By now, everyone has probably seen or read what Michael Richards – also known as Kramer from Seinfeld – said to two black men who attended his show at a Los Angeles comedy club.
For those who might not be familiar with the incident, Richards became angry when two black audience members began heckling him during his comedy routine. In his tirade toward the two men, Richards called them the N-word and referred to when blacks were slaves by saying, “Shut up! Fifty years ago we’d have you upside down with a f– fork up your a-.”
Since the incident, Richards has made several appearances, apologizing for his actions and asking for forgiveness from the black community and the rest of the nation. He has even hired a public relations specialist to help heal his image. Richards has apologized on David Letterman’s show as well as on the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s syndicated radio show.
I in no way condone what Richards did. He says he is not a racist, but of all the comments he could have made to the hecklers, he chose to make racial comments. Frankly, this makes him a racist. What he did was completely uncalled for and extremely offensive. As a professional, Richards should have handled the situation better and kept his temper under control. Losing his cool does not excuse the fact that he opened a wound that is more than 300 years old.
However, as I sit and feel angry about what Richards said, I can’t help but feel like a hypocrite. I listen to rappers use the N-word in songs all the time. I hear the word at least once a day as I walk to class listening to my iPod, but I don’t get angry at Jay-Z or Snoop when they say it. Their motives are clearly innocent.
One of my favorite television shows, Boondocks, has used the word in almost every single episode. So it could be because the black community’s attitude toward the word has become so lax that the rest of society thinks it’s no big deal to say it anymore.
The New York Post reports black leaders are challenging the entertainment industry, including rappers, to stop the use of the derogatory racial slur. Jackson said at a press conference Monday that he wants blacks to choose dignity over degradation. No longer should blacks continue to use the N-word as a term of endearment. The word has a long history of causing humiliation, pain and a feeling of subservience to whites. A word that carries so much negative baggage should not be embraced by the people it’s meant to demean.
In an ABC News story, Larry Watson, professor of sociology and music at Boston College, said, “(The N-word) was used (during a time) when white slave owners were caught having sex with their female slaves, and they would be charged with bestiality because they considered black women animals, less than human. … If everyone knew this, I don’t see how anybody could use that word.”
People are calling for an end to the use of the word, but it might be too late. Use is reaching beyond the black community and infiltrating other minority groups. For example, I have heard Hispanics say it to each other in place of “homeboy” or “homey.” It’s out of control. Nevertheless many believe it can be eradicated from vocabulary – but it has to start with the black community.
Whether you say it with an -er or dress it up with an -a, no one can deny the power the word carries. The hip-hop generation has never experienced what it feels like to have to sit at the back of the bus, get attacked by vicious police dogs or doused with fire hoses. Blacks of today will never know what the generation before had to go through to assure contemporary civil rights.
The N-word is an ugly word that looms above the black community as a constant reminder of where it stood in society not too long ago. It’s time for the word to leave people’s speech.
Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. That dream did not consist of blacks calling each other the very name King was called by the whites who wanted to degrade him and his efforts. He had a vision of progress, self-respect, and love. That dream can become a reality, which means the N-word must finally be put to rest.
As far as Richards goes, the ostracism he is experiencing is fully deserved.
Shemir Wiles is a senior majoring in mass communications.