Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Dark Word


The latest Quentin Tarantino movie, “Django Unchained” has been out in Australia for a little while now. I haven’t gone to see it, but that’s because it’s been raining in Queensland for the past week (even during Australia Day celebrations!). And since I have to walk to the movie theatres (until I get my car) I don’t want to get drenched just for the sake of a movie. Especially some Tarantino flick.
But ever since this came out, there has been controversy of alleged racism being slung at the film from various hyper-sensitive groups, mostly because of the use of a particular word within the film. Now, being the Absurd Word Nerd, you can bet your arse that I have an opinion on the matter.
Unfortunately, people can take offense even with the most harmless uses of these terms. So I must preface this by saying that I apologize for any offense you misinterpret from this post. However, I don’t apologize for invoking my right to free speech, because I’m not here to insult people for being black or promote racism. I’m here to teach you something.
The Word of the Day is ‘NIGGER’.

Nigger /nigə/ n. (offensive) 1. A Negro. 2. A member of any dark-skinned race.

Because it is not often used, a lot of people do not truly understand the word nigger and what it means. In this regard, everyone (yes, even black people) can use a little education. I find a fun way to explain it is by answering that age-old question:
  “How come black people can say ‘nigger’ and it’s fine; but when white people do it, it’s considered racist?

Well, we already know nigger means ‘members of a dark-skinned race’ or ‘Negro’. To be clear, the word ‘Negro’ just refers to those of African descent, or with identifiably African traits, so nigger just means, broadly ‘a dark-skinned person’.
This is not insulting, and alone is not offensive, although I admit it is a bit blunt. The problem with the word is that we don’t live in a vacuum. So depending on who says the word, and the manner in which they say it, the context of the word can make it quite rude.

You know what I like to do, for fun? I call people who wear glasses ‘four-eyes’. I think it’s funny, because I have a pair of glasses that I wear constantly (or I’d be blind).
It’s fun, because a term used to insult people who wear glasses is removed of all crueller meaning, because I am not segregating or insulting people with glasses. I can’t, because I wear them myself. So, in essence, what I am saying when I call someone ‘four-eyes’ is:
  “Hey you, over there, you’re just like me.
It’s exactly the same with the word nigger. When a black person points out another’s dark skin, they are pointing out the ways they are the same. That’s not so say that a black person calling another ‘nigger’ can’t be racist, because it’s all dependant on context. But on the very shallow surface of this context it is an inclusive term, akin to calling them ‘kin’ or ‘brother’, which is used by black people for that very purpose.
However, since I don’t have dark skin, if I call a black person a nigger it would be pointing out how they are different from me. It is an exclusive term, because it is deliberately pointing out our differences to separate and segregate us. Not only that, but by reinforcing that difference (especially one as self-evident as colour) there is the subtle implication that since it is a difference worthy of note, then that difference must be inherently wrong.
And if you believe what some people say, using the word is also a way of reminding black persons that they were slaves, and implies that you believe they are inhuman (as a majority of American people once believed) because of the ‘historical context’ of the word, pointing out that cruel period of American history where the blacks were considered subhuman, and people were forced into slavery for their ethnicity.

It can get pretty heavy for one word . . . unfortunately, I am sorry to say, a lot of it is bullshit.

No matter what the ‘historical context’ of a word is, it has nothing to do with the current context. And the context of ‘nigger’ is that we have abolished Slavery and Racism [for the most part] in first world countries.
That being said, to anyone who reads this thinking I am ‘brave’ or ‘edgy’ as a white person using the word nigger: Grow the fuck up.
I am not making up that dictionary entry. It specifically says it is a noun that is offensive.
I don’t appreciate people telling me what words I can use, but I sure as shit don’t like people using words to hurt, harm or ridicule others in a way they don’t deserve. And to be clear, black people do not deserve to be insulted in this way.

There is no getting around the fact that, when said by a white person, it is implicitly exclusive. And that is why I don’t use the word ‘nigger’ against others. Even though I see nothing wrong with the word, as a person with pale skin, using the word would be unnecessarily inflammatory.
That doesn’t mean I can’t use it. I just don’t want to. At least, not right now.

Because I want to be able to use the word. Mostly, because I like to write fiction. There are more than a few examples wherein I would like to use the word either to show the prejudices of a certain fictional character, or to show the inner strength of a dark-skinned character towards whom the insult is directed, or many other similar stories.
There is a lot of emotion, drama and narrative to be gleaned from racism and prejudice, and if I am to talk about it, the word ‘nigger’ is an important part of that Discourse.

This brings me neatly back to the movie ‘Django Unchained’. Characters in the movie use the word all the time. It is used by the Caucasian, American characters many times to demean, differentiate and define black people. However, this is perfectly acceptable, because this is a fictional story that is about racism!
The term is being used by racist characters, in a contextually accurate way. Some people still think of this:
  "Well, I don't like the word, even in context. I don't like to hear it, because it is a racist word."

And yes, I agree that it’s not nice, and in a perfect world, no one would use any racist terms; but the movie isn’t set in a perfect world, and does not ascribe to be. Rather, it is trying to show a horrible, racist world that we were once a part of, and why it was a bad idea which we had to rectify.
‘Django Unchained’ provide examples of using the word, not to affirm racism, but to deter it. So although the film uses the word offensively, the purpose of the film is to demonize those that use it to offend.

I can understand why people don’t like people to use the term, because it is inherently blunt and potentially offensive, and I can agree that I wish we lived in a world where we would never have to use them. But I will never agree with people who say that certain words can’t be used just because they have bad meanings or have a cruel history. Even people that say “just don’t do it, because I don’t like it” because they are just dismissing the idea, rather than confronting it.
After all, words are just ideas, put into a fluent and transmissible form. So fear of words is no different from fear of ideas.
Sure, racism is a bad idea, and you should be afraid of prejudiced and proactive racists. But stopping people from using the word, isn’t going to stop the idea. It’s just going to make it harder to find.
Because you should not be dismissing the word, you should be dismissing the asshole using it. Because no matter how cruel a word is, or the history that created it: You should never be afraid of language.

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