The recent indiscretions of Matt Barnes and Richie Incognito have opened the door (or really a can of worms) for the sports media to jump head first into a pretty complicated, complex, and difficult to navigate (safely) discussion of racial discourse.
Below are two clips on the subject, both of which I applaud. Leading off is Cris Collinsworth from this week's Inside The NFL. It's a long clip, one he put a lot of thought into which then transitions into a broader conversation with his colleagues.
The second clip is basically in total disagreement of Collinsworth's stance from Charles Barkley on Inside the NBA. Despite that, I also find it insightful and honest.
Although there is little shared common ground here, I find them both as well as the segment on PTI on the subject valuable mainly because A) they were not hurried conversations and B) the thoughts conveyed were genuine and well articulated.
Before Barkley's admission (if we want to call it that), I was getting somewhat perturbed by the smattering of rushed segments on the topic found across a handful of networks, shows, and spanning dozens of personalities. They were all the same.
Do YOU think it's okay to say the n word in the locker room/in social media/in general?
Sometimes with a clock ticking or a commercial break looming, the rounds are made across the television personalities on whatever show has decided to almost cowardly dip their toe into such an emotionally charged, potentially offensive, and yet still complex subject of the appropriate usage of any various slurs and racially charged language.
It's stupid. These conversations are essentially hollow. Some producer knows it's provocative, puts it on the list of things to yammer about, and then a fruitless conversation takes place in which one by one the personalties step up and boldly say the same things, many of which they don't believe or at the very least are firmly shaped with the knowledge that the safe PC reply will ruffle no feathers. They sound like this:
"The locker room is a workplace and you can't have that language in the workplace."
"That word's history is so tied to racism, that regardless of the context, who is saying it, and how it's pronounced, it should never be uttered."
"If it's offensive to one person than it's offensive."
That's not that these points aren't valid and I'd hate for someone who reads this to think I am actually endorsing the usage of any slurs.
My point is that you can't really express a novel thought on such a complex matter such as this where a segment is given 30 seconds, 60 seconds, or three minutes and needs to span often 2-6 panelists, analysts, reporters, writers, etc.
What basically comes out of these conversations is A) nobody is racist or endorses racism or racist slurs on this program and B) said group of media professionals have now with 90 seconds of conversation come to a comprehensive societal rule on racial discourse that should be implemented and enforced throughout the world. You should thank them for coming to such a grand accord and should join the ranks in spreading the word that we've FINALLY figured out what we can and cannot say. Can they tackle peace talks in the Middle East next or perhaps help sort out the bullshit in Washington?
That's why I really enjoyed Barkley's take, mainly because I know that certainly not everyone fully agrees with how these brief oral forays have played out. Barkley didn't get in the "yeah I'm not a racist, racism and slurs are bad. Eat your vegetables, hit the books, and don't do drugs" line that everyone else has gravitated to.
Ask a sample of 10,000 people on the appropriate usage of the N word, gay slurs, female slurs, other racial slurs, and you're not going to get 10,000 people agreeing in a carte blanche removal of these words from our collective vocabularies. We don't live in a vacuum. Different people, different communities, different settings, different usages of any slurs or generally obscene words, different contexts, etc, etc.
If people want to really talk to about it, it deserves some thought and a little more than 90 seconds with 20 seconds per person to talk about. It's an ongoing conversation. Words that are on television today would have never made it onto the air 15 years ago. Although controversial, South Park last year did a full episode on the usage of the word "fag" and how it should now be applied to motorcycle gangs. It was certainly provocative and comical, and I'm sure it got more people actually talking about the usage of the word than it did in terms of inciting backlash.
By the same token though, the flip side of an honest conversation is that you give your talent enough wiggle room and time on controversial subjects that they could end up like Chris Broussard or Rush Limbaugh.
