THE BLOG
08/02/2013 02:56 pm ET Updated Oct 02, 2013

Riley's Not the Only One

Is anyone really shocked that Riley Cooper said the N-word while engaged in an incident with a black male security guard? Is anyone really shocked that Paula Deen said the N-word when referring to a black man who held a gun to her head? Is it really a shock to anyone that George Zimmerman seemed about to use the N-word to describe Trayvon Martin before catching himself and using the word thug instead? Is it really a shock to anyone anymore that some white people still think of and refer to blacks, particularly black males (young or old), as the N-word? Do we really think that many whites don't use the N-word in the privacy of their own homes or around like-minded individuals where it is accepted, and even encouraged, to do so? At the heart of this issue regarding this particular incident isn't that Riley Cooper was caught on camera saying the N-word but rather that, like Riley Cooper, there are white people who say the N-word often and comfortably at home around family and friends; where there are no cameras around to ensure political correctness.

One can argue that all people of all races use derogatory racial epithets to describe or refer to an individual or individuals of another racial or ethnic group, but it can be argued that in the United States at least, there is no racial slur more damaging than the N-word. While I am sure words like chink, spic, dago, cracker, redneck and etc. are hurtful, none of these words have been used to oppress, deny humanity, deny the right to read, write, vote, marry or be recognized as equal persons under the law; the N-word has been used to do those things. The apologists will argue that blacks refer to themselves as the N-word all the time, regardless if they change the (-er) to an (-a) at the end of the word, thus anyone can say it or at least it's not that harmful. That argument is one of the most audacious and egregious of arguments used specifically to exploit black hate and legitimize white privilege; it is intellectually lazy and insulting at best. Should I allow my child to stay up late on school nights because the parents of his friend allow him to do so? Of course not and therefore, white people, or anyone racial group for that matter, should know that it is not okay to use the N-word or accept when anyone uses the N-word just because black people may use it.

Here is a newsflash; black folks never created the N-word to begin with, yet black folk have been using and calling each other the N-word, regardless if the phonetics indicate an (-er) or (-a) at the end of the word, since it has been introduced to them... by white people. It is no mystery why you hear the N-word in popular music, on and around the basketball court or in inner-city neighborhoods around the country. Quite naturally, when someone has called you or referred to you as something for hundreds of years, you just might adopt the use of the word yourself. Over time, the use and functions of words can take either different or multiple meanings and right or wrong, in African American community, the N-word has multiple meanings and is part of the vernacular. The taken-word can take an even different meaning when you consider its resonance in inner-city communities that are poverty filled, comprised of both blacks and Hispanics. Yet that usage of the word by Blacks and poor people of color is the basis for shifting the blame of using the N-word and all problems of race in America onto all blacks, and to a lesser extent poor people of color, by Whites and other racial groups that do not identify themselves as black.

And it is many of those blame shifters who in the privacy of their own homes and in the company of others who look, act like and sound like they do use the N-word to describe black people; particularly when they've experienced a negative encounter with a black male. Riley Cooper's conduct on that video should be no surprise considering the situation. Likewise it should be no revelation that the N-word is used by White folks; who say it more than people believe or want to admit. The elephant in the room is the reason why that is and the reason is that in this country's subconscious, it is understood that fundamental root of the African American's existence in the United States was as labor and property for the benefit of the planter and industrial elite. Anything other than acting in the role as laborer and/or property amounted to being a menace and a criminal. Upon the African American's emancipation from slavery, he was still a menace and criminal according to black codes which made it a crime for a black person to not have a job. Today, while we don't have slavery per se, we do have prisons, and if America isn't good at anything else, it is good at putting piles of blacks, particularly men, in prison and so the view of blacks as menacing and criminal hasn't changed.

There are different categorical names for menaces and criminals; if you steal you're called a robber and a thief; if you have sex with women without their permission you're called a rapist; if you kill people you're called a murderer... if you are black you're called the N-word. I am sure that security guard was not a criminal, yet he was a menace in the eyes of Riley Cooper. Most black people aren't criminals or menaces, but in the eyes of many white people and others, they see a criminal and/or a menace, which they refer to as an N-word. They do so at home, with family, friends, and in this case, in the company of perceived non-menacing individuals just like Riley Cooper.