Tag Archives: hate-speech

When Don Imus and other racist jerks appropriate African-American terminology

by guest contributor Meera Bowman-Johnson, originally published at Our Kind of Parenting

In the best of times, being black is absolutely beautiful (let the choir say “Amen!”). In the worst of times, it feels something like this:

Three men went to hell.

The devil said to them “You have come to hell, and you must now choose whether to spend eternity in room 1, 2 or 3”

He then opened the doors to the three rooms.

Room 1 was filled with men standing on their heads, on a hard wooden floor.

Room 2 was filled with men standing on the heads, on a cement floor.

Finally, room 3 had just a few men, standing in human feces up to their knees and drinking coffee.

The men thought for a while, and decided to go with room 3, as it was less crowded and they could drink coffee.

They entered the door to room 3 and just as it was closing behind them, the devil said “OK men, coffee break’s over. Back on your heads.”

Sometimes, all you can do is laugh. Because just when it looks like everything’s cool, that no public figure has acted out in a while and offended black people, some modern-day Jimmy the Greek has to come out of their face with a racist insult. For no good reason at all (not that there ever is one). By now, just about everybody in the black blogosphere has weighed in on Don Imus’ ignorant and offensive remarks about the Rutgers’ Women’s Baskeball Team. The comment that referred to the impressive athletes as “nappy headed hos” (for those who’ve been under the mommy – or daddy – rock for the couple of weeks).

I’ve read countless, incredibly astute reactions to the “shock jock’s” remarks, but thought one of the most pointed came from Deborah Dickerson’s The Last Plantation: “You never see the racism coming. You’re minding your own business, say, playing basketball or buying groceries or eating at Krispy Kreme when an Imus comes along and forces you to be ‘black’ so he can be ‘white’.” As a woman who deeply despises misogynistic language and has has proudly worn just about every natural style known to 125th Street, all I could think was, (to quote The Millionaire’s Wife from Gilligan’s Island): “Well (snif). I’ve never!”

Oh, wait a minute. Yes I have.

Like my friend Field Negro so eloquently alluded to, this Imus business is par for the course for those of us LWB (Living While Black). I don’t like it, I don’t condone it, but do I expect it? Sadly, yes. Because, just in case anybody is late coming to the party, there are a lot of ignorant people in the house. To narrow the group even further, there are a lot of ignorant racists dancing poorly, to their own rhythm. And to whittle it down even one degree further, there are a lot of ignorant racists throwing their hands in the air like they just don’t care, ’cause they really don’t think they’re racists. I’m fairly certain Don Imus is one of those clueless types. The type that thinks that having a couple of black drinking buddies gives them free reign to say whatever and end up getting left at the bar (or in the studio) wondering “Hey…where did everybody go??”

I say this for one reason only: the term “hos” is one highly offensive thing, but how many white guys do you know actually even know the word “nappy”…until now? Hugh Grant thinks it means diaper. So does Paul McCartney. Of course they do, they’re English. But what about white American guys (the ones that aren’t married to black women)? Sure, terms like “diss” began popping up on sitcoms back in the early nineties and “bling” crossed quite seamlessly, thanks to people like Puffy (who I blame for many things). “Hos” I could see (rappers throw that one around all the time which is a seperate post altogether), but “nappy”? Where’d he get that one from, BET’s Comicview?

All I can assume is that, much like the old anti-drug commercial, where the hysterical dad confronts his adolescent son when he finds weed in his room (“I learned it from watching you, Dad!”), Don Imus learned the word “nappy” by watching black people (not that I, nor my fellow ethnicists are personally to blame for any of this nonsense). Whether it was through listening to hip hop, watching School Daze, or hanging out with Robin Quivers, somewhere along the way, Imus caught on to another N-word and assumed the word was fair game. Or maybe he caught somebody proudly sporting one of those old school “Happy to Be Nappy” t-shirts I picked up junior year of high school at The Greek Picnic. I don’t know. Continue reading

Study: racist language common among white college students

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

Given the proliferation of “ghetto” and “gangsta” parties, blackface and racist “satirical” student newspaper articles lately, the results of this study come as no great surprise.

From The Associated Press:

A University of Dayton sociologist who analyzed journals kept by 626 white college students found the students behaved substantially differently when they were in the company of other whites than when they were with other races.

Part of the culture?
When the students, who were asked to record their interactions with other people, were alone with other white students, racial stereotypes and racist language were surprisingly common, researcher Leslie Picca found. One student reported hearing the “n-word” among white students 27 times in a single day.

The results suggest white students have little sense of shame about racial insults and stereotyping and treat them as simply a part of the culture.

“This is a new generation who grew up watching ‘The Cosby Show,”’ Picca said. “They have the belief that racism isn’t a problem anymore so the words they use and the jokes they tell aren’t racist.”

