From Paula Dean to athletes Riley Cooper and Roy Hibbert, 2013 has been the year of the celebs getting caught using discriminatory language. While all of the aforementioned have received their respective slaps on the wrist by way of fines, firings, and contract cuts, they did not go down without some finger wagging of their own.
Apparently many people still do not seem to understand the importance of context or the significance of self-definition (including the ownership of certain terms). In the case of the Deen and Cooper, who were both exposed for using the N-word, we’ve noticed the dialogue
blame shift from the white people using words that are rooted in hatred and/or don’t belong to them, to the black people around them who have used the word freely within earshot. The rhetoric here being that black folks shouldn’t use the term if they don’t want white folks to… You gotta love white entitlement.
It is not the responsibility of people of color to “set an example” of inclusiveness and safe speech for white people. But more importantly, we are allowed to have language and practices that white people do not have rights to. We are a diverse nation of people with rich histories and cultures, most of which are rooted in oppression. It is perfectly fine that some of us “do our own thing.” And no, we do not have to do it behind closed doors so that white people don’t “get the wrong idea”.
Sometimes gay men call each other f**s. The term has been reclaimed and transformed within that community, but I can’t go out into the world saying “let me tell you about the f**s I was with yesterday” or even worse “stop acting like a f**”. Similarly, when I say “I’m with my bitches” referring to my homegirls that doesn’t, give men a pass to say “I’m hanging with a group of bitches right now” whenever they are in the company of women. The same applies when I refer to “my niggas.” I can say those words, with pride. They have cultural capital in my community that I value. They represent a unique way of relating and communicating to people that I love, and even some that don’t. Even if other members of my community disagree and choose not to use them, they still belong within our community. It has to be understood that although the use of certain language by members of a certain community is acceptable and ok, it can still be (and is) a tool of hatred, intolerance, discrimination, and pain outside of that community. Language is fluid like that.
Whenever I wanted to do something my mother did (like get a tongue piercing) and she wouldn’t allow me to, I’d object to her hypocrisy. And she would immediately put me back in my place by quickly saying: do as I say, not as I do. She was an adult who was financially responsible and independent enough to make such choices. She was the dictator of those decisions at that time. That’s why her response was dead on. This is my response to folks like Donald Trump who can’t see their own white privilege from a mile away and questions why “cracker” is acceptable and “the n word” is not.
And if we’re being honest, most of these celebrity scandals are not just misinterpretations of how these words are supposed to be used. Paula Deen had an extremely problematic fascination with the slave era and mistreated her black employees (including “color differentiated” restrooms). Riley Cooper was pissed at some black bouncers and spit racial slurs at them. When a community tells you that they are offended, do not question their feelings. Check your privilege and move on. It’s called accountability. Have some.