Tag Archives: racial awareness

Ebert Goes Beyond the Pale?

The other day, movie critic Roger Ebert, who’s a prolific user of Twitter, longtime husband to a black woman, and pretty socially aware guy generally speaking, posted this tweet:

I’d rather be called a Nigger than a Slave. http://bit.ly/hr7Ti8

The link, as you might guess, being to a story about the upcoming edits to make Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn more politically correct by changing every instance of the word “nigger” in the book to “slave.”

Apparently, he experienced some negative fallout from that tweet, as one can see by a tweet he made the next day that said this:

You know, this is very true. I’ll never be called a Nigger *or* a Slave, so I should have shut the **** up. http://bit.ly/gVRLu0

The link in that tweet links to a post at the “Oh No They Didn’t” site, which likes to break celebrity gossip and take the famous down a peg when they deserve it (and also when they don’t). The ONTD post seemed to have a bit more venom than I think was deserved, in part because it was posted pretty soon after Ebert’s first tweet and accuses him of making no response or apology to the outrage. (Really? You know how much outraged response he got? And you know that he was ignoring it when he probably barely had had the time to process it?)

As I type this, that post still hasn’t been updated to note the he has, in fact, now done exactly that (apologize, that is, and he did that early in the day…and I’m typing this as 5 p.m.). I know that the author of the ONTD post is aware of the fact Ebert posted an apologetic tweet promptly, because the author has responded to comments that pointed out Ebert must read ONTD, since he responded with a retraction of his words. So I guess making him look bad is more fun that updating the post to be accurate and give him credit where it’s due.

But my little rant about fairness aside, what I really want to talk about is the point that seems to have been missed. People visiting the ONTD site made comments like Ebert has no right to use the word “nigger” and he won’t ever be called one so he should shut the fuck up about the issue. Some even suggested he had no right to comment on the deletion of the N-word from Twain’s book (which makes no sense) and many pointed out (rightly so) that being married to a black woman doesn’t make him a black man or entitle him to throw around the N-word.

Thing is, he didn’t “throw it around.” His use of the word had a context.

Moreover, the outrage misses a very important point: That Roger Ebert is right.

I’m sorry if this loses me some readers (quite a lot of whom are black, in fact). But in addition to making a legitimate comment on the stupidity of removing the N-word to sanitize a book for modern political correctness and dilute its positive message about treating people as people (Twain was a pretty racially aware and socially minded guy, especially for his times)…well…wouldn’t most black people indeed (granted, Ebert isn’t one and never will be) rather be a nigger than a slave?

It seems to me that such a sentiment is sort of implicit in Ebert’s tweet. To be called a slave means you probably are a slave, and that’s a life that is horrific and demeaning in its entirety. To be called a nigger is demeaning, to be sure, but it is an insult, not a lifestyle that is forced on you. To have the N-word flung at you is a sign of hatred but it also is often a sign of fear. That’s not healthy, but I think most black people would rather be insulted for being seen as scary (as screwed up as that mindset of many non-blacks is) than to be enslaved.

In fact, I daresay that if Samuel L. Jackson had tweeted “I’d rather be called a nigger than a slave” people would be saying “Hell yeah!”

Yes, Ebert took a risk making that tweet, and he regrets it. And it’s true that he doesn’t know what it feels like to be a black man. But I’ll tell you this much: He’s a lot closer to knowing than most of the annoying white “I’m liberal so I can’t be racist” people slamming him right now. I, too, am married to a black woman and while this doesn’t make me black either, nor allow me to totally understand the black experience, I know a lot about how racism affects black people. I’ve seen its effects on my wife and Son of Blue, and one day I will see it affect Little Girl Blue.

Tell me, honestly, if you’re black and read my blog: Would you rather be a slave or be considered a [insert the N-word here because if I use it again I might be labeled a racist by an ONTD fan or Huffington Post devotee]?

And if your answer is the same as Roger Ebert’s, does his tweet diminish the value of that thought simply because he is white?

It’s going to be really hard to have racial discussions if we jump down a man’s throat for trying to say something meaningful and perhaps coming off wrong because he only had 140 characters in which to express himself.

I’d rather be called a Nigger than a Slave.

Two-fer Tuesday: Awareness by Deacon Blue

For a long time, I didn’t know when to use who and when to use whom.

I got through grade school, junior high and high school with A’s on damn near every bit of poetry or prose I did, pretty much everything from fiction to essays to journaling, and never really understood the difference. I suppose a lot of it was because I had a natural talent for writing, so I got put in the advanced English classes and in the advanced classes, they didn’t spend much time on the mechanics of writing but went into deeper and more creative territory.

(Trust me, there’s a reason I’m telling you this.)

So, it wasn’t until my required journalism class, “Copyediting” in college—where many grammar and punctuation “basics” were hammered home regardless of how good our English grades were in high school—that I finally understood fully the difference between who and whom (as well as discovering the real differences between that and which and when to say you and I vs. you and us, among other things). Once I did, it became easy in my writing to use who and whom properly all the time. And then, lo and behold, I discovered that as the months and years went on, I was beginning to use it properly in my speech as well, often without thinking about it, or thinking about it so quickly that no one listening to me would have known I was doing mental juggling of the words. I hardly think about it at all anymore; I usually just do it, naturally.

So, too, I have noticed that there are certain things I just don’t do or say anymore, or that I do or say differently, since I’ve been married to an African-American woman for more than a decade now.

This was brought home to me yesterday as we were driving home from an errand, and we were listening to Nirvana: Unplugged in N.Y. We started talking about the day Kurt Cobain died and comparing it to other famous musicians who had died and had huge outpourings of emotion over their deaths. John Lennon, Bob Marley, Jim Morrison, etc. And it was at that point that I asked my wife, “Who was that young lady who died a few years back and they had carriages and shit at her funeral procession, even though she really wasn’t that groundbreaking a singer and didn’t have much history behind her?”

The answer, as many of you might know, is Aliyah, as my wife reminded me. But, that wasn’t the point.

The point is that for just a split-second before I spoke, I thought about saying, “Who was that black girl who…”

And yet in that same split-second, my brain reminded me that if it were a white woman, I would never amend my question with mention of her race. Never. Not in a million years. And so I dropped the “black” before I spoke. And my wife had no idea (and won’t until she reads this, of course) that I had even gone through that semi-unconscious mental exercise.

The reason I bring it up is that it leads me to a not-all-that-terribly-groundbreaking theory I have developed since yesterday afternoon that there are three stages in the growth of one’s racial awareness, if indeed one is actually trying to grow in seeing people as people and not as colors or ethnicities.

There is stage 1, in which you do things like add a person’s race or color as a descriptor whenever they aren’t your own race or color. You do it either because you don’t even think about it or what that signifies or because you think you need to, even though chances are you don’t. (Or maybe you assume people are a certain way because of their race alone. Or maybe you treat them in a vastly different way because of race, in a manner that puts them in an less-than-ideal position. Etc.)

Then there is stage 2, in which it occurs to you to do something like the above, but you consciously force down the urge.

Finally, there is stage 3, which I can only hope arrives real McSoon not just for others but also myself—a time when the issue won’t even pop up in your head and you will stop doing something like the above, without even realizing you’ve stopped doing it. (I think I’m stage 2.478 at this point)

So, for whom am I even working on this issue? Me? My wife? My children? Actually, all of the above, in addition to all the friends, acquaintances and even strangers I will encounter in my life, especially those who aren’t pink like me.

That’s who. 😉