Picca said she found it “heartbreaking” to see so many well-educated students perpetuating the stereotypes.

Celebrity Big Brother teaches us how to deflect accusations of racism in 3 easy steps

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

The UK’s Celebrity Big Brother reality show has made international headlines because of the racism endured by Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty at the hands of her housemates, particularly a woman named Jade Goody, who has since been evicted. (Thanks to Rochelle, Vandia, Rob and Rachel for the tips!)

From Wikipedia:

As of 16 January 2007 this series has attracted the largest ever number of public complaints to the UK broadcasting watchdog Ofcom about a Big Brother series. The complaints received detailed concerns that housemate Shilpa Shetty had been subjected to bullying, allegedly with undertones of racism. As an example, one English woman even called a fellow Indian participant “a dog” and that she should “fuck off home”. This sparked widespread anger and demonstrations in India, where the alleged racism was reported on the news, and led Big Brother’s main sponsor Carphone Warehouse to sever ties with the show.

It’s been interesting to see some of the similarities between US racism scandals and this one in the UK. It appears that there’s a set of rules that people follow when accused of racism. Now obviously these are not the only three techniques for deflecting accusations of racism or suppressing conversations about race. Be sure to check out How to Suppress Discussions of Racism and Jeff Yang’s terrific breakdown of the typical non-apology, or what he calls the Rosie Carolla defense. But these are three tactics that seem to come up most frequently.

1. Deny that you are a racist, no matter what.

Michael Richards went on David Letterman to apologize but simultaneously declare that he is not a racist. Rosie O’Donnell apologized for her “ching chong” remark while expressing skepticism that it was considered a racial slur. By calling into question the racism of the remark, she of course defused accusations of her being a racist.

According to the BBC, a spokesperson for Goody said: “Jade will be mortified when she comes out to learn that her conduct is being interpreted as racist. Anyone who knows Jade knows that she is not a racist.”

2. Invoke your non-white relative or romantic partner as proof that you’re not a racist.

According to the same BBC article, Goody’s mother Jackiey Budden suggested that Goody couldn’t possibly be racist because she’s mixed: “Jade has never been racist, she is mixed race herself and suffered racist abuse as a youngster.”

We’ve seen plenty of examples of people denying accusations of racism by pointing to the fact that they have been in interracial relationships before and/or have mixed race children, or (my personal favorite) that they live in the Dominican Republic.

Newsflash: Interracial couples and mixed race people can be racist too. Which by the way, also means that increased numbers of both does not mean our society is heading towards an inevitably racism-free future.

3. Point to a non-white person (preferably the focus of your remarks) who was not offended by your behavior as proof that you’re not a racist

After Arnold Schwarzenegger was caught on tape discussing state assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia’s spiciness (“I mean Cuban, Puerto Rican, they are all very hot…They have the, you know, part of the black blood in them and part of the Latino blood in them that together makes it”), he trotted her out at a press conference so she could say that she was not at all offended, and actually refers to herself as a “hot blooded Latina”.

Rosie O’Donnell also used this tactic. At the end of her non-apology, she pointed to two Asian women in the audience and said, “You two weren’t offended, right?” and used their smiles and applause as evidence that she was in fact, not racist.

According to this report (hat tip to Angry Asian Man), Shilpa Shetty is taking back her earlier statement that she felt like a victim of racism by saying instead, “I don’t feel that there was any racial discrimination happening from Jade’s end … I think there are a lot of insecurities from her end, but it’s definitely not racial.”

I’m sure that by the time this post comes out, someone will have said: “See? Shilpa doesn’t think it was racist, so it must not be.”

The 10 biggest race and pop culture trends of 2006: Part 3 of 3

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

This is the last in my series breaking down the top trends in race and pop culture of 2006. If you missed it, check out Monday’s trends 10 through 8 and yesterday’s trends 7 through 4 . Here’s the final list:

10. Race-swapping undercover experiments
9. Hipster racism
8. The continuing obsession with interracial relationships
7. The new minstrel show
6. Racism on college campuses
5. Fear of a Latino takeover
4. The return of the white man’s burden
3. Colorface everywhere!
2. Celebrity racial slurs
1. Race baiting

3. Colorface everywhere!

It seemed like blackface, brownface and yellowface was everywhere in 2006, even in the most unexpected places. Some of these blackface incidents we’ve already covered. For example, Kate Moss in blackface for The Independent’s Africa issue, the many “ghetto parties” and blackface incidents included in racism on college campuses and the Tyra Banks Show episode where she had Angela Nissel go on dates with three men both as a black woman and as a white woman .

