48 pm |

    Renee: How did it enforce racist ideals? My impression is that it forced conservatives to admit that there are things that are wrong with the anti-Obama campaign.

    Which conservatives did that? I haven’t seen any such reaction from them. Here’s Andrew McCarthy in NRO’s The Corner:

    The reaction of the Obama campaign to that New Yorker cover was revealing both in its humorlessness and in the willingness to make an issue out of something that was obviously designed (as Senator Obama clearly understood) to satirize some of the wilder stories that his opponents have been circulating about him. Now we have this nonsense:

    CHICAGO (AP) – Democrat Barack Obama said Tuesday that the New Yorker magazine’s satirical cover depicting him and his wife as flag-burning, fist-bumping radicals doesn’t bother him but that it was an insult to Muslim Americans. “You know, there are wonderful Muslim Americans all across the country who are doing wonderful things,” the presidential candidate told CNN’s Larry King. “And for this to be used as sort of an insult, or to raise suspicions about me, I think is unfortunate. And it’s not what America’s all about. “

    It’s going to be a long, long, eight years if this man becomes president.

    Side note: Isn’t it positively delightful, though, that McCarthy’s convinced that an Obama presidency would go two terms? No, I’m being earnest: I LOVE to see these guys crying in their beer already like this.

    But moving on–here’s “Best of the Web” douchebag James Taranto:

    Speaking of humor, Barack Obama’s supporters are showing a distinct lack of it in response to The New Yorker’s cover, featuring a cartoon that depicts a turban-clad Obama fist-bumping his wife, Michelle, who wears an afro, cammies and a machine gun, making her look like a 1960s black-power radical. The pair appear to be in the Oval Office, where an American flag burns in the fireplace and a portrait of Osama bin Laden hangs on the wall. It’s a wicked satire of Obama’s Islamophobia.

    See that part I bolded? Do you see what he did there? Clever little bastard, isn’t he? Now if only liberals who keep insisting that the New Yorker cover was Teh Awesome Made Print would apply even half as much thought to their arguments, we’d be getting somewhere. Fucking sad.

    Finally, erstwhile bacon- and Play-Doh-phobe Ace of Spades:

    Jon Stewart’s Take on the New Yorker Cover: John Stewart is at the top of his game here, and by “the top of his game,” I mean very so-so almost-funny and lecturing. He does make a decent point about the media’s stupidity in falling for non-stories that are easy to report and easy to have an opinion about, and yet…

    He of course misses an angle. Yes, the media is reporting on the New Yorker cover because it’s an easy story to report on and hype up and so forth. But they’re also going overboard because they — like Jon Stewart’s writers — are hopelessly in the tank for Obama. They feel it is akin to a religious duty to make certain that everyone in the country knows this was a satire, and (in their estimation), a wildly off-base one, and no one anywhere should think Obama had a Muslim upbringing, or that his wife is a radical, or that he is, objectively, a terrorist sympathizer. Thus the wildly out-of-proportion denunciations from the so-called neutral and objective media.

    Is it sinking in yet?–Conservatives were not hurt by that cover. Not one bit. They aren’t defensive about their positions in the slightest. Hell, Ace is only too happy to be given the opportunity to restate them, “objectively.”

    When are people going to figure out that just because some people who vote Republican are stupid doesn’t mean Republican pundits and strategists are stupid?–They’ve been kicking Democrat asses for YEARS now. They’ve consistently pushed the bounds of acceptable discourse to favor their hate-filled talking points and for the most part they’ve succeeded at that more often than they have failed. LEARN FROM THIS before you lecture me or anyone else who hated that cover that we’re just too stupid to understaaaaand.

  24. Sarah in Chicago
    Sarah in Chicago July 20, 2008 at 2:56 pm |

    Really, it’s not my place to tell the African-American community what they can or can’t do. I’m white, so therefore, in my privilege, it’s REALLY not my place to tell an oppressed group what they should say. The word regardless, such an act would be racist.

    Now, does that mean I can’t have an opinion? Of course not, and I do think the english language would be better if that word simply did not exist through use by anyone.

    Now, I’m also lesbian, and I feel honestly, that straight people really should watch out on the use of queer. Unless you really know the people around you and that they will understand the context in which you’re using the word as a straight person, don’t use it. Like the n-word, it’s a word that was applied to us to dehumanise us and justify violence against us in whatever form, and its a word that we’ve taken on to take away it’s power to hurt us.

