(On Sept. 15, 2015, at precisely 3:17:23 PM EST, this column will return to wine, but will only be visible in the Northern Hemisphere and parts of Kenya.)
The other night in a candid interview about gun violence and race, President Obama dropped the N-bomb, and it made everybody uncomfortable. Not because the word ‘nigger’ is of itself uncomfortable (like a flag, a word is inanimate, incapable of human emotions) but because we have been programmed to find the sound it makes whilst slipping from a pair of human lips an abomination upon our senses.
For the most part.
In recent years, we have been re-programmed to find the word less offensive if a black man—especially a para-thug gangsta rapper—says it in a non-derogatory way while singing about killing cops and beating women, and more offensive if a white man—especially a knuckle-dragging cretin from a former slave state—says it in a derogatory way.
Thus, when the most powerful man in the world, who is both a white man and a black man and from a state that wasn’t even a state until a century after the Civil War, uses it in the context of a derogatory word, but not in a derogatory manner, we are all made so confused and uncomfortable that people with weak capillaries risk an aneurism.
This is not necessarily a bad thing.
However, that Obama used the word while being interviewed by a comedian instead of a reporter is being overlooked by nearly every confused, uncomfortable podcast listener, despite the fact that it’s the single most salient point surrounding his N-bomb droppery.
Why? Because said comic is Marc Maron, and like every other edgy, snarky, neo-Borscht-belt comic, he owes his career to edgy, snarky, Borscht belt comic Lenny Bruce, who in 1961 uttered a summation of this potent word unrivaled by anybody ever, before or since, white or black:
“If President Kennedy would just go on television, and say, ‘I would like to introduce you to all the niggers in my cabinet,’ and if he’d just say ‘nigger nigger nigger nigger nigger’ to every nigger he saw, ‘boogie boogie boogie boogie boogie,’ ‘nigger nigger nigger nigger nigger,’ ’til nigger didn’t mean anything anymore, then you could never make some six-year-old black kid cry because somebody called him a nigger at school.”
Lenny Bruce was ahead of his time, evidenced both by this routine and by his death from a heroin overdose a half dozen years before it became fashionable to do so.
Three Jeers for the Red, White and Blue
No, silly—not that red, white and blue—that’s Old Glory, whose trifecta of polychromasia is inviolable. The other red, white and blue. No, not that one either, that one’s French.
Work with me here…
N-Bomb-gate came during the same week that, in response to the murders of nine African Americans by a deranged white supremacist with a gun, upright folks demanded the removal of a Confederate flag from a war memorial in South Carolina. In a cheap bid to be the first capitalist to overreact, Walmart—quickly followed by Amazon, eBay and Sears—announced bans on the sale of Confederate flag merchandise.
A collective victory cheer went up from the righteous, most of whom I suspect were white liberal Northerners, and their smug triumphery would have made perfect sense had Dylann Roof smothered his victims to death with a Confederate flag. But he didn’t—and Walmart, Amazon, eBay and Sears still do a brisk business in the sale of firearms and firearm accessories.
See what they did to you, there?
Now, as a white liberal Northerner, I’m begging you in advance: Don’t start. I get that the Confederate flag is viewed as a symbol of racism by many, even most, despite its having flown above a slave nation for a scant four years compared to ninety years for the Stars ‘n’ Stripes. Unless you count the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a vital chapter in the story of Black freedom in America, in which case, it’s more like 188 years.
Or, if you maintain that African Americans are not treated as equals by their white compatriots to this day, and point out the demographics of our prison population as an example, you may find as much entrenched racism represented in the flag that flies over the US Capitol Building as the one waving in front of the State House in Columbia, SC.
Symbolism, as far as I can tell, is what you choose to make of it.
Now, I am presuming that nobody with an IQ into three digits actually believes that government officials in the South are pining for the return of slavery. What the flag in South Carolina actually symbolizes to them (I’m willing to bet) is the titanium testicles of their seceding forefathers who stood up for a cause and damn the torpedoes.
