Piers Morgan, you got a bit of a killing on twitter last night. It was a bit bloody. You decided to write an article entitled “if black American’s want the N-word to die, they’ll have to do it themselves”. Uh-oh.
The first misstep was the title itself. It sounded facetious. It sounded arrogant. It sounded like you were putting the onus on black people for the continued use of the word, which as any black person who has been called nigger before knows, is simply not true.
But to be fair to you Piers, as you got into the article, you made some decent points. In fact, I agree with some of what you wrote. I agree that it’s a ugly word that doesn’t need to be used. I agree that as black people, there is no need for us to use it in our day to day discourse. I will admit to using it in jokes with friends, but I don’t personally think that by using it I’m removing power from it. I also agree with your statement at the end that as a white man, you have no right to tell black people what they should or should not call themselves.
The thing is though Piers, that’s exactly what you did. Of all the numerous articles you could have written to challenge structural racism, to place a spotlight on the institutions and attitudes embodied by other white people that perpetuate the oppression of non-whites, you chose to write an article ‘politely suggesting’ that black people stop using the N-word. Frankly, casual use of the n-word by black people themselves is probably not top on the list of ‘things holding black people back in 2014’. Furthermore, you naively (I’m giving you a massive benefit of the doubt), are suggesting that if WE stop using the word, then maybe over time, the racist white people will too? Really? Do you HONESTLY believe this? Even if that were the case, would the fact that they no longer use the word, make any difference to the socio-economic and political power of black people in real terms?
For every black person who stops using the word nigger, will a pound (because the dollar is weak right now), be donated to some special fund? Will a Kentucky Fried Chicken shop close? What will actually happen?
Probably very little. Until the psychological barriers of venerating whiteness as supreme are eradicated from the conscious of our society, dropping offensive words here and there, will change nothing. The problem isn’t a word. The problem is a WORLD that creates the environment where racist structures, attitudes and behaviour can be perpetuated without adequate recognition and retribution.
Part of that is the paternalistic attitude exhibited in your article. Part of that is insidiously placing responsibility on the victims of racism as opposed to the perpetuators of it, to change the system. Part of it is thinking that you as a white man, can write an article like that and that the race of the writer should have no bearing on how the message contained in it is received.
This isn’t to place us as powerless victims in society. I do believe black people have tremendous power, more than we realise. We are massive consumers – economically unified, we could cause serious damage to some industries. Black children have potential to rise above school systems that stereotype them and place structural barriers in their way to do great things. There is as much brilliance and potential in our community as any other.
But there are glass ceilings to break, and barriers to overcome. Your article deflected the responsibility away from the white community to deal with their racism, onto us, the black community.
And you know that ain’t right.