To Say the N-Word or Not Say the N-Word: The Unfortunate Unending Question

barbara walters and sherri shepherd

Barbara Walters and Sherri Shepherd from "The View"

Media sites around the nation were recently on fire with video clips of The View’s, Barbara Walters’ use of the “n-word” while discussing the controversy among her peers regarding Governor Rick Perry’s hunting camp, which is reported to have had the name “N-head” painted on a stone at it’s entrance.

One of The View’s co-hosts, Whoopi Goldberg initiated the  heated conversation on the show when she said the “n-word” while talking about Republican presidential candidate, Herman Cain’s use of the racist epithet during a recent interview. Despite Goldberg’s free use of the historically painful word, it wasn’t until Barbara Walters said the word that the other co-hosts, mainly Sherri Shepherd, became outraged.

Sherri stated that she had no issue with Whoopi Goldberg’s use of the n-word, however when Walters used the word, Shepherd declared her disdain of the television veteran’s utterance saying, “I didn’t like the way you said it. I don’t know if it’s a semantics thing, but it’s something that goes through my body.”  She furthered her “intellectual discourse” maintaining that the difference in the way Whoopi and Barbara say the “n-word” is due to the Goldberg’s use of the “-ga” (i.e. nigga,) at the end of the word, as opposed to Walters’ “-er” (i.e. nigger,) pronunciation, coupled with the fact that she is white.

We’ve all borne witness to this unending and nonsensical conversation over semantics regarding the “n-word;” it has been discussed ad nauseum by prominent African-American scholars — such as Tavis Smiley, Michael Eric Dyson, and Cornel West — countless Hip-Hop and Rap artists, as well as political commentators and key figures in entertainment, such as Bill Maher, Quentin Tarantino and John Singleton, to name a few.

Never in our history has there ever been such a laborious and incessant debate over a racial slur, which speaks volumes to the absolute backwards and mentally oppressed nature of our society. While watching the video clip of the “heated debate”, I was beyond infuriated at the inane discussion, but moreover deeply concerned with the glaring mental incarceration illustrated in the exchange of words on stage.

To begin, let me address Barbara Walters and her attempt to portray the “unaware” and confused victim in this scenario. Immediately after Walters said the “n-word,” she’s quoted as saying, “It’s very hard for me to say…it gives me chills.” Later when co-host Sherri Shepherd stated that she didn’t like hearing Barbara say the word, Walters asked one of the most CONSPICUOUS questions that goes without stating, “Is it because I’m white?”

I’ve seen this situation too many times to recount; someone from the European-American/white community, [mainly the women,] simulate the naïve victim, so hurt and offended at the “intense” disposition of the topic of racism and its corresponding oppressions. When I was in graduate school, there were many U.S.-born white women who played this role immaculately, even being drawn to tears during class discussions to convince everyone of “their pain!”

What I find to be so laughable and quite unfortunate about Barbara Walters and other attention-seeking white women is their inability to recognize how even in the midst of a discussion or situation regarding the racially oppressive atrocities against African-Americans and other groups of color, they somehow find a way to draw the attention towards them and “their” plight!

It is only a socially-constructed privileged group that could manipulate the issue of another group’s subjugation and place themselves in the spotlight, such as men and the issue of women’s reproductive rights or heterosexuals and the legalization of marriage for those members of the LGBT community. In the future, should Barbara Walters or any other person of this ilk find themselves in a “confusing” situation about whether or not it’s “okay” for them to say the “n-word,” understand that the answer is and WILL ALWAYS BE… “NO!”

Now, I’m sure that most readers assume the focus of my article will center on Barbara Walters and why it’s harmful or abusive for white people to use the racist term. While this position is absolutely true given the historical context, as well as the social and institutional establishment of this racial slur, I simply cannot address the longstanding issue of the “n-word” without highlighting the other side of this debate, one that media sites and others often seem to “overlook” when embarking on an oppressive discourse such as this.

Far too often in the African-American community, we find ourselves rationalizing and later accepting the manner in which one “uses” the “n-word.” When Sherri Shepherd expounded upon her feelings, she fervently stated that she had no issue with the way Whoopi Goldberg said the word, adding emphasis to the “-ga” at the end and personally uses the term when she’s around family and friends.

Hmmmm….so let me get this straight….there is a MAJOR issue when Barbara or any other person of direct European descent says the term, but somehow that very same anger and disgust dissolves when African-Americans, such as Ms. Goldberg, say it!!!

