racial slurs

For the Children of the Corn, Part II

“Oh, I’m so happy! I can get my gun back, go back to my house, and look for another Skittle-toting kid in a hoodie to shoot! Yay me!”


I was sitting in a booth at the Melrose Diner in South Philadelphia when the Associated Press alert on my I-Phone went off, informing me that the jury had reached a verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman.

Zimmerman had been on trial in Sanford, Fla. for second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

Briefly, the story goes like this: Zimmerman saw Trayvon as he walked home from a convenience store where he had gone to buy a snack for his little brother. He finds the teen suspicious and calls the cops. Saying, “These assholes always get away..,” Zimmerman decides to pursue Trayvon despite the Sanford Police telling him not to. He shoots the teen in the chest and Trayvon dies. Zimmerman claims self-defense under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.

(Editor’s note: Under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, you’re allowed to shoot someone if you perceive that they’re about to harm you. They don’t have to actually harm you, however. They just have to look like they would.)

The trial had gone on for three weeks and people were sitting anxiously by their computers, television sets and smartphones waiting for the verdict. If the jury of six women, none of whom was Black, believed he was in a fight for his life, Zimmerman would go home, a free man. If not, he was looking at 25 years.

Shortly after 10, the verdict came: Not Guilty. On all counts. The jury believed Zimmerman’s self-defense claim and now he not only gets to go home, he gets the gun he used to shoot Trayvon back. 

Lovely.

What made me feel sort of hopeful was the reaction. I expected my Black friends to be ticked off. But a lot of my White friends were too. Disgusted was the most commonly used word.

Many folks weighed in via Twitter. Ben Jealous of the NAACP said he was “outraged and heartbroken” over the verdict and vowed to get the Department of Justice involved. Diddy took some time out from promoting his vodka brand to Tweet “I’m hurt and mad as hell! My heart goes out to the family.” My friend Albert Butler of WURD 900AM radio here in Philly reminded us to “Set our clocks back 400 years before going to bed…”

But my favorite Tweet came from the gentleman known as The Field Negro, whose blog you should be reading if you’re not. He said “Maybe Paula Deen will cook Sunday dinner for him tomorrow!”

(I ain’t mad at Paula Deen, but that shit was funny!)

Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s parents, also took to Twitter, thanking everyone for their support.

Not to be outdone, folks who believed that Zimmerman was being railroaded for killing an unarmed kid after being told to let police handle things and not get involved also weighed in. Most notably Ann Coulter, who is someone I can always count on to say the most vile shit on occasions like this. Her Tweet: “Hallelujah!”

(If you ever hear about my going to jail, it is most likely because I have, finally, decided to go to wherever Ann Coulter is, and give her the “People Who Need To Be Punched In The Face Award” for Lifetime Achievement.)

And my Significant Other was so angry that he nearly left the baseball game he was covering because he was to angry to stay. As I have mentioned before, he’s not just a sportswriter. He’s a sportswriter with a masters degree in African American Studies.

Certainly, a lot went on. As I was writing this, a group of African American fraternities and sororities were gathering in front of the White House in protest. Since First Lady Michelle Obama was given honorary membership to the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority shortly before her husband assumed the presidency in 2009, she might have decided to join her clan.

But as I looked at my Facebook and Twitter pages, and heard people debate the verdict in the Melrose Diner, I was relieved by one thing.

I wasn’t teaching. I’m not in school. I don’t have to try and make sense of the Zimmerman Verdict  for The Children of the Corn.

Because, frankly, I couldn’t. They’d say I was full of shit. And in this case, I’d have to agree.

I mean, how can I look in the faces of my kids, kids who have already had a few interactions with the Criminal Justice system or have parents who have, and tell them that justice is equal under the law after a verdict like this?

How do I get them to tell the police what’s going on in their neighborhoods and testify in court when they look at how Rachel Jeantel was treated on the witness stand…and on social media? How do I get them to understand that if they pull out the guns that they want to carry that they’ll get 25 to life if they kill someone?

There are conversations that all parents have to have with their kids. There’s the “Don’t violate curfew” conversation. The “Learn how to clean up after yourself” conversation. And the one that occasionally gets passed off to me by friends who don’t want to deal with their kids getting their freak on, the “You can’t trust a big butt and a smile” conversation.

But for young Black men, there’s a few other conversations that are unique to their experience. Conversations like the “Don’t put your hands in your pockets when you’re standing in front of the Police” conversation. The “Make sure you have all of your ID where the officer can see it” conversation. The “Don’t argue with the Police” conversation…

However, the Zimmerman Verdict gives us one more mandatory conversation to have.

The “Your life as a Black man isn’t worth a plug nickel to folks so act accordingly” conversation.

When Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was playing for the Atlanta Falcons, he was arrested, tried and convicted for having a dogfighting ring and brutally disposing of the losers. He spent two years in federal prison for his crime.

A woman named Marissa Alexander is doing 20 years in a Florida prison for firing a warning shot_—not hitting him, just firing a warning shot—at her abusive ex-husband. She wasn’t allowed to use Stand Your Ground despite having a credible threat posed to her.

But you can shoot a young, Black man for being “perceived” as a threat to you, and walk out of court a free man.

How do I explain that to a group of people who have already been thrown away at least once? How do my friends who are parents figure that out? And why, for that matter, do we have to?

