Saturday, June 29, 2013

Come Back to the Five and Dime, Paula Deen

The word is nigger.
Let's not call it "the N-word" or "a racial slur". We're adults here. Words have power, yes, but circumlocutions like "the N-word" give them more power than they deserve.  And so the word Paul Deen admits she has uttered on numerous occasions is nigger.

It's odd what an extra g does. It turns the Latin word niger, "black", into a word so toxic it can kill careers and irrevocably tarnish reputations...if a white person says it, that is. If a black person says it, of course, it means nothing. I find that very strange, don't you? Occasionally gay people will call each other fag, almost always as a way to reclaim the hurtful word. But other than that, I can't think of a single minority that freely throws around the pejoratives other people use for it. You don't hear Jews calling each other kike or Germans calling each other Kraut. 
An American academic named Cornel West said,

"There's a certain rhythmic seduction to the word. If you speak in a sentence, and you have to say cat. companion, or  friend, as opposed to nigger, then the rhythmic presentation is off. That rhythmic language is a form of historical memory for black people..."

Be that as it may. The fact is that much before 1900, nigger wasn't even was simply what black people were called, and what they called themselves. George Carlin said, in arguably his most famous routine, insisted that "there are no bad words. Bad thoughts, bad intentions...and words." Well, black people have been the subject of a whole lot of bad intention over the centuries, and so it was probably inevitable that nigger wouldn't be a simple descriptive for long. And so it was decided that "colo(u)red" would be the politically correct term. Now, of course, it seems to be almost as pejorative as nigger, and the correct term is simply "black".
Why you'd discard a word like colored is beyond me, especially in favour of black, the absence of colour. Black people's skin is rarely actually black. It's so many lovely shades, from coffee-and-cream  and tan through chocolate, burnt umber, and yes, sometimes a black so black it shimmers and is almost blue. Lots of beautiful colours, but the word is black and none other, if you're white.

But who am I to dictate what a race I don't belong to calls itself? Black it is, then.

But about that word nigger. It persists, of course. In Albany, Georgia, where Paula Deen was born and raised, I'm sure the word was used liberally...and probably still is, Which is not to defend or excuse the racism of those who use it...only to note that words are habits and habits can be hard to break. We're currently trying to scrub the word fag out of existence, and to reclaim gay as a simple descriptor. It's not easy. You'll see both used pejoratively and perniciously on any number of online forums, for instance.

I guess the short way of saying all this is that I feel sorry for Paula Deen. I really do. She admitted to saying a bad word..."yes, of course:, she said when asked if she had ever said "the N-word". Frankly, I'm willing to suggest that any Georgian who claims never to have said nigger is lying through his or her teeth.
She was honest about her use of the word, but denies having bad thoughts or bad intentions,  You'd expect her sons to stick up for her", of course, but still...I just can't in good conscience call someone a racist simply on the basis of allegations that could very well be trumped up.

The last time I watched a public figure's career go up in smoke, it was Tom Flanagan saying that watching child porn didn't hurt kids. Yeah, you could kind of see why his career went up in smoke. But Deen's?

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