The Headline Offends Me

By Alvin Hall
Published July 2014

Alvin Hall is a writer, broadcaster and teacher who covers a wide-range of cultural and financial issues. He recently won a Radio Academy Award in the UK for his three-part series

Alvin Hall is a writer, broadcaster and teacher who covers a wide-range of cultural and financial issues. He recently won a Radio Academy Award in the UK for his three-part series "Who Sold the Soul?" A revised edition of his bestselling book, Your Money or Your Life, was recently published in the UK. He is currently completing a book of his selected essays on personal finance that will be published in the US in early 2015. Hall lives in New York City.

I am certain this phrase has been said openly and boldly in living rooms and private clubs, on golf courses, in bars, and during production meetings of conservative media pundits all across America before and after Obama was elected. Certainly the not-so-coded language used by conservative senators, representatives and media pundits and the blatant disrespect repeatedly shown to President Obama are all outgrowths of the attitudes surrounding slavery and Jim Crow in the US. The phrase encapsulates, telescopes, evokes and provokes the underlying, almost entitled bigotry that still quietly pervades the racial attitudes of far too many Americans, both actively and passively.

For me, just seeing the n-word in a headline or in an article always makes me bristle. I feel a knot of indignation, disgust, and anger form in my gut. I grew up in a time when the n-word was used two ways. The first was provocative, as in, “Who does that nigger think he is?” The context was invariably a comment designed to elicit a reaction, the consequences of which could be varying degrees of violence–from helpless personal degradation to something worse. The second use of the n-word was to put me in my place as in, “You’re smart for a little nigger.” While some people might interpret this as a back-handed compliment, it was not. It was dismissive. It was freighted with the traits of buffoonery, dim-wittedness, and inarticulateness widely projected on to all black people. The existence of the person being comment about was therefore some kind for freak accident or aberration.

One might like to hope, and one would like to argue that using the phrase in a headline holds a mirror up to Americans. It, with no irony, calls a spade a spade. But in doing so, does it help readers see the hypocrisy and bigotry in the coded language of people such as the stubborn conservatives politicians media pundits? Does it help them understand the visceral depth of the racism that has repeatedly risen up to thwart President Obama’s agenda? Does it help them to understand that “post-racial” is a myth, that racism has just morphed into something more insidious, and therefore more evil.

If this headline were used in a major publication, I feel certain that a majority of people would be offended, but many I also think would also quietly, perhaps with a little shame, not totally disagree with the pejorative elements of its usage. Why? Because the racism embedded in the headline doesn’t seem to be thought of as a moral flaw as it became during the Civil Rights movement. It seems to have reverted to being an unfortunate personality trait, one among many traits that even good, righteous, patriotic people who care lovingly for their families and take good care of their houses can have.

The decision to use the headline feels misguided to me. I don’t see how its use benefits anyone, but I do feel all too clearly how it deeply offends me.

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15 Responses to “The Headline Offends Me”

  1. John Heath

    Jul 8th, 2014

    Toughen up, my brotha – I appreciate the usage of the word in that context because it accurately describes the sentiment of far too many of our fellow citizens who know not how deeply their world view has been warped by white supremacy. The author is clearly holding up a mirror and hoping that the folk who perpetuate these attitudes that still have a conscience might be swayed by a blatant depiction of the root of their so-called political positions & critiques. We can’t be hurt by anyone calling us out of our name, but we can be hurt if we don’t understand the power dynamics of white supremacy and how insidious and effective this agenda can be–just ask the President since they have strategically decided upon non-cooperation as a strategy to deal with him!

    • Sylvester Simons

      Jul 8th, 2014

      Well said, I couldn’t agree more.

    • AR

      Jul 8th, 2014

      Yes, I agree people are focused on the headline but they should really read the article because there is definitely truth in it. Also, I understand Mr. Hall’s POV but in my very humble opinion this is one of those “sticks & stones… names will never hurt me” situations and not the situations or usage he’s sighted. Collier’s title is shocking to some but some find it acceptable for rappers, sports stars and entertainment based industries to use. We’re focused on the headline when truly people should read the article. PLEASE READ BOTH, that’s what makes our country great we can all learn from both opinions if we try.

  2. pat

    Jul 8th, 2014

    It is kind of like holding up a mirror to the American people. More accurately, it’s more like a Rorschach test. If they don’t like what they see in the mirror, it is hardly the authors fault…

    Initially, I was kind of shocked that anyone would use the “n-word” in a published article, much less dare to publish such a word into a headline (oh crap, someone just lit a fuse to a race riot). Those were my first reactions. But being that I have a somewhat open mind, I ACTUALLY READ the article (call me curious).

    Of course, the biggest problem with the title is the laziness of both the general public, and other “so called” news outlets that only run the headline with no context. I spotted it on Yahoo, and all they had was the following:

    “Newspaper runs headline referring to President Obama as N-word

    The West View News ran this op-ed using an offensive word to describe President Obama (West View News)”

    Along with a screen grab of the article (too small to actually read the text though). Followed by a comments section (22,174 Comments). Wow, they’ve really gotten people talking about it (page views), which they can then show to their advertisers. Shitloads of “content”/page views, with no actual thought/work required, the majority of which was written by people who probably never actually read the article.

    At any rate, the whole point to the title of the article, in case anyone missed it, is to SAY OUT LOUD what many on the far right, either consciously or unconsciously, already think. While on its face this title seems shocking, it does point out that the “dog whistle” that the right wing has been blowing on so hard for these past six years; has not gone unheard by the left (and hopefully the rest of the electorate)….

    I can respect that the headline offends you, and I can not in good conscience say that your views are wrong. BUT, it HAD to be said. I mean, it is literally the BIG WHITE GOP ELEPHANT in the dammed F-ing room people!!! Nobody wants to talk about it, because everybody gets pissed (mostly the idiots/true racists), but it is something that should have been tackled a long time ago (decades even). The fact that one of our two major political parties not only harbors, but at times even seems to promote such racism should scare the shit out of you. This coupled with the fact that the same “flag waving” nationalistic party favors corporations over people, makes for a recipe that was last seen in the 1930′s & 1940′s under similar economic circumstances. I’ll come out and say it, so that there is no mistake: Right-Wing Nationalism + Racism + a smidgen of Corporate Oligarchy = FASCISM That is literally the definition….

    BTW, I think that todays youth, if they bother reading the article, will get that he is using the n-word ironically ;-) .

  3. Kevin McKinley

    Jul 8th, 2014

    There’s power in words, and there are no bad words, just poor usage. This is a rather brilliant use of the word Nigger, because everyone is talking about this article. It is the content of the article we should be concerning myself about…..

  4. Kevin McKinley

    Jul 8th, 2014

    There’s power in words, and there are no bad words, just poor usage. This is a rather brilliant use of the word Nigger, because everyone is talking about this article. It is the content of the article we should be concerning ourself about…..

  5. Carolyn

    Jul 8th, 2014

    If the black side of Barack Obama is a nigger-what do you call his white side. His whiteness doens’t seem to matter that much too the real racist-Mr Collier has apoint.

    • Connie

      Jul 9th, 2014

      Have you ever heard the saying that one drop of black blood makes you black? Well this is the situation with President Obama. Furthermore, as a 55 yr old US citizen who happens to be black and female; i am very appalled at how the GOP are treating the POTUS. This treatment of the man who is our president because he is black is egregious behavior in every way. I really hope that black people and all people of color never ever forget how the politicians of the GOP has treated our president. in addition, i do hope that we will never put them in any office ever again. The goal is to destroy Pres Obama’s legacy as the first black president, but I pray the GOP party will be fully disclosed and rid of first. Thank you for the article; the the shock value of the title worked.

  6. Mike B.

    Jul 8th, 2014

    Mr. Hall if you’re offended by the headline, might I suggest you not listen to the current hip-hop “hit” by a rapper called YG entitled My Ni*a.

    On second thought perhaps you should listen to it and then let us know your thoughts? Colliers headline and the hits it has and will receive is a drop in the bucket if you stop and realize that children (of all races) are immersed in a media where a pejorative becomes adjective, noun, verb, salutation, slur and term of endearment.

    We have much bigger problems to deal with then a headline in a rag no one has heard of before or will read again in the future.

    • Katrina

      Jul 8th, 2014

      Just because other people use the term does not mean it is right to use. That term has easily become mainstream and it is sad. If people went around calling white people Honky, Cracker and so on would that make it right? I think not! The point of all of this is that he could have vocalized his point a bit better than he did. There is always another way to skin a cat. JMO

      • Mike B.

        Jul 9th, 2014

        Katrina,

        I in no way defended the use of the word.

        My point is that Mr. Hall put pen to ink, so to speak, over his angst that the word was used in a borough paper no one really reads. To that end, as a society we have a much bigger problem in that our youth are conditioned to use the word because of a media that has a much larger impact then the West View News. I think to be true feelings of being offended Mr. Hall should immediately give his thoughts on the music industry’s blind eye stance in the name of money.

  7. M. Wilkins

    Jul 8th, 2014

    It’s funny how you all want to scream race when you do something wrong . You sure don’t use it when you get something. We voted Obama in not looking at his race how do you think he got in the White House .
    He is lying cheating breaking laws ,and it doesn’t matter whether he is black or white it’s wrong , now to cover his actions he’s calling the race card . How can anyone trust him even his own party some of both or all races . How do you explain that .
    He’s breaking rules that have been set hundreds of years ago and because he’s black he can disregard all rules , make his own rules and that’s going to work . No it will not Black or White. We all are the same our blood bleeds the same the color of or skin has nothing to do with it .
    He is just a BADMAN . Liar,cheater, thief just bad.

  8. Barbara lang

    Jul 8th, 2014

    Mr. Hall, the man that wrote the article is spot on! I have believed that racism is behind the right wing crap since Obama was elected. I’m sorry you are offended, but I believe the article has finally stated what many, many people have been thinking for years. The use of the word actually gives the article much more power. For people who just would never believe their elected officials could be racist, this is very straightforward and to the point.

  9. Mason

    Jul 8th, 2014

    It’s never acceptable to rationalize the use of this n…word. Nothing ever justifies the usage. Don’t fall into the trap of allowing anyone to use it regardless of the content. This is never appropriate!

  10. Carlos Diaz

    Jul 9th, 2014

    I must say, that the a Pandora’s Box has now been opened in this article. However well intentioned, the Editor made a colossal mistake by printing such a cheap advertising strategy. IF allowed to stand, mark this words down:

    #1 – ANY WORDS can now be used in ANY article(s) Headlines. I think Republicans are now foaming at the mouth. If you did it, why can’t we say it ?
    #2 – Not only the N WORD has now been let out of the box, now the word is OPEN to also be used in nasty attacks against ANY black in the country – not just the President ” NIGGERS ARE CRIMINALS”, and then proceed to say that blacks have been put into this position by years of discrimination… This is exactly what just happened here.

    If Clinton would become president, I can now see the headlines becoming “Pussy” in the Whitehouse . How About the “Jew” in the Whitehouse? How about that “BITCH REPUBLICAN” in the Whitehouse?… and on and on.

    People all over the world must be laughing at us now because we allow such garbage to be written in the name of news… I certainly hope that this cheap excuse of a News Media outlet goes bankrupt ASAP. Put that into your next headlines !

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