The Indefensible “Nigger” Double Standard

Andrea Quenette, a University of Kansas communications professor, has been on paid leave for four months after a group of her students filed a complaint that she had used the racial epithet nigger in  response to a question in class. She was asked about  her views on the best way to talk about race with  students, and replied that as a white woman, she found it  difficult to relate to minority groups’ challenges because she has not experienced racial discrimination herself.  She added that unlike other campuses where there had been over racist incidents, she “had not seen “nigger” spray painted on walls at KU.”

For saying this, she was subjected to campus-wide humiliation, an interruption in her teaching career and an investigation, of what I cannot imagine. She was talking about the word, she is a communications professor, words are her business, and it is impossible to talk about the word “nigger” seriously without using it (and no, codes like “N-word”  are either the exact same as using the word itself, or politically correct conventions that show just how silly word-o-phobia really is. Take your pick.) Finding offense with her using “nigger” in this context is simply a “gotcha” by race-baiting students. and as nonsensical as the gag in “The Life Of Brian” where the priest who condemns a Hebrew citizen by committing the blasphemy of speaking the name of God, “Jehovah,” is stoned by the crowd because he speaks the forbidden name in order to utter the condemnation. Nevertheless. Professor Quenette, while keeping her clearly worthless job, was sentenced to mandatory cultural competency training, a.k.a. political correctness indoctrination, and to have a second faculty member work with her to ensure that her curriculum include more diversity.

If she had enough sense, courage and integrity to be qualified to teach at the college level, she would have told the school to take its job, its curriculum, its rejection of academic freedom, its craven capitulation to race-bullying and its disgusting treatment of faculty members and shove them all. But no, she’s a good, submissive  social justice zombie who just made a mistake, and it’s time for her to grovel.

Spurred by this miserable marker of how low higher education has sunk, my indispensable issue scout Fred puckishly sent me this, a Washington Post opinion piece from a year ago. The column, by  African American free-lancer Michael Arceneaux, was sparked by an incident I also commented upon a year ago, when Kentucky guard Andrew Harrison muttered “Fuck that nigga”  behind his hand into a live microphone while answering a post-Final Four game news conference question about Wisconsin player Frank Kaminsky, whose heroics had led to Kentucky’s 71-64 victory.  My position on Harrison, then as now, was this:

“I look forward to having it explained to me once again why a black man calling a white one a “nigger” following a vulgarity should be excused as simply a charming cultural expression of respect that one can only appreciate in the context of the larger African-American experience, while a white man saying the same about a black player would become an instant national pariah and risk having his house burned down.”

Or, in the alternative, why a college professor referring accurately in a classroom setting to an incident of racist graffiti has to have her brain washed, while a black college basketball star is staunchly defended while using the same word following “fuck” and “that,” which unequivocally indicates that his variation of “nigger” was not intended benignly.

I missed his screed at the time, but this is exactly what Arceneaux thought he was doing, though while insisting that there was not a double standard he proved not only that there was one, but that it was indefensible. He wrote,

After years of such trite debates, it should go without saying: Context matters. White people invented the word to disparage black folks. Using it to blame black people for ruining some formerly lily-white institution is an American pastime. It’s in that context that the University of South Carolina student scrawled the plural of the n-word as the first in a list of things ruining the school’s wi-fi (illogical, but I guess she’s still learning, or something). It’s in that context that students at Bucknell University were expelled for a radio broadcast that included the n-word, along with racist comments like “black people should be dead” and “lynch ’em.” And surely, that was the context for members of University of Oklahoma’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, who were recorded singing that racist little ditty about “hanging them from a tree.”…In those types of circumstances, the n-word is used to exclude, demonize and terrorize a group of people. It’s dishonest to try to lump in Andrew Harrison with that form of systemic racism. Even though this rationale upsets some, including some black people who are vehemently against the use of the word under any circumstance, it’s nonetheless true. Those critics argue against reclaiming or redefining the n-word slur, using the derivative Harrison used. But it is clear that among those who do use that derivative, particularly millennials, the connotation is not the same. In that context, it’s used not as a racial slur, but as a comparatively benign and generic reference to another individual.

Huh? If context matters, why was Arceneaux, a black man, using “n-word” when his context is as innocent as Professor Quenette’s? Since his examples would have been just as hateful and unacceptable if nigger hadn’t been used in them at all, his examples prove nothing. Why do those hateful  contexts provide proof that nigger was used as a racial epithet, but “Fuck that nigga,” uttered by a black player referring derisively to a  white one who had just shattered his dreams of a championship isn’t a similarly ugly “context”?

