In her debate with Whoopi Goldberg on the July 17, 2008 episode of ABC’s The View, Elisabeth Hasselbeck discussed the use of the “n-word”—not “nuts,” but the other “n-word” that Jesse Jackson had to apologize for using during his personal confession on a hot mic at the Fox News station.
Here’s my disclaimer for the remainder of this post. I will now replace the “n-word” with the word nigger because as a writer, I don’t have to censor myself. And quite frankly I feel like saying the “n-word” takes away from the impact of the topic which is the word nigger.
The discussion on The View started with Whoopi sarcastically asking if anyone was surprised by Jesse Jackson’s comments and ended with the word nigger literally on the table after Whoopi uttered the word a half a dozen times to get her point across. Unfortunately, the question of who can use the word still stands. And after the co-hosts went back and forth on this issue, Hasselbeck was reduced to tears. But what is it about this particular conversation that would bring Elisabeth to tears?
Here is my theory. For hundreds of years white people have had literal control over black people—socially, economically, sexually, politically, institutionally, and emotionally. The word nigger has created this power struggle between blacks and whites because white people feel entitled to everything because they’ve always had everything. Now white people have a group of people who they historically have had control over telling them there is something in this world they can’t have. I imagine that’s hard for someone who is historically “privileged” to digest; the thought of losing that privilege and power might even make me shed a tear. Black people are using the word to have something that white people don’t. It’s just a power struggle and all over a word that was used to keep discrimination and racism alive and kicking in this country. This issue is about so much more than a word. It’s not the word that black people are trying to hold on to—it’s the power. If the word nigger is “buried” forever, than white people have won again, and all of the power is back in their hands. It’s a way of bowing down “to the man” once again. That’s hard for a lot of black people to swallow. I think if black people alone--without white people saying “if we can’t use it neither can you”--made the decision to “bury” the word, then maybe black people would have no problem putting an end to the use of the word. White people have taken the power for black people to do this away from them, so now there is this never-ending power struggle over the use of the word. It’s kind of like (and forgive me because I know this is a very loose analogy) a younger sibling who constantly gets hand-me-downs—the older sibling has everything they want already and has the power to give it to them, but that younger sibling just wants something to call their own. I wish it were something different that black people could call their own—something without such a stigma attached to it, but it seems to be all blacks have to hold on to in terms of having some sort of power over whites.
As far as where I stand personally on the issue—I’m indifferent because I can understand (which doesn't mean I agree wit it's usage) both sides of why people use the word and why people don’t use the word. Anderson Cooper interviewed Al Sharpton on July 17, 2008 about the issue, and I believe he brought up a very valid point. He in essence said—and I’m paraphrasing here—people cannot preach one thing publicly and not practice it privately. He added that there are no double meanings of hateful terms used against any other groups, and that for some reason, those hateful terms are clearly defined for them [non-blacks] but not for us [blacks].
I personally believe as Americans we’ve been taught that we have a right to choose the type of language we use, and we don’t like being told what we can or cannot say. Regardless of how we choose to speak we must realize how what we say affects other the people and accept whatever consequences come along with it.