    Now, honestly, I think the n-word is too far gone for that. However, as a white person, I have to know that on this point, my opinion isn’t worth shit.

    All privileged peoples need to realise that because they’re/we’re privileged, there are certain spaces/words/etc that not only are off-limits to us/them, but they should be off-limits to us/them. It’s one thing to acknowledge that minority groups are oppressed, it’s not enough, and one must realise that that oppression means we/them are privileged, since you cannot have one without the other. And just like oppressed groups realise that there are some places/words/etc that they need to avoid for safety’s sake, privileged groups need to realise that our/their position constrains certain options too.

  25. Renee
    Renee July 20, 2008 at 3:12 pm |

    @Sarah I respectfully disagree and that is coming from a WOC. It depends on the tone of the conversation, really. Do people always realize when they are engaging in behavior that is not healthy or good for them? How are they to know this if someone does not point out the fallacy. When a POC makes the word nigger a part of their everyday language they are internalizing racial hatred and as a committed anti-racist it is our responsibility not only to point it out but to keep pointing it out. I fully support anyone speaking out about how horrible this word is and the legacy of hate that comes with it. I understand that you are negotiating a privilege in this conversation but that does not mean that you should not speak up!

  26. Sarah in Chicago
    Sarah in Chicago July 20, 2008 at 3:21 pm |

    I understand that you are negotiating a privilege in this conversation but that does not mean that you should not speak up!

    No, sorry Renee, I respectfully disagree. While I certainly think whites have their place in talking about race issues (confronting other whites on racism being a biggie) I really think it’s too dangerous for whites to think that we can tell an oppressed group what they can or can’t say in regards to race.

    Because our voices are privileged other those of the minority group, the safe and more constructive route is to simply realise that we should leave well enough alone, because we will come to dominate the conversation; as has happened with Hassleback’s comments (good grief, but that woman is stupid, she’s failed on just about every social issue out there).

    Now, IF African-Americans ask for our opinions, then sure, I’d say give them. But unsolicited? Nope, sorry Renee, I disagree with you on this one.

    Though, of course, I do support your position on the word itself *smile*. While I understand the arguments made by some African-Americans for its continued use within the community, as I said above, I think it’s just too far gone to be redeemed.

  27. Renee
    Renee July 20, 2008 at 3:38 pm |

    @Sarah so then are you saying that there are some conversations that whites and blacks should not have because of the imbalance of power and historical privilege?

  28. Sarah in Chicago
    Sarah in Chicago July 20, 2008 at 3:53 pm |

    @ Renee

    No, that’s not what I am arguing, and that’s not what I wrote.

    I said, certainly, that whites should offer our opinions if asked to by African-Americans, but the presumption that we should have a say, is an expression of privilege, and so we should wait and keep our big privileged mouths shut unless that invitation comes, lest that privilege mean our voices are dictating to others, not privileged others, what they should or should not do.

    It’s not denying the conversation, it’s acknowledging the power imbalances in the conversation and putting up practices to compensate for such.

  29. Renee
    Renee July 20, 2008 at 4:05 pm |

    @Sarah but the presumption that we should have a say, is an expression of privilege,g
    That certainly depends on what your understanding of an open conversation entails really. I understand why you would be hesitant with the privilege issue but we all need to start taking and listening. I believe that if the conversation starts with certain acknowledgments it can be conducive to a larger critique of the system of imbalance itself. It should not a question of who has the right to speak in what spheres as that sort of thinking just leads to another hierarchical creation. Approach has a lot to do with how an issue is responded to.

  30. shah8
    shah8 July 20, 2008 at 4:11 pm |

    Well, Sarah *did* get to choose whether or not to engage.

    That’s the stupid thing about the whole “don’t lecture” mentality. Most of the time, it’s completely about preserving the self-world-imagery/system rather than avoiding offense. Most people are going to be tolerant to respectful engagement. Getting into fights with people who want a fight is just part of the process, and it shouldn’t cause you to withdraw from contact from all others.

    It’s okay to be disengaged, if you like. Just don’t cover it up with false pretenses (not that I’m accusing anyone of anything). But listening invites participation and change, sometimes far from the familiar. It’s worth it though.

  31. Sarah in Chicago
    Sarah in Chicago July 20, 2008 at 4:20 pm |

    It should not a question of who has the right to speak in what spheres as that sort of thinking just leads to another hierarchical creation.