What Arceneaux calls context is in reality just a single condition precedent: skin color. Whites don’t get to use, in any context (See: Professor Quenette, or earlier, Dr. Laura), the word “nigger,” but blacks do.

Got it…and it it offensive, discriminatory, divisive, and by definition a double standard. Arceneaux, having just disproved his own assertion that there wasn’t a double standard regarding use of nigger (“Whites can’t use it, blacks can” is a double standard), retreated into full attack mode to duck the consequences of his own advocacy incompetence with this rant (I’ll save time by pointing out the nonsense as we go):

If someone finds it a burden that white people cannot use “the n-word” without inciting anger [That wasn’t the issue you supposedly wrote the essay about, you dishonest hack. The issue was whether Harrison invoked a racial slur, and whether he deserved the same kind of condemnation a white player would in similar circumstances], they operate from within a bubble filled with entitlement, privilege and delusion about what real racial burdens in America look like. [ There’s the entitlement and privilege muzzle again. The black writer can’t win an argument with available facts and logic, so he decrees that nobody who isn’t black is capable of arguing with him. This use of the privilege slur is a pure ad hominem attack, an attack on the messenger to substitute for a rebuttal of the message, and it is high time it is recognized as such. ] It’s exhausting to have to repeatedly explain something that ought to be so easy to understand. [ If it’s so easy to understand, why is your column explaining it so self-contradictory and incoherent?  In legal advocacy, when a lawyer says or writes that his assertion is “clearly” true, we know that he is having difficulty proving it.] The fact that we continue to have this debate, over whether black people should be able to repurpose a slur [ Oh, is that what Harrison was doing? He was using “nigger” as a slur, but that’s OK because he was re-purposing it as a slur against white people, which is all right because he’s black, but this isn’t a double standard. Gee, you’re right, it’s so clear, it ought to be so easy to understand.”] that is not their own invention, [ Is this a new rule? I missed the announcement of this rule. Whether a word is offensive or not in the mouth of a speaker depends on whether the speaker is roughly the same color as the person who “invented it”? ]  speaks to whose interests still dominate the race narrative. [ Funny, I’d assume that the side of this debate that wants to preserve double standards based on race is the side “whose interests still dominate the race narrative.” ] More importantly, it speaks to how, when it comes to tackling race and racism, we collectively continue to focus on the superficial rather than the substantive. [ Wait—who’s writing the article about whether a college basketball star was using a slur when he said “Fuck that nigga”?] What should be more troubling: Andrew Harrison calling a white guy the n-word derivative after losing a basketball game, or the racist systems that lead to disproportionate povertyand criminalization of black men and women in our country?  [ There it is, the desperation argument that shows even Arceneaux knows his position is junk! Yes, it’s the worst of all rationalization, #22, “It’s not the worst thing”!  Oh, and “n-word” is a derivative of nigger, not the other way around. Just to be clear, you know…] Just because Harrison’s outburst is an easier topic to dissect doesn’t make it more demanding of our focus. We are quick to jump on racist words, but remain wilfully blind to racist systems. [ Wow, another double standard! Blacks can jump on racist words—again, see Professor Quenette, above—but when whites do it, they are “wilfully blind to racist systems.”]

Arceneaux had one valid statement among his intellectually dishonest blather, though he used it incorrectly. Context matters, and in the case of nigger, the only context that matters is what the word was intended to communicate. The “context” of the speaker’s skin color does not matter, and in a cultural context, if black Americans want the word recognized society-wide as term of derision toward their race, they need to stop using it as a benevolent term toward members of their race, or, as in Harrison’s case, a term of derision toward other races.

That IS clear.

_________________________

Spark and Pointer: Fred

25 thoughts on “The Indefensible “Nigger” Double Standard

  1. I think Chris Rock tried to explain it as saying the White race has permanently had its n-word privileges revoked due to how it used the word in the past, same as you might lose your driving privileges for abusing them.

    • Not sure I get the analogy, as I would feel I’d been cheated if my driving privileges were revoked because my dumb ass coworker or even grandfather had a DUI on their record.

    • He might have, I’m just not sure that it was meant for laughs or in seriousness…. But it’s an interesting idea to address. Do we lose the right to use chunks of language based on the actions of people from a time before we were born?

