I don’t know if the link above posted correctly…it’s supposed to be a clip of Louis CK talking about why it’s great to be white.
He clarifies that he doesn’t think white people are better than other people; just that, if he had to sign up every year to “be” something, he’d sign up to be a white man every time.
This video came to mind today thanks to some discussions I’ve been having with friends about the Riley Cooper story. Riley Cooper plays football for the Philadelphia Eagles. Back in June, at a Kenny Chesney concert, a drunk Cooper, confronted (apparently peaceably) by a security guard, pointed off-camera and said “I will fight every nigger here.”
Once the video came to light, Cooper publicly apologized and has since been sent to counseling.
Let’s not elide over that point. The incident occurred in June. Cooper apologized once the video came to light last week.
A number of discussions have been sparked by Cooper’s act, by the reactions of his teammates, his employer, the NFL, the media, and comment-thread-intelligentsia the world over. One of the most frequent comments I’ve heard is that Cooper is the victim of a sensitivity double-standard. Football players use the word “faggot” all the time. Black players use the same word Cooper used with each other frequently (whether they use “nigger” or “nigga” is a distinction I’m not able to make, and in the context of this discussion, one that doesn’t seem to matter). There is a feeling that Cooper is being treated unfairly and being victimized by a double-standard. There are a lot of other ideas and arguments going back and forth, but I want to focus here on the idea of Cooper and the double-standard.
Every couple weeks I take part in a Skype workshop with two women, one writer from New Jersey and one from California. Yesterday, we talked about the Californian’s short story, which is about a 19-year old girl who has a one-night stand with a man twice her age. It’s a great piece, and what became obvious very early in our discussion was the woman from New Jersey could immediately identify the female character as someone she knows, someone her friends used to be, someone she used to be; the character spoke to a shared experience both women knew of, that being women sleeping with older men not for love but for validation. I had no idea what they were talking about. The first time I experienced my high school girlfriend’s breasts, I was validated for life. But I knew from what these women were expressing that that awareness was something familiar to them, as women, especially as women who at one point in life were pursued by older men.
I used to get hit on from time to time by old sugar daddies on dance nights at gay clubs. That was not about validation. Not the same thing at all.
Surely most of us grow up and realize that our experiences as people are often context-dependent, and that it is difficult if not impossible to understand a different experience.
I am Puerto Rican. I know dozens of Puerto Ricans. I have never in my life known a single Puerto Rican to use the word “spic,” unless they were telling a story about a non-Puerto Rican calling them one.
The only people I have ever heard use the word “spic” have been white people. And the majority of these experiences have not featured white people using the term against me, or to hurt me. It’s been white people using the term “ironically,” or to delineate what a racist white person sounds like. It flows from their lips with an ease I cannot relate to.
Some of my best (white) friends have used racist language. Black friends of mine? Asian friends? Other Latinos? Nope. No way. I can’t say why this is, because people are different and do things for different reasons. Nor am I suggesting only white people can be racist, or ignorant, or stupid. But my suspicion is the reason my minority friends have not used the same offensive language some of my white friends have used–however well-intended they were–is because people who have experienced hateful language KNOW how it hurts. Not in an abstract sense. As a real thing. It’s scarred onto their history, in “places you don’t talk about at parties,” as Colonel Nathaniel Jessup said in A Few Good Men.
Here’s what I don’t get.
Anyone with a cursory knowledge of American history knows that it’s a history of inequalities and double-standards. I don’t know a single white person who would want to experience the shit that minority groups have suffered…and in American history, indigenous peoples and African Americans have gotten the shit end of things more than anybody. I don’t know any white people who want to know what it’s like to have their land stolen, or their families broken up, or their language and culture and history erased. I don’t know any white people who want to know what slavery was like, or what it was like for their ancestors to face death for centuries if they tried to learn how to read. I don’t know any white people who want to know what it’s like to be treated differently by a mortgage lender or a broker or a restaurant hostess. I don’t know any white people who want to know what it’s like to be stopped and frisked or pulled over by cops because of their skin color.
So why do so many white people seem to find it unfair that black people can say “nigga,” but white people can’t say “nigger?”
How is not being able to use that one word holding you back in life? Is it a double-standard that prevents you from achieving your dreams? Do you fear black people are getting a leg up on you by calling each other a name that you can’t use? How many circumstances in your life do you find yourself needing to use these terms? Count yourself lucky that you don’t have to know what it’s like trying to climb up the slippery slope of “reclaiming the word.”
White people, please hear me: double-standard wise, you’re doing OK. Really. You may not be quite as privileged as you used to be. You may not be king of the mountain much longer (you probably will, though). But you don’t need the N-word. Trust me. It’s not a prize. It’s a black thing. And no matter how you try, you really, really just don’t understand…