Should the NFL Ban the Use of the N Word?

Recently, my friend Isaac (I was given permission to use his name) reached out to me and suggested that I write a blog post about the NFL’s new ban on the use of the N word. He then decided that he wanted to pen his own thoughts on this topic so I was open to his desire to be a guest blogger. I’ve never had someone else write a post (though I welcome it) so the lawyer in me has the desire to say that the views and opinions expressed by Isaac are solely his own and do not reflect the views and opinions of LIST. I may share my thoughts on this post in the comment section, and I encourage you to do the same. I would love to dialogue and get people’s opinions on this topic.

The NFL is considering a new rule that would allow for the effective ban of the use of the “N” word on the field and possibly in locker rooms. The penalty for use on the field would be A 15 yard penalty would be implemented for use on the field and a monetary fine for use on other property owned by the NFL or one of its teams.

Throughout the remainder of this article I will spell out the actual word for educational purposes as well as to emphasize the difference in spelling and pronunciation that are used today. Let, me first start by saying that the word Nigger is a racist, abhorrent and vile word that has a history of pain and hatred. The word should never be used in any professional or public setting. The word Nigger has a complicated history. The actual origin of the word is unknown but I was told that it is basically a mispronunciation of the Spanish word Negro. The word was then used by the majority population as a term for inferior and less than human. To this day this word, when used by someone outside of the African diaspora, invokes a spirit of deep hatred, racism and xenophobia.

Today, the word Nigga is used commonly in the hip hop culture. It is simply a phonetic mispronunciation of the word Nigger by urban youths. The spelling using “er” was eventually replace with an “a” after several hip hop artist began to do so in the late 1980’s. The “a” was not added to differentiate the word Nigger from Nigga. In the late 80’s, and still to this day, urban youths began a practice of spelling words how they pronounce them instead of using their actual spelling. This was done with all words. For example, with became wit’, soldier became soljah, little became lil’, and so many more examples that I will not list (LIST: I’ll save my concern about what this has done to the academics of our youths for another post). However, at the time when NWA deemed them self Niggas With Attitude, you can best believe they meant Niggers.

The word Nigger, Nigga, or however else you want to spell it has been used by Blacks for a lot longer than the evolution of Hip Hip in the late 70’s and early 80’s. My parents, grandparents and great grandparents all used the term Nigger. This use was even in the height of the civil rights movement. At that time, the word was not used as a term of endearment. The word more so developed into a way for Blacks to challenge the use of the word by Whites. In other words, Blacks adopted the concept that if you want to call me a Nigger, well then I will show you just how much of a Nigger I can be. The word then evolved to be cool because in our society it sometimes cool to be bad. This is the same thing with the Hip Hop generation who are emulating their elders. Bad means good and being bad is cool. Nigga is just another way of saying I’m bad and you may not want to mess with me. What makes the word endearing, in a sick and twisted way, is that by calling you bad I am acknowledging your “gangsta” or superior street prowess.

So let’s get back to the NFL. There is now a generation of adults that grew up with the term bad meaning good. There is also a generation of adults that, because of music and television, grew up with the using the word Nigger in very public forums. Also, with professional sports we are in an era where physically talented inner city youths are exploited for their talents and education is secondary to those talents. I believe that the use of the “N” words (both of them) are acceptable in certain segments of the Black community. However, there used to be rules for its usage. We were never allowed to use the word in mixed company or publicize the use of the word.

Now that the word is used so freely among African-Americans, does it invite the use of the word by non-Blacks? Can Latinos use it, can Asians, can Whites use it with permission? The answer to that question is no. The reason is that no one person holds the copyright to the word. One black person may not care but another will be very offended.

With that in mind, the word should in no shape or form be legislated because it is too difficult to enforce. In order to enforce this rule accurately the NFL must be able to understand context. If an athlete is shouting the word Nigger to an opposing team member then he should absolutely be subject to a penalty. On the other hand, if he is speaking directly to a player on his own team then it should not be a penalty. Similarly, if I am in a private conversation, just because you can hear my conversation doesn’t mean that that conversation is any of your business.

Additionally, the NFL is 70% Black. I would venture to say that no White person is on the field calling a Black player a Nigger. If they did, a fight would likely ensue. Therefore, what the NFL is really trying to do is legislate how Black people talk to Black people. This is inappropriate and another example of White privilege.

A recent issue was raised with Trent Williams of the Washington Redskins (this is probably why the officials want to be able to call this penalty). Williams was called for a penalty and disagreed with the call. In expressing his frustration, it is alleged that he used the word Nigger in reference to the official who was White. Trent Williams denies using the word in reference to the official but this brings up a valid argument.

Sometimes, Black people used the word Nigger in a disparaging way towards each other and even other races. It is usually in the form of several curse words followed by the work Nigger for emphasis. This concept muddies the waters because when used this way, although not necessarily intended as a racist remark, it is still being used in a negative and hurtful manner. How do we handle the use of the “N” word? My answer is you don’t.  Again, if someone uses the word in a negative context then they are intending to demean you.  So if the NFL wants to penalize something then penalize the use of any disparaging term.  A rule stating that you cannot verbally attack an official would solve that whole issue without even touching the use of the “N” word.

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Do Black Lives Matter in America?

America is racist. But you didn’t need me to tell you that. Voting for a Black president has not transcended us to a post-racial society. We continually observe (and believe) that the value of a Black life is inferior to that of a white person’s.

I was not born in the United States. The majority of the people who live in the island in which I hail from are Black. One’s race is rarely a factor. Beauty is measured by the lightness of one’s complexion; lack of such beauty and the benefits accompanying it can be overcome by wealth. In other words, classism supersedes racism where I come from. So when I arrived in the United States over 27 years ago, I didn’t know the first thing about racism.  What I have learned since then is that Black lives don’t matter.

Racism throughout history has shaped our thoughts

Over time, I’ve experienced the subtle and not so subtle illustrations of racist America. I have come to understand that the inequities perpetrated by whites against blacks for centuries is now engrained into the subconscious of all of us. The pervasiveness of inequality stems from Black people’s fight to survive, coupled with a sense of powerlessness, acceptance of our place in society and complacency based on an illusory belief that Blacks are better off than we were 200 years ago. It is this reality that causes us to accept slave masters raping women, or to overlook the subtleties of depicting a Black man as barbaric. It has been engrained in us that if you come from a two-parent household, don’t sag your pants and you are articulate, then you will be accepted in society and won’t face the same obstacles as other Blacks. Or, because America was courageous enough to place a Black man at the helm of leading our country, then all of us should believe that we are now living in a post-racial society. It is also the subtle manner in which whites have caused Blacks to turn on each other by berating one another and becoming a divisive group.

Subtlety of racism in our laws

What makes Michael Dunn pull a gun on four unarmed young teens? Because our society has proven he can get away with murder. History has devalued the lives of Black males. As Thomas Jefferson once stated in 1820,”I consider a woman who brings a child every two years as more profitable than the best man of the farm.  What she produces is an addition to the capital, while his labors disappear in mere consumption.”  In 1955 Mississippi, Emmett Till’s alleged whistling at a white lady was grounds for beating him to death and being acquitted for his murder. In 2013 Florida, Trayvon Martin was gunned down because he appeared suspicious while walking through a neighborhood holding candy and a drink with a hood on his head. His perpetrator was also acquitted.

This isn’t a sensationalization of these events.  Just as we had laws endorsing slavery, we now have laws that circumvent the value of a Black person’s life.  Raising the defense that you had to protect yourself from the Black aggressor who you believe to want to harm you is sufficient to acquit a non-Black person for killing a Black man. Although George Zimmerman did not invoke the “Stand Your Ground” defense, this law is currently on the books in 16 states while 19 other states across the U.S. have some variation of the law. This means that white people like Michael Dunn no longer have to cross the street in fear of the unarmed Black man walking toward them, nor ignore the loud “thug” music coming from a Black person’s car. Rather, a white person can simply stand his ground and use deadly force if he believes a Black person is threatening his life.  It appears that Dunn’s only mistake on that day at the gas station was leaving three of the four boys alive.

This isn’t a southern problem. Racism and the lack of value placed on the lives of Black men is America’s problem.  We want to believe that justice is applied equally when in reality our crime prevention and enforcement laws and policies disproportionately target people of color.  Statistically, most murders are intra-racial. In other words, most white homicides are perpetrated by white offenders. Yet, the media only emphasizes that “black on black” crime is the primary cause of the deaths of Black men.  In a 2012 Urban Institute study, killings of Black people by whites were far more likely to be considered justified than killings of white people by Blacks.  When PBS Frontline asked the analyst of the study to make a comparison between states with and without Stand Your Ground laws, he observed that in most states, whites who kill Blacks were 250 percent more likely to be found justified than whites who kill other whites. In states with Stand Your Ground laws however, that statistic jumps to 354 percent.  With these types of data, one should understand the righteous indignation by many Blacks at the fact that a jury could not determine whether Michael Dunn was guilty of murdering Jordan Davis.  As is often said, justice is never applied equally–especially when the victim is black.

