I defy anyone to watch Sherri Shepherd, Barbara Walters, and Whoopi Goldberg discuss the N-word on The View and not feel ... uncomfortable, regardless of what race you happen to be.
Addressing the objectionable name of a hunting camp frequently used by GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry, Goldberg looked straight into the camera and said the N-word (using the whole word, flat out, no euphemism), which the producers bleeped out. "It's so hard to know what to say now," Goldberg said. "So I just use the word."
Walters, who knows a hot topic when she hears one, leaned in. "I find that so interesting that you did," the veteran newswoman said. Then, apparently taking her cue from Goldberg, she mentioned GOP candidate Herman Cain's own use of the term (not the euphemism) and used it herself. (Perry is white; Cain is black.)
Walters was also bleeped. But bleep or no bleep, Walters' use of the word upset View tablemate Shepherd.
"OK, that's the difference between the way you and Whoopi say it," Shepherd said.
"When I heard you say it, it was fine," Shepherd said, referring to Goldberg. "When I heard you [Walters] say it, I didn't like the way you said it." And then Shepherd said it herself -- and was bleeped.
Ultimately, Shepherd acknowledged that, though she occasionally used the word with family and friends, when she heard a white person say it -- no matter the context, no matter the intent -- there was "something that goes through my body."
And while Shepherd's logic is confusing, she couldn't have been clearer about the way the N-word made her feel -- terribly uncomfortable and angry -- when it was uttered by a white person, even one who had been sitting companionably across the table from her for years.
Goldberg was similarly clear about her relish in using the word, saying she enjoyed saying it specifically because she knew she wasn't supposed to.
As defensible as I think Walters' use of the word was here -- she was saying the word only to be clear in reporting, and it can be complicated to convey the use of a word without using the word yourself -- it is also regrettable in that it caused her colleague (and presumably others) discomfort. Perhaps that alone is reason to avoid it in all instances, especially if you are white.
On the other hand, Goldberg's point raises interesting questions: The N-word is ugly, its history terrible. But should it be expunged or explored? Does our refusal to utter it help it retain its power, or if we use it dispassionately (as in reporting) or even casually (as heard on the street and in music), do we deprive it of its power?
I don't know the answer. But I do know that even talking about it right now makes me shift in my seat. I find it brave of The View women to have waded right into one of the stickiest subjects around.
What do you think? Do you think it's ever OK to utter the N-word? And does your race make a difference?
Image via ABC