Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: US point of view

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 22 Feb 2004


For the record, I am in pretty much total agreement with you. I do not use those slurs and I cringe when I hear them, regardless of their source, as an insult or as in-group joking. And I am well aware of the heated debate within some of those groups, particularly African Americans over gangsta rap, about the in-group use of those slurs. I find them reprehensible even when the usage is clearly intended to devalue the power of the word through overuse -- I don't think that strategy works because negative intent will always turn them back into fighting words.

I find the use of the N word (can't even type it out), for instance, hard to hear in rap. Sometimes, as in Public Enemy or Ice T, hard to hear may make me confront some of my unexamined values, but all too often it is used unthinkingly as a signifier of hardness that ends up embracing and pandering to many of the most negative racial stereotypes. When 50 Cent, for instance, embraces the pimp gangbanger role as his image (why do we care how many times he's been shot?), is it any wonder when racists take his raps as proof positive that all of their racial biases are fact?

Within context, like most of Pelecanos's uses of those words, I am fine with it. It still makes me cringe, but I do see it as part of the characters' vocabulary and it would be false not to use them. Tarantino sometimes does this well, but other times oversteps. I'm certainly not ready to agree with Spike Lee that QT should be barred from using the word, but it is sometimes gratuitous in his films, particularly in the coffee scene in Pulp Fiction.

I have much the same reaction to the use of those words in Iceberg Slim and Dennis Cooper, since I referred to them in my earlier post. It does not matter to me that Pelecanos is a straight white male, while Iceberg Slim is black and Dennis Cooper is gay. It matters to me whether or not I find their characters believable. (It's just as possible for a member of a group to present a poor image as it is for an outsider.) I find many characters in all of these authors' books reprehensible and sometimes the characters' language is part of that reaction, but I still find them fascinating and worth reading about, sometimes more so because of their scurrilous nature.

So in my earlier post, I was just trying to note a sociological tendency in US culture. I didn't mean to imply it was a bad thing, even if it is sometimes overdone. In my own awkward way, I was trying to defuse the situation. I certainly did not mean to imply that refraining from using the slurs is patronizing (hell, I find it far more patronizing when I hear various white youth use the N word, often to other whites, not that that matters, it's just odd).

I do not see you as PC. I applaud you for calling your students on the casual use of gay for stupid. I teach a college level Mass Media & Society class and I include sections about how common slurs against women, gays and blacks are in our culture. As with your experience, many of the students have never thought about the basis of these words as insults, are surprised when it is pointed out. A few of them have told me it's made them drop certain words from their vocabulary.

I was also taken aback by the post that started this. You were right to point out it might have been due to a language/culture barrier. And it should have been dropped there.

And now I will drop it.


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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 22 Feb 2004 EST