Should we talk about those who use the word n*gger out of turn, or those who treat black folks like n*ggers from the Oval Office?
Let’s talk about both, because we’re able to do both at the same time.
Bill Maher has found himself in the predicament of using the word white folks shall not utter — except for some limited circumstances like providing testimony under oath in a courtroom — and then reaping the whirlwind for it. On last week’s episode of Real Time on HBO, Maher was interviewing Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska). This is what transpired between the two men:
Maher: Adults dress up for Halloween. They don’t do that in Nebraska?
Sasse: It’s frowned upon. We don’t do that quite as much.
Maher: I gotta get to Nebraska more.
Sasse You’re welcome. We’d love to have you work in the fields with us.
Maher: Work in the fields? Senator, I’m a house n*****.
Some would say Maher got ahead of himself at that moment, or perhaps got a little too comfortable around black people. I admit when I heard him say it on live cable, it took me by surprise for an instant. But then I concluded it didn’t offend me, which in and of itself surprised me. Perhaps it was the context of his comment. But people are all over the place on this.
For example, DeRay Mckesson and Chance The Rapper want Maher gone from HBO yesterday:
Michael Eric Dyson and Killer Mike took a different, more nuanced approach. On the one hand, Dyson acknowledged that n*gger is a word reserved only for black use, yet declared Maher’s support for black causes. On the other hand, Killer Mike said we have bigger fish to fry:
It would be foolish and irresponsible not to acknowledge the power and the pain inherent in the word n*gger. After all, it was hundreds of years in the making and reflects the essence of the oppression we have faced. Black people have been known to internalize the word and use it as a form of self-abuse and self-hatred, while also seizing it and flipping it, neutralizing it, and even using it as a term of endearment, as the subjugated sometimes do. Last year, Larry Wilmore made it work when he addressed President Obama at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, back when presidents attended those things.
African-Americans also risk not being able to see the forest for the trees if we assign so much power to the word that we care more about what Bill Maher said than what Donald Trump is doing. Bill Maher put his money where his mouth is when he gave $1 million to the Obama campaign in 2012. On the other hand, he has offended some with his fixation on Islamic terrorism and for calling Black Lives Matter protesters “f*cking idiots” as well as for criticizing Hilary Clinton during the presidential campaign season.
As we discuss whether Bill Maher should have license to say n*gger on HBO, let us consider those who treat us like n*ggers every single day.
Trump treats black people like n*ggers in just about everything he does — certainly when he stocked the West Wing full of Klan and Nazis, or when he had all the HBCU presidents at the White House, then refused to increase funding for HBCUs — which was predictable, by the way.
Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education secretary, might as well have called black folks n*gger when she gave the commencement address at Bethune-Cookman University, right before the announcement that K-12 education and college student loans would face deep cuts to support her public school privatization racket. DeVos’s only claim to fame is being a rich white lady who owns much of the Republican Party and the politicians therein — except for the shares claimed by the Koch Brothers, the Mercers, the Murdochs and Putin – which, apparently, gives her the right.
Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, surely treated somebody like a n*gger when he said there is no proof at-risk programs such as after-school and Meals on Wheels work. “We’re no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs,” Mulvaney said. “We’re going to measure compassion and success by the number of people we help get off those programs and back in charge of their own lives.”
Those Republicans who voted for Trumpcare in the hopes of killing more people will n*ggerize you and try to convince you it was your idea. Those who push voter ID, voter suppression and racial gerrymandering believe n*ggers never should vote.
Let’s make sure that should we choose to wage war on the so-called N-word, we don’t lose sight of the war in the corporate suites that impacts our access to capital and advertising revenue, and the war in the courtroom that robs us of our lives and livelihood, our families and our freedom.
Spend too much time on who is exercising the First Amendment, and risk forgetting the Second Amendment remedies being used against us. Reserve your outrage for Kathy Griffin for holding a fake bloodied head of Trump, and forget that black children, women and men shed real blood, dying from police bullets, chokeholds and Tasers, in jail cells and by vigilante violence. And Trump and his Jim Crow attorney general don’t give a damn about that. But they do care about imprisoning journalists, protesters, and those who, like Bill Maher and Kathy Griffin, use their high-profile status and cache to resist this administration.
We can walk and chew gum at the same time. We can focus on words that may offend, while not losing sight of policies that could hurt.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter @davidalove.