I started writing this to address the Bill Maher controversy, but I took a deep breath and saw a bigger issue. If you don’t know already, Bill Maher, a liberal white man with a long history of supporting black people, told another white man that he, Bill Maher, was a “house nigger, ” and, yea, that sucked for me.
It was like learning for a second time that Abraham Lincoln was also kind of a white supremacist. In that moment I felt like I was watching another of my idols methodically descend from his pedestal, drop his pants, and take a crap on the floor, then beg me to look at his record of not crapping on the floor.
I am not one to throw out the baby with the bath water. I don’t hate Maher. I don’t want his show cancelled. I think he does a great job, usually, but I’ll never watch him the same way again. He will always have this asterisk next to his record in my book.
Maher isn’t alone. He stands in a long line of white liberals who have taken too much liberty with the trust placed in them by members of the minority community and have thrown around a few too many casual N-words. Maher, and others, have lead me to pen this open letter:
Dear white friends,
Hey! It’s been a busy couple of decades. Sorry, we haven’t really had the chance to talk like we should.
We have had an interesting history together, right? Some good times, some not so good times, some really, really bad, dark times… but hey, we’ve made it this far. I don’t want to rehash the past too much. I’m writing to ask you a favor as a friend.
Please stop asking me if you can say the N-word. The answer is still no.
I am offended that you want to say the N-word. I mean, why? What do you get out of saying it? Does it make you feel cooler because black people say it? Honestly, I am not super comfortable when black people use it either, but that’s a different letter. News flash: white people have been saying way longer. I don’t hear you arguing to reintroduce “groovy” or “jive turkey” into your everyday conversation.
Why this word?
You know what it means to me. You were there at the lunch counter. You were at the sit-in. You were at the funerals. You were at the protests. You were in the mobs and at the lynchings. You know what that word means. It means I am property, that I am a subclass of humanity, if I am human at all.
That meaning has not changed.
Oprah spoke about this recently, and I know you love Oprah. She said, “you will never change it for that family, you will never change it for the people for whom it was the last word they heard when they were hung, or dismembered, or degraded.”
Yes, people are blurring it’s use. I get that. Yes, I know it’s popular. In some circles, in the right pronunciation, it’s even endearing, but trust me its significance has not changed. Much to the chagrin of many rappers, black people are not taking the word back. I know this because I have been called a nigger to my face by a red-faced, white teenager with none of our history, who was only moments before rapping along to “Niggas,” with the a-s, “In Paris.” He used the same word to insult me that you would have me forgive as part of the modern vernacular, as meaningless slang.
If it is so meaningless, then why it’s that still the default.
I will forgive it one day after the last white person to use it as a slur passes away peacefully at a ripe old age. I will forgive it as meaningless when there is no vestige of the meaning of that word on bitter racist lips. Don’t tell me it doesn’t mean anything until then. Don’t ask me if you can use it until then. Just don’t use it. I shouldn’t have to ask you that after all we’ve been through.
Sorry, that got heavy.
Anyway, how are you?
How’s the family? I ran into your son at a concert the other day.
We should talk more.