Whoopi & Sherri, Please Stop

Just stop using the “N” word in public. Stop advocating the word’s use in private. What will it take? Who must weigh in on this subject to end this debate? When will our community unite in the understanding that self denigration isn’t self love? How can we convince Brothers and Sisters “reclaiming” the word is at best a fantasy and at worst revisionist history?

“The View” became “the hot topic” last week when a discussion of the “N” word caused co-host Elizabeth Hasselbeck to cry. The media promoted the story as a “catfight” and mischaracterized Whoopi as “attacking” Elizabeth. That’s no surprise. That’s what the media does to get ratings and sell magazines.

I see the real issue being that two of the most prominent women of color on television publicly advocated the use of a racial slur. It breaks my heart.

I must confess my bias. I love Whoopi Goldberg. She is wildly talented, bright, provocative, and insightful and even as an Academy Award winner, I think her career is horribly underappreciated. Not by me. Her voice and presence on “The View” has really lifted the show. Her opinion carries weight. That’s why I’m going to try and convince Whoopi, Sherri and anyone who will listen, to JUST STOP!

I’m not the first person, or the most influential, to call for an end to using the word. So let me get in line. Let me pick just a few people whose life and work for civil rights, justice and humanity did not or has not included publicly advocating the use of the “N” word. Dr. Martin Luther King , Medger Evers, Malcolm X, A Phillip Randolph, Adam Clayton Powell, Thurgood Marshall, Shirley Chisholm , Gandhi, Dorothy Height, Dr. Cornell West, Desmond Tutu , Maya Angelou, Sidney Poitier and Nelson Mandela . That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Who else do we need to hear from?

I believe in the freedom of speech. I believe in the right to privacy. I will defend everyone’s freedom to do and say whatever they feel in private. But the days of using the word “amongst ourselves” are gone. We are promoting the proliferation of the word around the globe! Our music, our films and some of our best and brightest will publicly campaign to call their friends and themselves a racial slur. It’s the greatest Jedi mind trick ever pulled!

Furthermore, why only that word? Why not “reclaim” all hateful speech? There are lots of words we use in private that we would never campaign to use publicly. What’s the difference?

I know the good old argument. We take the word they used against us, to hate us, and use it as a term of endearment. We “reclaimed” it. I understand it. I know the feeling is real. I’ve done it. But here is the hard, cold fact. In order to “reclaim” the word, by definition, we have to take “it”, and its power, away from somebody. That is NEVER going to happen. We will never stop racist individuals from using that word to mean everything it was intended to mean. The day a White racist walks up to a Black person, calls him or her the “N” word and gets a hug and a smile because they feel “endearment”…isn’t coming.

I am even more baffled by why anyone wants to rewrite history. Let history mark the evil of racists. Let the lynch mobs bare the stain of their hate. I don’t want it sanitized or watered down. Do you see Jewish people “reclaiming” the swastika as a symbol of “endearment?”

Here is another hard, cold fact. Nine times out of ten when WE use the word it’s pejorative or simply a description. “Man N’s were acting a fool”, “N’s were all over Vegas at All Star Weekend” and the ever popular, “N please.” Where’s the love in that?

We don’t even reserve the word for us. I see Brothers daily, using the word towards ANYBODY! White, Asian, Indian… it doesn’t matter. Then there’s the reality that White people are using it with each other, Asian people are using it with each other. Anywhere you go there’s a car blasting music with someone singing the word, who’s not Black. For Black people who don’t use the word and haven’t relinquished their right to be offended by the word, confronting someone outside of our community who feels entitled to use the word is not uncommon. It’s what separates Black Americans from all other people of color around the world. We’re the only ones, in the history of man, who fight for the right to denigrate ourselves.

We all know what would happen if a White CEO, politician or anyone of power and influence used the word publicly. The outrage would put an end to their career. The decision would come from the Black community and be supported by the majority of the White community. Dr. King wrote about his disappointment in the lack of support from Whites moderates. Today, if only on this issue, we have the support of Christians, Jews and moderate Whites that Dr. King yearned for. Yet, our “house divided” can’t take advantage. Imagine how different the world would be if ANYONE who used the word faced the same consequences.

On a personal note, I get annoyed just having this debate. Not on substance, but on practicality. By advocating against the word, I usually have to say the word just to demonstrate that I’m not “afraid” of the word. However, I hate saying “the N word.” It seems juvenile but it is what it is.

This year we may elect the first Black president. The same year that candidate gave a brilliant speech on race. On the first day Barack Obama is in the Oval Office, do you want Nelson Mandela to walk in and say “what’s up my N?”

There’s a brilliant poem by Julian Curry (not the English actor) on Def Poetry Jam. If you haven’t seen it, check it out!

Whoopi, Sherri, Brothers, Sisters, everyone, please, Just Stop.

Darryl Bell is an actor and Chicago native, best known for his roles in classic TV series “A Different World” and Spike Lee’s “School Daze.” His unique television commentary is exclusive to Urban Thought Collective.

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