    *shrug* I disagree on this one … now, for the sake of being up-front, I’m a sociologist, so my view of things is one where I am always conscious of the structural factors in any situation as well as the ones of individual agency. Remember, we’re not discussing here whether or not the n-word should be used by whites (I think we all agree that whites should shut the hell up on that one), but debating whether or not whites should have a say on its use by African-Americans. And on that point, I remain on the position that, unless asked, our structural position requires that we shut our mothers.

    Hassleback was telling Goldberg what blacks should or should not say; typical white conservative privilege in my book.

    Oh, and shah8, I’m not addressing you, so please don’t address me, even in the third person. I’ve told you this in the past, and one would think you’d have the basic decency to respect such. But no, you don’t, and I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised, given your past behaviour.

  32. Sarah in Chicago
    Sarah in Chicago July 20, 2008 at 4:21 pm |

    oops, that should be “shut out mouths” NOT “shut our mothers” … I have no idea how ‘mothers’ got in there.

  33. Renee
    Renee July 20, 2008 at 4:49 pm |

    @Sarah we have the same background. On more than one occasion I acknowledged the issue of privilege and I am more than aware of the power dynamics that are in play. If we accept the idea that there is always power then even when asked as you suggest that a white person speaks on the word nigger it will still come from a position of privilege and power. If you cannot escape power the only other option is not speak of it period which is counter to anti-racist needs.

  34. Sarah in Chicago
    Sarah in Chicago July 20, 2008 at 4:55 pm |

    @ Renne

    But I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t speak of it ever, just negotiate where is appropriate, and where is not. And I also honestly think we cannot escape power relations, one just needs to do what one can to mitigate and negotiate such in whichever context.

    I don’t think there is any place where race is salient that whites won’t have privilege. Hence the question becomes about acknowledging and working to deconstruct the privilege, not try to act as though the privilege does not exist.

  35. Cedar
    Cedar July 20, 2008 at 4:59 pm |

    “I feel the whole African addition minimizes the fact that I am a Canadian. Here there is the idea that every black person is a recent immigrant despite the fact that blacks have been in this country for generations.”

    ding! thanks Renee – those are the words i have been trying to find for ages now. i’d been saying “qualifies” (i.e. not a “real” American, an *African* American), but the minimisation is a key component as well.

    i’ve always appreciated Julian Curry’s position on the use of the “n word” – video here (prolly NSFW).

  36. Adele
    Adele July 20, 2008 at 5:01 pm |

    I kind of hate it when people diss The View</i. Is it a trainwreck? Yes. But name one other show on television where women discuss politics.

  37. Sarah in Chicago
    Sarah in Chicago July 20, 2008 at 5:01 pm |

    oops, sorry Renee, I misspelled you name above; apologies. My only excuse is that in the cafe where I am working they have the aircon set on ‘flashfreeze’ (one of the staff just came out and turned on the fireplace … for which we all looked around at each other, wondering if that’s the best thing to do, given it’s around 90 degrees outside).

  38. shah8
    shah8 July 20, 2008 at 5:06 pm |

    The essential flaw of the reasoning is that is that all negotiations start with an opening offer. The flow of your reasoning is highly suggestive that you will never make that opening offer. If someone says “Hey Nigga!” to someone else in front of you, you would not make it known that you were uncomfortable with the use of that language? I mean, that IS the context that a “negotiation” would start, wouldn’t it?

  39. Renee
    Renee July 20, 2008 at 5:07 pm |

    @Sarah one just needs to do what one can to mitigate and negotiate such in whichever context.

    In this we are into agreement. I am not suggesting that a white person walk into a black community and proselytize to blacks on the N word. I am suggesting that spaces need to be created for these sorts of discussions to happen. However speaking on this subject must come with an acknowledgment of racial privilege. I am a big believer in conversations. Discourse is alive and ever changing therefore the more we articulate from a certain position the more likely we are to make this positions a social reality.

  40. Renee
    Renee July 20, 2008 at 5:08 pm |

    @Shah8 that is the point exactly.

  41. Sarah in Chicago
    Sarah in Chicago July 20, 2008 at 5:12 pm |

    However speaking on this subject must come with an acknowledgment of racial privilege. I am a big believer in conversations. Discourse is alive and ever changing therefore the more we articulate from a certain position the more likely we are to make this positions a social reality.

    Very well put Renee. I am in complete agreement with this.

  42. Sarah in Chicago
    Sarah in Chicago July 20, 2008 at 5:18 pm |

    Oh, goodness, at this rate, I’m going to give up, the mistakes with my typing are atrocious, because I wanted to say, I’m in partial agreement, rather than complete. Oiy.

    I think those positions ALREADY HAVE a social reality, and in not acknowledging that and hence locating oneself in speaking from those positions, we reify their existence. That’s the nature of structural locations. It’s only in recognising and speaking from our locations, that they become place of a start towards deconstructing them.

  43. Renee
    Renee July 20, 2008 at 5:40 pm |

    @ Sarah “I think those positions ALREADY HAVE a social reality”

    I will concede that have a social reality as that must be the case to be articulated in the first place. I would however point out that such existence is not nearly a hegemonic position, therefore to change our positioning vis a vis the larger social worlds understanding it is necessary to repeatedly speak from a certain point of view. Even if it occurs on a micro level wherein the engagement involves one person because of the nature of human interaction overtime the idea will spread and germinate. It is therefore a disservice to our political positions to sit in silence when given the opportunity to make a positive change.

  44. shah8
    shah8 July 20, 2008 at 5:51 pm |

    Personally, though, I’m pretty cool with black people using nigger (and various derivations) to refer to each other when it’s said without prejudice. Plenty of people other than whites most certainly use that word to denigrate black people, though. Sometimes it’s used like “white trash” by upper class and/or light skinned blacks. Other times, it’s used by africans and other ethnic minorities to remind american blacks of their one time station.

    However, I think that for people who use that term affectionately, it’s about the little daily reminders of bitter memories, and about the sharing of the burdens of being black by that bitterness. Of course, there is a double burden in that it’s still an extant slur, and quite easy to make it poisonous. There is a reason why Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle stopped using niggers so much in their routines. It works quite well in front of black people, and says plenty of things that have the sense of truth, such as this classic routine http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kpUSElgJcyI. It just doesn’t work well in a mixed audience, because so many white, with overt or unexamined racism would take an entirely different notion, just as what we’ve seen with the New Yorker cover, not that it would have been funny or provocative in an all black audience either.

    I still disagree with Renee, though. The affectionate use is about the hatred and bitterness already within us, and nigger is about containing and expelling that hatred just as much as it is about promoting hatred and low self-worth.

    Not that I’d call anyone nigger. They have names. I can use that.

  45. Sarah in Chicago
    Sarah in Chicago July 20, 2008 at 5:56 pm |

    I would however point out that such existence is not nearly a hegemonic position, therefore to change our positioning vis a vis the larger social worlds understanding it is necessary to repeatedly speak from a certain point of view.

    I don’t understand your reasoning here Renee, as while I certainly agree with everything after the ‘therefore’, I would argue that it is such because those social positionings are hegemonic and pervasive.

    It is therefore a disservice to our political positions to sit in silence when given the opportunity to make a positive change.

    *sigh* As I have repeatedly said, this is NOT what I am saying, nor writing. I am just saying we need to recognise as whites where speaking up is appropriate and where it is not, due to our privileges, which pervade all discussions on race. I do wish you would stop repeating this as though it is something I have said.

  46. Sarah in Chicago
    Sarah in Chicago July 20, 2008 at 6:06 pm |

    Sarah, is this what you are saying?

    Yep, pretty much PP.

  47. ilyka
    ilyka July 20, 2008 at 6:29 pm |

    I am just saying we need to recognise as whites where speaking up is appropriate and where it is not, due to our privileges, which pervade all discussions on race.

    Recognize? Or decide?

    What I see happening is Renee saying that this determination can’t always be made the exact same way with the exact same result in every situation, because situations vary and context, tone, and approach all matter.

    Meanwhile, you keep coming back at her with, “No, no, there’s no denying my privilege. O! heavy burden, this privilege that I bear.” And I agree with you that there’s no denying it, but I also don’t see that Renee is asking you to deny your privilege so much as she’s asking you to yield it once in awhile. Or at least that’s what I got out of this:

    I would however point out that such existence is not nearly a hegemonic position, therefore to change our positioning vis a vis the larger social worlds understanding it is necessary to repeatedly speak from a certain point of view.

    But I trust here that if I’ve misunderstood, Renee will correct me.

