Last summer, singer and sometimes actor, Jennifer Lopez, got into trouble for using the word "nigger" in one of her songs. Some blacks were outraged at her temerity and insensitivity. Others cared less whether she included the word in her lyrics.
On a regular basis, Mark Twain's classic novel, Huckleberry Finn, is targeted for removal from high school libraries. The constant use by Huck of "nigger" sets the hackles on the easily offended. Ignoring the context in which Twain wrote the book; ignoring the fact that Huckleberry Finn is a profoundly anti-racist story; and ignoring Twain's personal commitment to bettering the situation of blacks in this country, the would-be censors denounce Twain in no uncertain terms and seek to yank the book from shelves. Mustn't pollute the minds of the young'uns, must we, with anything remotely controversial or thought-provoking?
Detective Mark Fuhrman's testimony in the O. J. Simpson murder trial was dismissed as part of a racist plot against an innocent man when a tape conversation proved his denial of ever uttering the word "nigger" was a lie.
Harvard law professor, Randall Kennedy, published a book in January of this year entitled, Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word. This book tackles the checkered history of what has become the quintessential racial slur in this country...at least if uttered by whites. In the 1600's, "nigger" had no particular opprobrium attached to it. By the early 1800's, however, that had changed. Today, it has become the Word-That-Must-Never-Be-Said.
A recent episode of the television show, "Boston Public," explored what happens when "nigger" enters a high school classroom.
Some people have argued that the word should be excised from dictionaries.
Uttering "nigger" at work can get an employee -- and maybe his employer -- convicted of creating a "hostile work environment."
A few people justify assault against any verbal transgressor who insults them by shouting the word.
Older blacks remember the Jim Crow years (brought to you, remember, not by private citizens but by state governments) and are understandably angered to hear what to them is the ultimate derogatory label. Younger blacks, however, have escaped much of the sting of those oppressive decades. Many of them do not have the same connotations, the same emotional associations and reactions that arise when they hear someone say, "nigger."
Some of these blacks frequently call each other "nigger" and listen to rap songs containing the word. The more they hear and say it, the more it fades into the background. Some may even wear the label as an odd badge of honor.
This tempest reminds me of two items from the black hole of the past.
One is from the founding of this country. "Yankee" was an appellation applied to Americans as an insult by the British. Rather than allow the Brits to set the terms of the debate, as it were, they adopted it as a self-descriptor and did so proudly. The term has stuck for over two centuries to describe the inhabitants of this country.
The second item is from the archives of Lenny Bruce. Before I discuss one of America's greatest comedians, however, we need to consider how resistance to and condemnation of the word "nigger" has reached hysterical levels in this country. The discussion has now gone far beyond issues of politeness or tolerance or civility. Our most basic freedoms are threatened by politically-correct masters who will punish anyone daring to violate their iron dictates of propriety.
According to a story by Diana Lynne in WorldNetDaily, former Idaho resident, Lonny Rae, attended a high school football game last October. His wife, Kimberly, was there, as well, to take photos for a local newspaper. A black referee, Kenneth Manley, did not want his picture taken and tried to take Kimberly's camera. He failed to seize the camera, but in the struggle, he bruised and injured his victim's neck when he pulled on the camera's strap.
Naturally, Lonny took exception to the 230 pound, 6'3" Manley assaulting his 5'3" wife. While Kimberly screamed, Mr. Rae shoved Manley away from the smaller woman. Manley was then escorted to the locker room.
Lonny, however, was hardly satisfied with this result. Furious, he shouted, "Tell that nigger to get out here, 'cuz I'm a gonna kick his butt."
Manley chose discretion as the better part of valor when he faced a fight with a man rather than a woman. As any good husband would, Lonny told the police he wanted Manley charged with assault and battery.
A reasonable demand? You would think so, wouldn't you? Apparently, in Council, Idaho, however, you would be wrong.
Rather than holding Manley responsible for his violation of Kimberly's rights, officials charged Lonny with misdemeanor "malicious harassment," a result of Idaho's unconstitutional "hate crime" law. (Supporters of "hate crimes" rely on the discredited notion of "collective justice" and the unearned guilt many whites feel because of the transgressions of other, dead whites who either owned slaves or were racist themselves. For a fuller analysis of such violations of the First Amendment, see "Hatred is Not a Crime" on my website.) Later, the charge was increased to a felony.
Sensitive to Idaho's reputation as a haven for white-power groups, locals claimed Rae was racist, blamed him for the Orwellian twist of the school being put on probation for "fan abuse" of officials (!), barred him and his wife from school grounds, fired Kimberly from her job, and boycotted Lonny's construction business. Eventually, the family decided they had to move.
All because -- in a fit of rage at a man who had physically hurt his wife -- Lonny used a word -- "nigger" -- that he thought would upset his wife's attacker. But as Lonny told WorldNetDaily, none of the words banned by Idaho politicians who passed "hate crime" legislation refers to whites. Say "nigger, spook, gook, dike, fag, chink, spic" and go to jail. Say "cracker or honkey," however, and, hey, no problemo. Whites deserve it. Equal protection under the law? Oh, yeah.
While Lonny was not found guilty of a "hate crime," he was convicted of "assault" (!) -- a crime for which he was never charged -- for having the temerity to yell the word, "nigger." For that horrible utterance -- for exercising his right to free expression -- he spent a week in jail.
The warped reality of those irrationalists who equate saying with doing, who see no meaningful distinction between a bullet in the head and a "hurtful" word thrown into the air has finally arrived.
The thought police are alive and well in Idaho. In the name of fighting racism, the politicians have once again achieved the opposite of their stated goal and inflamed racism. As Lonny said, "This ordeal has almost made me racist...our lives were torn apart...and nothing happened to [Manley]. My kids are being taught that blacks can get away with anything."
Indeed, the "hate crime" statute that initially landed Lonny in trouble and the "assault" conviction that landed him in jail are, themselves, inherently racist. As Ayn Rand said in, "Racism" (in The Virtue of Selfishness), "...racism is a quest for the unearned. It is a quest for automatic knowledge -- for an automatic evaluation of men's character that bypasses the responsibility of exercising rational or moral judgment... America has become race-conscious in a manner reminiscent of the worst days in the most backward countries..." Granting special favors -- or meting out special punishments -- to an individual because of the color of his skin is, as Rand points out, "the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism."
"Ironic" hardly captures the depth of this mockery of justice.
Which brings us around to Lenny Bruce...
It is too bad that Lenny is largely forgotten by those who would most benefit from his insights. This pioneer in defending free speech had -- and has -- a lot to say about cultural issues related to liberty. As a comedian, Lenny was repeatedly harassed and arrested for saying what is commonplace today in night clubs, movies, and cable television shows. A cultural leader, indeed, especially given the sad retroversion represented by our PC gestapo and such miscarriages as the Lonny Rae case.
One "bit" Lenny Bruce did was called, "Are there any niggers here tonight?" (If you're fortunate enough to be able to find it, this bit is in The Essential Lenny Bruce, edited by John Cohen, 1967, Ballantine Books.) In this bit, he asks the forbidden question of his audience. He also inquires as to the presence of any kikes, spics, hicks, guineas, greaseballs, Yids, and Polacks.
Oooo, the outrage is dripping from the air as he continues. He marches on in this vein for awhile. Then...well, I'll let Lenny finish this: