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.