A Personal Perspective
BY MARCIA MOXAM COMRIE
A couple weeks ago, comedian Bill Maher got into hot water while talking to a guest on his show, “Real Time,” by invoking the N-word. Criticisms and demands by African Americans for his firing were swift and he subsequently apologized, explaining his comedic thought processes.
As usual, there were also some African Americans who appeared on the show to school and, perhaps, forgive Maher. Georgetown University professor of sociology Michael Eric Dyson extolled Maher’s bona fides as someone who has long provided a platform for African American voices. Rapper-actor Ice Cube also appeared and bluntly told Maher, “I knew you’d f— up sooner or later.”
Cube proceeded to tell Maher that he does not have license to use the offensive word because “we took it back and we’re not giving it back.” What he is saying is that by using the N-word, African Americans are destigmatizing and deweaponizing it. By using it, he is saying, “we” are taking it from those who used it against us and taking the sting out of it. “It is our word now and we’re not giving it back,” he said. Well, that’s faulty logic.
While Cube handled the situation with aplomb, there is a problem with some of what he said. As my husband has said, “Bury the N-word.”
As ordinary black citizens, we get so tired of being on the bus, trains and just walking on the streets and hearing our young people using that word to describe one another.
It’s bad enough using it amongst ourselves, but some of these kids are just shamefully unaware. They use it around other groups without regard for how painfully embarrassing it is and how ridiculous it makes them seem.
So, when Bill Maher said to U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, “I’m a house n—-r,” this is something straight out of slavery and has no business coming out of any white person’s mouth. Conversely, it should not be coming out of a black person’s mouth either. It should’ve been left on the plantations in 1865.
Dyson told the penitent comedian, “Nobody would ascribe to you any malicious intent.” That is true. But, as Cube said, just because someone has dated black or has friends who are black or has generally supported black rights, it doesn’t give them license to use that word.
Bill Maher is knowledgeable and aware, so the spontaneity of his retort to the senator should not be used as an excuse. Jerry Seinfeld is one of the funniest comedians of his generation, but you never hear him try to be funny by using racist language.
Old racist words never die, but we should let them fade away from lack of use.