    Well, one way to yield your privilege would be to accept that part of white privilege is believing that white people are the final arbiters of what’s appropriate in a discussion, even when we’re in discussions with POC. Once aware that, hey yeah, we whites do this sometimes, a lot in fact, we could then work on NOT doing it–on shoving ourselves out of the center and letting someone else decide what’s okay and what isn’t.

  48. QLH
    QLH July 20, 2008 at 7:00 pm |

    “Is “black” no longer acceptable, in PC terms?”

    It’s actually preferred, in the USA.

    http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0762158.html

  49. Renee
    Renee July 20, 2008 at 7:04 pm |

    To speak plainly…It is not appropriate to say that because my body is encoded with a certain social meaning that you cannot or should not operate withing a specific sphere. Therefore depending upon the context if you truly believe that something is racist it would behoove you to speak against it regardless of the audience. This does not have to be an accusatory conversation or even come from a place wherein it is presented as a silencing tactic or an order. If one is capable of acknowledging that the body is not free of discursive elements the conversation can and should be had.
    I don’t believe in waiting for permission to speak, as this reinforces a sense of hierarchy to a conversation. If we understand that white bodies are raced then it is acceptable for them to enter a racial conversation. To say that race is the preserve solely of bodies of color re-enforces the racism that we are working against. It is the same thing as saying reverse racism.

  50. ilyka
    ilyka July 20, 2008 at 7:38 pm |

    If we understand that white bodies are raced then it is acceptable for them to enter a racial conversation. To say that race is the preserve solely of bodies of color re-enforces the racism that we are working against.

    I never thought about it that way, and I’m pretty embarrassed to realize that, because I think the reason I never thought about it that way is because I’m still unaccustomed to thinking of myself as having a race.

    But that makes total sense. Thanks, Renee.

  51. Raging Moderate
    Raging Moderate July 20, 2008 at 7:40 pm |

    Ok then, how does Jackson saying he doesn’t like “Obama talking down to niggers” prick the priviliged, PP?

    Peter: “Note to white people: stop being such little whiny crybabies.”

    Are the NAACP whiny crybabies, too? How about Renee? Or is it only the whites who agree with them who are the whiners?

  52. Renee
    Renee July 20, 2008 at 8:34 pm |

    Are you calling me a whiny cry baby? Or is there an actual question in there that I missed?

  53. Peter
    Peter July 20, 2008 at 9:16 pm |

    Are the NAACP whiny crybabies, too? How about Renee?

    You obviously didn’t read my post.

    I said that the debate about the use of the N word in the african american community is best left to them, IMO. Last I checked, the NAACP is a black organization, ergo they aren’t whining.

    I see a lot of faux outrage from Republicans, Rush Limbaugh fans, and NeoCons about whenever a black person uses the N word. Those are whiny crybaby white people.

    I don’t even know Renee. Why are you asking me about her? But, she obviously has a valid perspective from her life experience. I understand there are two sides to the debate over the use of that word in the black community. I neither have the knowledge or the life experience to be able to lecture them on how or if that word is ever appropriate within the black community.

  54. Renee
    Renee July 20, 2008 at 9:25 pm |

    @Peter They hardly ever used the term african-american. I don’t think either term is offensive, they are interchangeable.

    That is not the case…some will find either term offensive and that is why it is better to err on the side of caution and ask how someone wants to be addressed.

  55. Peter
    Peter July 20, 2008 at 9:33 pm |

    That is not the case…some will find either term offensive and that is why it is better to err on the side of caution and ask how someone wants to be addressed.

    I don’t disagree. I’ve had several girlfriends of color, and was always cognizant of asking them how to refer to people of color. Most of them didn’t like the word “african american” – they preferred black. They kinda thought “african american” was sorta stupid.

    I was just saying that, broadly speaking, as a matter of basic lexicon, I’ve don’t think either black or african american are considered inflammatory.

  56. The WAAH of the black
    The WAAH of the black July 21, 2008 at 6:44 am |

    It is amusing to see (apparently) black posters write about “whiny” white people without the writer seeming to appreciate the irony: if there was ever a group MORE WHINY than American blacks, I don’t think I’d like to run into it.

    Has there ever been a week go by where blacks are not mewling about this, that or the other thing being ‘racist?’ When their professional whiners — Jackson, Sharpton et al — are not wringing their hands and calling for some new, special privilege for blacks? When one of their well-funded ethnic whining groups isn’t bemoaning some little slight?

