Patterico's Pontifications

1/7/2011

With Apologies to Jesse Jackson: Judge Holds That A White Person Has as Much Right to Say the N-word as Anyone Else (Update Roger Ebert Drops the N-bomb)

Filed under: General — Aaron Worthing @ 6:30 am



[Guest post by Aaron Worthing; if you have tips, please send them here.]

Update: In a series of tweets, Roger Ebert decides to jump in with both feet and there really is no way to capture it without an accurate quote, so sue me. In the first tweet he writes, “I’d rather be called a Nigger than a Slave” and then links to an article about the censored Huck Finn. Then he decides to walk it back, saying the n-word again: “You know, this is very true. I’ll never be called a Nigger *or* a Slave, so I should have shut the **** up.” Which means in his mind it is better to say nigger than fuck, I guess. Hmm.

The good news, Roger, is you can’t be fired for this, unless it is pursuant to a race-neutral policy! (See the original post for explanation).

Also this all reminds me of a song by John Mellancamp (listen at about the 1:50 mark):

We now rejoin our regularly scheduled post.

Strap yourself in because this is a long one, but this seems apropos after our discussion of the new edition of Huckleberry Finn with the n-word redacted (here and here).  But you know how it is a social norm that black people can say the n-word, but white people cannot.  I mean agree or disagree, its a common sentiment.  Well, recently Judge Barclay said in this memorandum opinion partially denying summary judgment in the case of Thomas Burlington v. News Corp. et al. that if a company tries to enforce that social norm, it will have engaged in unlawful racial discrimination.

Now before we dig in, call me politically correct, but I will not be putting that word, the n-word, in this post except once to quote the name of a book.  It is not because my melanin levels are relatively low, but for two reasons.  One, I consider it to be the curse word to end all curse words and thus I only use it when it is really necessary; in other words, I don’t think anyone should be saying it except on rare occasions.  Second, using that kind of word can get Patterico’s blog stuck in net filters and harm the public’s ability to access this site and I would not be a good steward of his site if I caused him to get filtered.  So except for that  one exception, every other time I am quoting someone else saying the word, I will simply blank out the offending letters, thus “n____r.”  In other words every time you see “n____r” you can take that as indicating the full word was said.

Anyway, here’s what happened.  Basically Burlington was a weekend anchor on a Fox affiliate in Philadelphia when they were discussing a story about how the Philadelphia Youth Counsel of the NAACP was holding a symbolic burial of the n-word:

Robin Taylor had been assigned to the story. Taylor had attended the symbolic burial and testified that the participants at the burial used the word “at least a hundred times or more” during the course of the proceedings.  Taylor discussed the story with her colleagues at the editorial meeting and consistently referred to the racial slur as “the n-word” instead of using the full word. During the meeting Plaintiff asked, “Does this mean we can finally say the word ‘n____r?’”  Taylor said that she would not say the word in her story.  [She is white.]  Plaintiff told Taylor that although he did not necessarily expect her to use the word in her story, he thought that doing so gave the story more credence. At his deposition Plaintiff testified that he “wanted to make the point that I felt if we’re going to refer to the word ‘n____r,’ we should either say the word ‘n____r’ or refer to it as a racial epithet or a slur instead of using the phrase the ‘N’ word.”

(all quotes from the opinion omit the citations to the various transcripts.)

In other words, he was making an academic point about coverage of the story, one which I have some sympathy for given how I have gone on record saying it was silly for Cnn to air the Mohammed cartoons but then blur them out, reducing the image to a picture of a blurry piece of paper.  No one ever accused him of saying it in a hateful manner.  He was just making an academic point.

So naturally, all hell broke loose.  For instance, his co-anchor (who was black) allegedly said that simply because he was white he was never allowed to say it, period (she denied saying it).  And gradually the whole thing spun out of control, spilled over onto other news outlets until they had a meeting where they asked him to give his side of the story.

