For the past few months the n-word has made headlines, taking on a life of it’s own. Most recently, the University of Alabama held a conference to scrutinize the word. A few months ago, a host of Black leaders, celebrities and the public seized their 15 minutes of fame discussing what some call a tirade from a comedian experiencing a meltdown, and others perceive as a successfully orchestrated publicity stunt. Whatever the basis for the rant of an aging comedian, I don’t care. During the same week he spewed those hateful words in a Hollywood comedy club where provocative skits are performed nightly, the crisis in the black community persisted.
Listening to the self-appointed black delegates talk about the negative impact of “the word,” I thought to myself, call me the n-word. That’s right, I’d rather be called the n-word than be riddled with 50 bullets on the morning of my wedding day, like Sean Bell in New York City. I’ll take the n-word instead of living righteously for 92 years and then having the police kick in my door and gun me down based on some faulty information from a snitch, like 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston in Atlanta. I’d rather be called vicious names than suffer brutal injuries and detention in a foreign country, like journalists Ann Brown and Tonye Allen in Canada.
These are only a few of the long list of injustices that occurred the same week that “the comedian” uttered the n-word. However, black leaders saw fit to hold press conferences to talk about the painful effects of the word Nigger.
My very wise grandmother once told me, “Don’t worry about what people call you, focus on what you do and prove them wrong.” She also said you have to pick your battles. Although it was advice from a woman born in the 1800’s to a 10-year-old dealing with the wrath of mean-spirited children, her words are appropriate for the leaders of our beloved community today.
The black community is plagued by problems far greater than the n-word. According to a report from the Department of Justice, as of December 31, 2005, 8.1% of black males between 25 and 29 were in prison compared to 1.1% of white men of the same age. We’re faced with increasing instances of black-on-black crime, HIV/AIDs, single parent families, as well as the never-ending War on Terror.
With these dire issues at hand, how can anyone in the black community spend time discussing the outburst of a confused comedian? The wonderful thing about the accomplishments black Americans have made over the years is that when the comedian started slewing racist epithets at paying customers, those upstanding American citizens could – as they did – get up, demand a refund, and gracefully exit the building. Why seek an apology? Does anyone believe it was sincere? Frankly, who cares?
Don’t get me wrong; I understand the history of the word and the impact of its use. But, a troubled community cannot afford to be distracted by a redundant mission. Even if the use of the word was completely banned today, communities of color are still infected with poverty, inferior schools, HIV/AIDS pandemic, and crime-ridden neighborhoods. While blacks spin their wheels discussing a word, I’ll bet a dollar to a donut that the comedian in question has booked more shows and increased his rates as a result of the publicity surrounding “the word.”
In these troubling times, I hope that those assuming the role of leadership resolve to get our priorities in order; get off the soapbox and focus on the critical needs of the beloved community. If so-called leaders want to have a conversation, they should discuss how to encourage black people to invest in their own community, promote volunteerism and mentoring, emphasize family values, and talk about the importance of education. If they want to hold a press conference, they should impart useful news like where the unemployed can find jobs, the homeless can obtain affordable housing, the uninsured can get adequate healthcare, and how to protect the public from the strong arm of rogue police.
Like my grandmother said, as long as I carry myself like a first class citizen, call me what you want. Assault me physically, it’s time to fight back.