The comment came during an interview the "Home Improvement" star sat down for with the Tampa Bay Times last month. The conversation took place on the same day news broke about Paula Deen's admission during a deposition to using the racial epithet. Allen argued that the taboo against white people saying the word was itself a damaging practice.
Eric Deggins, the Times reporter who interviewed Allen, explained:
For him, the criticism that keeps any nonblack comic from using the word is a step backward from the days when [Richard] Pryor and [Lenny] Bruce were breaking comedy boundaries by purposefully using street language in ways middle-of-the-road comics wouldn't dare.
"If I have no intent, if I show no intent, if I clearly am not a racist," Allen argued, "then how can 'n*****' be bad coming out of my mouth?"
Allen also insisted that the an unfair double standard was at play.
I do a movie with Martin Lawrence and pretty soon they’re referring to me, 'hey, my n*****'s up.' So I’m the n***** if I’m around you guys but 7 feet away, if I said n*****, it’s not right. It’s very confusing to the European mind how that works, especially if I’ve either grown up or evolved or whatever, it literally was growing up in Colorado, with Hispanics and Anglos, that’s all I remember.
According to Deggins, the comedian did not censor his use of the word, but rather said it freely several times in "talking about how using racial [s]lurs feels from a white guy’s perspective."
That perspective doesn't mean a whole lot, argued Georgetown Professor Michael Eric Dyson on Melissa Harris-Perry's MSNBC show on Sunday. Dyson condemned Allen for trying "to reassume the appropriate privilege of whiteness, which is to dictate the terms of the debate" around the word.
Look, y’all invented the n-word. We didn’t invent it. We just co-opted it. We hijacked it. We did a carjacking on that word a few decades ago, and now you’re mad because we’ve made more sexy use of it—some denigration as well. And now you want back in? No, you can’t have back in.
[...] He says it’s confusing to me. It ain’t confusing! Here’s a general rule of thumb to follow when using the n-word for white people. Never. When you do that, then you understand you can’t do it.”
Dyson summed up his argument by reflecting that, "[a]s Chris Rock said, white people control the whole world but they feel if they can’t use the n-word, somehow their power has been removed?
"No! Grow up, allow us to determine what is in and out."
Watch the whole segment on 'Melissa Harris-Perry' below: