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October 29, 2003

Mass Markets & The N Word

Down in Playa Del Rey, pops, Doc and Dutz and I had a great lunch over Vodka Sauce Penne with baby shrimp. We talked about the fire, of course, and caught up. The subjects turned to the Disney Hall and Diane Reeves' rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, the procedures that the Torrance PD used on me when they thought I was a bank robber, the skating that Usher is doing right now, a gangland shootout at the Inglewood Cemetary, Wynton Marsalis hateration, Uma Thurman, Tarantino and Woody Allen. It wasn't until Woody that I got to get my rant on.

Pops leaned in to talk about what respect Jews get in their movies, whereas Tarantino takes it for granted that everybody is one of his niggaz and feels no reticence in sprinkling the word in his dialog. I spoke on my theory why this is so. And it goes a little something like this.

The stop dead in your tracks argument in my hip pocket about 'Why can't white people use the n-word when blacks like xxx use it all the time?' has changed. The answer I now give, when asked, turns the tables. Of all the African Americans there are, why is it that you wish to emulate blacks like xxx? This answer helps the clueless to understand that blacks recognize class distinctions between themselves, which is part of my reason for bloviating on behalf of the Old School into the blogosphere. But let's take this distinction one step further and talk about the commercialization of black culture.

'Black' culture which doesn't recognize class is a misnomer and a holdover from the early days of black nationalism. Negroes of all backgrounds subsumed themselves into black identity for the common cause of a post-Negro identity, and of course the purposes of the Civil Rights Movement. But friction between all these African Americans was only temporarily suspended and never went away. For the sake of anti-racist activism and politics, blacks will always put class & religious distinctions on hold, but they never abandon them. So despite the fact that most everything falls under the aegis of 'black culture', there are a lot of strains. It's difficult to say how much the mainstream appreciates this fact; mistakes are often made. You can point to a Nelly rap and say that's black culture. You can point to a Wynton Marsalis song and say that's black culture. But unless and until you can point to Colin Powell's funeral, I don't know how you will get the both of them in the same room.

Jews and Asians are small. It takes a much greater rising tide to lift all black boats. The net weight of African America is more than double theirs. The black lower middle class is bigger than the both of them. So Nelly is, commercially speaking, much more likely to make enough money to survive a million dollar jewelry loss than Wynton. This is key. You won't see a movie with Jews calling each other 'kikes' because the class of Jews who do so in real life is not large enough to sustain a commercial market for that kind of lowbrow entertainment. 15 million blacks who live in the ghettoes of this nation is more than enough to make Nelly a millionaire, plus of course there's low rent crossover for that segment of the hiphop generation. The Jews or the Asians cannot fund a UPN and a BET, but all those low rent blackfolks can, do and will. They can afford it. That does not and will not ever change the direction and consistency of the Old School, brothers and sisters on my side of the fence. If anyone cared to compare us head to head, matters would sound more like Dinesh and Abigail's rosily false scenarios for all African Americans.

Knuckleheads will continue to abuse the broad nature of African America to suit their rhetorical purposes. When they want to paint black America in foul colors, they'll find a shade of charlatan like Sharpton, mouth off about a murderer like Malvo or natter nastily about Nelly's niggaz. When they want to prove that all is well and perhaps too good for Reparations, they'll pontificate about a prince like Powell, or enjoin a geremiad about some giant like Jordan. They'll use class when it's convenient or suggest something stupidly broad about 'black culture' which cannot be denied, literally. It works because few folks bother to recognize the strains of cultures within the aegis of the race.

Blackfolks know, although we sometimes slip, like pops. He has every right to be pissed at Tarantino, but no need to be defensive about what all blackfolks do. But he was one of the original nationalists and I understand his love for the whole of our people.

I suggested that if there were only 8 million African Americans, we'd be more like the Jewish Americans. There'd be no UPN and whatever cultural artifacts of ours got commercialized would be more consistently highbrow, just as they were in the first days of crossover when only bands like Ellington's got on the radio. But since we have many millions of other African Americans who haven't heard or heeded the sound of the drum, we get to hear niggaz call niggaz niggaz. Pops got it immediately, laughed and suggested snidely that perhaps the Crips and Bloods aren't doing their jobs quite well enough.

Posted by mbowen at October 29, 2003 04:14 PM

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Bravo, sir.

Posted by: Juliette at October 30, 2003 12:41 PM

I just want to know what "value" that word has in the Afro-American Culture and in the World Culture as a whole? I am personally offended when I hear it used in any context by anyone. It isn't "cool" when Rap Performers use it because they aren't intellectual enough to express themselves without it. It isn't "cool" when screen writers use it in their scripts because they are trying to prove how "hip" they are or are trying to target a specific audience. It isn't "cool" when non-afro-americans use it because they are trying to assimilate into the black culture because they don't have an identity of their own. And it isn't "cool" when afro-american women is it to refer the "no good men" they choose to deal with of their own accord. We as a culture have become de-sensitized to the negative conotation the that word was and is still used to express. It is a shame that after all we have been and continue to go through, that we are still "Ignorant and getting Worse".

Posted by: Dre' at October 19, 2004 05:34 PM

I think there's a place for the word, just as there is for any word. It's like flourescent red paint. A real artist will know exactly how much to use and in what context - anything else is juvenile.

Dre, I don't worry about the masses of blackfolks getting ignorant and worse. That is to say that I have gotten completely out of the business of second-guessing them. I name names and move on. The thing is that I have never been in a situation where there were absolutely no blackfolks on my level and higher. I've also never had more than 6000 names in my address book. So if there's 36 million blackfolks, I really have no concerns whatsoever that there's a whole pile of them who are my kind of people. Those are the ones I'm trying to be like and be with. The rest are just people.

It's true that we can all be brainwashed into believing that there are no blackfolks worth a dime. That's a problem, but so long as it's not your problem - walk on by.

I'll tell you why. When I got married, about 10 years ago. I realized that I was not only the man in my own new family, but in a whole new section of family. I got a new uncle who has been in jail for murder for over 30 years. So I was expected to do something about it. I could do nothing. I have traced my family back more than 6 generations, and there's more than 500 in the tree I maintain. So what am I going to be to all of African America, when I can't even do for 500 in my own family? That's the perspective I think more people ought to take, because we know about the power of inherited wealth, don't we?

Don't sweat the fools. Just outrun them and don't get dragged down.

Posted by: Cobb at October 19, 2004 06:01 PM

Exceptionally well stated.
I wish more people could read this, or I should say WOULD read this

Posted by: Heretic at October 19, 2004 09:39 PM

Isn't "n" used more as a description of one's behavior and lifestyle? I never voice it any more, but my mind attaches it to several folks of several different skin hues.

Posted by: True_Liberal at October 20, 2004 07:03 AM