      I’d argue against that.

      That said, I can’t think of many situations where the word would be appropriate. I agree with Jack, code is code, which is why tightly-sphinctered, pearl-clutchers that use “freaking” or “shoot” amuse me so; I’ll never shy away from an appropriately timed “fuck”.

      And so how do we discuss the word without using the word and offending some tender snowflake? Well, we can’t. And that’s the goal…. It’s to stifle speech. The people advocating tight speech controls do so in favor of the status quo… Problems don’t go away by ignoring them, and failure to recognize your past makes you more likely to repeat the mistakes in it. I think that the fear is that real conversations of the issues would lead to uncomfortable conclusions within certain groups,

      Things like “Yes, you were historically discriminated against, and vestiges of inequality persist. But the resolution of these issues will require not only the hard work of other people, but some on your part as well. As opposed to constant protest and the expectation that someone else will fix your problems for you.”

      Which by the way… could be ad-libbed for so many different groups it isn’t funny.

      • Can a white man use ANY such terms without getting in trouble? It frankly depends on company. Most folks in my office loathe Muslims, so saying “Muzzie” is accepted, and you can even get away with “sand nigger,” “dune coon” etc. You could also get away with anti-gay epithets, since we have no gay people on staff. I still use the anti-Islamic stuff when talking terror, I see no reason to respect the sworn enemies of this nation. Other stuff, not so much, since it makes me sound like I’m still in high school.

        • In every day speech.

          Get a load of this inanity: From the wiki article about Conrad’s “Nigger of the Narcissus” — “In 2009, WordBridge Publishing published a new edition titled ‘The N-Word of the Narcissus,’ which completely excised the word “nigger” from the text.” Dumb.

      • “The ethical thing would be to have no one use it.” I am not sure that is exactly right, either. If the word was in fact “verbal toxicity incarnate,” then I don’t think there would be the double standard that Jack is addressing.

        I think that as a society, we are much more likely to progress in our regard for “nigger” in part by way of what I am calling, for lack of better imagination, “desensitization therapy.” I envision (or, at least, fantasize) a “new 1960s” of cultural revolution, mass rebellion against today’s “PC” – books, videos, speech absolutely saturated with use of “nigger” by people of all races and backgrounds, used in every imaginable context, with the eventual effect of people virtually “tuning it out.” Similarly, we have largely succeeded in becoming tolerant of “like” or “you know” figures of speech – much like “fuck” has been “liberated” for more widespread usage – to the point where hearing or reading such words evokes at most a momentary hesitation, along with (for some) an annoyance with some resignation.

        But I am just not convinced that a “shell shock” response to words like nigger and fuck is all bad. For us to “move on,” we must get over whatever historical “toxicity” we have associated with such words. That is part of the “final solution,” I believe. But I do also believe that another part is the setting of an example by not using certain words at all, or if at all, rarely.

        • To follow up: The subatomic science of a particular principle (to be cited shortly) can be applied to slurs like “nigger” to a devastatingly constructive effect.

          Consider the following, ostensibly offensive utterance:

          “Oh, go cracker yourself, you crackering mothercrackerer. I don’t give a crackerdamned cracker what you crackering do, you mothercrackering cracker.”

          You can substitute “fuck,” “nigger,” and even “Trump” for “cracker” above, and presto! You have initiated society’s Long March to subjecting the most objectionable slur, epithet, or profanity to its descent into the irresistible, “democratizing” gravitational well that is governed by what I call the “Paul Bega-la-la-la-la-la-la Principle,” to wit:

          Do something, or say something, or employ something, often enough that eventually, all meaningfulness, value, and impact of the something (including especially, objections to it and resistance to it) disappears. As a result, everyone (with possible rare exceptions like Jack) just shrugs and moves on at the sight, or hearing, or other awareness of the something. Eventually, nobody will give a fart about the something; it will have evolved into just another brainfart, another matter (or anti-matter) of meaninglessness for, and to, the masses – in the case of slurs, mere addition to “authentic frontier gibberish.”

          I propose the slur-genocide of “nigger” by diminishing its meaning through over-use. Think of my proposal as the smashing-together of two unethical rationalizations – “the ends justify the means” supercollided with “everybody does it” – to produce an ethical outcome (or at least, an ethics-neutral outcome).

          I now eagerly await “peer review.”

