In the wake of the Paula Deen n-word “scandal,” something has come up over and over on my twitter feed and once in my email, which is this trendy statement: “Well, if she can’t say the n-word, then shouldn’t we ban all of hip-hop music, too??”
Feel free to read “hip-hop music” as “black people using the n-word,” because that’s what people mean when they say that (it’s a racially coded phrase).
This issue has already been explained really well by people who understand the politics of reclamation much better than me, but here’s a quick, choppy thing about that: As the offended community in question (historically and presently), black people are the sole rightful voices on the n-word discussion (in terms of whether or not it can be used). Only black people can use that word in a movement to reclaim it and its oppressive power, and only black people have the right to argue over whether or not the word should be abolished completely (from anyone’s vocabulary). White people (or others from other communities) are not allowed to say, “well, okay, if Paula Deen can’t say it then black artists can’t use it in their music.” Actually, no. You and me don’t get a say in whether or not black people can use it or whether it should be used at all. It’s not your/my word. With regard to this specific word, you and me live in a safe space in which it has not been used to degrade us nor is still being used to degrade us. So we get to be totally silent and listen to the only people who can legitimately say whether or not this word can be used at all, and who can use it. I’ve made it sound like the black community is all connected and gets together to vote on these issues on hump days, but that’t not what I mean. I mean as the only population that has this specific relationship with the n-word, black voices are the only ones that count when it comes to deciding how to use it, if at all, even if there is massive disagreement between various individuals (as there will obviously be disagreement). Reclamation has to happen from within a community for it to be an effective take-back of the power in a word. Do you hear me, the writing staff of Girls? Quentin Tarantino, you too. Stop with that crap. Oppression and it’s buddy ‘racial slur’ are not here for you to exploit for drama and spice because you get to live in a world in which you have never been affected or degraded by that word, and you (and me) will always have that privilege. Maybe if we could just reign in our egos for a minute and admit that the verdict on the n-word cannot and should not be delivered by the likes of Lesley Arfin or any hipster racists.
And, to the people who still don’t get hip hop and rap: It’s a bumping call for social justice and change and an unparalleled form of articulating angering experiences (imo on that last part). It’s not hip hop’s fault that the stuff that went mainstream isn’t the best, now let’s stop trying to police hip hop music with suspiciously sporadic outbursts of fondness for political correctness (that always happen when we start talking about rap or “urban music”).
Anyway here is a lethally good spoken word poem on the topic: