New York Post columnist Phil Mushnick has embroiled himself in a little bit of a mess now, hasn’t he? He suggested the Brooklyn Nets should be called the New York Niggers because of co-owner Jay-Z’s liberal use of the word in his lyrics and also because, let’s be honest, he couldn’t resist a subliminal N-word jab. But like the trooper that he is, he’s standing by his story and flipping the script by saying Jay-Z is the racist one. For using the N-word in the first place.
I was riding with him until that part. I rail against anybody calling a black dude a nigger (or a “nigga,” which is the African-American-ized remix of the age-old slur). It grates my nerves personally and insults our heritage wholly, whether it’s falling from the lips of a middle-aged, white sports journalist or a multimillionaire superstar rapper from Brooklyn. But I have to shake my head at Mushnick accusing Jay of being racist. That doesn’t make sense.
A racist, by definition, is a person who believes in the superiority of one group of people over another because of the color of their skin. If nigga/nigger is in fact a denigrating word—and it most certainly is—then he’s actually putting down his people, not putting them up on a pedestal. People love, love, love to throw that word around: you’re a racist! No, you’re a racist! But at least 7 times out of 10, they’re not even using it right.
But please allow me to pause for a preventative public service announcement. Attention all white people: it seems like you’re just not getting the message. You cannot use the N-word in any capacity. You cannot use it as a joke. You cannot use it in a quote. You cannot use it on a train. You cannot use it on a plane. You cannot use it here or there. You cannot use it anywhere.
That being said, it’s also interesting to see so many black folks up in arms about the hypothetical team name he created when there are real team names that are just as offensive -- but not to us. I have long said that if there was an NFL franchise called the Philadelphia Sambos or an NBA team indeed named the New York Niggers, we would be all kinds of put out (obviously). The NAACP couldn’t throw together a picket fest fast enough and Al Sharpton would be marching and sound biting himself into a little tizzy.
But we feel absolutely no cultural or political alignment with Native Americans, who are collectively slapped in the face with racist team names and mascots without so much as a murmur of support from us. I guess so long as it’s not the dreaded N-word or any derivative thereof, it’s not our fight to square off over. And white people could care less because standard privilege allows them to pick and choose the racial debacles they want to throw their support behind. Elian Gonzalez? Yes! The routine disenfranchisement of black, Latino, and Native American peoples? Eh, not so moving. What else ya got?
I moved to D.C. about six years ago and have built a happy little life here. One thing I had to learn pretty quick, though, is that you can talk trash about the Nationals, the Caps, even the Wizards, but what you won’t do is even offload a whiff of disapproval about the doggone Redskins. It’s the strangest of contradictions to see one group of marginalized people so passionately cheerlead a team that directly insults another. Native Americans have annually descended on D.C. to protest the Redskins name and the names of other pro and college teams and mascots that are still in play all over the country. Their leadership has lobbied for the team’s trademark to be revoked because of its cultural offensiveness and for more than 20 years, activists have fought to override the inconsideration of pop culture mania over sports teams for the legacy and posterity of ravaged Native American tribes. Nothin’ doing. Seems we like our sports unfettered by social consciousness and political correctness.
It’s so very simple to remedy: if a group says a name, a remark, a word, a phrase, a show, a statement, a characterization, is offensive to them, it’s not up to the rest of us to tell them why they shouldn’t be insulted or, even worse, dismiss their reaction because we don’t feel motivated or obligated to change whatever it is that’s insulting to them. There are so few Native Americans left, their community so decimated by the same calculating mainstream machine that has bulldozed black America, that we should empathize. Then again, considering how many black folks have absolutely no problem at all with being called or referring to others as niggas, that might be too much to ask.
Is Mushnick wrong for standing by his word and refusing to apologize for his statement?
Image via nick step/Flickr