Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I Apologize

First of all...fuck Michael Richards...for apologizing!

Mr. Richards, it is, after all, I who should apologize to you. You see, I had no idea that you, Michael Richards -- the legendary Kramer -- frequented my humble little blog. I'd been warned by many that my use of the word "nigga" would create this situation, that it would place the word in the American lexicon, that I would force the legions of White people who blindly follow me and repeat my teachings across the globe to say things they wouldn't otherwise say. But I never really believed that I was this influential, this powerful. Perhaps if I'd considered your inability to maintain some level of human decency-- even in a comedy club, even when being (gasp!) heckled -- I would have realized that I was pulling the pin on the grenade that you threw at your audience.

Some readers may need to be caught up, Mr. Richards. Excuse me for a moment.

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, this is some video from Mr. Richards' now infamous performance at The Laugh Factory (And for those of you who can't view the video -- especially those naughty ones who consume Musings on company time -- I'll give you the Cliff's Notes. Picture Cosmo Kramer, in response to being heckled, trying to set the world record for the use of the word nigger in a two minute span and throwing in a blatant lynching reference for shits and giggles.):

And...we're back. Wow, huh? How exciting for me! Michael Richards is apparently my number one fan.

But then -- and this is the part I feel worst about -- Mr. Richards, you found your life turned upside-down. And all because you're a member of the New Millennium Nation. Viral video being the force it is, the whole nation saw the video. But they were wrong to see it as an ugly, racist tirade by a bigoted bastard. They were wrong to be shocked as you explained eloquently, "...it shocks you to see what's buried beneath, muthafuckas." They should not have been shocked. They should have viewed this as what it was; a tribute to A New Millennium Nigga. So, it broke my heart that you had to go on Letterman and apologize...for seven minutes:

A racist?! Why would anybody think you were a racist? Of course you're not a racist. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) You, sir, are the victim of my brazen negritude, my embarrassing inability to appreciate just how much you idolize me.

This may come as a shock to you, but I've been idolized many times before. There was the time in eighth grade when I had to hem up a kid who took it upon himself to call my friend Jolene a nigger because she had gotten in line ahead of him to buy candy. He assured me he wasn't a racist. There was the after-school tackle in the pick-up football game that caused another non-racist to bless us with an n-bomb. There have been the cars that sped by with loyal fans just looking to say "Hi" to me, A New Millennium Nigga, an American icon. Yes, I've apparently touched so many.

But I wonder sometimes why other things I say aren't repeated with such regularity and vigor. For instance:

Affirmative action is pretty much the least that White America could and should do to atone for its treatment of Black people and all oppressed people in this country.


New Edition was way better than New Kids on the Block.

Or even:

A New Millennium Nigga is every woman's ideal lover. He's dreamy...and angry, too!

I can't even get Mrs. NMN to say that last one. You would think, with my societal power, that more of these would catch on. But they don't. Only "nigga/nigger" does. Weird.

You know, I'm thinking about it and you never mentioned me on Letterman. As a matter of fact, I have no reason to believe that you've ever heard of me. (And where did you get that cute little riff about "50 years ago" and those Black gentlemen "hanging upside-down with a fork in [their] ass?" You didn't get that from me. I stopped doing lynching jokes after I caused the murder of James Byrd, Jr. I should have cut them out altogether after I got Emitt Till killed, but you know how sometimes niggas can be hardheaded.) You know what? This may sound crazy, but I think all that racist shit that came out of you...came out of you.

Hear me out on this. I know it's radical. But may be you are racist. May be you just didn't know how fucking racist you are. May be a lot of Americans are like that. May be this entire nation should try taking the first step...and that's admitting you have a problem.

I've heard so many friends of the Black race over the years say that we Blacks need to take responsibility for our lives and stop blaming others. I'm going to have to request you be held to the same standard, Mr. Richards. I'm going to have to request that others, Black or White, who would use your racism to explain why I shouldn't say nigga get the cause and effect relationship straight.

You see, racism like the shit you said at The Laugh Factory helped to create the world in which I exist, a world where I never know which seemingly bening White person is walking around with visions of "niggers hanging upside-down with a fork sticking out their ass" dancing around in their head. I've become who I've needed to become to survive that world.

