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Black Or White, Treat 'N-Word' Equally

ESPN analyst Michael Wilbon recently offered this on his show, "Pardon the Interruption": "I, like a whole lot of people, use the 'n-word' all day, every day my whole life."

He said this not so much as a revelation, but a declaration. He said it with a sense of pride. And I thought of the late James Brown's 1968, "Say it Loud — I'm Black and I'm Proud," which became an anthem for a generation.

Except today, Wilbon, like so many other blacks, says it loud, he's a "nigga" and proud.

In the next breath Wilbon said, regarding Los Angeles Clippers' basketball player Matt Barnes, who tweeted the word "niggas" in reference to his teammates, "Matt Barnes, as a person of color, if he wants to use it, I got no problem with it."

Well, I have a problem with that. Not just with Barnes' use of the word, but the fact that throughout this land not a clock stopped, not a soul gasped about Wilbon's prideful declaration.

There were no shouts of "racist," no calls for his dismissal, no exodus of sponsors.

No. There was just another surrender to the idiocy of the 1-drop rule regarding the n-word — this crazy notion that one drop of African blood entitles one to a lifetime right to say the n-word with no consequences.

As a proud black man and a proud journalist, I protest.

You cannot have two rules, separate and unequal, one for blacks and one for nonblacks. It is neither morally nor journalistically right — nor is it a bridge that we as a nation can cross to where we want to be.

Criticism and reporting about those who use the word must to be fair and equal. If Paula Deen and Riley Cooper and other nonblacks are taken to task, then Wilbon, hip-hop artists, black teachers and preachers and athletes and other blacks who declare their use of the word must be taken to task.

Until it is fair and equal, we should not hear Wilbon or anyone else cast stones at a nonblack using the word.

White reporters, who make up the bulk of this nation's journalists, must cease giving the "brothers" a pass when they use the word. It is hypocritical. It is a double standard. It does a disservice to the profession. It does a disservice to the nation.

Sports organizations, corporations and businesses must do the same. And teachers — cease allowing black students to say what you would not allow nonblacks to say.

While there is a First Amendment, the n-word should not be the norm any more than any other profanity.

Wilbon said he has a problem with white people framing the discussion on the use of the n-word. Apparently he does not remember that white people long ago framed not just the discussion, but the use of the word.

These whites were called "master" and back then black folks followed what their masters called them. They called themselves "niggers."

This word persisted after slavery. Said the Oct. 14, 1904, Seattle Republican: "One of the oddest impressions that a Northern person gets in the South is that there are no colored people or Negroes there, but only 'niggers' … there is a superstition that it is … necessary to administer these verbal kicks in order to avoid the possibility of their forgetting their inferiority."

Newspapers and radio of the past reveal the pervasiveness of the word in the North and the South — it was used as a name for horses, dogs, cowboys and even candy and used as a derogatory adjective.

That was then. This is now: Blacks are the major architects in keeping the n-word alive.

Yes, in 2013, Wilbon, like so many others, declared himself a "nigga" and does not want white people telling him otherwise.

Ah — the master's word still sings in the head of the slave.

Frank Harris III of Hamden is a professor of journalism at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. His email address is frankharristhree@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at fh3franktalk.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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