Recently, rapper Jay-Z and his relentlessly famous wife Beyonce were power-coupling it up with their pal Gwyneth Paltrow, and she tweeted the photo with an … interesting message.
“Ni***s in paris for real @mrteiusnash (the dream) tyty, beehigh.”
Many of us have that one white friend — the cool one who knows all the words to all our favorite rap songs, the one who’s always hanging around at the cool events — and sometimes, sometimes … they get a little too comfortable.
Sometimes it’s not even that. Sometimes it’s just some goofy bastard whose watched Chapelle’s Show too much and decides to spout out the n-word as part of a humorous story about Timothy Olyphant (as Kevin Smith did in 2005 at Wizard World Chicago). Or maybe it’s a jocular television personality who’s known for clashing with airline staff, who decides to tell the world …
“I love that song N****S in paris!!! I love Kanye! I love @IrelaneBBaldwin most of all”
Kanye and I are doing a song called N****S IN MONTAUK. My album is called MY BEAUTIFUL PALE TWISTED FANTASY.
Anyone who thinks that quoting the title of that song is racist is a disgrace. To the human race.
Even people of middle eastern descent have similar feelings. Florida’s DJ Khaled told Invasion Radio …
“I’m a n****. If somebody ever took that in an arrogant… If someone thinks it in another way, they dumb,” he said. “I grew up like that. It’s slang. It’s actually a positive word the way that I use it, the way that Ace [Hood] is using it. If you think like that, that goes back to the Internet, the hate.”
He justified his use of the word in songs and everyday conversation, drawing a line between variations on the term but explaining how it could be used as a term of endearment.
“For me to say ‘We the best, oo wee n****, we the best!’ You know what I’m talking about. N****s that’s thinking that is dumb fucks. Once again, I’d like to shout out the fans who love this music. What makes me mad, when I grew up, n****s was calling me sand n****. That’s ignorant, because there’s only one way to say it. You can’t say, ‘Yo what up my sand n****?’ That’s not the way we grew up in the streets,” he continued. “When I say ‘What up my n****,’ I say that to Green all the time. ‘What up my n**?’ That’s just me greeting you with love. But if somebody takes it another way, they dumb. That’s like dumb. That’s dumb. Like, they dumb.”
Before, say, 1988, the idea of using what could be the most offensive racial slur ever created in public, let alone in a song that non-Black people would likely hear, would have seemed ridiculous to most people. White people who heard the word would have blanched in surprise, as it wouldn’t have been something common in their experience.
Now? Between Kid Cudi and Donald Glover, Kanye West and Snoop Dogg, the idea of white people hearing the N-word on an almost daily basis is sadly almost normal. The great argument of many pundits — that repeated usage of the word would rob it of its mystique and “power” — has been embraced by the winsome daughter of Hollywood legacies, calling the world’s most popular pop star a hateful racial slur like “n****” without shame, without recoil, and ultimately without consequence. She wasn’t just quoting the song title. She was referring to two human beings with terminology tonally similar to what would have been said a hundred and fifty years before to property.
Veteran music journalist Billy Johnson Jr. said that Mr. West and his partner in rhyme Shawn Carter are “to blame” for the actress feeling comfortable using the term. He’s right. Like a gun shop owner in a bad neighborhood who never checks ID, Kanye West, Jay Z and the other aforementioned artists, among many others share a responsibility for helping an entire generation of less-than-culturally-aware people believe that this word is essentially not awful, not horrible, not dehumanizing and irrevocably stained with hatred.
However, Gwyneth Paltrow didn’t land here from another planet. Alec Baldwin didn’t just learn the term. Kevin Smith isn’t some innocent ingenue. They live in the United States, and in Baldwin’s case, lived through the worst excesses of American racism, from George Wallace to Stacey Koon, and should know better.
However, knowing better — like common courtesy and trying — seem to have gone out with the twentieth century. Yes, you can blame Kanye and Jay-Z, you can even go back and blame Eazy E and Paul Mooney and Richard Pryor. Sure, they sold this “gun” — even when they tried to say that changing the ending made it shoot blanks, or affection.
Kanye didn’t pull the trigger. Jay-Z didn’t make the choice to push “send” on those proliferations of the most hateful word in the English language. Paul Mooney, as unrepentant as he is, didn’t give the sense of entitlement and safety in using this. Andy Dick still books clubs. Michael Richards still cashes royalty checks from Seinfeld. Nothing bad will happen to these glittering, protected people, because we as a community don’t have the wherewithal to make people sorry, beyond their platitudes and de rigueur apologies.
In the immortal words of video game character Carl Johnson, you may as well blame society. In the words of soul legend Curtis Mayfield, “if there’s a hell below, we’re all going to go.” This is the world we deserve, because we lack the conviction to change it. In that world, famous white people can call you a hateful slur to your face and to the world and there’s nothing you can do about it, because you helped make it possible.