My friend Tracy sent out a Tweet saying that calling Zimmerman, who copped to no Latino heritage until he shot Trayvon Martin, a Hispanic man and asking when all of the talk about the role race plays in stuff like this was going to stop.

I told her that it would stop when my kids could walk down the street with a hooded sweatshirt pulled over their head, and be assumed to be shooting hoops, not guns.

And that day, was not Saturday. July 13.

Hey Sucka Nigga…

You know Tribe, I love you , but you made matters worse…
The piece of music above is a clip of my least favorite song by one of my favorite hip-hop collectives, A Tribe Called Quest.
It’s called Sucka Nigga and by the end of this post, you’ll understand why I’m leading with it because for the next few minutes, or in my case, the next few paragraphs, we’re gonna talk about words, context, race, music and First Amendment rights.
No word combines all of these issues quite like nigger. 
Now I know that’s a word that’s gotten a few folks in trouble over the last couple of weeks. Paula Deen is real, real out of work because she admitted to using it. There’s a Philly chick that’s a contestant on Fox’s “Master Chef” whom National Basketball Commissioner David Stern would probably like to have a talk with because he doesn’t like it when folks refer to his league as Niggers Bouncing Around. 
Hell, CNN has become the “Let’s Talk About Nigger Network” in light of the Deen incident and the George Zimmerman trial. My personal favorite CNN moment was the discussion that anchor Don Lemon had about it that featured the best imitation of the flash card scene from Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues I’ve ever seen done by a news anchor. They even devoted an hour to a special on the word.
To many folks, it’s just a word. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me and stuff.
And I get that. I believe that the First Amendment came down from Mount Sinai on stone tablets, so I respect free speech. I can even respect the premise that since some Blacks see it as a term of endearment (which I still don’t get), that it can’t be that bad, right? I had a former student walk up to me every morning for four months with the same greeting: “Good mornin’…my nigga…”
Okay. Like I said, I get all that. But that said, I’ve also been known to tell people “If you want to call me a nigger, fine. That’s your Constitutional right. I’d never take that away from you. But when I exercise my right to knock the shit out of you for it, you were warned. Fair?
But while some of the stuff mentioned above has been floating around in my head for a bit especially lately, that’s not what’s inspired this post.
What’s inspired this post is: (a) the perception I’m starting to get that there are White folks out there that want to use the word nigger really badly and are angry that they can’t and (b) the fact that these same White folks have decided that I can no longer get mad when it comes flying out of some racist’s mouth because of what I like to call the “Hip-Hop Exemption” or the previously mentioned “term of endearment” thing.
I’m sorry kids, but on that I’ve gotta call Shenanigans!
You see, while I understand that a lot of the White folks that read The Mad (political) Scientist are going to think that I’m being unfair when I say this, the word not only sounds different, but has a different context depending on who says it. I don’t think it’s right under any circumstance, but…
Well, I’m gonna let author, anti-racism activist and Professor Tim Wise explain it because he does a much better job at it than I do…

In other words, while you might think that it’s hip, cool and trendy to be able to throw around any word you want, until you can find a racial slur connected to white folks that has ever been uttered as someone is being dragged through the street, tied to a rope, and hung from the neck until dead, you, my well-meaning White friends, do not have a leg to stand on when it comes to the whole “Hip-Hop Exception” for the word nigger. You just don’t. I don’t care if Kendrick Lamar or Meek Mill or Nas or Jay-Z or even A Tribe Called Quest stand in front of a mic and do nothing but say nigger for 10 minutes on a record, you’re not allowed to use that word. You’re just not.

And I guess I have another question: What is it about the word nigger that is so intriguing, so powerful, so awesome to you that it’s prohibition from your list of words tends to piss you off so much?

Wanna know where I was the first time I was ever called a nigger? Church. Nope, I’m not kidding.

I was in the 7th grade and me and my friends had just finished Sunday School at Calvary Baptist Church in Pemberton where I grew up. We were sitting in a pew waiting for church to begin when a girl named Patty Laine walked up to me and told me to get out of the seat I was sitting in because she wanted to sit there.

I told her that there was no reserved seating and because my friends and I were there first, we were going to stay. There were plenty of other places to sit, so go find one, I said.

Well, I guess a combination of being the daughter of one of the founders of the church and White Privilege hit her because she not only grabbed me, but told me to “get my nigger ass out of her seat.”

I hit her as hard as I could…just as the minister was walking by…so naturally, my Dad had to take me home because Pastor Goodhart couldn’t allow me to stay after trying to bash in the head of a fellow parishioner.

But we talked afterward. And after I told him what she said to me, he let Patty…and the people who taught her to say stuff like that, otherwise known as her parents, know that if anything like that happened again, founders or not, they were out.

Because he understood that while it’s misguided for Blacks to use nigger as a term of endearment, the only way that Whites can possibly use it is as a term of disparagement. Of dehumanization. Of harm.

And that’s why, my White friends, nigger cannot be a part of your list of words. The only way it could be is if you somehow went back more than 400 years, kept the Middle Passage from happening, and disconnected it from its associations.

I’d like to leave you with a classic from the late Richard Pryor and Chevy Chase. This is from the days when Saturday Night Live was actually funny…