Monday, November 10, 2014

Piers Morgan Wants To Whip The N-Word Into Brutal Submission

The Washington Post created a fair amount of buzz Monday with a piece discussing the "prevalence" and shifting meaning of the n-word, complete with statistics,  extensive video interviews, and sometime-insightful commentary. The contours of the discussion and debate are familiar, but it's a well-executed project that, while not without its flaws, is definitely worth reading. Pegged to the NFL's effort to ban the word, the piece capably illuminates the differences in context, inflection, and pronunciation that can affect how the word is perceived, as well as well-chosen commentaries on the word's history, and the debate over banning it versus reclaiming it.

 The piece got a lot of attention today, much of it due to their citation of a statistic that's supposed to show the word's "prevalence" in modern American life:
A word that is used 500,000 times a day on Twitter — as “nigga” is, according to search data on the social media analytics Web site — is almost by definition beyond banning. By comparison, “bro” and “dude” — two of the terms with which the n-word is synonymous to many people younger than 35 — are used 300,000 and 200,000 times, respectively.
That stat may be accurate, but it hardly seems to prove interchangeability with "bro" and "dude" among people younger that 35. The word "bae" is also used between 300k and 500k per day on Twitter, but I don't see it replacing "bro" or "dude" anytime soon.

The WaPo piece is excellent and insightful on the internal debate, among black people, on the use of the n-word, but makes unsupported leaps when it comes to the wider use, or acceptance, of the word.

 Former CNN host Piers Morgan took that leap in a different direction by penning a London Daily Mail column advising that "If black Americans want the N-word to die, they will have to kill it themselves," because all of that Twitter ubiquity is just too confusing for racist white people to figure out:
The reason it is so ingrained in pop culture is that many blacks, especially young blacks reared to the soundtrack of N-word splattered rap music, use it in an ironic way. They’re aware of its history; they know from their parents and grandparents that arrogant, dumb, racist whites used it as a wicked, derogatory insult against their black slave forebears. And they enjoy the freedom of being able to say it now in the knowledge that it’s become taboo for whites to do so.
Hold up, now, Piers. You understand that arrogant, dumb, racist whites still use it now, right? This isn't like "I bite my thumb at thee," it's a current, active expression.

There are great arguments for, and against, the "reclaiming" argument, and like Piers, I tend to side with the "no" side of that argument, but here's something that I would never think to include in the calculation:
Far from ‘owning’ these words, seizing back control with the use of them, I believe it merely serves to empower those who wish to deploy them abusively - and encourage them to continue doing so. Your average dim-witted, foul-mouthed bigot – and there are plenty of them as Twitter can attest – thinks: ‘If they use it, why can’t I?’ They hear African-Americans say the N-word to each other and claim victory: ‘See, that’s what they even call themselves!’ It’s the twisted, horrible mind-set of the wretchedly ignorant.
See, no one  is actually confused by this argument. Everyone understands the difference between the use of a familiar term by an insider, versus an outsider. Whatever it is that black people decide to do with the n-word, it should have nothing to do with the level of feigned confusion they are causing in white idiots.

 As well-intentioned as he is, Morgan suffers from a terminal case of tone-deafness, as evidenced by his overly-instructive headline, and his choice of n-word-banishing metaphor:
Better, surely, to have it expunged completely. Eradicated, obliterated, tied to a literary post and whipped into such brutal submission that it never rears its vicious head again. But this will only happen when America’s black community applies the same level of tolerance to its own use of the word as that now applied in the National Football League: zero.
It is in that same spirit of advice-giving generosity that I would suggest to Piers that when deciding whether black people should use the n-word or not, he's entitled to his opinion, but he's probably better off treating it like a shareholder's meeting for Doritos. It's nacho business, Piers.

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