It didn’t go well:

During the meeting, [News Director Phil] Metlin asked Plaintiff to give his version of the events at the editorial meeting the previous Saturday. Plaintiff recited what he had said in the editorial meeting, using the word in the process.  [HR Head Ameena] Ali responded, “Tom, you’re still saying the word, why are you doing that?” (Ali Dep. 148:21-149:3; see also Pl.’s Dep. 214:14-23 (“Ms. Ali cut me off and said, ‘I can’t believe you said it again. . . . Don’t you know you can’t use that word?’”).) Plaintiff replied that he was simply relating what had happened at the editorial meeting, as Metlin had requested.  Ali testified that she found Plaintiff’s use of the word during the meeting offensive.  Metlin, who is Jewish, explained to Plaintiff that his use of the word was akin to calling someone a “kike.”  Metlin told Plaintiff that he would be suspended pending an investigation, and the meeting ended abruptly. The entire meeting lasted about five minutes.  Plaintiff did not have an opportunity to give his version of the events that occurred after the editorial meeting, including his apologies to coworkers.

So was suspended and ultimately fired.  The fact that this was based primarily on the fact that this was a white guy saying it was made obvious by two facts.  First, black people had said it before in the office with no consequence, in a much more offensive context.  Specifically:

Plaintiff testified in his deposition that during a newsroom editorial meeting, his coworkers were discussing a “dumb criminal” story in which the criminal was African American.  Huddleston, who is African American, commented, “Man, that’s one dumb n____r.” The meeting attendees all laughed.

There was some dispute whether this actually happened or not, but by the rules of court, the judge had to assume it was true for the sake of argument.

But the far more damning inconsistency was demonstrated in this passage of the court’s opinion:

Following the June 23rd newsroom editorial meeting, John Jervay, an African American, wrote an email to Phil Metlin and Leslie Tyler explaining that “during the news meeting the word n____r was used by Tom Burlington.” Jervay’s email used the word twice more in all capital letters. Defendants argue that Jervay simply “accurately reported and described Plaintiff’s offensive use of the word,” so his use of the word was therefore not as serious as Plaintiff’s.  But when Plaintiff was asked during the June 29th meeting to explain what had happened in the June 23rd newsroom editorial meeting, Plaintiff’s use of the word provoked an immediate reaction from Ameena Ali and Phil Metlin. Plaintiff testified that Ali said, “I can’t believe you said it again. . . . Don’t you know you can’t use that word?”  Mirroring Defendants’explanation of Jervay’s use of the word, Plaintiff replied that he was simply relating what had happened at the editorial meeting, as Metlin had requested. Metlin suspended Plaintiff, although Plaintiff’s suspension had been ordered byMike Renda before the meeting.  Jervay, by contrast, was never disciplined for using the word under almost the same circumstances as Plaintiff during the June 29th meeting. General Manager Mike Renda’s explanation of this inconsistency was as follows:

Q. And in this email [Jervay] uses the word—the full word n____r three times?

A. Correct.

Q. And is that a violation of Fox policy for him to have done it?

A. He was quoting Tom Burlington in an investigation.

Q. So that it was acceptable for him to do that?

A. We asked him what was said.

Q. And he—my question is: Was it a violation of Fox policy for him to use the word?

A. Not in the context of this investigation.

Q. Earlier I was talking to you about when Ameena Ali questioned Tom Burlington about what he said in the meeting and Tom Burlington used the full word n____r when he recounted what happened, and you said that would be a violation of policy. [. . .]

Q. Let me ask you again. Would it be a violation of policy for Tom Burlington to have used the full word with Ameena Ali when he was asked about the incident? [. . .]

A. It was inappropriate.

Q. My question is—

A. No.

Q. Okay.

A. Well, wait a second. Let me take that back. The fact is that any time you use the word, it is a violation.

Q.Okay. So then looking at this email, was it a violation for John Jervay to type this word, send it in an e-mail and use it three times?

A. I will repeat what I said. No. He was asked to send this as part of the investigation.

Q. Well, you just said that any time that the word is used, it’s a violation of policy. So that’s not true?

A. I stand by what I said.

Q. Well, it doesn’t make sense. Is it always a violation of policy or are there exceptions?

A. We asked John Jervay what happened, and he reported to us.

Q. My question is different. Is it always a violation of policy or are there exceptions? [. . .]

A. I don’t know.

The court wryly concludes “A reasonable jury could conclude that Renda’s testimony demonstrates that Defendants were unable to draw a principled, non-race-based distinction between Jervay’s use of the word in describing what happened at the newsroom editorial meeting and Plaintiff’s use of the word when he was asked to describe what had happened at the meeting.”

Yeah, your honor, I think we got the picture.

Update: Doc in the comments points out that all of this bears a certain similarity to a famous Monty Python bit:

No word of whether Burlington was actually stoned over this.

The only question, then, was whether the court would actually allow employers to treat two different employees who say the n-word differently, depending on their skin color.  The judge goes into some analysis of the word’s meaning in this culture, particularly by citing Randall Kennedy’s book Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word.  I found this passage implicitly laid out the bigotry involved quite nicely:

many people, white and black alike, disapprove of a white person saying “n____r” under virtually any circumstance. “When we call each other ‘n____r’ it means no harm,” [rapper] Ice Cube remarks. “But if a white person uses it, it’s something different, it’s a racist word.” Professor Michael Eric Dyson likewise asserts that whites must know and stay in their racial place when it comes to saying “n____r.”

And then comes the money quote from the court:

When viewed in its historical context, one can see how people in general, and African Americans in particular, might react differently when a white person uses the word than if an African American uses it.

Nevertheless, we are unable to conclude that this is a justifiable reason for permitting the Station to draw race-based distinctions between employees. It is no answer to say that we are interpreting Title VII in accord with prevailing social norms. Title VII was enacted to counter social norms that supported widespread discrimination against African Americans…. To conclude that the Station may act in accordance with the social norm that it is permissible for African Americans to use the word but not whites would require a determination that this is a “good” race-based social norm that justifies a departure from the text of Title VII. Neither the text of Title VII, the legislative history, nor the caselaw permits such a departure from Title VII’s command that employers refrain from “discriminat[ing] against any individual . . . because of such individual’s race.”

And I think that is exactly correct.  I mean how would the opposite rule does that even work?  What about if the person is asian—can s/he say it?  How about Native Americans?  And if we say just black people, well, just how black do you have to be?  For instance, the President appears to be evenly divided between white and black ancestry—so is he only allowed to say it only 50% of the time?  Hey, I think they had some rules down in Louisiana on that, and it said something to the effect that a single drop was enough.  Of course that was to justify things like Jim Crow, but we can repurpose those laws, right?  /sarcasm

It’s pretty noxious when you think about it, isn’t it?

Still, it is interesting and ironic in this context because if you read the opinion carefully, you learn that it is actually as a matter of law easier for a black person to prove a prima facie case of racism than a white person.  The court explicitly states that if you belong in a suspect class, it is easier to prove discrimination.  So the court is implicitly saying that a white person is more likely to be racist toward a black person, than the other way around.  And after all, that was almost exactly what was underlying Ice Cube’s logic, right?  If the guy is black, you can assume he isn’t racist, but white people are presumed to be racist.

Of course the judge, in saying this, is not being personally hypocritical.  He is following precedents that go all the way back to the 1960’s, when it was much easier to make the case that racism was much, much more common going one way than the other.  But I think whatever justification that rule ever had, it has outlived its usefulness.  Besides how does that work, again?  Presumably if you are black, this counts, but what counts as black?  And do we make the same assumption if the person is Asian?  And what if the employer is black and the employee alleging discrimination is black?  Do we still assume it is more likely for the black employer to discriminate against a black employee?  In that situation, shouldn’t white people be in the “suspect class”—if we are going to engage in that kind of analysis?  Pretty quickly you find yourself in a race-obsessed quagmire, rather than getting away from race as is the ultimate goal in the law.  So in my mind the answer is that we must stop pretending that actions against one group, without evidence of bias, is inherently suspect.  Not everything a white person does to a black person—even if unjust—is presumably racist.

