Sunday, June 30, 2013

The "N" Word

First of all, I will say that I detest the sound of the "N" word. To the very best of my knowledge, I''ve never said it.  My parents didn't say it, and we were not around other people, other than maybe my paternal grandfather , who said it, and he was threatened by his wife with dire consequences if he were to say it in the presence of his grandchildren. we did not watch TV programs in which the word was used. Eventually we heard the word, but were old enough by then to understand that it was a hurtful and despicable word and that nothing good would ever come of saying it.

With that as a backdrop, I must also say that i believe that Paula Deen is being treated unfairly. She admitted in a deposition that she had used the word before. Big fucking deal! As abhorrent as I personally find the word, Ms. Deen grew up in the deep south in the forties or fifties.  (I'm not entirely sure she's forthright in disclosing her age. As my mom says, "If she's in her fifties, I'm in my twenties.")  The deep south in the era in which Paula Deen came of age is quite different from the liberal college communities and suburbs of California in which I was brought up in the '90's and 2000's.  I cannot judge her except to commend her  honesty in admitting that the words have come out of her mouth, even if she's not 100% honest about her age.

I was brought up to believe that the "N" word was probably worse than saying the "F" word. (My father swore like a sailor but never used the "N" word.) That, however, was the view of my liberal, hippies-born-too-late-for-their-time parents.  i cannot expect everyone to share my values. I still think it's an ugly word and that the world would be better off without it, but i'm not the arbiter of political correctness in speech. neither, really,, is anyone else, as we have this thing in the united states called The First Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees, among other things, freedom of speech. this freedom of speech does not come without limits, the classic of which is shouting, "Fire!" in a crowded theater.  

Other limits to freedom of speech exist as well. Children are not necessarily free to speak their minds either at home or at school. Not only is yelling, 'Fire!" in a crowded theater not covered by the First Amendment, but talking out loud in a theater to the extent that other attendees cannot hear what is being said  is also forbidden.  What can be said and when it can be said  in a court of law is controlled by a judge, which would indicate that freedom of speech in a court of law is not absolute, either.  Furthermore, limits exist as to what untruths can be spoken publicly or published.  Thus, we can agree that freedom of speech as dictated by the First Amendment is not absolute.

Yet the use of the "N" word is not considered a violation of the first amendment under most circumstances, and certainly not in a private conversation.  The word is inflammatory by nature, and the need for its use is difficult to justify. Still, such does not make utterance of the word illegal.  Too often its use has been called upon to justify other inflammatory action, some of which is bona fide illegal.

I'm going to digress just a bit to make a point. When i was a child, I sometimes had occasion to be around a cousin two years older than I  with whom I did not get along particularly well. Anytime the two of us were together, the two of us would whisper or mumble insults at one another under our breaths so that the adults present could not hear. This cousin would call me all sorts of derogatory names related to my appearance. a few that come to mind are anorexic, bulimic, AIDS patient, eastern European orphan, heathen gentile, Ebola victim,  albino "N" word because of my blue eyes, summer tan, and wildly curly hair. aborted fetus  [presumably because I was born very prematurely], and idiot savant because I could play the piano by ear. Most if not all of these names were fed to her by her older brother, because she would not have been intelligent or clever enough to have thought of any of them on her own. I would tolerate the verbal abuse for the better part of a day until I eventually gave in and called her the name that obviously applied: fat. When we were eight and ten respectively, she probably weight roughly 170 pounds.

The second I uttered the fat word, she would go crying to her parents about what I had called her, and her parents would expect my parents to punish me. Fortunately, there would have been between twelve and eighteen witnesses as to the names she had been calling me all day, so I was never in trouble for calling her fat. I eventually became more savvy, and resorted to calling her corpulent, obese,  adipose, rotund, ponderous, porcine, capacious, commodious, and bovine, to name a few of the terms I used. She could never remember the word I used for long enough to tell on me for having called her that, so I was safe.

Anyway, my digression was not without a point. My cousin  and her parents felt that she could call me any name under the sun, no matter how inflammatory the term, but that the instant I uttered the word fat, all  bets were off, and I had crossed an unspoken line.  

Sometimes people take a similar attitude regarding the "N" word. When my mom was sometimes called out of her office at the district headquarters to function as a school principal when the actual principal had a baby, had appendicitis, or was chosen as a juror for an extensive trial, she was sometimes called upon to mediate disputes in which an allegation of the use of the "N" word were part of the disputes. Often no one witnessed or heard  the use of the "N" word. The accused party usually denied it. What was witnessed by both other students and playground supervisors, though, was the first and/or only punch that was thrown. My mom said she felt as though she was beating her head into a brick wall in trying to explain to the allegedly maligned student and his or her parents  that no word, however offensive, justified the use of violence. She said that if the epithet were hurled and the student chose to alert a playground supervisor, the situation could be discussed and appropriate punishment could be meted out if the preponderance of evidence indicated that the epithet was, in fact, uttered.  If the student chose to take matters into his or her own fists, however, the administrator had to deal with the facts as they were present, which was that a student was physically assaulted. Allegations of the use of the "N" word did not automatically trump all other rules or laws. (In cases of school assaults, schools and parents have the option of filing criminal charges as well.)

It seems that the Food Network and some of Ms. Deen's corporate sponsors.believe that an admission of the use of the 'N" word does indeed trump any and everything else accomplished by Ms. Deen. I'm not a staunch fan of Paula Deen, but I don't understand the rush to judgment as taken by her sponsors and by the Food Network.  Perhaps further investigation will reveal that Ms. Deen has demonstrated a history of racist behavior, in which case non-renewal of contracts and cancellation of sponsorships might  be deemed appropriate. On the basis of a single admission of the use of a racially-charged term, however, both the Food Network and the corporate sponsors acted prematurely.

From the most recent reports I've heard, Mark Fuhrmann is still employed as a consultant regarding legal matters  by cable networks . .  and he wasn't even honest concerning his use of racial epithets, but instead lied about it and was caught in his lie by a recording -- a lie that quite possibly affected the outcome of a murder trial.  If anything, one would think a person involved in providing commentary for law enforcement and legal matters would be held to a higher standard in terms of lack of racial bias than would a woman who hosts a mere cooking program.


  1. I agree with everything that you have said here.

    I wasn't raised around the "N" word, either and most profanity to me is subjective, anyways. But I think what's so despicable about it is that there is no other curse equivalent to the "N" word in magnitude. I mean, there is practically a profane word for every race under the sun, but none so inflamed as the "N" word. It's like when someone calls a woman the "C" word. Abhorrently there is no way to respond to it.