The Niggers of Nebraska
State News from AP
Student paper's use of epithet sets off uproar
Saturday, April 14, 2007 8:50 PM CDT
OMAHA, Neb. - Omaha school district administrators have suspended the principal of a high school whose student newspaper carried a four-page section discussing use of a volatile racial epithet.
The front page of the Benson Gazette's 12-page edition Tuesday included a letter warning readers about the some of the words inside.
"We use language that may make people uncomfortable, but we feel that the use of language is justified in our mission to inform our readers of issues important to them," said editor-in-chief Sarah Swift.
The section began on Page 9, under the heading: "The N-Word."
The full word "nigger" was used throughout the pages as students talked about why they used the word, some derivatives including "nigga" and the unwritten rules about who can use the words and when--if ever.
There. It's been said.
Of course, the story's from the Nebraska AP office near the state capitol building in Lincoln, but pretend for a moment that you're a Beatrician, picking up your Saturday copy of the DAILY SUN. (Full disclosure, my aunt's children all went to Benson High, and I spent many a summer night on the grounds, since it was only about four blocks from my aunt's house. Then, Benson was a pretty lily-white kind of high school: The Benson Bunnies; school colors, green and white.)
We have descended into madness. The point of our analysis should not be IF we have -- for clearly, the rhetorical gyro has spun off its guideposts -- but, rather, WHY we have gone mad.
I have been listening (involuntarily, for my 99-year-old father-in-law watches CNN a LOT, with the volume jacked up to 11 or so -- I am ofttimes doomed to Wolf Blitzer, whether I like it or not) to Wolf Blitzer, carrying on a debate about whether Don Imus saying "nappy headed ho's" is different from rappers saying it.
And the fellow from the Society of Black Journalists, and the young woman from what sounds like the Moral Righteous High Dudgeon Indignation Society agree that it isn't.
But they won't say it's because Imus is a "White Man."
Any more than we can say the word that's been lurking at the edges of the whole dialog, the word that seems to have finally oozed around the edges of the media blackout in Beatrice, Nebraska. You know, the "N-Word." (To which we shall not, herein, add the "I-Word" as in "imbeciles.")
Yesterday, Thom Hartmann -- an author and radio host whose ideas I usually respect -- was carrying on a long discussion of recently introduced "hate crimes" legislation, and the repeated unselfconscious phrase that kept hitting me was that the laws were for "members of a protected class."
"Class." Protected? (Wasn't this supposed to be a "classless" society, to the point that the Constitution even states: No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State. - Article I, Section 9.)
Somehow, people's past asininities towards other people (and believe me, the majority ALWAYS oppresses the minority, across all lines of race, creed, religion, geography or melanin. Maybe the bonobo apes can get over it, but homo sapiens evidently can't) have created the need for a sort of "endangered species" approach to questions of "minority."
Which brings us, again, to WHY we have descended into madness. We see the odd echo of that echo in the Beatrice newspaper's use of the taboo word, morally aiding and abetting the AP office in Lincoln's brave decision to actually put out the WORD that's the cause of a high school principal's suspension -- BECAUSE SHE/HE allowed the school newspaper to DISCUSS a controversy.
Let's face it. There are any number of things that virtually everyone in the media know about discussing the "nappy headed hos" remark. First, that no longer may the actual phrase be used, but, rather, the shorthand "racial slur" must be used, having morphed from "racially insensitive remarks," et al.
Beware of the "characterization" of the phrase, rather than the actual event. That was what morphed a vile invasion of Bill Clinton's sex life into "PERJURY" and "THE RULE OF LAW." (phrases, I might note, that, like the Wolf Blitzer panel blandly agreed, apply only to some classes and not to others, e.g. Black persons and Republicans can say "Nigger" and "Rule of Law" respectively, but no one else, evidently, can). The lame joke (which ignited a media shit storm EXACTLY as over-the-top as the quick destruction of John Kerry's presidential campaign for an ambiguous joke did only a couple months back ... hmmm) has been elevated to the same level as Michael Richards' screeching of "NIGGERS!" at a comedy club in Los Angeles, recorded by a cel phone.
How did we get so far from the concept of equality, which is so simple that any five year old can comprehend it, but which no law professor or teevee pundit can:
That's it. Equality means "no cuts in line."
Not because you're in a wheelchair. Not because your great-great-great grandfather's village was on the wrong end of an African war, and was cheerfully sold to White Traders by Arab merchandisers. Not because your daddy endowed the gymnasium or your uncle Vito will break the doorman's legs.
It means "no cuts in line."
And whether you actually have a conscience or not, it's a pretty sane philosophy. It produces meritocracy, and great rises are possible, that raise EVERYone's lot in life.
