July 20, 2008

I've Always Liked Whoopi Goldberg.

But she's kind of a nigger; had you noticed?

UPDATE:I'm sorry; it's just that forbidden fruit thing.

Coates argues in favor of keeping the embargo as a whites-only deal. That has the advantage of making it perfectly clear that no one is saying it with malicious intent.

The disadvantages: (1) it gives white people too much power: after all, if context doesn't matter at all, then you've just handed me the verbal equivalent of a machine gun by virtue of my paleness. Shouldn't I have to work a bit harder than that to really hurt someone's feelings? There's nothing particularly clever or original about the word "nigger." Why not simply laugh at me and expose my supposed full-auto for the harmless cigarette lighter that it is?

(2) Doesn't the "non-whites only" rule get us into some sticky weeds? Are Asians allowed to use the word? How about other ethnic groups that—while Caucasian—are often considered nonwhite, such as Indians from India, American Indians, and Latinos? How about Jews, who (after all) are considered nonwhite by those who subscribe to exotic neo-Nazi philosophies?

Is there an alternative for such people? How does "nonwhite person, please," sound?

And then there's that issue of whether it's cool for Quentin Tarantino to write the word down in a script with the intent that it be uttered aloud by Samuel L. Jackson. Okay, or not okay? Spike Lee says "wigger, no." But doesn't that put white writers in handcuffs, and give black ones a bit of an unfair advantage? Or is that part of what Spike Lee wants to do?

(3) We haven't agreed on a definition of "black," which we'll need in order for this system to work. My understanding is that if someone is half-black (e.g., Barack Obama, Tiger Woods), then he or she is still qualified to use the term. But how about people who are only a quarter black? A sixteenth? At a certain point, doesn't it become a crap shoot?—as a practical matter, isn't one's vocabulary, a fe generations down the line, determined strictly by the accident of genetics? If you look black enough, you're qualified to use the word. But if you don't, you aren't. This leads to the awkward situation of two siblings—one of whom is pale enough not to qualify, and one of whom is dark enough that he/she is permitted to say it. (Remember the era of slavery, and how some black people were able to "pass" as non-slaves, or as non-blacks? I hope they didn't utter the word "nigger" while spying for the other side. That would have been naughty of them.)

I'm not theorizing, by the way: my brother and I look like we are different ethnicities, and his two sons look like they are different ethnicities. I look like a typical pale Euro-girl, and my brother looks like he's Latino or American Indian or something like that. (It happens to be a mix that includes some of the latter [we're 1/164th Osage Indian], but might also include African ancestry, and/or Jewish ancestry; I don't know, and I don't care.)

The fact is, I look white, and my brother doesn't. My father suggested that because of his dark skin, the sibling should change his last name to Gonzales, and apply for a scholarship to college as a Hispanic. The bro declined.

And even though my maiden name is very unusual, there have been people in our childhood and in our adulthood who knew both of us, but whose minds it never crossed that we were related. One teacher of mine in junior high school was just shocked to hear it; she couldn't quite believe that I was related to that guy who was two years older than I was, was also bright, and had the same last name.

In adulthood, another friend ended up working for the same company as my brother—it's a large software company. I asked her via email if she knew him, and got a rather astonished response: yes, she did. Was I sure that he was really my brother? (He had been for decades. We grew up in the same house, with the same parents. We shared household jokes. And then, there was the photographic evidence. I was pretty sure.) Again: skin color trumped the fact that we had the same unusual name, and that she knew I had a brother working in the city she had ended up moving to.

Race is largely a construct, and an irrelevance.

And you can call me "bitch" anytime you like; I don't think it's an inaccurate term for me at all.

Posted by Attila Girl at July 20, 2008 09:17 AM | TrackBack

I think you mis-spelled "nagger"...

Posted by: I R A Darth Aggie at July 20, 2008 11:57 AM

Whoops . . .

Posted by: Attila Girl at July 20, 2008 12:33 PM

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