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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Michael Richards Case and the "N-Word" (Nigger)

In reference to comedian Michael Richards totally losing his cool to hecklers recently, first of all, Richards' crime wasn't that he was being a racist. I doubt that he spends much time being that way, but if in the unlikely event that he does, so what? We should be glad, instead, that he thereby gave us important information on his mindset, though my guess is that he was just blindly and impulsively reaching for the nearest and most explosive possible missile to hurl at some people who weren't appreciating his work.

Meanwhile, in a nation whose foundations, like rebar in concrete, include a history of killing and expelling Indians in order to grab their land, and importing Africans in order to subject them to lifetimes of hard labor without pay and many other forms of inhuman treatment, racism is so ingrained in the national psyche that we should never be surprised when occasionally expressions of it erupt.

Richards' crime on that occasion, instead, was being angry. Though most people don't realize it, because they find it so congenial to the secretly evil parts of their natures, anger is a very dangerous condition for a person to indulge in, because it will invariably lead to him doing something stupid, and the Richards thing is a textbook case.

"Nigger" has been a problem term for me for a long time, but not because I regard it as being toxic in the extreme or, actually, at all. In all my 75 years and in settings with all sorts of people, I can recall hearing it hurled at me in derision only once, and I've never been hard of hearing. That was when, as a child, I was walking by some "white" kid's yard and he yelled that at me and my sister while we were walking past on our way to catch the bus to school. We just ignored him, and it was remarkable how little it hurt, which was not one little bit.

I have, however, been called "nigger" many times as a term of something approaching fondness, by youthful contemporaries who shared my sort of dark-skinned ancestry. So that can't help but lead to continuing confusion as to what "nigger" actually means and is.

In the wake of Richards' outburst, Jesse Jackson and others are calling for the entertainment industry to ban the use of the so-called "N-word" and other derogatory terms. He calls it "giving a Christmas present to our ancestors." I wonder if he consulted beforehand with all the rap singers and the Russell Simmons HBO comedians, for whom the term is a mainstay part of the language. He probably didn't check, and I think we can guarantee that he is going to be roundly ignored by them.

That idea is mistaken and totally unworkable, and Jackson must know that, which leads me to suspect that he is just taking advantage of an opportunity for publicity, which he has been known to do from time to time. Furthermore it is the kind of thing that he is expected to say, and people on every side of the issue will take their normal comfort in it.

Instead what should be done is not to try to do away with "nigger," but instead to take away as much of the venom as possible that it seems to inject so deeply into people with skins much thinner than mine. That means not screaming with rage every time we hear it, because that merely gladdens the hearts of those who like to use the term as a weapon, and thereby that weapon is kept razor sharp, when what we should want is for it to be dulled, considerably. The time when the use of "nigger" no longer gets such a "rise" will signal a better day for all except those unfortunates who are much more bonafide haters than the "Cosmo Kramer" bird has otherwise shown himself to be.


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2:37 AM  

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