Despite what some might think, the U.S. still has a long way to go when it comes to having an open, honest dialogue about race. Case in point, we received a number of calls over the weekend about a story that appeared on News Channel 15 outlining how local auto racing promoter Dave Muzzillo allegedly had reposted on his Facebook page a racially charged comedy photo of a moving van with the words “2 ni****s and a stolen truck: ‘We move your s**t like it was our’s” (sic).
To make a long story short, we received a number of calls from people outraged that in 2015, white folks were still telling N-word jokes; others called to say they were upset that a truck like that was parked out at the Baer Field Speedway site (it wasn’t), and others offered the opinion that it was hypocrisy for black people to want to sit around and laugh at black comedians who liberally use the N-word or listen to music with the word carelessly tossed around and then want to crucify a white person for laughing at and circulating the same kind of humor.
It’s an old debate and we’ve already spoken on it a number of times.
First, for the record, while we don’t mind humor that takes a funny but respectful look at the idiosyncrasies of a particular culture, we’ve never been a fan of humor that uses derogatory language to describe any ethnic group. Nor do we help spread art or music that dehumanizes people or purposely fans the flames of racial hatred. Hence, we’ve avoided reviewing some rap and R&B music (note, we did not say “real hip hop”) that refers to black people as “niggers” as if it were some term of endearment. (For those of you who think it is, next time you see your mother or grandmother, try greeting her by saying, “Hey, nigger. I missed you!” and see what kind of response you get. Or, tell your pastor after an enlightening church service, “Man, nigger, you were really preaching this morning!”) By the same token, you won’t see us publishing reviews of “hate rock” groups such as Skrewdriver. Yes, we believe in free speech, but we reserve the right to exercise our free speech by speaking out against what we consider demeaning and damaging ideas about race.
Second, when it comes to literature and other art, the word can have a use: it can be used to put across a point by using it in its intended context—to indicate that a speaker is being offensive. For example, we can understand its use in a story that has angry moments. (Does anyone remember when you were ready fight if anyone—black or white—called you a “nigger?”)
Third, can we really expect others to respect us if we don’t respect ourselves? We have been hard pressed to find examples of other ethnic groups embracing purposely derogatory terms placed on them by outside oppressors as a “term of endearment” (Latinos, Italians, Asians, Arabs or Native Americans for example). The fact that we far too often have freely adopted the oppressor’s term for us, speaks volumes. Check out this excerpt from Professor Gershom Williams’ piece entitled “The ‘N-Word’ and the Psychology of Black Oppression,” published online at ChickenBones: A Journal for Literary & Artistic African-American themes (http://www.nathanielturner.com/nwordpsychologyofblackoppression.htm):
“…The Hip Hop community and the present Hip Hop generation may continue to revere and embrace Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls as young, super bad Niggas! But can we as wise, intelligent and critical thinking African elders view the following ancestors: Marcus Garvey, Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Betty Shabazz, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Mary McLeod Bethune, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Paul Robeson, Fredrick Douglas, Martin Delany, Nat Turner, Gabriel Prosser, Paul Cuffe, Denmark Vesey, and James Baldwin as Negars, Niggers or Niggas? [Check Ebony’s Fifty Influential Figures in African-American History .]
“I can certainly think of, and I am sure that we all could create other terms of endearment that we as an ancient and proud race of people could use to refer to one another in humble veneration and love. The concepts of Black inferiority and the ugly, racist N-word have both been exported overseas. People in various foreign nations, just like Whites in America, are using the N-word in both the public and private sectors.
“As I heard it so profoundly stated by Dr. Maulana Karenga of Los Angeles, “We may not be responsible for our enslavement and colonial oppression, but we are most certainly responsible for our freedom and liberation.…”
When you get a chance, take time to read the entire piece. We think it makes some very interesting and liberating points. Pay special attention to his closing paragraph.
So, what about Mr. Muzillo? Interestingly enough, he is on record as saying the offending photo had been forwarded to him by a black friend. We don’t know if that’s true but we don’t necessarily doubt it. It wouldn’t be the first time black folks have shared racially charged humor with white friends. Should Muzillo be pilloried for posting the image that many people found offensive (at least in public while they laughed at it in private)? Perhaps, but perhaps only if folks in the black community who use the N-word commonly to refer to themselves and others around them are publicly chastened right along with him.