The moment I heard her painful and downright ignorant comment, I was immediately taken back to identical conversations I had with friends in high school and college regarding semantics and utilization of this word. This racial slur has been conversed about so frequently that it’s even permeated the halls of linguistics firms seeking to “dissect” its multiple meanings, evolution and usage. Every “explanation” from “a term of endearment” to the word being used to describe “an ignorant person,” has been mentioned at length during these, as some people call it, “intellectual” discussions!

I wonder if anyone else has recognized or even acknowledged the fact that NO other historically oppressed group of color has had the universal attention of racial slurs respective to their groups that African-Americans have had! You can literally travel to the furthest reaches of the world and hear or see the term being used among other cultures and communities due to the widespread focus, publicity and examination of this powerfully oppressive epithet!

It amazed me then and continues to send waves of distress and rage through me today that the African-American community — MY community – actually has in-depth discussions about the way in which the “n-word” is “used,” but moreover, have adopted an almost lighthearted and frivolous demeanor about the wordlike Whoopi Goldberg, who even stated that she herself has no problem saying it, nor does she have an issue with Barbara Walters using it and finds it pointless to “pretend” that the “n-word” doesn’t exist.

Let me be clear in saying that it is one thing to acknowledge the word’s existence, mainly by taking a more progressive and intellectual stance on identifying its racist and tyrannical origins, while simultaneously building national and global coalitions, campaigns, etc., to institutionalize the cessation of this incredibly dehumanizing term, but it is quite another to simply say the word [freely and without deep thought as Whoopi did] and then state that you have “acknowledged” or recognized its state of being. Then again one can’t honestly expect Ms. Goldberg to think beyond the surface of this oppressive word, given the fact that her former love interest, Ted Danson, once dressed up in black face at a Friar’s Club event in 1993  for Whoopi, with whom he shared a relationship for over a decade!

What celebrities like Sherri Shepherd, and other individuals within the African-American community that use the “n-word,” either rarely, often, or freely need to understand is this: your use of term is the direct result of the mental enslavement and inhumane abuse experienced during and after the institutionalization of slavery in the U.S., which has been transmitted between the resulting generations; the unfortunate “birthright” of the African-American community, [which is our greatest affliction,] is the incarceration of our psyches!

Every single time one of us uses this disgusting word, we are not only instantly transported back to a time, not long ago, where our ancestors were verbally humiliated daily with the sheer utterance of the word, we also breathe life into this term furthering its state of existence and being! For one to a) mull over at length the “n-word”, by examining its meanings, uses, etc. and to then b) ACCEPT and RATIONALIZE the careless manner in which WE use it, even deciphering the varying suffixes of this racial slur to equate its “connotation” highlights the distorted and severely damaged nature of our collective mental state!

When someone even mentions or writes an anti-semitic term, the Jewish community comes together and SHUTS IT DOWN! There is absolutely no lengthy discussion or in-depth analysis of fluctuating nuances and meanings of racial slurs against their community.

jamekaa flowersWhile the Jewish historical experience has been and continues to be exceptionally different to that of African-Americans for obvious reasons, our response to the use of the “n-word” and other racially motivated crimes from groups outside of our community, as well asfrom those members within our group should be the same: unite our forces as ONE community, expose the transgressor(s) of their crimes and then hold them accountable, even if it that entails bringing a monetary and/or legislative charge against the offender(s)!

For us to achieve this, my beloved African-Americans, is re-educating ourselves with the intent of psychological emancipation! Only then can we and will we be able see the repulsive and oppressive nature of this word and realize that the answer to the longstanding question regarding whether or not one should say/”use” the “n-word” is a firm, resounding and unquestionable, “NO!!!”<

Jamekaa Flowers
I’m Tyed…So Over It! 

About Jamekaa Flowers

Jamekaa Flowers, Lady J, works in education reform and community development in the nation’s capitol. Her lifelong passions include deconstructing the numerous “isms” (i.e. sexism, racism, classism, etc.) that plague our society and challenging people to think critically about how they are both affected by and affect others with these worldwide maladies. Her mission to ignite the global mobilization of people of African descent, as well as other oppressed communities, through mental emancipatory “re-education” models, reflecting authentic Pan-Africanist elements will be her legacy….I Am We! Visit her blog at http://imtyedsooverit.blogspot.com/.

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