How to combat the problem?

I read many articles on these topics and often share in the anger and frustration exhibited by the authors. However, rarely do those articles provide a means or ways that its readers can effect change.  Although this isn’t an exhaustive list of solutions, here are a few: (1) we need to start educating ourselves on our rights as citizens and ensure that we are reaching young black boys and girls; (2) read and stay abreast of laws that are created in your state as well as federal laws; (3) understand the implications that the laws have on your daily life. Perform your civic duties: (4) Vote for every elected official that will have an influence on creating and enforcing the laws of your country, state, city, county, etc.–these laws aren’t magically appearing on the books; and (5) show up for jury duty. Emmett Till’s assailants had an all-white jury. George Zimmerman had no black members on his jury.

I hope there will come a time in the future when our great great grandchildren can look back on today and genuinely recognize that there has been a drastic change in the manner in which Blacks are treated in the U.S., and racism and injustices against Blacks will become less prevalent. I hope there will come a time when Blacks can say America was racist. But you didn’t need me to tell you that.

We Are All Paula Deen

Paula Deen

I didn’t say it to his face.

I have watched recent news reports on Paula Deen and her admission of using the N word.  Many have admonished her for her truthfulness but after reading the transcript of her deposition, my conclusion is what bothers people is that she was not more rueful and contrite in her admission.

Let’s face it, any white American who says he has never used the N word is lying. If you’re a white person reading this blog, you know you have allowed the N word to “slip” out of your mouth at one point or another–that is the reason why I will not spell out the word in this post.  I  remember taking my sister to Carnegie Hall to watch Jay-Z perform and it was the first time that I ever noticed that I was surrounded by mostly white people at a Jay concert.  As we waved our hands in non-unison belting out Jay’s lines, there was no moment of silence when we got to the parts with then N word. The white people unapologetically belted out the N word.

There are areas throughout the U.S. where the use of the N word is acceptable as long as a black person isn’t in earshot. Similarly, the word bi*ch has almost become a household term to reference a woman we dislike.

I’m sure that behind closed (or open) doors all of us have used a derogatory word to refer to a group of people. So why are we up in arms when Paula Deen admits what many white people have been guilty of doing for hundreds of years? It is evident that the Food Network and Smithfield Foods view Deen’s comments as bad PR. But when we punish someone for doing something that we have all done one or more times in our lives, aren’t we perpetuating a false sense of reality?

We all want to believe that racism was eradicated with the election of Barack Obama.  The U.S. Supreme Court decided in a landmark case related to Voting Rights Act, that our country had moved away from needing the federal government to monitor states’ race discrimination in voting.  Is someone a racist because they use a racial slur to refer to a person behind closed doors?  Deen’s statement was ignorant, but it would be a giant leap to assume that she is racist based solely on her use of the N word.  Just as I have no opinion on who someone chooses to sleep with, I also don’t care what they choose to say in the confines of their home or when speaking privately with their peers.  What I expect is that any person I encounter understands that they will respect me irrespective of whether they call me the N word or a bi*ch in private.

Paula Deen’s followers will likely continue to purchase her products and most will not know or care about what she admitted to in her deposition; and those who do know can opt to not patronize her.  What are we to learn from this?  People say ugly things. As long as they don’t demonstrate the sentiment behind their derogatory words, we should be less concerned.

A Parent’s Words A Child’s Self Esteem

It’s a Curl!

A few weeks ago I logged into my Facebook account and realized the format had changed (again!).  But then my eyes quickly glanced at the 4th post in my newsfeed which was the picture of the cutest baby girl I had ever seen.  It was posted by a childhood friend of mine (we’ll refer to him as “Joe”), and the caption of the picture read “yeah [insert baby’s name] got that good hair”.  As if it were instinctual, I left a comment under the post that said “leave it to black ppl…”  It only took Joe a few minutes before he replied stating that his comment was out of pocket (translation: inappropriate).

Although Joe has posted a plethora of pictures of his baby girl, which illustrates his love and adoration for her, I could not help but think about the effect that such a statement could have on a black girl growing up in our society.  Most of us have heard about the famous 1940s Clark Doll Experiment in which two African-American psychologists used black and white dolls to study children’s attitudes toward race.  The experiment was recreated in 2006, to similar results—children believed that the characteristics of the white doll made it a nicer doll than the black doll.

So what was my frustration with my friend’s comment?

