Sunday, July 20, 2008

Whoopi Goldberg and Elisabeth Haselbeck Rumble Over the "N Word" on Popular U.S. Talk Show, "The View!" WHEW!

If you, not unlike tens of thousands of other international viewers, caught a glimpse of The View, popular U.S. morning television show on ABC Network this past Friday, July 19, 2008, your jaw is probably still on the floor. It’s now an entire day later at this writing and I just chiseled mine out from under the rug in my study.

One of the things I enjoy most when tuning in to The View is the friendly and oft-scattered seeming, yet poignant bantering and philosophical rantings of the hosts as they talk over one another. At times, quite honestly, I'm unable to decipher any sign of audible life on the set. (Gosh, I'd love to be on that show, if only for a day!) This explains why, in part at least, I continue to tune in or TiVo new episodes every chance I get. Celebrity co-hosts include (in alphabetical order, of course; I would never want the ladies to think I'd play favorites: comediennes, Joy Behar, Whoopi Goldberg, and newcomer, Sherri Shepherd, former designer and outspoken Republican, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, and perhaps my favorite, internationally-respected journalist, Barbara Walters.

Every Monday through Friday morning, viewers are gifted with interesting celebrity interviews. The roster of past guests reads like a who's who of Hollywood's finest. Among them are Meryl Streep, Antonio Banderas, Gloria Estefan, Tracy Morgan, Laurence Fishburne, and Kim Katrall, just to name a few. At the opening of each show, is the "Hot Topics" segment, during which the co-hosts discuss relevant current events around issues of news, politics, entertainment, media, and culture. Both Whoopi Goldberg and Barbara Walters serve as provocateurs and moderators of the discussions, which often become quite heated, to say the least.

Whether you happen to be a die-hard fan of the program or not, the episode, which aired on Friday, July 19, 2008, probably could have held your interest for one reason or another. If you happen to have seen it in its entirety at its regular airtime, Tivo'd it, pretended not to have seen it on the news peripherally for the millionth time since its first airing, or whether you just couldn’t resist checking it out via the YouTube email link sent from a friend, the common thread among us is that everyone’s chatting about it. Those among you who obviously have more strength than the rest of us, now's the time to just go ahead and admit it. You too, really want to know what all the hubub is all about. NEWS FLASH! Very soon those hidden desires locked inside you have begun to seep out and we all know about it, so here's a clip of that episode thanks to ABC Network. Look away if you must.

The episode in question started out with the ladies discussing Rev. Jesse Jackson's (U.S. civil rights activist) recent comments regarding U.S. Democratic presidential candidate, Barrack Obama, in which he stated, "See Barrack been um... talking down to Black people on this faith based... I want to cut his nuts off." Not only were these comments crude on Jackson's part, but they were also caught on tape, as he awaited an interview on Fox News (U.S.). He later reported that he had presumed his microphone and the cameras to be off, as he awaited an on-air television interview. Jackson went on to refer to Obama as a, "Nigger."

Here's the clip:

A rumble of words began to ensue on the set of The View. Whoopi Goldberg and Elisabeth held their banners up high, presenting their cases and you've just got to see it to believe it. Elisabeth. Elisabeth. Elisabeth. I'll get to this beloved sister in another issue. There's far too much going on with that whole situation to try to tackle it all here.

Well dear folks, the verdict's not quite in yet, nor do I think it will ever be on the, "N Word" It seems as though the word itself has become almost untouchable nowadays. As an etymologist, columnist, and social critic, I'm going to take long, slow sips of chamomile tea as I watch it all unfold. Now of course, I do intend to take an active role in the numerous discussions and worldwide debates around this issue of whether or not anyone should be allowed to use the word Nigger or not.

That's it folks. I went ahead and wrote out the whole word, forcing you to read either silently or aloud, each of its two syllables. For that fauxpas on my part, I've undoubtedly got several things to say. My parents raised me right and I'd like to think that I'm doing my best to rear my daughter to the best of my ability, teaching her best practices, lessons, grammar, etiquette, multi-cultural respect, class, dignity, and refinement. When I offend someone, I apologize, as each of us should, but beliefs should never be compromised as the discussion continues.

So with all of this in mind, I'll begin here with an apology to whom the, "N word" offends. Please accept my most sincere apology. This is no tongue-in-cheek editorial apology here, although I do realize how much emotion a distance-laden (in terms of physical proximity only) written apology can appear. It lacks the prosodic signals that a face-to-face, heart-to-heart verbal conversation provides, enabling people to both listen and share. It is essentially these glorious characteristics that truly make us human and seek to bridge any divide that may exist among us. One bright nation under a punk-rock star!

Next, I would have to say that we should all listen. Listen. Listen. As I listened to Whoopi Goldberg's comments on The View as she shared her very personal life story of how her mother, her very own mother did not have the right to vote, and that some African-Americans still use the word, "Nigger," in order to diffuse a term that has been used against them, it makes a whole lot of sense. In that same episode, Whoopi also reminded us that there are still struggles with injustice in the lives of many.

African-Americans are not the only segment of society that have take terms that have been used to inflict pain and turned them around to attach an entirely different meaning when they use it among themselves. Some "Little People" still prefer to be refered to as Dwarfs." Some people in the gay and lesbian communities across the globe have chosen to affectionately refer to themselves and each other, both privately and publicly as, "queer," a term that would offend many. There are too many words to mention that could be viewed by some as endearing among groups, while causing pain as deep as a wound two centuries old if used by others. Common sense is very important. One of the most popular television shows targeted at the international G.L.B.T. (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered) communy is called, "Queer as Folk." This is what I think Whoopi was trying to say. The show is so wildly popular on an international level that although new episodes are no longer created, it continues to run on Logo cable TV Network.

With that being said, just what are the real issues here? Have we gotten to a place in the world at which intra-cultural practices, histories, and jargon, and individual preferences no longer have a place at the table? By no means am I a proponent of us all using the, "N Word," all the time, in all situations, to all people, or ever, for that matter. The issues are for me, about choice, withholding individual liberties, appreciating culturality, sub-culturality, and individuality, if I may. (By the way, I just coined the words culturality and sub-culturality, attaching meaning to them.)

Who is anyone to declare prowess over anyone? Of what great Zeus-esque power is any group comprised, that could possibly bear the innate right to bury any part of any collective? Shall we just forget about Sarah Baartman, the woman known as "Hottentot Venus", anyone else, anything else, or any other words that are a part of culture and history because it may have been a source of embarrassment for some at one time or another, but that have had an impact on shaping the amoeba that we call pop culture? Should we each lay to rest that part of ourselves or that moment in our own lives that may have embarrassed someone or for which we are still perhaps ashamed, but that has made us who we are today?

Here we stand, empowered, cool, calm, and collected, or not. Choice. Lest we forget. Now is the time for us all to begin the necessary process and move ourselves beyond the valley to that delicious state beyond mere acceptance to the lovely oasis where appreciation resides. We've got a lot of problems in this great big metropolis and taking away word choices or any choice, for that matter, just seems so silly. Our world is global, the implications are boundless, and spew no have-to's or you-better-nots. It is we, the people and pop-culture who attach meaning to words. They have no meaning as stand-alones.

Now let's cut to the chase and just be honest, even some of the most refined, articulate, and learned African-Americans who perform at stellar personal and professional levels still use the, "N Word." Even among the intelligentsia, some have referred to their closest comrades using the, "N Word." This dirty little secret has been out for a long time, but why do we make such a big deal out of it. It's nothing new. Don't we have far greater burdens in the world? It's a choice and truthfully, quite common. Additionally, there are probably just as many who don't use the term. It's a choice. Contextually speaking, the term neither moves mountains, nor sinks ships at this point on an intra-cultural basis among large numbers of African-Americans.

What we've really seen played out right before our very eyes is a clash of technology, media, pop-culture, history, and culture. Jesse Jackson was playing the dirty dozens when he spoke out against Obama. It was just done in a public fashion. This is a game that has long been a part of African-American culture among some children and adults alike, but the difference is, the forum was quite obviously inappropriate and not intended as such. What it entails is quite simple in theory. It's usually done in a manner that is not intended to hurt, but more aptly, to see who can be the funniest.

Doing the dirty dozens is somewhat of a comedic roast. One person says something funny about the other person and then they say something back. We've all heard of the now-popular, "Your mama jokes." This is its origin. Usually it's the smartest person with the most wit and greatest command of the language who prevails, for the game itself requires wit, timing, and insight into the person, so you have to be close to them. If not played among friends, it's deemed as negative. Isn't this what happened with Jackson's comments going out over the airwaves? Other names for the dirty dozens are as follows: the dozens, joaning, capping, clowning. On a personal note, years ago during a joaning session, my cousin called his opponent a troglodyte. After laughing profusely, everyone realized who the winner was, we jetted to the dictionary to look up the word troglodyte. Today, I can tell you what a troglodyte is!

By the way, don't most cultures have such words that are relegated to private quarters, intended for the ears of those with whom they are close, and to whom they are endeared? Why the deep focus on African-Americans' use of intra-cultural words that are deemed derogatory by some and why this one word in particular? This one requires far more dissecting than I have the time to do right now.

Obviously there's so much to consider with this issue of whether or not to use the, "N Word." What about that empowerment piece? Just what is the grave crime in turning around a word or anything that has been used by so many to cause pain and suffering? Should individuals have the freedom to make their own choice in this matter? I do understand the dangers of using words that may be deemed derogatory by some too loosely, especially when young ears can hear and we should be forever vigilant of that, but we should also appreciate individual differences when not used with the intent to hurt, nor received as painful. The soul of the individual is still breathing, kicking, and traveling the world, enriching and inspiring global viewpoints. Long-live the individual! May she forever thrive. What say you?

When the N.A.A.C.P. (National Association for The Advancement of Colored People) went out in a field and held a demonstration and mock ceremony burying, the "N Word," couldn't that time, money, energy, and effort have been far better spent? I could have forwarded them a list of families of all the fallen ninjas I know who could have used their assistance. By the way, can we talk about burying the word, "Negro?" I cringe. Okay, for some of you, it's okay to use it, but just on odd days, on mid-summer nights and only in the company of some. Make sure you cock your head to the left when you say it, but just not when I'm around. That's an order. I think.

With all this talk about a word, did anyone think to comb Jesse's "crib" for knives?! I guess we'll all just have to take the blame on this one.

This clip displays N.A.A.C.P. members burying the, "N Word."

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