July 18, 2008

The (perceived) Power Of Words

I'm sure by now, everyone's heard about Whoopi Goldberg and Elisabeth Hasselbeck mixing it up over the use of the "n-word" on "The View" the other day. What I'm really surprised is that after listening to Whoopi and Sherri Shepherd essentially say that the word has "different meanings" depending on whether it's used by blacks or non-blacks, no one has thought to go all the way back to 1993, when Whoopi herself defended then-boyfriend Ted Danson for appearing at her Friar's Club roast in blackface and using the word several times.
When Goldberg got her chance for rebuttal at the end of the x-rated evening, she opened with, "Nigger, nigger, nigger. Whitey, whitey, whitey. It takes a whole lot of courage to come out in blackface in front of 3,000 people. "She stated emphatically, "I don't care if you don't like it. I do."
So apparently it is okay for a white man to use the word, as long as Whoopi thinks it's okay.

I think this speaks to exactly what Hasselbeck was talking about. Whoopi and Sherri were arguing that the difference exists because of intent...but frankly? That's bullshit. First of all, it isn't really intent; it's perceived intent. That is, it's what the "recipient" thinks the user meant. Just look above--Whoopi thought it was all right for a white man to dress in blackface and use the word, so she defended Danson. A lot of others in the audience that night didn't.
Celebrities on hand who stared in disbelief when Danson entered in blackface included dais guest Jasmine Guy, Sugar Ray Leonard, Shari Belafonte, Vanessa Williams, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Anita Baker, Beverly Johnson and Mr. T. Others in attendance included Michael Douglas, Robert Guillaume and talk show host Montel Williams, who stormed out of the ceremony.
Two drastically different views over the same use. See the problem?

Even if you don't buy that argument, think about this: if it's intent that matters, then why, when discussing the use of the word among reasonable adults who seem to only have the best intentions for getting to the heart of the issue, do networks and magazines and even the people on the shows (except for Whoopi) feel the need to bleep it out*, or to use that childish-sounding substitute "the n-word"? Certainly, there's no ill intent in those cases. And although Whoopi, et. al would have you believe that between blacks it's used in strictly positive ways, that's obviously not true either.

The truth is, that as long as the word is acceptable when used by one group, but not another, it will be divisive. Period.

Honestly, I just can't understand those who would defend it's use as being "okay" depending on one's race, especially after so many fought so hard to create racial harmony. Those who know their history know that it was once okay to also have separate schools, facilities, railway cars, etc. for separate races. The U.S. Supreme Court decided in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) that (at least regarding schools) the idea of separation was "inherently unequal." Why is still okay today to separate word use?

* I thought it was particularly telling that whoever was in charge of such things at "The View" felt that it was necessary to bleep the n-word, but let the word "polack" through untouched.

1 comment:

  1. Bravo. Sheppard is a retard. She is an embarrassment. Also, I have lost all respect for Goldberg. She is now an embarrassment as well.

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