Liberal blogs Firedoglake and Billmon (who has since stopped blogging) both decided to use blackface images to mock people they didn’t like/respect. Firedoglake blacked up a photo of Joseph Lieberman in a post accusing him of race-baiting. Billmon blacked up a photo of CNN’s Wolf Blitzer after he complained about Lynne Cheney being uncooperative during an interview. Both issued the standard “I’m sorry you’re offended but I’m just so brave and un-PC” apologies, leading ebogjonson to create a flowchart for those bloggers asking themselves if they should use blackface on their blog. In case you were wondering, if you answer yes to being white, the answer is “STOP! You CANNOT use blackface EVER under any circumstances.” Also, be sure to check out Kai Chang’s series on racism in the liberal blogosphere .

A movie based on the 1970s TV series “Kung Fu” is in the works. As you probably know, biracial Asian/white protagonist Kwai Chang Caine was played by David Carradine in the series. And he’s been milking the virtual yellowface gig ever since, from his role in Kill Bill to his stupid Yellowbook.com commercials. The question is, which white guy are they going to get to play Kwai Chang Caine in the movie version? Who has enough “Asian flavor?” I’m putting my money on Steven Seagal. 😉 Continue reading

A must-read: Reappropriate on Michael Richards and the racist fairy

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

kramer racist tirade n-bombIt’s no secret that Reappropriate is one of my favorite blogs. Jenn’s analysis is razor-sharp and she’s also funny as hell.

I urge you to head over to her blog right now and read her latest take on Michael Richards’ apology. Here are some excerpts:

Michael Richards was bitten by the racist fairy.

According to Seinfeld and Richards, who are both “mystified by what happened”, it’s like some Blackface Tinkerbell crawled up Richards’ ass and shot him full of that Strom Thurmond fairydust. Think racist thoughts, and you can make minorities fly — far, far away from you!! After all, Richards is absolutely shocked by what happened (it’s one of those “awful, awful things”, says Seinfeld) – he’s not a racist, he just came down with that racist funk.

I love the use of the passive voice here — racism didn’t just happen. It’s not like when you’re in bed with some girl and the condom just breaks: that’s just one of those “ooops” moments. No… here, racism didn’t just happen! This man did it!! Don’t tell us “what happened”… as if you’re an innocent bystander in some drive-by slurring.

Now, the opening part of Richards’ apology is abso-frickin’-hilarious (and, of course, the audience was laughing). Why? Because it’s like they drugged his ass and threw him in front of a camera! He looked lost!! Look at his eyes, that wide vacant stare! It’s like the Drop Squad picked him up after the Laugh Factory show, beat him to a bloody pulp, and forced him to watch hours and hours of classic African American — no, wait “Afro-American” — films last night. He’s been watching The Color Purple on repeat for eight hours straight, until he broke down into wracking sobs of “did you tell Harpo to beat me?!?”

I don’t think they let him go until they made him watch Roots: The Next Generation — where else do you think he got the term “Afro-American”? You know he just learned it last night! He was like: “I’m a racist! I can’t remember all these names they want to call themselves. Until yesterday, I thought the n-word was alright!”

Michael Richards on Letterman: “I’m not a racist”

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

kramer racist tirade n-bombUpdate: TheThink has the video of Michael Richards on Letterman. Check it out.

So Michael Richards, who played Kramer on Seinfeld, was on Letterman last night to apologize for his racist-ass rant on Friday at Los Angeles’s Laugh Factory. (See our previous post on this.)

I’m always amazed when these racial outbursts happen, and the apology is something along the lines of “I’m shouldn’t have said that” or “those words were very offensive.”

What the perpetrators of these racist statements don’t get is that it’s not the words themselves that are shocking or offensive. It’s what the words reveal about the person’s values and true beliefs.

The fact that Richards, when provoked by a black man, immediately reminded him that it wasn’t so long ago that he could have been lynched and made a public spectacle of, to me indicates that he is resentful of having to tolerate blacks being equal to him, and longs for the days when he could exercise his “god-given” superiority. Kinda makes you wonder what dinner-table conversations are like at the Richards house, no? If you didn’t believe this stuff, it wouldn’t be the first thing that came to mind.

Anyway, Defamer has some behind-the-scenes scoop on how insincere Richards’ apology is:

As he was walking out, he said to the women accompanying him, “…so you go on these shows and apologize and apologize but it’s never good enough.” One of the women murmured something about him having a PR person to handle this kind of thing and he replied, “I don’t have anyone handling this. If I did, I wouldn’t have gotten into trouble in the first place.”

Right, not having a PR person is why everyone thinks you’re a racist.

I found the transcript of the Letterman show and pasted it below. Interesting that he talks about pushing the envelope, about trash talking, about rage, about free association, about passion – everything except the big R word: racism.


“Why don’t you explain exactly what happened for the folks who may not know.”


“I lost my temper on stage. I was at a comedy club trying to do my act and I got heckled and I took it badly and went into a rage and said some pretty nasty things to some Afro-Americans, a lot of trash talk, and uh…” Continue reading