Reclaiming the n-word has been one of the few successful projects of our lifetime, and most of the thanks belongs to hip hop. The n-word used to be a word white people said to black people. Now it is a word black people say to one another, while white people hope silently that a black person will say it to them. This situation is better in all regards—except, ironically, for hip hop. The prevalence of the n-word in rap poses a major problem to its largest audience demographic, white people between the ages of 18 and 35. Now that the work of reclamation has been achieved, we should agree to replace the n-word in music with the word “Inca,” so that when we are rapping along with “Pass Dat,” we don’t have to choose between saying the n-word fifty times and delivering an inferior performance.
After children have lost their other innate abilities—when they can no longer recognize facial expressions or manipulate objects, but instead swipe feebly at whatever images they hope to change—they will still have a keen sense of what’s fair. Fair is I get what you get. If you are, for example, one of a numerical minority of Americans whose parents were legally kept as slaves five generations ago, and you are twice as likely to be born into poverty and roughly one fifth as likely to successfully hail a cab, it’s unfair that I don’t get to say the n-word. I thought racism was supposed to be over, but here we are giving people special privileges. Today is Friday, which is totally unfair to Thursday, when you think about it. Won’t you forget where we came from with me?
Thanks to an unclear antecedent, Mediaite reports that President Obama said the n-word on television. Quote:
A Baltimore councilman got frustrated during a clash with CNN’s Erin Burnett earlier tonight about calling the violent protesters “thugs,” and dropped the n-word. Both the mayor of Baltimore and President Obama used that word in denouncing some of what happened last night.
But they meant that Obama and the mayor called the rioters thugs, and a pretty white woman asked councilman Stokes if that wasn’t the perfect word. “Why don’t you just call them niggers?” Stokes responded awesomely. Meanwhile, everyone continued not to argue over why Freddie Gray came out of a police van with a crushed voice box and three fractured vertebrae, and Bernie Sanders will run for President. Coincidence? Thug, please.
By now you have probably seen Richard Sherman’s postgame interview, shot seconds after he tipped an end zone pass to his teammate and won the NFC championship for the Seattle Seahawks. Due to my jet-setter lifestyle, I heard about this video for days before I actually saw it, and the real thing was kind of anticlimactic. Sherman has a rad voice—presumably from yelling on football fields for ten years straight—and he criticizes Michael Crabtree, whom he is rumored to dislike. Mostly, he declares himself the best cornerback in the game. It’s kind of unseemly and kind of awesome, as human beings in celebration are. It also led a bunch of commenters to call him a thug. On Thursday, Sherman opined that “thug” is an acceptable way of calling a black man the n-word.
Common has fucked up. The man who last demonstrated his relevance to contemporary hip hop by performing at the White House has disappointed former United States poet laureate Maya Angelou, by commissioning a poem from her and then using it in a track in which he says the n-word. Maya Angelou does not like the n-word, which is too bad because it’s really fun to picture her saying it to everybody.* Angelou told the Post that she did not believe Common would “sing the line of least resistance”—although perhaps she is not totally familiar with his work, since on the same track he also expresses his dream to live in Miami with “exquisite thick bitches.” Compare to Angelou’s contribution: “From Africa they lay in the bilge of slave ships / And stood half naked on auction blocks /. . . and still they dreamed.”