Re: RARA-AVIS: Throwing some gas(?) on a dying flame

Date: 26 Mar 2005

Jim wrote:

"Now it depends on who says it. [And to anyone who says that's not fair, guess what. Neither's life. Now get over it and watch your f***ing mouth. :-D]"

This idea isn't original to me, and I'm sorry to say I can't remember who I got it from (possibly Todd Boyd, maybe Randall Kennedy), but whoever it was pointed out that this is one of very few slurs whose power has been successfully inverted and (to a large degree) empowered by the people it was meant to degrade. The same, usually white, people who complain so much about having to be careful about, and not being able to use, a single word of the language ignore the fact that non-powerful groups have traditionally had plenty of words they must be careful using.

The debate following Spike Lee's complaints about Tarantino using the word in his movies was also pretty interesting. Lee was implying that a white writer simply should not be allowed to use the words in his scripts (though it's fine for him and other black writers to use it -- it seems to be an extension of his blacks, by definiiton, can't be racists argument). Now there are definitely times that Tarantino has used it pretty gratuitously -- the "dead n------ dumping ground" scene comes to mind -- but Lee complained about how many times the Samuel L Jackson character in Jackie Brown said it (I forget the exact count). It definitely sounded like a vital part of that character's speech to me. And Jackson defended QT's use of the word, though his explanation that it was okay because Tarantino was some sort of honorary black man because of his background seemed a stretch (the same argument used to build Eminem's hip hop cred, though he doesn't use the word, the one controversial word he shies away from). No, it was okay to use the word because it was right for the character to use it -- just as many of us pointed out about the word fuck.


ps -- as Jim also pointed out, the word was initially classificatory, so I guess its meaning has actually been inverted twice.

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 26 Mar 2005 EST