Apropos of nothing, I was thinking about Michelle Malkin’s 12 August 2004 appearance on the Dennis Miller show. During one of her responses, Malkin used the word “niggling”, and an audible gasp erupted from some in the crowd. No doubt they thought they had just heard a racial slur.
I had thought that Miller’s audience might have been slightly more literate than the average group, but then again, it seems to have taken them a while to discover that Miller is a conservative Bush supporter. There’s no accounting for taste.
Anyway, neither that word, nor the word “niggardly” is a racial slur. They may sound a little like the word “nigger”, but they do not share a derivation with that particular epithet.
There are those in the Black community who refer to themselves and each other using the slur itself, or its cousin “nigga”, which is often used in the lyrics of rap songs. This is known as co-opting.
Co-opting presents a problem to non-racist people who aren’t black who want to sing along with one of these songs. I remember seeing some sappy teenage TV show about a white girl with many black friends who did just that. The black characters on the show stopped dead in their tracks, all solemn, and began to patiently lecture her about how what she had done was a Bad Thing.
Now I’m sorry, but I don’t buy this line of reasoning. The fact that the white character was well-known to the black characters as a true friend should have rendered her immune from charges of racism, however inadvertent. In the context of enjoying a song with her close friends, she suddenly found herself on the outside. When this is the biggest racial problem in America, it will be a great day. I don’t think the problem was how dark their skin was, but rather how thin it was.
No less a person than James Baldwin wrote, “You can only be destroyed by believing that you really are what the white world calls a nigger.”
Does co-opting the word give it any less power? Apparently not. And a studio audience that pricks up its ears at the sound of a word that rhymes with a racist insult is not politically correct; it is ignorant.
Racism is essentially self-loathing.