Friday, April 13, 2007

Exclusive Privilege?

The Don Imus flap and subsequent firing has got me to thinking. Do members of the same race have an exclusive right to use certain words amongst themselves that members of other races cannot use? Is hate speak not hate speak if it is uttered by a member of the offended group? These seem to be some of the many questions that this event has brought up. I do think that for some time, these questions have been just under the surface of polite conversation. All you have to do is turn on the radio or walk down the street and listen to a group of young men of any racial or ethnic group to hear references made to each other that others would consider inappropriate.

For some reason we, in the black community tend to do it more than others. I have heard a number of theories as to why we do it; from slavery to a sense of self-hate. I am not really sure why we do it, but we do it a lot. I have found that the more we do it, the more the society as a whole has taken the liberty to do so as well. They beg the question if you use the “N” word so freely amongst yourselves why can’t we? Obviously there are no negative connotations involved in your usage or is there?

We, in the black community have since I can remember always used certain negative figures of speech to describe one another. Our women are reduced to “hoes” and “bit****”. Our friends are our “nig***”. The list goes on and on. What does using these terms of “endearment” say about us and our view of ourselves?

What Don Imus said was indefensible and wrong. Should he have been fired? Probably, the reason I say that is because he is listened to from all accounts by millions of people and if he had gotten a free pass that would have embolden the next person to push the envelope a little more or given some person the justification to say it at the office or at the store. These guys get their “cred” by pushing the envelope, its what drives their listeners. See how far we can go and get away with it. We as a civilized society have to have boundaries in what can be said publicly. This of course will not stop what people think, but at least you can’t say it.

I heard an interesting interview with a Black woman who wrote a book entitled, “Ghetto Nation” by Cora Daniels[1]. According to her the nation in an effort to capitalize on the hip-hop phenomenon and everyone’s desire to be “cool” has promoted the most negative aspects of black culture. In doing so, they have exposed the country as a whole to this “ghetto mentality”. This “ghettoization” has permeated everything from clothes and cars to our language. It is an interesting concept and worthy of more study.

I recently wrote a piece for JRE’s blog titled, “The End Of Civility”[2]. In the piece I discuss how we as a nation thrive on conflict today. We watch “reality” shows just to see others in conflict. For a few examples I cite: my all-time favorite; Jerry Springer, the “Judge” shows, and the confrontational shows like “Cheaters”. Things thatjust a few years ago would never be said publicly are now being espoused by regular folks in casual conversation.

Is there an exclusionary privilege to negative words? God, I hope not. I hope that someday soon we all decide that certain words no longer should be a part of our conversations no matter what color we are and no matter who uses them. I hope that someday as a nation we can have a national conversation about these and similar issues that separate us…



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