I loved Obama and I don’t love Trump. I even liked Hillary. So when one of my fave raves, comedian Bill Maher, ad libbed the n-word on his HBO show, “Real Time,” I was conflicted. Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse had suggested Maher visit the state and “work in the fields,” and Maher had quipped, “I’m a house nigga.”
I was also conflicted the next week, when Maher did his obligatory apology tour, perp walk, self-flagellation, damage control, or whatever you want to call it. In lieu of Jesse or Al, black scholar Michael Eric Dyson appeared on “Real Time” to mete out the shame and absolution, street scholar Ice Cube bestowed his withering scowl, and former Bernie Sanders press secretary Symone Sanders added a black female perspective.
Using the language of the social justice movement, Dyson said a white privileged person who says the word in any context could trigger pain and suffering in vulnerable populations. Cube said that “when I hear a white person say it, it feel like that knife stabbing you even if they don’t mean to.” And Sanders informed Maher that many house slaves were women who were raped and abused. “As a white person in America, you would’ve been the master, the slave owner … that was a slap in the face to the black community, particularly to black women.”
Dyson and Cube both challenged Maher — and all Caucasians — to look within our lily white privileged souls to examine why we have what Dyson called an “unconscious reflex” to say the n-word. So I got in touch with my inner racist, and here’s what he said:
“First, I don’t think the white privileged unconscious reflex to say the n-word is any different from what causes other people to say it, sometimes in anger, sometimes in jest, sometimes appropriately and sometimes inappropriately. Which is why Bill Maher didn’t need to apologize. As Kareem Abdul Jabbar wrote, ‘intent is important.’ But the comedian had committed the ultimate gotcha; he’d used the n-word. It was apologize or be branded a racist (as well as Islamophobe). So he apologized.
“As Maher said, it wasn’t worth spending his political capital on. But it’s time to end the white prohibition on the n-word. Not because we live in a post-racial society, but because banning the word has been about as effective at ending racism as the 18th Amendment was at getting rid of alcohol. The word is all over hip-hop and pop culture. Telling an ethnic group they can’t join in is not only unAmerican, but an enticement to break the rules. Like celibacy. Or sodomy. Or Michael Richards.
“But what about the pain the word causes African Americans?” I asked my inner racist. “Have you no empathy?”
“Sticks and stones,” my inner racist retorted. “Some blacks may truly be traumatized just by hearing a white person say the n-word, but most are merely offended or annoyed. I respect that, so it’s off my play list. But pretending to be traumatized instead of pissed off is trafficking in a culture of victimization.”
“Culture of what?” I asked.
“Playing the victim,” my inner racist replied. “Everybody does it. Not just blacks. Donald Trump voters as well.”
“You are one cynical bastard,” I told my inner racist.
“You saw Ice Cube display his patented Black Panther hate look, the one that melts the hearts of sado-maso liberals and causes cops to reach for their guns,” my inner racist continued. “You heard him say, ‘That’s our word, and you can’t have it back.’ It was great theater, but so 1988. You can say it but I can’t? How juvenile.”
I shook my head. “Well, what about the house slave reference being a slap in the face to black women?”
“Too soon?” my inner racist spat back. “The whole field-slave house-slave stereotype, whether accurate or not, is entrenched in American folklore. To give but one example, Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Django Unchained,’ during which the n-word was tossed around so many times it went from shocking to silly. By the end I had the giggles.
“The n-word thing is connected to another thing that Maher has railed against,” my inner racist added. “Political correctness, especially on college campuses, where unpleasant words and inconvenient ideas are being suppressed to spare the tender sensibilities of vulnerable races, nationalities, genders and immigration statuses. Just about everybody except us privileged white males.”
“Stop playing the victim,” I said.
“Let me put it this way,” my inner racist said. “The words ‘Black Lives Matter’ annoy me. They pain me. If I hear them enough, I may get traumatized. So by their reasoning, black people should be banned from saying the BLM-words.”
“The slogan simply means that black lives have been undervalued,” I said.
“But they are the ones who say the intent of the speaker doesn’t matter as much as the effect the words have on the listener.”
“Gimme a break,” I said.
“And then there’s the Oprah rule,” my inner racist said.
“Please don’t go after Oprah,” I begged.
“All I’m saying is that Oprah doesn’t care about the intent of the speaker or the effect on the listener. She thinks the word should be erased from the lexicon because of all the pain it caused people who are dead.”
“Makes sense to me,” I said.”
“Good or bad, the word is a part of our heritage,” my inner racist said. “Which is why I don’t see much difference between ISIS destroying ancient shrines and do-gooders tearing down statues of Confederate generals. We got rid of the battle flag, we’re changing the names of streets and schools that honor slave-owning presidents, so where does it end?”
“Slavery was wrong,” I said. “Inequality is wrong, and we shouldn’t honor those who stood for that.”
“We shouldn’t whitewash history either,” my inner racist interrupted. “We should remember our history. All of it.”
“Time to go back in your box,” I told my inner racist.
“But I want to talk about Trayvon and Ferguson,” my inner racist said.
“Let’s not go there,” I said.