Paul R. Lehman, The defense of the ‘n’ word by Charles Barkley cause for concern.November 18, 2013 at 9:56 pm | Posted in Africa, African American, American Bigotry, American Racism, blacks, discrimination, Disrespect, equality, ethnic stereotypes, Ethnicity in America, European American, fairness, identity, Media and Race, Prejudice, Slavery, whites | Leave a comment
Tags: African American History, African Americans, America, Barkley, black, Chaeles Barkley, Charles Barkley, Confronting Myths, ethnicity, European Americans, freedom of speech, race, Richard Pryor, slavery, the 'n' word, TNT, white
Charles Barkley recently expressed his thoughts relative to the ‘n’ word and in so doing exposed some gross defects in his thoughts. Barkley confused his freedom of speech with his personal freedoms not fully realizing the responsibilities of each freedom. In his comments on TNT he stated that “What I do with my black friends is not up to White America to dictate to me what’s appropriate and inappropriate.” He is absolutely correct in underscoring his freedom to associate with whomever he chooses. The problems come from his willingness to promote the idea of races based on color, and thereby underscoring the concept of ethnic biases. His thoughts on the use of the ‘n’ word also help to promote ethnic division in America.
As far as Barkley using the ‘n’ word is concerned, he is correct in exercising his freedom of speech. He is incorrect to think that his use of the ‘n’ word is excusable. Barkley is free to eat a gallon of ice cream in one sitting; however, his common sense should tell him that to do so would incur some negative repercussions: stomach discomfort, digestive discomfort, and dietary discomfort. So, although he has the right to eat the ice cream, he understands the negative effects of doing so. What Barkley, apparently, does not realize is the negative effects of using the ‘n’ word in any context.
What Barkley seemingly disregards is the historical significance of the ‘n’ word and how that significance does not change regardless of who utters the word. True, the emotional impact experienced when the word is use by someone historically associated with its negative context cannot be denied, but it is precisely the negative emotional experience related to the historical significance that creates the difference. Barkley supposedly assumes that people who identify with the ‘n’ word are immune from its negative effects when the word is used by people like them. That assumption is false because regardless of the word’s intent, its historical connotations remain intact. He seems to resent the thought of a so-called white America dictating to him what to say and what not to say. One wonders if Barkley realizes that the ‘n’ word was first used by European Americans to identify Africans and African Americans in a grossly negative concept. The continued used of that term regardless of the user simply extends its historically negative concept.
One of the underlining concepts to come from Barkley’s comments is the false belief in multiple races based on color. That concept always serves to separate and divide human beings one from another for false and illogical reasons. One of the results of America’s creation of two races, one black, one white, is the prejudice and bigotry based on the assumed superiority of the so-called white race over the so-called black. Whenever either word black or white is used, the image of two different so-called races comes to mind. A similar experience is possible whenever the ‘n’ word is used. America is changing with respect to ethnic identity and the use of the terms black and white will eventually come into disuse. Society will come to rely more on ethnic identities that are more accurate and precise.
For someone to stand on their rights of free speech with respect to a socially unacceptable word make little sense. The user of the ‘n’ word presents two pictures of himself or herself to society simultaneously: one, a picture of someone who is ignorant of the word’s historical significance, and two, a picture of someone who is selfish and intent on doing emotional harm to another. If, for example, an African American believes using the ‘n’ word around other African Americans is okay, than a false assumption is being made. Not all African Americans accept the use of the ‘n’ word with respect to themselves as well as with respect to others. They understand the negative implications of using the ‘n’ word. Some African Americans believe that while their use of the ‘n’ word is permissible, that is not the case for people who are not African American. Why? If the thinking is that the word was associated in slavery and afterwards with African Americans so it should be reserved for their use only, then that thinking is faulty. No one person or group has a monopoly on the use of a word. The fact that one group sees the word as special to them only means that the word still retains some of its power to do harm.
The late great comic genius, Richard Pryor, used the ‘n’ word for years as a staple in his comedy routine. He even produced an album with the ‘n’ word in the title. He recalled receiving an epiphany on day during a visit to Africa. He was sitting in a hotel in Kenya and began to look around the hotel lobby; he described what he saw as “gorgeous black people, like everyplace else we’d [the people traveling with him] been. The only people you saw were black. At the hotel, on television, in stores, on the street, in the newspapers, at restaurants, running the government, on advertisements. Everywhere.” Pryor realized something for the first time; he turned to his companion and said, “Jennifer. You know what? There are no niggers here…The people here, they still have their self-respect, their pride.”
Pryor realized that the ‘n’ word was given to enslave Africans in America when their personal identity was taken away. Once he understood the historical significance of the ‘n’ word he said that he regretted ever having uttered the word on stage. He went further in describing it as a wretched word and added that “To this day I wish I’d never said the word. I felt its lameness. It was misunderstood by people. They didn’t get what I was talking about. Neither did I … So I vowed never to say it again.”(youtube.com)
The historical significance of the ‘n’ word should discourage anyone from using it or even promoting its use. Regardless of what anyone thinks, changing the context of the word or the setting in which it is used does not change is negative stereotypical connotations. No one wants to deny Barkley his freedom of speech regarding his use of the ‘n’ word, but he need to be aware of its historical significance and the fact that freedom is not free.