Of course employers are truly being put in a damned if they do, damned if they don’t position by this kind of ruling.  The next time, if they don’t fire the guy, they could be sued by some black person for the hostile work environment they created.  So what I tell people is to have a neutral policy—namely, no one can say it. Put it in generally as part of a civility code.  And as for any person of palor considering whether to use this word at work if black people get away with it, let me note that Burlington never got work in TV again and is now a real estate agent.  That one word cost him his livelihood and he only has a slender chance of winning damages in this court.  I am not saying “don’t do it” but you should go into it with open eyes.

Still this means ironically that even a news anchor has to really, really watch what he says.  Ain’t free speech grand?

Still, I do predict that we will see this at least appealed to the circuit court level, not because of any unsoundness in the court’s logic, but because this kind of issue is catnip to law nerds–and most judges are law nerds.

Hat tip: The Philadelphia Inquirer.

————–

Fyi, the phrase “with apologies to Jesse Jackson” refers to the title of the South Park episode when Randy Marsh said that word on on TV and had to make it right by literally kissing Jackson’s backside.

Update: More Video! This old bit from SNL, starring Chevy Chase and Richard Pryor seems appropos:

[Posted and authored by Aaron Worthing.]

48 Responses to “With Apologies to Jesse Jackson: Judge Holds That A White Person Has as Much Right to Say the N-word as Anyone Else (Update Roger Ebert Drops the N-bomb)”

  1. Don Imus, call your office.

    daleyrocks (e7bc4f)

  2. And just how long before corporate filters begin searching and flagging the “n____r” word. Rather like the idea of sitting in a corner and not thinking about a white bear.

    Regards,
    JJ

    John Johns (4b51c4)

  3. Let me add something to the huck finn thing, because i don’t think i explained myself very well.

    i do think it is ridiculous to censor the book, but like i said, i don’t want schools to force students to read it. its sort of like how i feel about sex ed. i don’t want sex ed to be taught in schools but not for the reasons people normally expect. I just feel that its too important, too delicate to leave it up to something as lunk-headed as a public school.

    I mean I remember once seeing an old sex ed movie, where a doctor says to a young couple that their blood test came in and they could get married. then the doctor tells the woman that her body has bounced back perfectly from her teenage pregnancy, resulting in the man getting angry to discover that his bride to be was not a virgin. And then the doctor informs the man that his VD had cleared up too (and not with the sense of irony you would expect from that kind of revelation). So it was her turn to be shocked he was such a scuzz (and she didn’t hit him on the issue of hypocrisy either). I remember watching this, apparently as part of the movie “It came from Hollywood” and being appalled. Besides the hypocrisy involved, the man didn’t even give her any benefit of the doubt. For all he knew, his bride was raped and became pregnant that way.

    I don’t want my children (should I ever have any) to be taught about anything as delicate or profound as sex ed. That’s a parent’s job, so do it.

    The same thing applies to introducing them to this kind of ugliness. I want to be able to talk to my kids and teach them my values, not necessarily whatever stupidity the school will teach. I don’t trust our schools with anything that important.

    Aaron Worthing (e7d72e)

  4. JJ

    What is wrong with the word “nagger?”

    (That is extra funny if you are familiar with that episode of south park.)

    Aaron Worthing (e7d72e)

  5. I tried and failed to work in the word “niggardly” in response to this post. And I hereby denounce myself.

    Gesundheit (cfa313)

  6. It’s painful to read the description of that meeting. To imagine these people putting their fingers in their ears and crying out in pain. “Ouch! Ouch! I can’t hear that word! It’s hurting me!” Even though they were only talking ABOUT the word in every case it was used.

    And these are the kind of people who used to mock the “Ozzie and Harriet” sort of modesty that prevented people from using sexual terms in public. They were so much more sophisticated, so they could start forcing those “forbidden words” into TV and movies at every opportunity.

    In my old age I’m starting to get cantankerous about this. I’ve considered taking up smoking just because it’s verboten. Now should I start using the “n-word” even though I never curse?

    Gesundheit (cfa313)

  7. That “funeral” for the n-word sounds hilarious too. The kind of thing you’d expect to see in a movie.

    Can you imagine going to a funeral at which the preacher keeps saying over and over again the word “dead”. “We’re here today to remember our good friend Aaron, who is dead. Dead, dead, dead. Dead as a doornail. He’s mouldering in the grave. And so we grieve.”

    Gesundheit (cfa313)

  8. it is all a pose. the feelings generated are real, but it is all a pose. otherwise, no rap music. what does Eminem say, anyway?

    quasimodo (4af144)

  9. “To imagine these people putting their fingers in their ears and crying out in pain. “Ouch! Ouch! I can’t hear that word! It’s hurting me!””

    Gesundheit – I’ll bet they all watch reruns of Sanford & Son at home.

    daleyrocks (e7bc4f)

  10. Heh, that story of the guy “describing” the n word in all caps and getting in trouble for it is almost word for word 21st century update of this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYkbqzWVHZI

    text version:
    http://docweasel.com/05/lob/lob_04.shtml

    docweasel (5510fc)

  11. doc

    in other words his life had become a monty python bit, only not funny so much as tragic and painful.

    Nice thought, I might put it in the post.

    Aaron Worthing (e7d72e)

  12. My Russian friends used to tell me that in the Soviet Union, everyone had freedom of speech. You could say anything you want.…once!

    There are many words, including the “n-word”, that I avoid using because they make people uncomfortable. Intentional rudeness is unnecessary. We were all told that sticks and stone can break my bones but words will never hurt me. If I am subjected to verbal abuse, I should reply in kind. The law generally accepts this logic. If I call you a dummy and you hit me, I can have you charged with battery.

    Somehow this restraint has escaped black rappers and black actors who seem to use the word as a term of endearment. However, if a white person were to use the same word, a black is free fly into blind rage and employ physical violence. We must make up our minds and apply a uniform standard to everyone.

    We have First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of the press. All words should be available to everyone. There should be no prohibited, off limits utterances or combinations of letters which when used excuse physical violence. I reserve the right to blaspheme religions, criticize political policies, belittle sexual preference and deride race and national origin. Racism and prejudice are not illegal; discrimination, acting on racial bias, is.

    On the other hand, if we are going to make some words justifications for physical violence, I would like to add a few of my own: Infidel, yankee, cracker, Bubba and redneck I find insulting. But if someone calls me a “Tea Bagger” I demand the right to blow his head off.

    Arch (24f4f2)

  13. Denounced. Denounced and condemned.

    JD (1416bd)

  14. Aaron: For the record, there’s no “i” in Jesse Jackson’s name.

    Joshua (9ede0e)

  15. Pardon my French, but your reasoning behind your reluctance to use the word “nigger”, “except once to quote the name of a book”, is as convoluted as the testimony of Mike Renda, quoted above.

    In addition, your comment about how you don’t want Huck Finn censored, but you also don’t want schools to force kids to read it is also misguided. Your position is a de facto ban on the original book from the classrooms of America’s schools. How can a teacher make the book part of the curriculum if he can’t require the students to read it? So, yes, it would be able to sit on a shelf in the library for those students who want to read it on their own, but it could not be discussed in the classrooms.

    It is fortunate that legal proceedings don’t use silly substitutions like “the n-word” or “n____r” when discussing the facts. It would not be in the best interests of our schools to adopt such childish habits, or just as harmful, decide to shy away from a frank discussion of on of the most important books in American literature, just over fear of a word.

    I am surprised to see such a position advocated by someone outside of the PC crowd.

    Anon Y. Mous (f74fc6)

  16. anon

    its not convoluted, its straight forward.

    i consider the word offensive, period. no matter who says it. so i don’t say it unless absolutely necessary. and that concern about filters applied too, although patterico said he is not worried about it. f—- the censors was more or less his sentiment.

    and there is no inconsistency in saying 1) huck should be in the school libraries, 2) with the n-word included, and 3) maybe it should even be recommended. But no one should be forced to read it, imho.

    > It is fortunate that legal proceedings don’t use silly substitutions

    i agree, the judge can’t shy from it any more than the S.C. shied from reciting the phrase “fuck the draft” when talking about a man’s right to say it. But i am not a judge, and it really isn’t necessary to talk about the issue, here.

    Aaron Worthing (b1db52)

  17. I find it odd that nobody bats an eye when a black person uses “cracker” “honky”, or “whitey”, but when a slang word is used for a black person, all hell breaks loose. Equal, folks, not lopsided in the other direction.

    Ken (80d741)

  18. Which of the leaders of Black America have gone on record to denounce the regular use and perpetuation of the despicable N word among black youth, rappers and gangstas?

    Has our president, who has thoughts on everything from Skip Gates’ run-in with the police who acted stupidly, and the location of the ground zero mosque, to Mike Vick’s redemption, ever uttered a word about this relatively recent gutter level cultural phenomenon?

    elissa (505ff8)

  19. One of the reason I held out hope, before I really knew who Obama was, is because I thought he could
    serve as a role model, since his background supposedly didn’t lend itself to this kind of scapegoating. This was before I learned about Reverend Wright and Bill Ayers

    narciso (6075d0)

  20. Has our president,

    elissa, Obama uses the N word. This is an excerpt from his audio version of Dream From My Father.

    Honestly, there’s tons more than that. He mimics Rev Wright’s voice to condemn white people (no link available) too, not that anyone really believed Obama didn’t understand Rev Wright’s hate.

    Obama’s really pretty pathetic.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  21. I will say, there are black leaders who try to set a great example and also denounce use of that kind of language.

    Bill Cosby and Oprah Winfrey are good examples. Oprah criticized Jay-Z’s use of the term, and its use casually by blacks. I do not like her show, but Oprah’s one of the most powerful people in America and has done her part on this issue.

    If I recall, she has a dark explanation about how the N word was the last thing a lynched black man heard. Jay Z, if I recall, took credit for disarming a word and taking the pain out of it.

    I can appreciate Jay Z’s point, just as I appreciate the idea of gays using the ‘queer’ term to disarm it, but I’m with Oprah on this. Casual use of that term, among many other ‘authentic black culture’ elements, are just not helping the ‘black community’. It’s still a dehumanizing term.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  22. > Jay Z, if I recall, took credit for disarming a word and taking the pain out of it.

    well that is egotistic historical revisionism.

    richard pryor did that. he was the first to own the word.

    Aaron Worthing (e7d72e)

  23. You can’t take the poison out of the word, it is poison, I don’t care what Jay Z, Chris Rock, or David Chapelle say.

    narciso (6075d0)

  24. narciso:

    you can take the poison out of a word.
    See: clip of Lenny Bruce:
    “The point? That the word’s suppression gives it the power, the violence, the viciousness. If President Kennedy got on television and said, ‘Tonight I’d like to introduce the niggers in my cabinet,’ and he yelled ‘niggerniggerniggerniggerniggerniggernigger’ at every nigger he saw, ‘boogeyboogeyboogeyboogeyboogey, niggerniggerniggernigger’ till nigger didn’t mean anything any more, till nigger lost its meaning — you’d never make any four-year-old nigger cry when he came home from school.”

    john b (98b638)

  25. john b

    if you find that on youtube pass it on. that would be great for the post.