While these controversies do highlight a disconnect in how we perceive and utilize certain words, it's not a topic that lends itself to only dipping your toe in with the sole intention of not getting wet, not making waves, and not causing a scene. The end result is dozens of non-controversial, cohesive, almost scripted PC responses that while reinforcing the most honorable position one could take, really avoids the reality of how Americans converse and robs us of a conversation rooted in differing opinions and perspectives as well as genuine thoughts on a matter that we are all long overdue for a real conversation about.
This is a rare example where the topic does deserve attention but most shows are not equipped, staffed, prepared, or gutsy enough to tackle in earnest. While I appreciate the departure from the normal chatter du jour, it's just not a neat and tidy conversation you can toss around a group and tie a bow on at the end of before nimbly moving on to the next shiny object. Thankfully, there are a few shows out there that were able to dig deep into this conversation and hopefully it elevated a difficult discourse to a better and more meaningful place.
Good analysis. It's funny, I had this exact conversation with a guy on twitter over the weekend and I was basically saying the same thing Charles Barkley said - the difference is I'm a white guy. I noticed the pattern, though, that every time we have a story that touches on the topic of "using the N word", white guys are the most vocal and adamant about abolishing use of the word entirely. It's because we, as white guys, are terrified of the word. Terrified of hearing it. Terrified of thinking it. Terrified of letting it slip. And yet, we also have a secret obsession with it. We understand, maybe subconsciously, that it is the key that gets us "in" with the black community. Many of us would love to be greeted with a boisterous, "What's up, N..!?" as we walk into a party (or locker room) of mixed racial company. Why? Because to have a black guy refer to us with the endearing use of the N-word, is for us to feel acknowledged by, accepted and embraced by "black people". Internally, it is a way for us, white people, to feel WE are being seen beyond the color of OUR skin. It is an internal validation that I AM NOT racist, and that I am not perceived as an evil, confederate-toting, sheet-wearing, cross-burning, lynch-mobbing, hate-filled, ignorant skinhead by black people. It's a relief from the white man's burden.
So why, then, do we, white guys, want so badly to abolish it? I think it's because we have a misguided sense that that's what black people want from us (and that we can even accomplish that). That we can convince people that if the word goes away, so do all the racist undertones of the word. But this couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, the more we try suppress the word - the more we try to ignore it or avoid it - the more powerful it actually becomes. I also believe this is why black Americans began to embrace and re-purpose the word for themselves in the first place. To take the power and sting of it away from the real racists, who want to use the word to intimidate, demean and destroy the confidence of the black man. You see, by embracing it, the truly racist white guys have actually been disarmed. The power of the word has been diluted with regards to a white man's interaction with black people. That's why when white people use the word, regardless of context, they look foolish. If they use it to try and intimidate or threaten (as was the traditional intent), they look like crazy, uneducated hillbillies. If they use it to try and appear "cool" with the black community, they come across as phony and trying too hard. There's no reason for a white guy to use the word, and most mature, educated white people understand that and don't feel inclined to anyway. That's why it's kind of ridiculous for white analysts to continually get out there and try to share the message that nobody should use the word anymore. Sane white people aren't using it anyway, and black people CAN actually apply it in a brotherly, loving and genuine way.
I think there's different contexts and obviously if it's said with a hard "er" as opposed to an "a" or with any kind of malice or hatred it shouldn't be said. I live in the south and down here there are (mostly older) white folks that use it with each other to refer to black people as essentially a lower class.
That said, if it's used with an "a" as a synonym to "bro" or "dude" then I don't have a problem with it. Hip hop artists use the term freely and there are more white hip hop fans than black hip hop fans, simply because there are more white people in America than black people. So the word has become a part of the culture, especially for people under 25. I've had at least a half dozen black friends since I was in high school and college and though I made sure to get their approval before I called them "my nigga," they allowed me to and it strengthened our friendship and showed a higher level of trust. It's up to the individual to choose to use the word and also to allow others to use it in front of them without objecting. There's a harmony that can be found but we don't need media hacks (white, black or brown) telling people they're racist just because they use the word, regardless of context.
As a black man, I never use the word. But I don't get angry if I hear a white person say it. It is very hypocritical to condemn one set of people for saying it then turn around and use it as a term of endearment.