Reasonable minds may disagree on my creative and political choices. Earl Ofari Hutchinson opined on Arianna Huffington's blog that the increasingly random use of the "n-word" by black comedians was partly to blame for the incident. "The obsessive use of and the tortured defense of the word by so many blacks gave Richards the license to use the word without any thought that there'd be any blow back for doing it. He wasterribly wrong and got publicly called out for it. The blacks that use and defend that word should be called out too. Who's willing to do that?"

He got the tortured part right. But the defense is of myself, of the place I have scratched and clawed to create for myself in this society, this country, this world. I defend myself against those who wag their finger at me, who disrespect me for my personal choice. I defend myself against those who would in any way excuse the rapist for calling the woman he rapes a "bitch," simply because she may call her girlfriends "bitches" when they're talking shit on the phone.

I know the difference between Dave Chapelle and David Duke, Mr. Richards. I know that I laugh with Chris Rock but never at the Little Rock Nine, Mr. Hutchinson. Don't conflate and confuse the issues.

The more I think about it, the less I feel like I should be doing the apologizing. I'm not sorry for what you did, Mr. Richards. And, because your racism exists independent of my choices, I don't even feel sorry for what I do.

Other niggas in the community think it's crummy
But I don't, neither does the youth cause we
em-brace adversity it goes right with the race

- Q-Tip, "Sucka Niggas"

No, I don't apologize. I embrace the adversity. I embrace the race. I embrace the reality that even with a Master's Degree under my belt, all any temp agencies seemed able to scrounge up for me when I graduated were warehouse jobs. I embrace the memory of the White woman who, unprompted, turned to me and my Black male companions in a Writers' Guild elevator and blurted, "Boy, you sure are menacing." And I, like Redman, say, "I'll Be Dat!" I know how many see me. I know who I am. And I know that those are inextricably linked in my experience.

Much respect to those who make a different choice. I respect their decision. But I've looked back over my life, over the history and heritage I share with millions of "others" and I've decided to take that scarlet "N" America forced upon me and to wear it as a badge of honor.

I look at the brothers I see with their kids at the playground, brothers we're told don't exist -- seeing as how Black men never take care of their kids...or anybody else's -- and I say, "You are not invisible. I see you. Keep on doing that fatherhood thing. I love you for that, my nigga."

I see the brothers making it in corporate America and I say, "You keep holding it down, my niggas. 'Cause we know that Reginald Lewis wrote 'Why Should White Guys Have All The Fun?' for a reason."

I look at my brothers who have gotten caught up in what Ice Cube describes on his latest CD as "The Nigga Trap" and I say, "I still got love for you, my niggas. It is never too late to do your part to turn this whole thing around. (See the late, great Stanley "Tookie" Williams who, for all his wrongs, did what he could from where he was to make the world a better place.) Raise up and be who you should be and not who you were told you were."

I am A New Millennium Nigga. I do not apologize for being that. I do not apologize for saying that. I say what I mean. And I mean what I say.

So, do me a favor Mr. Richards, don't apologize. Don't apologize while you hide behind "I'm not a racist." You are a fucking racist. You may not want to be. You may not want us to know that you are. You may not enjoy seeing yourself that way. But the truth of the video is overwhelming.

You didn't use "nigga" like I use "nigga." You know why? Because you can't. You have neither the cultural nor the emotional context that would allow that to happen. You simply saw some Black people and said the first fucked-up thing that came to mind, the thing that comes to more minds than we may ever know or admit. "Nigger!" It wasn't about a shared struggle. It was about the hate that made that struggle my reality. And anybody who would blame me for that is fucking bugging. [Note: "Bugging" is a word that niggas use when they mean that someone is "flipping out." Usage: Michael Richards bugged the fuck out and called some niggas "niggers" at The Laugh Factory last Friday night.]

Mr. Richards -- And I call you that to model a behavior I like to call "respecting other people's humanity" -- you are one racist muthafucka.

So, now you know what I think of you. And I already know what you think of me. That's a start.

So, don't apologize. Not yet. Not when it's so clear that you said what you meant and you meant what you said.

No, it does not shock me to "see what is buried beneath," muthafucka. The sound of the tell-tale heart that is racism pounds and resounds in my ears. So I guess I am sorry about one thing. I'm sorry that this is where we find ourselves...even in this new millennium.

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Blogger Impulsivecompulsive said...

Commenter's note: After rereading this, I realized that, not only does it go on forever, but it starts out on a tangent, and only gets worse from there.

I defend myself against those who would in any way excuse the rapist for calling the woman he rapes a "bitch," simply because she may call her girlfriends "bitches" when they're talking shit on the phone.

*nodding enthusiastically*
Oh yeah, that's exactly where I was going with that, right before I got to where you printed it.

I just had this debate at school (cause that's what I do) while I was procrastinating over a pot of coffee and four or five smokes (cause that's also what I do.)

A friend had read an article which stated that "bitch" was the worst insult used against women. My cohort figured that as far as insults go, "bitch" is pretty fucking tame by today's standards. But no, said I, it's not the word as much as the meaning behind it. Call a woman a cunt, and you're merely throwing out a baseless insult for degredation's sake. Call her a bitch, and you're insinuating that she's uppity, impolite, and simply doesn't know her place. Basically, she's acting like a man, and she should bloody well know better.

It's not the word, be it "bitch" or "nigger", but the historical context behind it. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but your traditional bigotry will most certainly cost me a premotion or three.
Therefore reclaiming the word is simply taking a bite out of that history, and laying claims to your right to not let people get away with refusing to acknowledge that it happened, it exists, and if whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, than dammit, feel free to skip Wednesdays at the gym.

On the other hand (but not really), I might fight to the death for reclaimed words, but I just got smacked in the face with how they can unintentionally hurt unknown others yesterday.

See, I'm a stalker. And by "stalker", I mean: I have a crush (yes, a crush, and to my coffee dealer's daughter, I still say adults can have crushes, and you're simply too young to have a bloody clue what you're talking about) on a guy at school. And I check him out when he can't see me, and he checks me out when I can't see him, and when we both accidentally check each other out at the same time, we blush, and run.
And I say I'm stalking him. I know that there's women out there who don't buy into using "stalking" loosely, and would take offense to the term. But heck, my number's unlisted, and I don't answer the phone if I don't recognize that call display, and I go sleepless nights if that unknown number has an Ontario area code. Or Alberta. Or non-Lower Mainland BC. (That'd be over 50% of the population of Canada that freaks me out when they phone, for your information). And then I get up in the middle of the night and plug *that* name into every phone directory available online in the hopes of finding out where *he* is and confirming that *that* number is not, in fact, his.
So anyway, if I wanna call myself a stalker in jest, I'm gonna do it. And true, maybe "stalker" isn't a reclaimed word as much as it is black humour, but if there's anything I've learned it's that humour is just a means of seeing the absurdity of a situation, and sometimes we need to see that absurdity, or we start to think that everything is okay, and that's just the way it is, and we can't go believing that shit, now can we?


I have set territory in my school, and one of the people who's invited into my territory is a security guard, and one of the 10,000 students at my school overheard me and that security guard discussing any advances I may have made in my stalking adventures.
And that one student panicked, thinking that I was talking to security about the fact that I thought that student was stalking me.

Why? I don't know who he is. He's far enough out of my territory that I still can't place him, even with a description to go on. So he should have been far enough out of my territory not to have any concerns that, even if I had been talking about having a stalker rather than being a stalker, he wouldn't be likely to think it was him.

Except that this student enjoying the wonders that accompany being a new immigrant to a country. And with that comes the joys of going into a bar when your accent don't pan up, and walking down the street at night when your skin's the wrong colour, and it's to the level where he hears the word "stalker" in a conversation across the room, and thinks, "oh crap, they're talking about me."

(Fortunatly, he went to his prof about the situation, and fortunatly, his prof happened to be one of those people who frequents my territory, and was able to sort out the situation quickly.)

But it sure made me think. Everything was cleared up within hours of him talking to the prof, but he didn't talk to the prof until first thing in the morning. Which means that someone spent a night wondering if he was going to be thrown out of school/charged/arrested, simply because of my idea of a running joke happened to cross paths with his learned paranioa.

So damn, you just don't know who you may be hurting with your words, or how badly. I don't know where I'm going with that, but it's put some seeds of thought in my head. How many partial conversations do people hear? How many of them don't have that same context that I have to back it up? And how much damage can it cause?

I guess that's the thing. You can know your rights, and you can know when assholes are just wrong (read: Michael Richards), but so much of that shit is in between, and we don't always have the time to sort it out with everyone around us.

Scary. Words, they'll getcha every time.

12:00 AM  
Blogger Impulsivecompulsive said...

Holy shit, that really does go on forever.

Seriously, very sorry.

12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a white boy growing up in the south, I never met a nigga I didn't like. There are lots of niggers and trashy, seemlingly normal, white people that I have met and don't like. I, for one, will not characterize any one person based on one incident. It just ain't right. Don't blame Mr. Richards for being a dumbass. It comes natural to so many people.

7:59 PM  
Blogger Angry White American Male said...

As an Angry White Male Who Votes, I 100% AGREE with NMN! I am only surprised by Mr. Richards NOT saying "some of my best friends are Black". Typical Racist.

I visit NMN because he is NMN. I, being white, have next-to-no real context of my being being devined from my whiteness...NMN on the other hand, has grown to become NMN because of his blackness, and what some of my white "bruthas and sistahs" say, do and THINK while NMN is around. I, for one, am embarrased to be white when I hear/see people like Mr. Richards rant and bug like he did. There's no apology necessary, my white brother...the damage is done.

NMN...I'm sorry for Mr. Richards being Mr. Richards...not for what he said. In a strange, almost paradoxial way, It's good that he said what he said because it brings to the surface what all of the politically-correct pundits have been attempting to bury with their PC'ness. You can't put lipstick on a pig and make it anything other than a really pretty pig. Mr. Richards is a pig.

Thank you for listening, and for being NMN.

Angry White Man Who Votes

9:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Racism and all the other isms are inherent in all of us to a greater or lesser degree. Where it gets ugly is when we dont acknowledge that we have a lot to learn about each other. We get defensive and angry because we see a part of ourselves that we hate. We dont want to be racist, but we are, so we project it out onto the other. The willful ignorance and the plain shamelessness of the vast majority of us is maddening. Anger is a lot easier to muster up and put into action than pain. God bless you sir.. and please dont stop writing.

12:38 PM  
Blogger Jascinth said...

Don't ever stop writing. You are a Walcott of race, writing your thoughts in grandiose style, leaving us humbled and thinking.

Thank you for writing. Don't ever stop.

1:46 PM  
Anonymous TK said...

New Millennium N-Word -

I say "N word" because I'm white and I don't feel comfortable using that word. Not because of what it means or what it represents, but because once it leaves my lips not one other word I say will be heard.

I don't spend a lot of my time talking about or thinking about race. Maybe that's wrong, but it makes me as much of a non-racist as one could be. I'd rather listen to Pink Floyd or Green Day or Bob Seger than rap, but it's got nothing to do with the color of the skin of the musicians. I'd rather watch "My Name is Early" than Damon Wayans sitcom that I don't even know the name of, but just because one makes me laugh and the other doesn't. I prefer to judge and be judged on the things I can control, but perhaps that's a luxury of my birth. If so, I don't take it for granted.

I support your use of the N-word (I refuse to say it or write it, even when quoting), not because of it's historical or cultural relevance. Not because I care about race, but because I care about words. Words are how we communicate with each other as human beings, and the politically correct policies of those afraid of offending have put a straightjacket on our ability to communicate with one another. I want people to mean what they say and say what they mean, even if that isn't what other people want to hear. It's hard to talk about the issues when everyone is too afraid of offending everyone else or being labeled the R-word. Personally, I keep my mouth shut and that's how I survive in my world, unfortunately depriving the world of my sharp wit and non-politically correct point of view.

My cousin adopted a baby from China and named her "Bo." She named her after the street where she was found in a garbage can, literally tossed away like yesterday's trash, merely because she wasn't a boy. Some people may have thought it was wrong to name her after the place where her biological parents abandoned her, but I think it will enable her to own that tragic part of her past. Her "real" parents, the ones who adopted her, are teaching her not to be afraid or ashamed of who she was or how she came to be. I applaud that embrace of a taboo subject, and I hope the name gives little Bo the freedom to talk about her past without fearing it.

So please, keep using the N-word, and maybe one day I'll be able to use it too...not because I will understand its context but because it's context will become irrelevant. Until then, I'll keep my mouth shut in public to avoid any labels, and I'll say potentially controversial things, like what I really think about affirmative action, only with the relative anonymity of the internet.


12:20 AM  

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