Almost without exception, white people are going to be incredibly clumsy when dealing with matters of race in this world, especially in this country. And, almost without exception, white people will always rally around to defend white supremacy, especially as it pertains to black folk. Thankfully, as these defenses go, the more overt and cartoonish arguments of so-called "reverse-racism" are increasingly being seen for the non-reality-based arguments that they are.
On the whole, we've moved past the idea that the willful ignorance that comes out of the mouths of crinkly, pale-faced racists like Pat Robertson and Bill O'Reilly merits any serious discussion. But the subtle forms of racism that play out as unconscious bias are still at play, which is why this week's latest burst of outrage porn—which found members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon's University of Oklahoma chapter, on video, cheerily choosing to lynch "niggers" before allowing them entry to the ranks of their brotherhood—has somehow, miraculously, in the mind of Morning Joe's Mika Brzezinski, become about Waka Flocka Flame and other rappers using the word "nigga." It feels redundant and unnecessary to have this discussion, but with Brzezinski and crew wielding such dark magicks of defection and redirection on the populace, well, fuck us all if we're not going to have to go back to Racism 101.
First off, black people are—obviously, deeply, and rightfully—divided on the usage of the n-word—from nigger to nigga to negus. What's not up for debate is that the past 40 years have seen the term re-contextualized as a term of endearment by blacks. The only divide lies in whether or not the term's reappropriation is, well, appropriate. Still, at no point in the hand-wringing around the SAE video has the usage of the n-word been what's caused anyone to clutch their pearls. Yet, in the mouths of the Morning Joe crew, the sleight of word took the epicenter of the conversation from a specific manifestation of white racism to general black respectability politics to a call for banishing the n-word—all in record time. Thanks to Brzezinski and crew, the idea of white ownership in the matter was gone in 60 seconds.
But, in order for these disconnected white folk to throw hip-hop under the bus, they had to reframe the discussion and subtly assert that the true disgust with the whole endeavor lies with the n-word being invoked by a group of SAE bigots and the women who love them. Graciously speaking, this was, at the least, either sheer cluelessness, astute disingenuousness, unconscious racism, or some mix thereof. And it served its purpose: the lens was from the white systemic to the white personal, then from the white personal to the black personal, then to the black systemic before you could chant “eenie, meenie, miney, moe.” And—as evidenced by the non-mea culpas and spin that have come—it was no mistake. The mainstream media isn’t designed to investigate systemic racism, but to enforce it. So, each new revelation of racist fuckery is treated individually and as disconnected from the whole. Donald Sterling’s outburst is treated as separate from Bruce Levenson’s email and neither are handled as integrally connected to the economics of white ownership of black athleticism and bodies; SAE’s comments are treated as separate from the dozens of racist Halloween parties on college campuses and are not connected to racial realities of education opportunities and the biases within standardized testing, which creates the milieu from which these attitudes spring.
Thanks to Brzezinski and crew, the idea of white ownership in the matter was gone in 60 seconds.
Instead, the members of Morning Joe's all-white-everything roundtable found it particularly necessary to bypass discussion of white actions. They zeroed in on chiding rap music and culture as a whole (a stray shot was tossed at Empire for some undelineated reason), saving some explicit criticism for black people's use of the n-word, with Geist saying, “I’d love to never hear that word again in a song, white, black or otherwise…. I don't like it, but you hear it in [hip-hop] songs.” While it's impossible to argue against the quantifiable reality that hip-hop’s commercial and cultural footprint has made it so that white kids feel extra-comfortable using the term, what way too may white people don't get is that it's not their term to use, nor is it up to them to dictate the usage of it by others.
It's a serious manifestation of entitlement for white people to tell black people how they can and cannot refer to one another. Like, really. Please GTFOHWTBS, because it's truly not a white discussion—yet it somehow becomes a white discussion about white people's comfort. Because that's what white people do. Another, and way more damaging, thing that white people do is to not take real personal inventory around white supremacy. This manifests in many, many different ways, amongst them: not admitting that white supremacy is the default operating system of this world; not investigating the continued history and lineage of white supremacy; not acknowledging with the subtle and unconscious biases that place the white experience at the center of every conversation. All of these factors were at play in the Morning Joe dialog—from the fans' equivalent of rappers' usage of nigga to a refusal to discuss the roots and origins of the SAE song to shifting the discussion to be about how it made white people feel.
Obviously, the video has made these white people feel uncomfortable—perhaps because their children were displaying such overt racist tendencies, stupid enough to sing the song on a bus and have it captured on video, as opposed to keeping it within the confines of the Owl Shrine at the Bohemian Grove. Or perhaps these white people are uncomfortable because of what the video says about them; and the things that they'd have to ask about their own ways of interacting with the world from the seat of white power in order to have a real discussion about the incident. It's much easier to have a conversation about rappers' language than it is to have a real discussion about the long and tortured history of the n-word—even when the discussion at hand isn't about that word at all. But, then again, white people are going to be incredibly clumsy when dealing with matters of race. And, they'll almost always rally around to defend white supremacy—even if they have to make themselves look like fools to do so.
kris ex is a writer living in L.A. Follow him @fullmetallotus.