    Aaron Worthing (e7d72e)

  26. Just so that we can all tell who is entitle to opine on this question and who is not: I’d like to suggest that all the commenters who are African American post their comments in black text on a white background. And all of the commenters who are Caucasian (or another lighter skinned ethnicity) post their comments on a white background with black text.

    Thank you. Now that we all know who each other’s racial bona fides, we can have a more intelligent discussion.

    Gesundheit (cfa313)

  27. We read “Huck Finn” out loud in 11th grade English in my Alabama intergrated pubic school.
    No one thought twice about saying the “N Word” probably because nobody called it the “N Word” back then, especially the “N Words”.
    And having a teacher whos Grandfather had fought for the Good Guys in the “War of Northern Aggression” probably had something to do with it..
    That, and there weren’t any “N Words” in the class, it was ADVANCED English, with commas and colons, adverbs, and the other ad-thing…

    Frank

    Frank Drackman (6d27fd)

  28. As you can see, Frank posted on a white background with black text.

    Now we know all we need to know about HIM!

    Gesundheit (cfa313)

  29. Ges

    lol, i got a good idea. if you are conservative, print your comments with black text on white background. if you are liberal, white text, WHITE back ground. lol

    Aaron Worthing (e7d72e)

  30. I will take the word nigger, as a pejorative, seriously when black people quit calling other black people by that name. The same PC logic is now applied to the term racist: only whites can be racist, our black (and many white) intellectual betters tell us, as whites hold all the power. No doubt the Mike Eric Dysons of the world love this type of logic as it allows blacks to escape any responsibility for their actions and beliefs, something he has built a whole career on.

    As a kid I was one of a few minority kids in an all white town and was called nigger by any number of whites that meant it. I have also been called nigger by black people, again not as a term of endearment as was famously said by some educator about the term’s use in the black community many years ago. I am well aware that the word hurts; however, if that is truly the case as so many black people say, then end its use. End the double standard. Period.

    BT (74cbec)

  31. Thank you for giving Pryor his due on this word – more than anyone in recent popular culture, he took it out from the taboo and put it back into discussion.

    Dmac (498ece)

  32. BT:
    Thanks for the clarification. Do you agree with the following?:

    You see the word “nigger” in print and judge its use based on its context.

    A non-black person says, “This nigger runs into the store,” he or she is likely a racist and you will not fall apart, but you will know from where this person is coming when (and if) you deal with him or her.

    A black person says, “This nigger runs into the store,” he is being ironic.

    A black person says to you, BT, “So, Nigger, ___ _______ ______ ___________ ______,” he or she may or may not be putting you down, depending on the context.

    PS: Hey, Gesundheit, do you remember when a D.C. civil servant was hounded because he used the word “niggardly” to describe how a fund was being administered?

    Ira (28a423)

  33. Ira:
    1) Yes. Twain’s use of the word would be very different from say how a Matthew Hale (white supremacist) would use it.

    2) I believe all of us are racist to some point (that includes me). We all have prejudice, bigotry or just plain ignorance of other people and it gets expressed through religion, race, nationality, etc. IMO it is part of being human. In your example this is pretty minor though sad stuff. It is a far cry from burning a cross on the guys lawn.

    3) Depends. He may be using the word to put down a guy of the same race. If he is using it in that way, to judge someone as less than human, how is he any different than some white asshole who uses it to put down a black kid on his bike riding to school?

    4) True, you would have to look at the context. In my experience when I was called nigger by a bunch of black kids–they meant it as fighting words.

    Aaron–Regarding the tweet by Ebert, remember his wife is black, I wonder if he has every used that as a shield again being called a racist?

    As an aside, I was at a movie opening many years ago and sat a few seats down from Ebert-this was before he was married. Anyway, the woman he was with was very white and very blond and on a scale of one to ten was about a 90!!! She was beautiful. I remember he sent her out to get snacks every 30 minutes or so and it was a pleasure standing up to let her pass by. Funny thing was that Ebert was not much to look at.