Don't believe me? Just be homeless in America for awhile. You may be homeless, pal, but homeless here is wealthy anywhere else. There's so much great stuff being thrown away that food, tobacco, clothing, etc. never need be a problem -- as long as you're careful.
This is fundamentally different from being homeless in, say, Darfur. Or in Kosovo. Or in Dubai.
OK: we originally agreed to "no cuts in line" but we had all these exceptions. It didn't apply to women. It only applied to men above a certain age with property. It only applied to "White" men above a certain age (as long as by "White" it wasn't meant "Irish.") Etcetera.
We all know the long story.
Anyway, we've now spent a long week playing the social guilts game, and I have a feeling that the whole reason for the madness about "nigger" is that it's become taboo.
And taboo inevitably inflames the rebellious portion of human nature.
Let's put it this way: once upon a time, I was walking along the Santa Fe River, and I saw two boys in the arroyo (for the Santa Fe River is "seasonal" and the river was dry that day) throwing rocks at a bunch of beer bottles they'd found.
And it suddenly hit me that there would NEVER be a time when idiots wouldn't just throw away bottles (which is how, I presumed, two 'ethnically diverse' ten-year-olds obtained so many beer bottles) and there would never be a time that ten-year-old boys wouldn't break those bottles with rocks in the arroyo.
Yeah, the broken glass could hurt someone. Yeah, it was littering. And yeah, I suddenly felt anger at these two young miscreants.
But then, I remembered that there had been a time that I too had broken bottles in the arroyo.
And I realized that I would just have to not only pick up my own trash, but a little of my brother's as well, if this thing was going to work out.
And so, too, people will always say "nigger," even more so if you make it taboo. But the original point was 'no cuts in line,' NOT 'nobody can ever break bottles in the arroyo' and one wonders how the gyroscope spun so far off its axis. We embraced the stick to the exclusion of the carrot. That's part of it.
The paranoid might feel that it's the classic tactic of the upper classes to keep the more populous lower classes at bay: divide and conquer. Separate through hatred. Foment rage of one group at another.
Well, fuck it. Equality also means calling a spade a spade. Blacks, whites, women, men: the same acts should bring the same consequences, or else this whole notion of 'equality' is a joke, and what we're really talking about is changing the rules so that the right people get the cuts in line.
And that's what the unspoken anger in America is about.
I have been listening to Jackie Guerrrrrrrrrrrrrra, the obnoxious host of "Workin It" -- an AirAmerica show evidently touting the Union line -- and she and her co-host are making fun of Newt Gingrich's Spanish apology in a way that sounds uncomfortably racist, and I despise the nasty little prick. (Gingrich, I mean. I merely find Guerrrrrra to be fingernails on a blackboard).
And I think, no, what she's saying and doing it every bit as obnoxious as the self-righteous folks on Wolf Blitzer explaining why taboos only apply to non-members of "protected classes." And I wonder how Thom Hartmann can reconcile the term "protected classes" with "equality"?
I will offer my humble theory as to WHY we've descended into madness: we became so trapped in minting a "language of equality" that we forgot about trying to implement equality. As Wittgenstein pointed out, you can't get the right answers until you ask the right questions. (Of course, he maintained that you can't ask the right questions, either, thus preparing the way for Camus, but that's a different story).
We have stopped asking the right questions and are now mired in a swamp of all the wrong questions.
WHY are we still screaming about Don Imus' relatively innocuous comment in the wee hours of the morning?
(I'll tell you why: 24/7 news and the blogosphere).
Because we INSIST on only seeing humans as what we want them to be, and never as they actually are. People will say "nigger," no matter what you do or say. And people will make fun of the characteristics of others, with the intent to hurt, whether it's racist or sexist or not. If Imus had made fun of those basketball players for being tall, would that have been any less mean-spirited? No, but without a language for it, it would have passed unnoticed.
We are posturing, debating, or, as in the case of Brian Shaw, DESPERATELY hiding our collective head in the sands of ignorance.
Which is what got us into this mess in the first place.
Of course the principal did the principled thing, and "taught" the students what it means to look a controversy square in the eye, and debate it in a meaningful (and sometimes wrongheaded) manner. That is SUPPOSED to be what this is all about.
Swift, the top editor, disagreed.
"Why would we have newspapers at all? It may make people uncomfortable, but you can't talk about things that people are always OK with. We can't just ignore the bad things and hope they go away."
She said the section was inspired by a Martin Luther King Jr. Day speech at the school.
The Rev. Darryl Eure of Freestone Baptist Church in Omaha "made a call to action," Swift said. "He said 'We can't use this word.' "
Benson's racial makeup for the 2006-07 school year: about 46 percent black, 41 percent white, 10 percent Hispanic and less than 2 percent each Asian-American and American Indian. [ibid.]
Instead, the principal is in trouble for not going along to get along -- you know, like every talking head in America today.
How dare they not censor that newspaper?