After a long, stupid summer of “Who gets to say the ‘N’ word?” I just have one question: why in the hell would you even want to? It’s not as though it lends the speaker an air of sophistication. As my mother-in-law would say, “You know better words than that.”
Moreover, it’s not as simple as merely avoiding a word — it’s a mindset that is exposed by the context in which the word is placed (despite the protestations that such remarks are taken out of context).
I once attended a disastrous “over the hill” birthday party for an unmedicated depressive. After the guest of honor locked herself in her bedroom, Wendi and I were left stranded amid a group of people who should damn well have known better than to laugh at her mortality.
We awkwardly ate our pieces of the “funny” cake, all flavor buried beneath the horrible taste of every food coloring ever made (used to produce a jolly black icing to the cake). Then it got worse.
There are some misguided individuals (myself, sadly, included) who combat their own discomfort by inflicting their poor wit on those nearby. Granting that there were only a handful of guests, I still have no idea why we were selected to receive his joke. Maybe he thought that the liberal college students could use some casual racism.
Playing off the unfortunate side-effect of the death cake — which had dyed our teeth and tongues a sickly, dark indigo — he sidled over to us, a twinkle in his eye, and quipped “You look like reverse n_____s!”
Now, here’s my point. The problem isn’t just the word. “You look like reverse African-Americans!” is still a stupid thing to say, and neither phrasing is remotely funny. (Okay, I’ll grant that the revision might be droll in some post-ironic way.) There are much funnier ways of observing that the damn cake was staining us:
- “Is there something in my teeth?”
- “I hope this cake sticks to my ribs as much as it does my teeth!”
- Hold out arms. Glaze eyes. Make zombie sounds.
- “Well! Off to my photo shoot!”
- Quietly eat the cake.
What I think this reveals is just how much this person is consumed by racial differences. It’s the very first thing on his mind. See a white guy with black teeth? Hey, that’s the opposite of a black guy with white teeth! And that preoccupation undoubtedly carries into other topics. Crime? Race! Jobs? Race! TV? Race! Cake? Race!
So — if you’re upset that you don’t get to say that special word — ask yourself what kind of asshole you are that you want to say it.