Sunday, August 22, 2010

Nigger Rant--Oops! I mean N Word Rant

Here we go again. It seems that Dr. Laura’s recent nigger rant on the radio has forced her into quitting because she can't say what she wants to say, she said. But that's exactly what she did. The word that the NAACP and other African-American leaders held a mock funeral for, like Jesus has risen. Why are we still here?

What’s hard for people to get is that black folk are no more monolithic than any other group of people, and you will find mixed feelings about THE N WORD even among us. Despite its ugly racially tinged past, this word has always had multiple meanings as writer Gloria Naylor so eloquently explains in her essay, "The Meaning of a Word. This essay, which appeared in the New York Times in 1986, is still relevant today. Naylor explains that the “people in my grandmother’s living room took a word that whites used to signify worthlessness or degradation and rendered it impotent.”

Dr. Laura argued that people without enough melanin in their skin couldn’t use THE N WORD, and she’s right. Like it or not, membership has its privileges. A woman can talk about her good-for-nothing husband and her ungrateful children, and everything she says maybe true, but she is the only person that can utter those words because she’s vested in her husband and kids.

Black people have always used “nigger” in its various forms and levels of complexity, but we did it in the privacy of our own homes, and never in mixed company. Then some comedians and hip-hop artists took it out of the house and into the street, and all hell breaks open every time somebody non-white utters THE N WORD. There are two books devoted to this one word and even the titles of these books demonstrate a lack of consensus: The N Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn’t and Why by Jabar Asim and Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word by Randall Kelly. It will probably live on through eternity, so let’s move and talk about the real issue behind the rant.

The bigger issue for me was not her use of the word 13 times; it was what was really behind her outburst. A caller, an African-American woman married to a white man said that she was fed up with her husband’s friends making racial comments and Dr. Laura lost it, and told the world how she really felt. It wasn’t about the woman’s insensitive jerk-of-a husband, but about Dr. Laura's disappointment in President Barack Obama not being the be-all-and-end-all to this nation’s troubled racial past--and present if we're into truth telling. It was as if she thought him being President would magically erase this country’s racial history. And she's not alone in her thinking.

Dr. Laura accused African-Americans of voting for Obama because he’s half black saying that it, “It’s a black thing” not bothering to mention that the melanin in his skin cost him some votes, too. Then she went on to say that now that we have a black President there’s even more complaining about racism--something she thinks is "hilarious.” She thought that an African-American in the White House would stop blacks from demonizing whites as hating blacks, but it seems to have grown, thanks to black activists.

Are we there yet? If you have to ask, the answer is no. We are not living in post- racial American. When Obama was running for president, most people were asking was he ready? I was wondering if we were ready. Emmett Til was killed in 1954, not for whistling at a white woman, but because his killers were afraid of integration. They said in an interview with Life magazine they didn’t want their children going to school with black children. Even though schools were desegregated in 1954, it was nearly a decade later before it actually happened and there was still a great deal of resistance. We are not that far removed from that period in our history.

I’m not mad at Dr. Laura for her nigger rant because she said how she really feels, and that’s what we need to open up the dialogue so that we can move forward in this country.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What's a Girl to Do?

It began with an innocent comment on Facebook. Someone sent me a request to sign a petition against Target's support of a right wing political candidate, and I made a joke and said, "No Walmart, no Target, what's a girl supposed to do?"

There were two responses to my statement: I was advised to shop at Costco because they're owned by decent people, and it was also suggested that I patronize my local vendors.Even though both comments make perfectly good sense,I had to shake my head and laugh at the absurdity of it all. Something that began innocently has morphed into an internal debate about what do I do, really?

There has been a boycott of Walmart because of its unfair labor practices, and if there's no Walmart (which I'm not a big fan of anyway), then there's also no Sam's Club shopping since they are both owned by the Walmart family. And so, even though Walmart is cheaper, I honor the boycott and shop elsewhere. My co-worker had a computer notebook, and I asked her where she bought it because I'm in the market for one, and she said Walmart. I told her I didn't shop at Walmart, and explained my reason, and she said she likes to shop at Walmart and save her money. She said the notebook and some other items cost her $400.00 at Walmart, and the same items would have cost about $600.00 at Walmart.

The stores closest to me are Walgreens, Target and Jewel Osco, and I struggle with shopping in the blighted area where I live because the quality and quantity of vendors is lacking. The dollar circulates in the African-American community only once before leaving, and so I shop to keep to keep businesses in my community even when I have to ask for items that are housed under lock and key. I shop in my community when the store hours posted say 7:00 p.m. and the door is locked at 6:52, and I have to show the clerk the time on my phone so that she can open the door. Sometimes I don't shop where I live because the customer service because I know deserve better, but how will my community thrive as it once did if the people who live there shop elsewhere? What is my political stance because I have to take one.

I like Costco, but shopping there requires a membership fee, and it is not in close proximity to my home. So, I have to spend more time and money to shop there. It's only me, so I don't buy in large quantities so I don't know if I get much bang for my buck, but I can shop there if I want.If I want to travel I can go to Whole Foods or Treasure Island, too. I have options should I choose to exercise them, but what about people who have limited or no options--the ones who may not have the extra cash to spend or the transportation to travel outside of the 'hood?

Even on Facebook, I am reminded of the growing chasm between the "haves" and the "have nots" in our society and it's an settling like something I ate that didn't properly digest and is churning around in my stomach. I live in two worlds and they do collide. I don't want to support unfair labor practices, nor do I want to send the message that it's ok to support political candidates,but I also want to see my community thrive, and so I ask again, what's a girl supposed to do?