Is There A Double Standard For the "N-Word?"
- Of course there's a double standard. The "N-word" and its use forces us to peer into the social mirror of American history and dissect the reasons why we've been conditioned to accept it from some, but reject it from others.
We have all bowed to the psychological and social pressures of double standards. Whether it's based on gender, race or religion, we (individually and collectively) allow it to happen. It's the flawed reasoning behind our views of men having casual sex versus women having casual sex. Or, why a 58 year old man dating a 22 year old woman isn’t viewed the same as a "cougar" dating a man 30 years younger. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is.
One school of thought regarding the Paula Deen situation says that we all mistakes and say things we regret. Deen apologized emphatically in two released videos, and will likely appear on several talkshows to apologize even more. But no matter how careful we try to be, sooner or later, each of us will vocalize something that's either offensive, or totally idiotic. It's all part of being human. And if we're smart humans, we own up to it, learn from it and move on.
Using the "N-word," however, is a bit different. Because of its history of hatred and degradation, we rarely think of anyone using this word without intent. Since it is such a controversial word, we often believe that anyone who uses it does so out of malice, and not because of some momentary slip of the tongue.
But what happens when there are no claims of tongue slippage and someone uses the word on purpose? Are there any occasions when a White person can openly and freely use the "N-word" without ridicule, backlash, or being labeled a racist?
I can't imagine that my Caucasian friends have never uttered the "N-word" at some point in their lives. It may have happened during an intellectual conversation about race, or in the midst of an angry road rage tirade. It could even happen while reciting the lyrics to their favorite rap song. Does it make them racist when the word crosses their lips under these circumstances? I don’t think so, but the controversy over the utterance of the "N-word" always hinges on how the word is used, its intended use, and whether or not it’s being used as a derogatory label to demean blacks and characterize them as inferior. In the case of the latter, it is racist.
Another school of thought centers on the "eye for an eye" theory. I won't get into an entire history lesson about slavery, political and economic oppression, and civil rights disparities in America. But for many blacks, it starts there. To quite a few African-Americans, any ridicule, double standard, harshness, prejudice, bashing, or criticism levied against Whites, is deserved; even if it means current and future generations have to pay for the sins of their fathers.
When blacks condemn white America for using the "N-word", no justice is served, and it certainly doesn't make things even. Nothing will ever balance the slanted scales of slavery and oppression. Neither affirmative action, reparations, nor double standards are strong enough to heal those wounds. It is indeed a difficult situation for race relations in the U.S., but that's the way it is right now.
Blacks—just like Whites, Hispanics, Asians and other races—allow double standards and disparities to exist and persist. Mainly, because we don’t think there's anything we can do about them. But partly because in some ways, blacks can rejoice in being free to say and do things Whites couldn't dream of getting away with. Blacks have taken ownership of the "N-word" and its use, and it's black society that determines when its use is acceptable, or offensive.
A stronger disparity exists where white Americans may benefit from the lopsided financial and economic systems put in place by their ancestors. This circumstance--like the Black community's ownership of the "N-word"--is based on including some, while excluding others. But the generational advantages of White privilege and favoritism have a much bigger impact on society than the "N-word" and whether or not each race should be allowed to use it without getting into trouble.
The notion of allowing disparities and accepting contradictions also exists between the sexes. For example, most men I know (Black or White) aren't giving up their seats, relinquishing high paid positions, or refusing salary increases because a woman in the next cubicle is equally qualified (if not more so) and deserves the same pay and career advancement. It is highly commendable to claim that we will shout inequality from the rooftops and protest injustice. But we’re human and when the table is tilted in our favor, or a double standard benefits us, we tend to allow it.
From a business perspective--political gaffes, racial slurs, or personal indiscretions--may not destroy a well-established company or brand, but it certainly lingers in the minds of Americans. Once the hoopla dies down, we often disregard a celebrity spokesperson's bad judgment or insensitive remarks because we enjoy the products a company makes, or because we've been loyal to a particular brand for so long. Over time, Americans will forgive almost anyone. And because so many people love her deep fried, laid back, southern charm, they will eventually forgive Paula Deen. But no one will ever forget.
The Food Network and WalMart did to Deen what Gillette and AT&T did to Tiger, and what Quicken Loans and Legal Zoom did to Rush Limbaugh. They distanced themselves from the controversy. Whether or not they, as multi-million dollar organizations, believe the views of their embattled spokespersons, they are obligated to protect their brand. They do this by paying the most attention to a color they probably respect more than black or white —- green.
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