The fact that it was a losing cause, an immoral cause, an antediluvian cause, an abominable cause, doesn’t much concern them: It was the Rebel Cause, and it was their very own. You get a bunch of good ol’ boys around a testosterone-stoked legislative table reminiscing about good ol’ days, and chances are it won’t be about the time they slunk into Appomattox Court House with their tail between their legs.
But—as they are wont to do—in the past week the political pressure-police have pushed their pusillanimous program pitilessly, and lo and behold, South Carolina Governor Nikki R. Haley has caved in to their compulsive finger-wagging. She now claims to support the removal of the Confederate flag from the State House, although in the same breath, she passes the buck (not in the derogatory sense of a black male) to the state’s General Assembly to make the final decision.
Win/win for her, and titanium ladyparts need not apply.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley has already mothballed his Bars ‘n’ Stars, which, had it come before the public outcry, might have been seen as courageous and noble, but now appears nothing more than a kow-tow to the pow-wow, as if some PETA-approved veterinarian was brought in to remove his mothballs.
Coupled with the excruciatingly hypocritical decision by the Waltons of Arkansas, et. al, it appears that the Confederate flag has been bleached a whiter shade of pale and razed, not raised, from the yard arm.
Well, by God, if they don’t want that goddamn symbol any more, I do.
And I’m serious. If the flag is burned, buried, shredded and otherwise exorcised from the American public’s outraged but virtuous conscience, doesn’t that mean that the South has surrendered once again? Phhhhht. And at some point, shouldn’t the flag become fair game for those of us who would exhume it as a symbol of our own rebellion, of our individual and hallowed right to be controversial, our sacred authority to hoist any flag we choose regardless of whether or not your offense-o-meter is on overdrive? And have it mean… nothing more sinister than that?
And yeah, I’m Rebel with a Clause:
Racism, sexism, homophobia-ism and I-Hate-Southern-White-People-ism are all shitty human conceits from the outset, and anybody who looks at my new Rebel flag and suggests that I support any of them is a shitty human being. In fact, you qualify the very smegmata that I rebel against.
It’s my flag now, and I decide what it symbolizes, not you. I would have made a lousy slave-owner anyway—I can’t even tell my kids to clean their rooms without feeling guilty.
Fret not, those who disagree. Now that the Confederate flags are down in Dixie, here are some new causes for you to embrace and Tweet about: Lieca uses a Japanese Imperial flag as it’s logo, Buddha is plastered with swastikas, Macy’s usurped the red star of Commie Russia to sell Calvin Klein dress suits.
Meanwhile, Michelangelo’s David has his wee-wee waving in the wind and the word ‘nigger’ appears 219 times in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain’s anti-slavery masterpiece.
Lenny Bruce did not get his wish; Kennedy never dropped the N-bomb, at least in public. It would probably have seemed crude and un-Presidential to the man who campaigned as an anti-segregationist and made a famous 1960 phone call to Coretta Scott King in support of her husband, then forced Mimi Alford to perform oral sex on one of his aides as he watched.
But fifty years later, the great Barack Obama has finally obliged the great Mr. Bruce, mainstreaming at least the idea that a President can contextualize the word ‘nigger’ and speak it out loud without a bolt of PC lightning striking him in the forehead.
He encourages me.
… And so, my fellow Americans, if every supporter of the First Amendment would just go on television and say, ‘I would like to introduce you to my new Rebel flag’, and then fly that flag from the Flagpole of Freedom, flag, flag, flag, flag, flagpole, flagpole, flagpole, flagpole, ’til the Rebel flag didn’t mean anything anymore, then you could never make some six-year-old kid cry because some anal-retentative Yank with an iPhone and a Twitter account took away his 1:18 scale Dukes of Hazzard General Lee toy car.
While I don’t necessarily agree with you about the Confederate flag, you have made some very salient points. Damned good writing, as always.