When Bill Maher jokingly referred to himself as a “House N—” on his show this past Friday, it drew immediate fury and condemnation from all sides. Not surprisingly, the Rev. Al Sharpton was at the head of the pack, quick to capitalize on the moment to call Maher out for his error. Even though they’re apparently friends.
Those of us who grew up in the eighties remember Mr. Sharpton’s rise to “prominence” rushing to the defense of Tawana Brawley, an African-American teenager, who, back in 1987, falsely accused a local prosecutor, and others, of rape. Mr. Sharpton was found guilty of libel as a result of that case and ordered to pay $65,000.00 (the balance of which was entirely covered by his supporters, including famed O.J. Simpson attorney, Johnny Cochran).
The point here is, while what Maher said was, no doubt, an error in judgement, one has to question Sharpton’s motive to continue to keep the fire burning, even after Maher, a supposed ‘friend,’ issued a public apology.
The other point is, this incident of using the N-word as a punchline, and the recent defacing of LeBron James’ home, again featuring the N- word, but this time used for its intended meaning, begs the question, “How much of the responsibility of “normalizing” the N-word falls on the black community?”
After all, I’m Jewish and I can’t even remember the last time I saw a fellow member of The Tribe and greeted him with a “Whaddup, Kike?”
For as long as I can remember, the n-word’s been, not only accepted by the black population, but embraced; in all forms of art, entertainment, and, most importantly, everyday speech. Whether it’s a ground-breaking Richard Pryor HBO special, a hilarious Chris Rock observation, a legendary NWA album - which, btw, proudly features the N-word in their name, a classic SNL skit, or a simple greeting amongst two friends, it’s been accepted, and even joked about, that, while white people are absolutely forbidden to even think about it, blacks can say it anytime, anywhere, in any context, and, for some reason, it’s perfectly fine.
It’s easy to understand the motivation behind it, as to take a word that represents the worst they can say about you and wear it like a badge of honor, takes the wind out of their sails and gives it no power, whatsoever.
However, the problem with that is, if the above is true, then making that word a part of your every day vocabulary, makes it part of society’s vocabulary, as well. Especially when it’s used to sell movies, music, comedy, art, literature, etc., as, last I checked, white people like that stuff, too.
Black, white, or purple, if you’re a believer in equality for all, you should absolutely be offended by the N-word. As, it represents a time, not that long ago, when inequality was law and the tragic mistreatment of an entire race of people was, by and large, tolerated. But it also needs to be judged in context. Is it being used to degrade a person or a nationality, such as when it’s painted on a prominent athlete’s front door, or used as term of condescension, say, by our current Attorney General? Or, is it being used to make fun of oneself in a comedic punchline? As in the context of how Maher, and a million black comedians before him, used it. What would have been the reaction if a Chris Rock, or a Richard Pryor, or Bernie Mac said it? Would there have been any reaction at all? At the very least, I doubt Al Sharpton would have uttered a peep.
We would be remiss to underestimate the importance of common sense in rushing to crucify someone for their simple use of a word. We need to put more emphasis on judging a person on their actions, not their comedy, color, or mere slips of the tongue.
However, if simply uttering the word means you’ve crossed the line and need to be punished and ostracized for your crime, why aren’t members of the black community up in arms over their own people’s assistance when it comes to ‘watering down’ the reverence/respect the word demands, by using it as a punch line and/or a salutation as frequently as “sir” or “ma’am” for the past several decades? Makes no sense.
Back in ‘01, when my band, The Rosenbergs, went on Howard Stern with Kiss’s Gene Simmons, we were basically a room full of Jews. Howard, myself, Gene, our bass player, and Gene’s impersonator, comedian Craig Gass. Aside from the E! channel’s producers removing virtually all mention of us from Stern’s then-popular cable show, what the camera’s/audio inadvertently edited out was Simmons repeatedly calling us Kikes.
Was there an uproar from the Jewish community after the show? Did Stern receive hate mail from the Anti-Defamation league? Nope. Not a peep. Perhaps it was because Twitter hadn’t been invented yet, but my thought is, like the black community, a Jew calling another Jew a kike is fine. Because of the context.
IMO, if we, as well as the media, were as quick to condemn with fury and outrage the actions of those around us, as we are the words spoken by a few comedians, we probably wouldn’t have a pu##y-grabber as our president. Wouldn’t you agree, Sen. Sasse?