    Uh-oh, black people: I think someone found a potato chip that almost looks like a noose, if you squint your eyes just right. Never mind that blacks kill more whites each year than the number of blacks that were lynched: you better get yourselves worked up into a SERIOUS fit of whining.

    The whiny whites I see are the ones who buy into the virulently racist bullshit about there being such a thing as “white privilege.”

    Imus = fired over “nappy.”
    Jackson = hey, he’s allowed to say “nigger.”

  57. rhonda c.
    rhonda c. July 21, 2008 at 10:39 am |

    1) Did the author consider using the n-word 7 times in a post that’s less than 200 words might be a bit gratuitous? It seems to me that, if only for the sake of flow and changing it up a little, you wouldn’t use ANY one word so much in such a short post. Seriously, what was the point? If you were trying to over-utilize the word on purpose, any good reason is lost on me.

    2) It is amazing to see the level of effort some white folks will put into justifying saying and doing as they please, whenever they please, however they please. I’m straight, others are gay. I have NO INTEREST in using derogatory terms for gay and lesbian people in casual conversation. Perhaps that’s self-censoring, but maybe that’s not a bad thing in a community where you can acknowledge that :gasp: people other than YOU and yours might be worthy of consideration.

    3) @58, even though you’re clearly just a troll, and kind of a moronic one at that, I wanted to point out a couple of things: one — context matters. Jackson was “off-air” as a guest; Imus was “on-air” as a host. Imus didn’t get fired because he said “nappy,” but because he called a group of women “nappy headed hos”–the racism and the sexism go hand-in-hand in that situation. As for your moronic potato chip comment, please come back when you can prove that those murders you’re talking about have historically and systematically occurred with the collusion of the most powerful segments of the community, including law enforcement and judges who see to it that no one is ever punished for those crimes…then just maybe you’d have grounds for comparison. Until then, for your sake, I suggest you stay in your lane and stick to talking about subjects you might actually know something about.

  58. ilyka
    ilyka July 21, 2008 at 12:31 pm |

    It is amusing to see (apparently) black posters write about “whiny” white people without the writer seeming to appreciate the irony: if there was ever a group MORE WHINY than American blacks, I don’t think I’d like to run into it.

    Alert! New Top Troll contestant arriving early for Season Three.

  59. Raging Moderate
    Raging Moderate July 21, 2008 at 12:33 pm |

    I dunno. Personally, “Do as I say, not as I do” has never been a strong argument to me.

    I’m with the NAACP on this one; if you want people to stop using the word, you have to lead by example.

  60. Jill
    Jill July 21, 2008 at 12:35 pm | *

    I have no idea how #58 got through. He’s been banned.

  61. Jill
    Jill July 21, 2008 at 12:41 pm | *

    I dunno. Personally, “Do as I say, not as I do” has never been a strong argument to me.

    I’m with the NAACP on this one; if you want people to stop using the word, you have to lead by example.

    Do correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that the NAACP doesn’t say “So long as some black people use the n-word, it’s ok for white people to use it too.”

    As a million other commenters have said, context is everything. The fact that I read a magazine called Bitch doesn’t give men the right to call me that same word as a slur.

    Look, whities: This is one thing we just don’t get to do. Sack up and get over it.

  62. Jill
    Jill July 21, 2008 at 12:43 pm | *

    No worries, PP, it’s your post and you are totally free to let through whichever comments you please.

    But since it’s my blog and I think he’s a dick, I’m banning him :-)

    (If you want me to let his comments through on your posts only, just say so and I will).

  63. Raging Moderate
    Raging Moderate July 21, 2008 at 1:01 pm |

    “Do correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that the NAACP doesn’t say “So long as some black people use the n-word, it’s ok for white people to use it too.””

    I think what they’re saying is that if you want people to stop using the word, using it yourself will not help you achieve that goal.

  64. Jack
    Jack July 21, 2008 at 1:25 pm |

    If we understand that white bodies are raced then it is acceptable for them to enter a racial conversation. To say that race is the preserve solely of bodies of color re-enforces the racism that we are working against. It is the same thing as saying reverse racism.

