As the creator of The Wire, David Simon enjoys a certain degree of praise—if not deification—for addressing how the drug war affected the city of Baltimore, and by extension, multiple cities across America. Simon’s work highlighted how that war was racist and exercised a certain level of social and class control on all it was waged against. It highlighted the systemic failures of government and law enforcement on black people—failures not typically analyzed and depicted in mass media.
But for all the good work he did with The Wire, his other show Treme, and as a journalist before going into television, it does not absolve him from wrongdoing. You can advocate on behalf of black people and still wrong black people. Simon did that yesterday with a tweet, and then several other tweets.
David Simon made a mistake that offended black people, but instead of going with repentance, he opted for defiance and condescension. If he were incapable of the former, one wishes he had just dropped his phone in the toilet. It certainly would have done more for his public image this week.
White people can never say “nigga” without backlash. Because they are white. White people, especially if they are male and particularly if they are rich, are virtually afforded every known privilege in this world—minus the inability to say “nigga” without pissing black people off. You would think living with slight pauses during select moments on rap songs would be less challenging for most, yet here we are again.
After immediately being met with criticism, Simon tweeted:
Nigga, shut up.
He then added: "If context of its sarcasm on Sean Hannity being chosen interlocutor to black voters is ignored, then yes, be enraged. Can't help."
Simon kept using the word “interlocutor” as if it made his actions any less frustrating to black people. Simon also wrote, “Use of inappropriate racial vernacular was EXACT metaphor for use of inappropriate racial medium by DT. Gotta stand on context.” No, you need to never use “nigga,” white man.
Black people are not a metaphor. We are human beings. Nigger means something to us, and for those of us who use nigga, it means something totally different, and it is a colloquialism that is completely ours. Simon did not use nigga in a script for a black actor; he used it himself to make some larger point. In his mind, he thinks he’s advocating for black people, but if he can’t respect black people’s feelings, that says everything you need to know about him in this moment.
There’s also a bit of irony in Simon chastising Sean Hannity for leaving out black voices in a forum on race and then dismissing the feelings of black people. In that respect, they stand on two separate wings of the same fundamental belief that they alone get to dictate how we feel and how we process our thoughts and feelings. And after one too many Black Twitter users challenged Simon, he shifted to Trump and Syria.
What he did there was retreat from his purported defense of black people back to whiteness. In some write-ups about Simon’s tweet, I’ve seen musings such as, “This is David Simon, creator of The Wire, vocal critic of bad things like the war on drugs and mass incarceration, the wokest of the woke. He's supposed to know better, man.”
My ongoing annoyance with the growing online obsession of white people who are “woke” is majorly rooted in wondering why people get so much credit for simply managing to step outside of their bubbles. That annoyance then segues into suspicion because no matter how politically aware one claims to be or how down one is assumed, that person is still white. They can always opt out of their “wokeness” and go back to sleep. The same goes for all of Simon’s online apologists on Twitter, who, too, felt compelled to explain to black people how they ought to feel.
To them and to Simon, a few things should be made clear: You are not black. You don’t have to navigate this world in black skin. You don’t get to assume because you have advocated for (and profited from) black plight that it gives you certain passes—especially not if you are going to retreat the very second people of that community challenge you.
All Simon had to do was say “my bad.” He couldn’t do it, though. Most of us niggas could never be so lucky.