Earlier this month, on “Real Time with Bill Maher” the talk show host referred to himself as a “House N*gga” when asked by Sen. Ben Sasse to come “work in the fields” of Nebraska. This controversial comment caused many celebrity guests to back out of scheduled appearances on the show. Ice Cube, who recently appeared on “Real Time with Bill Maher” to promote the release of his “Death Certificate: 25th Anniversary” edition, had other plans. The rapper decided to use his guest spot as an opportunity to educate Bill Maher on the use of the “N” word and why he received so much kickback.
This may not have been the first time Maher used the “N” word on his show or in comedic appearances, but it will probably be the last. The comedian often stands up for the African-American community and according to him, meant no harm. While some have accepted his apology and moved on, others are still upset that Maher felt privileged enough to use it.
Many time as it relates to comedy no topic is safe from being the subject of a joke, but the issue of “taste” lies mostly in the question of context. However, how it is communicated and by whom are what matters most. Jokes about social groupings can be offensive when told by someone from outside that community because in the context it is based entirely on a notion of “otherness” that is borne of some kind of prejudice. Told from within such a group, a joke can illuminate the shared experience within the group and can subvert the prejudices purely by playing on them. This rule seems to cover the entertainment industry across the board.
It is no secret that the “N” word is a vulgar and disgusting term, with a history filled with pain. The word is an obscene smear created for the specific purpose of putting Black America in their place, relegating them to second-class citizenship, and alerting the intended victim that he is less than human. As such, many, even outside of the African-American community regard it as one of the most abhorrent terms in the English language and agree that it has no place in public discourse.
Ice Cube shares this opinion of selective usage and educated Maher on the use of the “N” word. Although the host was quick to apologize, the rapper wanted to understand what led Maher to cross the line. As the discussion continued, Ice Cube said:
That’s our word, you can’t have it back. You know, it’s a word that has been used against us. It’s like a knife, man. You can use it as a weapon or you can use it as a tool. It’s when you use it as a weapon against us, by white people, and we’re not going to let that happened again … because it’s not cool. When I hear my homie say it, it doesn’t feel like venom. When I hear a white person say it, it feels like that knife stabbing you, even if they don’t mean to.” … That’s our word now and you can’t have it back.”
Maher’s use of a racial slur on “Real Time” cut deep with many viewers. Multiple celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey, shared their unrest with the “N” word. While Maher has apologized for the remark, Oprah shares on “Access Hollywood’” why she believes the “N” word should never be used under any circumstances. The OWN creator said:
“I believe that it should not be a part of the language in the Lexicon. I have this wonderful coffee table book that sits in my living room called, “Freedom.” One of the pages in there that sears my brain is a lynching of a family. There is a whole mob of people that come out to watch like it is a sport. I always think about this family and that being the last word they heard.
I had the same conversation with Jay Z who said, ‘We can take the power back. We are taking changing the power and taking the power out of the word.’ I told him, ‘You can never change it for that family or for the people who this was the last word they heard when they were hung, dismembered or degraded.’ So, I now know it is an argument that I am not going to win in my lifetime and that is okay.”
While many agree with Oprah, some disagree, and feel, although it is a double standard, it depends on how and with whom the word is used. They agree with Ice Cube and Jay Z that there is some empowerment to taking the word back and using it within the African-American community as long as it is managed properly within the user’s discretion. Kudos to Ice Cube for educating Bill Maher on the use of the “N” word in a professional and respectful manner.
By Cherese Jackson (Virginia)
NPR: Ice Cube Leaves Bill Maher Shaken And Stirred Over The N-Word
HipHollywood: 4 Points Ice Cube Drove Home While Schooling Bill Maher On The N-Word
Black Press USA: Bill Maher, the N-word and How He Betrayed Black Intellectuals
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