    BT (74cbec)

  34. She was looking at his wallet, or his column-inches.

    AD-RtR/OS! (b8ab92)

  35. BT

    i think whether a man is a jerk to say the n-word should be judged not by the color of his skin, but the content of his character, which i think is what you are saying, too.

    And i am not mad at Robert Ebert, but i was amused that he censored one word but not another.

    Aaron Worthing (1a6294)

  36. as requested: here is the link to the clip of Lenny Bruce: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOnkv76rNL4

    john b (62ffe9)

  37. This is a bit tangential, but race isn’t primarily about ‘skin color’. It goes to the bone, race does — that’s why forensic anthropologists, and even your everyday coroner, can tell what race a victim of homicide was just by looking at the bones. More importantly, there are differences in average cognitive ability and other psycho-behavioral traits. We all know it, we all live our lives like we know it, (take a look at the LA Times wonderful homicide blog if you doubt these facts. But we deny it. Far worse than expurgating Huck Finn, in my opinion.

    stari_momak (d5f987)

  38. Our word ‘Slave’ btw, comes from the word ‘Slav’, the big super ethnic group of Eastern Europeans. (In Slavic languages, Slav means something like ‘glorious’ or ‘victor’. So maybe ‘Slave’ is a bitter reminder to our Eastern European cousins of when they were the primary commodity of the slave trade (at least in the Western world), and ‘slave’ therefore, should be banned.

    stari_momak (d5f987)

  39. You know, there’s an excellent novel by Joseph Conrad entitled The Nigger of the Narcissus. How could you even teach that in a university today? Yet it’s a classic work of literature that should definitely be read by everyone.

    Jim S. (b36315)

  40. Incorrect, stari_momak, but thanks for playing.

    Icy Texan (8455ee)

  41. Stari is correct about white slaves.

    The evil institution of slavery is not racial and it’s pain is not the sole property of blacks. In fact, when slaves were brought from Africa to work in the cane fields of the Caribbean, North Africans held more European slaves than Europeans held African slaves. Also, many of the people who traded in slaves were (and still are) muslims.

    Arch (24f4f2)

  42. That’s funny, john b. It sure looked like a clip of Dustin Hoffman PLAYING LENNY BRUCE to me.

    Icy Texan (8455ee)

  43. that’s true icy texan — it is the only video i could find. all others are audio only. but, since it is dustin hoffman “hollywood”, you can certainly conatact him to get details. i’m sure Dustin didn’t come up with the routine all by himself…

    john b (62ffe9)

  44. During Med School there was a local radio show with 2 DJs called the “Goofy White Boys”..
    On rounds one day, one of the few XX’s in the class asked one of the Surgery Chief Residents if he’d listened to the Goofy White Boys that morning.
    “No” he drawled, “I listen to the Goofy Niggers”
    and since it was 1985 nobody complained, we laughed, actually, out loud, cause it was TRUE, we did spend all day listening to Goofy N-Words,
    with there “Grumb-alin Pains” and wanting to get some “Test-es” done to check out that “Bad Blood”…

    Frank “Double Naught Mossad Assassin” Drackman

    Frank Drackman (550e6d)

  45. Regarding my previous post:

    “XX”s = Members of the Female Persuasion, you know, with 2 “X” Chromosomes.

    I know its something y’all learned in Highschool Biology, but some people still don’t get it.

    Frank “XYY” Drackman

    Frank Drackman (550e6d)

  46. Never said that it wasn’t an accurate portrayal of an actual Lenny Bruce routine.

    Icy Texan (8455ee)

  47. and i’m not saying i agree with the man’s tactics or logic. I find it a bit crude, but that was his schtick. I think a better approach might be found in Morgan Freeman’s 60 minute interview.

    john b (546a7d)


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