    @Renee: I don’t know if I’m just rehashing points already made in this conversation, but I gotta say – yeah, I agree, white people can enter “racial conversations.” But for me, that is absolutely so long as they don’t try to tell any people of color what they should or should not do or say when it comes to issues like the use of the n-word. Seriously. Such a thing would just be too riddled with privilege and paternalism for me to take. It would be like a white woman telling a Black or Latina woman that she should really wear her hair natural because of Black pride/anti-racism. No, no, no, no, no. White people can and should talk all they want about anti-racism and what their communities should do about racism, but I think that white privilege is just too ingrained and pervasive to ever make white statements on how Black people should or should not conduct themselves all right.

    1) Did the author consider using the n-word 7 times in a post that’s less than 200 words might be a bit gratuitous? It seems to me that, if only for the sake of flow and changing it up a little, you wouldn’t use ANY one word so much in such a short post. Seriously, what was the point? If you were trying to over-utilize the word on purpose, any good reason is lost on me.

    @rhonda c. – I agree – it bothered me, too, mostly because I don’t know whether PhysioProf is Black or not. I never understand why white or other non-Black writers on the Internet liberally use the n-word in writing when they wouldn’t use it in speech. But sometimes I can’t decide whether demanding the “n-word” euphemism in writing by non-Black folks is silly or necessary. Not being Black myself, I guess that’s one of those things that’s not really mine to decide. But I think if I saw the n-word replaced by “spic” with such frequency in a similar post by a non-Latino person, I’d be a little wtf about it.

    For the record, I’m uncomfortable with blatantly, actively racist comments like #58 making it through moderation on anyone’s posts here at Feministe, though I guess that “blatantly, actively racist” is a subjective designation. Glad that commenter is banned now.

  65. Jack
    Jack July 21, 2008 at 1:33 pm |

    I think what they’re saying is that if you want people to stop using the word, using it yourself will not help you achieve that goal.

    @RagingModerate: Yeah, that’s probably what they’re saying in part, along with an assertion that the n-word, even used internally, is damaging to Black people because it reinforces internalized racism. I think that latter motivation for asking Black folks to stop using the n-word is arguably more important than the former.

    For my part, I think that the argument that “if we want white folks to stop using the n-word, then Black folks need to stop, too” is bullshit that completely ignores and elides any accurate analysis of power and privilege. I think white people who insist that if they should stop using the n-word so should Black folks because it’s the same thing are in truth seeking absolution for their racism and their privilege. They’re looking for an easy out that doesn’t highlight their special responsibility and culpability as the chief enforcers and beneficiaries of racism in our society.

  66. Raging Moderate
    Raging Moderate July 21, 2008 at 4:16 pm |

    “I think white people who insist that if they should stop using the n-word so should Black folks because it’s the same thing are in truth seeking absolution for their racism and their privilege. They’re looking for an easy out that doesn’t highlight their special responsibility and culpability as the chief enforcers and beneficiaries of racism in our society.”

    To be clear, that’s not me. I don’t think I’ve ever used the word (except in cases like this), and have no desire to. I’m not looking to give whites a pass for using the word; I’d be happy if I never hear it again. But I won’t give blacks a pass either.

    I’m just a strong believer in leading by example. I wouldn’t ask someone else to do something I’m not willing to do myself.

    Also, can anyone here think of an instance where somone would ask people to refrain from doing something, but continue to do it himself without being a hypocrite?

    This Jesse Jackson incident to me is like Al Gore getting caught driving a Hummer. Ya gotta practice what ya preach.

  67. Jack
    Jack July 21, 2008 at 5:39 pm |

    To be clear, that’s not me. I don’t think I’ve ever used the word (except in cases like this), and have no desire to. I’m not looking to give whites a pass for using the word; I’d be happy if I never hear it again. But I won’t give blacks a pass either.

    The position you just gave is exactly what I’m talking about in your quote of me. You, a white person (I’m assuming from what you wrote) don’t want to use the n-word, but you also insist that you won’t “give blacks a pass.” To me, that indicates a failure to see or acknowledge the differences of power and privilege that are at play here, as does this:

    This Jesse Jackson incident to me is like Al Gore getting caught driving a Hummer. Ya gotta practice what ya preach.

    The problem here is that you think that a white person saying the n-word is the same thing as a Black person saying the n-word. I actually think that those are two qualitatively different actions that cannot be equated. A white person, a person who has white privilege and benefits from racism in our society, using the n-word is an entirely different act than a Black person, a person who is oppressed by racism in our society, using the word to refer to themselves or other Black people. I’m not saying that the latter is a good thing or a bad thing, because frankly, as a non-Black person, that’s none of my business. And that’s me as a Puerto Rican person with African ancestry saying it’s none of my business. How it would be a white person’s business to pass judgment on Black people for calling themselves the n-word or anything else is beyond me.

    Also, can anyone here think of an instance where somone would ask people to refrain from doing something, but continue to do it himself without being a hypocrite?

    Yeah – as people have pointed out, the word “queer” is a similar situation, though not an identical one. “Queer” has been slung as a slur both in the past and in the present, yet it’s also been reclaimed by people who identify proudly and positively as queer, like me. But a straight person using the word can and often does mean something very different than a non-straight person using it. I don’t think it’s a perfectly identical situation but it’s similar in that a) the privileged beneficiaries of oppression do not get a free pass to use words that can function as slurs against the oppressed, and b) those people also don’t get to tell the oppressed folks what they can or cannot call themselves. I mean, really. White people telling Black folks what to do is the antithesis of anti-racism.

  68. Peter
    Peter July 21, 2008 at 9:03 pm |

    Look, whities: This is one thing we just don’t get to do. Sack up and get over it.

    @ Jill: LOL This was awesome.

    If I see one more NeoCon crying and pooping their diapers over this, I’m going to smash something.

  69. larue
    larue July 22, 2008 at 2:56 am |

    This has been some of the most civil discourse I’ve ever read.

    Is this the same blog that PhysioProf has guested for the past few days?

    :D

  70. Sarah
    Sarah July 22, 2008 at 5:58 am |

    What I’m hearing Sarah saying is that it is not up to white folks to decide for black folks, or to tell them, how black folks should approach issues of race. But I am also hearing that this does not preclude white folks from engaging black folks on what racial issues means to black folks.

    So, it shouldn’t be up to black folks to decide for white folks how to approach issues of race. Correct?

    With attitudes like this, it’s no wonder we still have such a division among people.

  71. Jack
    Jack July 22, 2008 at 10:03 am |

    So, it shouldn’t be up to black folks to decide for white folks how to approach issues of race. Correct?

    @Sarah (not Sarah in Chicago – I was confused for a second!): I wouldn’t exactly say that this is correct. Again, we’re going back to acknowledging the racial power dynamics in our society. White people telling Black people how to approach issues of race is different than Black people telling white people how to approach issues of race. Why? Because white people are the beneficiaries of racism and have pretty much piloted racism from the get go, whereas Black people are oppressed by racism. Given that, I’d argue that Black and other people of color should be the ones piloting anti-racism.

    If white folks on the whole spent more time listening to people of color and respecting what they have to say about race and racism and less time getting defensive and trying to pretend that all things are equal and that all people have the same onus of responsibility for the ills of racism, then maybe we’d have less division among people. White folks insisting that unity and equality aren’t going to come until race and racism are approached on their terms are simply reinforcing racism.

  72. Jill
    Jill July 22, 2008 at 10:20 am | *

    …I’m not seeing why this is difficult (“this” being what Jack just outlined). This is a feminist blog. Granted, not all of our readers and commenters are feminists, but most of us kind of get it, right? Well, you know how we’re always telling dudes that, while they also have a gender and it’s BS that “dude” is the default and woman is the other, and while sexism is simultaneously harmful and beneficial to them, as women we mostly get the butt-end of sexism, and so maybe they should sit back and listen and learn a little bit about gender theory before they jump in head first and start telling us how to go about running this little movement of ours? You know how we all get really, really annoyed whenever dudes who don’t know much about feminist history or thought or theory come over here and start lecturing us about everything we’re doing wrong — that we’re too angry, or too brazen, or what about the menz? You know how we all get really annoyed when they get defensive, or when they think it’s their place to tell us how to do things, or when they try to equate the kind of sexism that women face with policies and ideas that seek to reverse that sexism? You know how we’d all raise our eyebrows if a dude came in and starting arguing that he should lead feminism and direct the feminist movement?

    This is kind of like that. Obviously race and gender aren’t identical and I’m not trying to equate them. But I gather that the same not-getting-it arguments that annoy feminists also annoy anti-racist activists. So if you grasp which arguments not to make when it comes to gender, maybe use that as a starting point when it comes to talking about race. Again, not identical by a long shot, but not a terrible place to begin if you’re really not understanding.

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