Yes. I said it and I made that awful name a headline. And I am white. I donâ€™t think Whoopi Goldberg would like it.
Any of you paying attention to the news during the last few weeks could not have missed the story about Republican candidate Rick Perryâ€™s family hunting camp, called â€śNiggerhead.â€ť To be clear, this is not the propertyâ€™s official name, but in fact, the informal name given to it by locals many years before the Perry family leased the property in the 1980â€™s. The word appears on a large rock near the entrance to the property and according to Perry, the family has tried to paint the rock more than once.
Although it would not be fair to suggest that this painted rock offers any evidence of Perryâ€™s attitude about racism, this story got the media channels buzzing for a few days. The reason is language, and discriminatory language in particular. Language is extremely powerful, particularly when it is used to insult, denigrate and marginalize. You know the terms: faggot, dyke, nigger, bitch, whore, Jew, kike, spic, wetback.
I will argue, however, there is a time and place for these words. And news reporting is certainly one of them. Whoopi Goldberg does not agree me. During a recent segment of The View, the group was discussing the â€śNiggerheadâ€ť story. Whoopi Goldberg and Sherri Shepherd (who are both black) each used the word and expressed discomfort in doing so. Barbara Walters (the whitest woman on earth) then said it and Goldberg and Shepherd both criticized her for doing so. Shepherd said â€śI didnâ€™t like the way you said it.... I donâ€™t know if itâ€™s a semantics thing, but itâ€™s something that goes through my body.â€ť As for Goldbergâ€™s use, Shepherd said, â€śWhen I heard you say it, it was fine. You said it in a different way.â€ť
Walters canâ€™t use the word in reporting the story, but Whoopi can? No way.
Hurling these terms at another in anger or even fun, is obviously not ok. But even that has its exceptions. It is a brilliant aspect of many oppressed groups that they take the words used to suppress them and make them their own. It is a sign of strength. For example, when one black man calls another â€śnigger.â€ť Fine. It is precisely what the gay community does when we call each other â€śfaggotâ€ť or â€śdyke.â€ť Fine and often funny. But you, Mr. Straight Man That I Donâ€™t Know Trying to Be Funnyâ€¦ if you call me a dyke, look out. I will be in your face. You are NOT entitled. You have not walked in my shoes. You do not suffer the persistent discrimination that I and my community face.
So, stepping down from the soap boxâ€¦
I thoroughly agree that whites do not have the privilege to call blacks â€śniggersâ€ť and more, that blacks absolutely can, but Barbara canâ€™t say it on the air when referring to a (poorly named) camp? I disagree. If we canâ€™t use these words to have a meaningful dialogue about discrimination, how will we get past this? How will we educate our children?
Barbara, if you are ever reporting on bullying in the gay community and you need to say â€śfaggotâ€ť because one boy called another boy that, then you do it. I WANT you to talk about discrimination, and language is key to that discussion. And you can call me a dyke if you want to tooâ€¦ I like the way you say it.
- Dayna Verstegen is the editor of the Bay Times. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.