  2. There is no law against using the word. Everyone go ahead and use it. Shout it to the rafters if you feel like it. But “free speech” doesn’t mean free from consequences. Sure I can call my boss honey, stare longingly into her eyes before going in for a kiss. If she fires me for that, I can protest and point out that she has a double standard, because I saw her husband do the same thing an hour before I did It all makes sense now!

    Though seriously, I don’t see why this is such a hard concept for some people to get. It’s almost as if…they actually don’t want to get it. The same way a fat girl can make fat jokes, but a skinny girl can’t make fat jokes without seeming like a bitch, being part of the group lets you have certain intimacies that people who are not in the group do not have. I can make fun of my mom, complain about her, give her nicknames which she may or may not like. But some outsider should not ever attempt to do the same thing about my mother in my presence.

    I have two gay friends who use gay slurs in my presence, often in a joking manner. If the joke is funny, I might laugh, but I would never attempt a gay joke or use a gay slur I recognize that I am not part of that community/culture, and any attempt on my part to do such a thing has a high chance of being taken the wrong way. We instinctively understand that we do not use the same words to address our friends as we would our boss, as we would an elderly stranger on the street, as we would a small child on that we see around the neighborhood. I don’t think that is a double standard. That is just politeness, and not being overly familiar when it is not warranted.

    • Sorry. Gay guys calling each other faggots is dumb. What’s ever become of the concept of setting an example with one’s behavior? Is aspiration a dead concept? I guess so.

    • None of which is really the issue. If you are going to argue that any word, or personal, physical denigration of any kind, is uncivil and harmful, then it’s counter productive and hypocritical to use the words yourself.

      What is so hard to understand about THAT? If “cunt” is ugly and misogynist, then I don’t expect to hear women using it to describe each other. In the case at hand, the player Williams called a “nigga” wasn’t his friend, and that argument wasn’t even made by the clueless columnist. In private? I don’t care what you say. This was in public, with the epithet attached to “fuck,” and a pure double standard that is pure nonsense.

      In “Boomtown,” Spencer Tracy punches out men who call him Shorty, but his best friend calls him Shorty openly. Know what? If you are condemning denigrating names based on physical characteristics, your credibility is shot if you permit that. Then it’s not the word that is at issue, but actual privilege.

      I saw the movie when I was 10, and I thought Spencer was a hypocrite.

      • No because from his friends its a term of endearment but form the people he doesn’t know its an insult.

        If a brother Marine calls me jarhead I have no problem with it, if someone who is not a Marine calls me it I do have a problem with it.

        But neither are the same as calling someone nigger. No one should use the word in everyday speech but in this teachers case she was using it to teach a point. How can we expect to discuss racism in this country if we are too afraid to even discuss a word and mention the word while doing so?

        • “Friends” using slurs among “friends” is dumb. Why is it okay for one Marine to call another Marine a jarhead while it’s not okay for a non-Marine to use the term? Makes no sense unless you’re willing to agree Marines are in fact, I don’t know, large-headed, jock-jawed, hard-headed not-so-intelligent guys?

          If a slur is okay among friends, then maybe it has some legitimacy?

            • Is it really a good idea to have black people among themselves calling each other “niggers?” It strikes me as if they’re saying, among themselves, “You know what, those cracker ass motherfuckers really are right. We really are niggers.” Why would anyone want to imply or endorse such a terrible notion? And sure, anybody can say whatever they want and I’m sure I can’t say or think any of this because I’m white, but the question is, “Is this really a good idea?” I just think the answer is no.

              • “Is it really a good idea to have black people among themselves calling each other “niggers?” ”

                It can be a good idea.
                See my proposal in this thread – my comment of 5:28 am today.

      • [Reply to Jack’s Mar 22 at 2:28 pm]
        There is a way to break the standard, or double standard as you call it. Especially with mere words, civility can be restored through the conscientious devaluation of words considered uncivil. We have already talked “fuck” to death, or at least, talked it into irreversible coma – by “we,” I mean the whole society. The former rarity of use of “fuck” unfortunately sustained unnecessary taboos against its use for too long. A combination of over-use and fatiguing of users would work wonders. I commented more on this at 5:28 am today.

  3. Nigger. Jehovah. There! Now BLM and Moslem Brotherhood thugs can come at me with a free spirit and lots of rocks. Fortunately- and unlike Eric Idle!- I have the Constitution, the State of Texas and Colonel Colt in my corner.

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