Welcome to 2012 where publications still fire writers for using the word “nigger” (and in this case, its variant “nigga”).
Gawker released (a middle-class term for “fired”) writer Seth Abramovitch because of the following post regarding Kanye West, the rapper who has never used the “n-word” professionally unless you include his music.
(Yes, there’s a song called “Niggas in Paris.” I reviewed the lyrics online and curiously, there are no references to Josephine Baker or James Baldwin.)
In the space of two hours, Kanye West has tweeted 60 times and counting on, uh, his earnest pursuits in the realm of fashion and graphic design and nutrition and architecture and video games and publicity and medicine and law and science and app guys. You think Tom Ford is full of himself? Kanye West shits Tom Fords for breakfast. Then he irons out the shits into cutting-edge fabrics, and frantically cuts, sews, and laces that fabric through the night and into the morning, until he has produced the most unbelievable clothes — nay, FASHION + ART = FARTSHION! — in the universe. And he calls these clothes DONDA. But he calls all that other stuff DONDA, too! DONDA will be your everything. Just you wait and see. And what is DONDA? It’s an acronym for Dis Original N***a Dresses Aight.*
This resulted in an immediate uproar online. Abramovitch apologized, which was apparently deemed “half-assed,” so he was fired.
“Donda” is the name of West’s deceased mother, so the post was certainly in poor taste. Gawker is within its rights to fire writers who post things in poor taste, but Gawker’s also a gossip site, which is the definition of poor taste.
Clearly, Abramovitch was fired for using the word “nigga” in the same post in which he used the word “shit.” The post was meant to be humorous — we should consider the intent even if the execution was unsuccessful — but it still cost him his job in a lousy economy.
He was also arguably fired because he was white. It’s hard to imagine a similar outrage if the author had been black. And it’s not like a black person would have never considered saying the word “nigga.” Chris Rock uses the word all the time in his acts. He’s also used the word “faggot” and he’s not gay. He’s also used the word “bitch,” and he’s not female. So, perhaps there’s a double standard at work.
Reuters referred to the word as “an unpalatable racial slur,” but it’s a constant presence in rap music. A society in which the word is referred to euphemistically and in hushed tones in some quarters but is blast loudly from a stereo at a party in other quarters is an extremely divided society.
I don’t endorse running around calling black people “niggers.” This isn’t my childhood in the South. But the word should be considered within its context, just like any other word. A post mocking Kanye West, a rapper who uses the word frequently himself, is different from a National Review article about Barack Obama. “Nigga” in the latter case would be inappropriate. As far as context goes, I thought the “If I Were a Poor Black Kid” article in Forbes was far more racially insulting than the Gawker post. Abramovitch only used “nigga” once, while the Forbes piece used it metaphorically at least about three dozen times.
Almost 40 years after Richard Pryor released “That Nigger’s Crazy,” I don’t know why people still fear the word “nigger.” Marcia Clark couldn’t even say it in open court during the O.J. Simpson murder trial when confronting a racist witness. The word lost its power to wound when blacks gained the power to respond. They didn’t have to just grin, tap dance, and bear it. As the “Saturday Night Live” sketch with Chevy Chase and Richard Pryor demonstrated, calling a black man “nigger” is a good way to end up with a “dead honkey.”