Being a parent is one of the most honorable jobs that can be bestowed upon a person, and it is also one of the most challenging jobs one could ever have.  Despite the success I may garner in my professional career, if I failed as a parent, then all of my other successes would be irrelevant.  One could write a book on the various ways that I could fail as a parent, but as it pertains to my current point, if I raise a child who isn’t proud of who he/she is, then I would have failed in some aspects of my parenting.  Now I’m not saying that if parents don’t raise perfect children then they have failed in life–nowadays society has a stronghold on the values we might try to instill in our kids.  But black children will face an abundance of challenges growing up; therefore, it is important to instill confidence into them at an early age.

Joe could use the Aibeleen Clark approach and tell his daughter on a daily basis that she is beautiful, smart, and important.  Or rather, Joe may also try to ensure that his words or thoughts about his daughter’s characteristics do not give rise to negative self-images about herself.  For instance, saying that his daughter has “good hair” shows his belief that some hair textures are good and others are bad.  At three months old, there is no telling whether the texture of his baby’s hair will be the same soft and luscious locks that his daughter will have when she turns two.  Is his “good hair” statement a precursor to one day having his daughter sit in her room blasting India Arie in an effort to love herself more?

Be careful of your thoughts, because they become your words.

Does your hair feel like mine?

If a parent–especially a father to his daughter–believes that there are certain physical characteristics that make a person better than another, that parent is adding the primary ingredient to the recipe for his child to develop self-esteem issues.  We all know that kinky hair is no better than straight hair if you know how to comb a child’s hair (don’t confuse easier to manage with being good).  I often remind myself that I need to kick my height complex before I have a son so that he doesn’t grow up believing that his height is an inadequacy because his mother prefers taller men.  At a young age, kids become aware of the differences in their features and will naturally question whether those features make them better or worse.  The best illustration of this is the 2009 image of the son of a White House staff member who met President Obama in the Oval Office.  The little boy–likely recognizing the importance in the man that stood in front of him, was curious to know whether the President’s hair felt like his.  President Obama obliged in quelling the boy’s curiosity by leaning over and allowing the boy to touch his hair.  Such a simple but powerful gesture only reinforces the fact that children at a young age recognize and place a level of value in certain physical characteristics.  As a result, it is important to ensure that kids don’t view their own physical characteristics as better than or worse than another individual.

For all my parents out there, never forget that your words and thoughts are powerful tools in the development of your child.

Harvard Law Student’s Inferiority Complex

I received a couple e-mails an e-mail sent out by a third-year Harvard Law School student.   While viewing the headline of the article, my head shook and my eyes rolled as I read the ignorant comments of someone who clearly wasted their money on an attempt to become educated. 

 So what did this law student  (her name is out there but I’ll refrain from using it) say?  You can read all about it in detail from the over 200 articles now posted on the web about it.  In a nutshell, she sent out an e-mail to a group of people after attending an event, where she wanted to clarify her statements.  In case she was not abundantly clear, she wanted them to understand that she was not wavering and adamantly believed that “African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent.”  I guess this young lady would make an exception to the African-American students in her law school class or simply chalk them up to good ol’ affirmative action.

While some may be shocked and appalled by her comments, there are plenty of people who think like this student.  Besides, as lawyers (she also majored in sociology in undergrad), we tend to want things to fit logically into a box.  We’ve exhausted the notion that the disparities amongst the races are due to the hundreds of years of inequality that Blacks have endured throughout the history of this country.  We have a black president now so those “excuses” are ancient!  So what would any “intelligent” law student do?  Find an objective commonality among a group and apply it to their misfortune—black people are the way that they are because of their innate lack of intelligence. 

 I’m certain almost all of my friends have had a similar experience as this when they were in college or graduate school.  What is most puzzling to me is not her comments, but how comfortable she felt in sending it out as an e-mail to those she believed also shared her views.  I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and say maybe she was testing out the Socratic method or refining her logical reasoning skills.  Whatever her rationale, though troubling to some, it is a good reminder to keep in mind that some people like this law student (who could have been my classmate, co-worker or friend) really think of me as inferior to them despite my accomplishments.

 So what should we do when we encounter people like this law student?  We could expose the person and her comments for their stupidity and recklessness.  I’m not sure what that accomplishes other than the usual public apology and deep remorse for a statement that she probably would not have felt bad about had it not gone public.  On the other hand, we could brush our shoulders off and keep it moving while never losing sight of the fact that racism and ignorance is still prevalent despite how educated someone becomes.  This is what Black people are up against, so we don’t have the luxury of falling short or not living up to our fullest potential.  Symposiums, debates, books, race forums and banter that seemingly fizzles once the dust clears, is one way of confronting her statements.  However, challenging ourselves to be our best despite the obstacles is one way to dispel this foolish myth.

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