OK, let me get it out now. Nigger. The “N”-word is nigger. The word is the rage of talk radio right now because the National Football League is planning to penalize any utterance of the word “nigger” (or permutations – e.g. “nigga”) with a fifteen yard loss. The discussions surrounding this NFL kerfuffle are extremely amusing: Should the penalty be assessed if an “African – American” (which I shall discuss herein as well) utters the word? Or is it only when white players utter it? Is the prohibition only applied to on-field banter? Or does it include off-field, i.e. sideline, locker room) as well? What about Polynesian players?
I find the entire issue humorous because it is about a WORD! Not an action. A word that can be answered by ignoring it, laughing at it, or (unfortunately) aggressively responding to it. One can even win a trial by uttering it. I said “nigger” in a trial and lived to tell about it. I need to provide some background before relating the story.
I am a white attorney. At the time that this trial occurred, I was married to a black (which I shall discuss herein as well) female. One of our favorite television to watch was Russell Simmons Def Comedy Jam. It was emceed by the hysterical, but foul-mouthed, Martin Lawrence. One of Martin’s mannerisms was to call every black performer and black audience member “my nigga”. It was the first time that I had ever been exposed to this phenomena. (My father-in-law, for instance, did not say “my nigga” when seeing his other sons-in-law). I found it quite strange because I never heard anybody else use their pejorative with such glee. I did not see Jews, for instance, greet each other in temple with “my Kike” or “my Jew-boy”. Mexicans with “my wet-back“. Italians with “my wop“. Puerto Ricans with “my spic“. But there it was, in living color and on national TV, “my nigga”.
My client – a middle aged black male. His charged offense – aggravated assault with a firearm. The alleged victims – two black male teenagers. The judge – a white Jewish male (who is now, BTW, an appellate judge). The Assistant State Attorney – a black female. The jury – I’m a little fuzzy on this, but there were at least two black jurors. The allegations were that my client, without provocation, accosted and threatened these two yutes (oops), youths, with a gun. My client told me that these two youths were harassing his white wife. Both the client and his wife said that he confronted the two teenagers, but that he has unarmed.
The case proceeded, the witnesses told their versions of the facts (except for my client who chose to remain silent), and now it was time for closing argument. How could I explain why two fit, healthy male teenagers would flee from a middle aged man? Why not just stand and beat his ass? The solution I came upon is the following: [My client] came charging down the sidewalk like a madman, yelling insanely, arms flailing over his head. One of those kids turned to the other and said “That is one crazy nigger. Lets get out of here!” You would have though I dropped a bomb in the courtroom (which, figuratively, I did). The Assistant State Attorney shot to her feet, screeching “OBJECTION”!!! The judge shot ramrod straight in his chair and barked “In my chambers”. We retreated back to his chambers where I was reamed a new asshole. Fortunately, that was all. After the lambasting we returned to the courtroom where I continued my closing. I merely asked the jury to return a verdict of simple assault. After the judge read the instructions, the jury retired to the jury room to deliberate.
Far from tanking my case and enflaming the black members of the jury, they were perhaps the only people in the courtroom who were nonplussed. The jury quickly returned with a verdict – Guilty of the lesser included charge of assault. I won. My client won. The Assistant State Attorney to this day probably believes that I am a racist. She was never able to grasp the nuance in which I used “nigger”. The fact that I, a white man, uttered the word is enough to satisfy her “chip on the shoulder” attitude that I am a racist.
So ends the confession, but I do want to also address the matter of “African American”. For many years of the twentieth century, the use of “colored people” was a step up from the word “negroes”. In the sixties (my formative years), the youths of that population clamored for the use of “black”. “Black Power” and “Black is Beautiful” reverberated across the land. I internalized that, and I have called people black, without rancor or malice.
Race-baiter Jesse Jackson was not satisfied, however. The white mans acceptance and comfort level with the word “black” meant it was time to change the language. “Black” people were now insulted by the use of “black” because it ignored the fact that there were a wide range of hues. “People of color” was the new descriptor because it was inclusive. “People of color” only lasted a short while for two reasons: First, it is unwieldy. Second, it harkened back to the rejected term “colored people”. This did not dissuade Jackson, however. He hit upon “African-Americans”. Brilliant! This identification is easy to use, salves white guilt, and decisively separates the black Americans out of America. Now black people have a reason to feel grieved – they are not a part of America. Jackson’s concoction, while brilliant on its face, is actually stupid and insulting. First, the phrase is descriptive of nothing. there are many white Africans. It is a lie. Black Americans have virtually nothing in common with their African ancestors but their skin color. A Black American thrown to Africa would be booking the next plane back to the United States.
Black Americans are Americans first, no matter where their ancestors came from. They are as varied in likes, interests, and opinions as every other American. My ex-wife is smart, super-tidy, family oriented, and liberal. And black. My present wife is brilliant, funny, and conservative. And black. I loved my first wife, and I love my present wife. And I’m white. The best thing is, all of us saw past the color of our skin and focused instead on the content of our character.