Friday, July 18, 2008

Controversy On "The View"- 1

It now appears that Jesse Jackson used the word "n------" (plural form) when on July 6, 2008 he accused Barack Obama of "talking down to black people" and threatened to remove a critical body part of his. And on July 17, 2008 the women of ABC's The View were talking about it. According to the conservative blog newsbusters.org, this is the (relevant part of) the transcript:

WALTERS: Is it-- and what you’re saying– is it okay for black comics primarily, like yourself when you do an act and so forth, is it okay then to use as it is still done and not okay for white people? Is that the case?

SHEPHERD: Yeah I, I have no problem with them using it. It’s something that means something way different to me than it does to you. I grew up with my family using it. It– for me, I can use it as a term of endearment.

WALTERS: But if I used it...

SHEPHERD: I don’t want to hear it come out of your mouth.

HASSELBECK: I just think, here’s the like, how do you, okay, so wait a minute, let’s think about this. This is how I think things can be simplified sometimes. How do you teach children, okay? We should be acting. We’re trying to teach our kids certain things in this world, no? So then are we, are we acting out on what we’re actually preaching them? Am I supposed to tell Grace, "Grace okay, here is [sic] some words you can use, here is [sic] some words you can not." And then but you’re friend over there can use it because-

GOLDBERG: Can I simplify it for you? The little kid is not going to walk up to Grace and say "[bleeped out]" It’s not going to happen. [laughter]

HASSELBECK: It’s an example. I’m just giving an example.

GOLDBERG: But, but I understand your example. I understand your example, but Elisabeth, as I said at the beginning when we first talked about this word, this is a word that has meaning when you give it meaning. I’ve never met [bleeped out], I have never gone to [bleeped out], I don’t know any [bleeped out]. There are [bleeped out]. You can try it, just like you can-

HASSELBECK: I am not trying to.

GOLDBERG: No, no, no, listen to me, listen to me. Just like you can talk about comical Italian people if you were a comic.

HASSELBECK: I’m half Italian.

GOLDBERG: And yeah, so you can say all kinds of stuff. You can say the stuff that your mom and dad would say in the privacy of their home and not outside. That’s just the way that it works.

SHEPHERD: What about teaching, what about teaching Grace with different things that- There are some things where people are sensitive to. There are some things that we can’t say because people are sensitive to it. Kids say "why does that person have a hump on their back?" You know, that might hurt their feelings. So why not explain it in that way?

HASSELBECK: Look, I’m not saying I won’t explain to my daughter how to talk about words. I grew up in a household where we didn’t say- I’m half Polish and half Italian. If somebody said to me "you’re a dumb Pollack," it offended me. I never made fun of myself saying, you’re, you’re that word. I’m a this. I never would go into my own heritage and use a phrase that is used against me in the privacy of my own home because I think it perpetuates stereotypes and hate.

GOLDBERG: You have to understand [bleeped out] word that has followed us around, and basically what we did is we took it out the hands of people that were using it and put it into our hands and we use it the way we want to use it and that’s the way it is.

HASSELBECK: Then it sneaks into pop culture then. I’m just trying to get an answer.

WALTERS: You did. You’re not listening you’re just talking. She is saying-

HASSELBECK: - I am listening.

WALTERS: -it’s okay in her culture, but it is difficult as you as a white mother to explain that, that Jeffrey can use it, but Grace can’t.

HASSELBECK: It’s not difficult for me. It’s just an example in terms of general philosophy. I have no problem explaining things to Grace. My thing is that we don’t live in different worlds. We live in the same world.

GOLDBERG: We do live in different worlds. I’m sorry. I’m sorry it’s the way it is Elisabeth. This is the way it is. This is how I grew up. My mother could not go and vote in the United States of America, the place of her birth. We, go- wait, wait.

WALTERS: And don’t we want that to change?

GOLDBERG: Yes, we would like to. But you don’t understand.

HASSELBECK: I’m not going to take that away from no.

GOLDBERG: No, no, I, I want you to. But what I need you to understand is the frustration that goes along when you say we live in the same world. It isn’t balanced. And we would like it to be. But you have to understand, you have to listen to the fact that we’re telling you, there are issues, there are huge problems that still affect us. And you’ve got to know this if you want to know us.

HASSELBECK: I’m not trying to take- I understand. I’m not trying to-

GOLDBERG: But it didn’t sound like it.

HASSELBECK: I am not trying to take that away from you. When we are living in this world and we are living in the world where there is in, in the pop culture, when that word is in use. When there are- [crying] this is upsetting to me because-

WALTERS: Okay, just take a breathe and let someone else talk.

HASSELBECK: I am, I am, but this is a conversation that is hard and we’re going to have it here and we have it here for a while because we love each other. When we live in a world where pop culture then uses that term, and we’re trying to get to a place where we feel like we’re in the same place and we feel like we’re in the same world, how are we supposed to then move forward if we keep using terms that bring back that pain?

GOLDBERG: I can tell you.

HASSELBECK: How?

GOLDBERG: Here’s how we do it. You listen and say "okay this is how we’re using this word and this is why we do it." You have to say, "well, you know what? I understand that, but let’s find a new way to move forward." You must acknowledge the understanding of what it is and why it is in order to go-

HASSELBECK: But when is it time to have the conversation?

GOLDBERG: But we are.

HASSELBECK: We are, yes.

WALTERS: Okay, but one second, let somebody else have a conversation for just one second. [laughter] We have a man- [laughter and applause] We have a man running for president who is 50 percent white and 50 percent black. And one of the things that he is trying to do is to bring people together and there still is racism. I have not heard anybody on this show say the word that you just said. They say the "n" word, we’re so afraid of it. If I said what you said, I would never hear the end of it. But when- wait I’ll grant it. But when you say it’s okay, we are trying to change. This is what Barack Obama and others are trying to do, to move forward. In the meantime, we have to understand that we haven’t gotten there yet. And maybe we should and maybe it’s not okay for you to use the word, but that is the reality, that’s the reality of the moment. And whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing.


It was long but I think worth the read, though in this post I'll respond only to one small portion of this extraordinary discussion.

WALTERS: Is it-- and what you’re saying– is it okay for black comics primarily, like yourself when you do an act and so forth, is it okay then to use as it is still done and not okay for white people? Is that the case?

SHEPHERD: Yeah I, I have no problem with them using it. It’s something that means something way different to me than it does to you. I grew up with my family using it. It– for me, I can use it as a term of endearment.


Sherri Shepherd here is saying a) comics can say what others can't; and b) it means something different for her than it does "to you" (by which presumably she meant white people because, apparently, for Shepherd all white people are the same).

Shepherd has, inadvertently, stumbled into a little bit of truth here. It does mean something different for black people than for white people which, fortunately, the latter have come to understand over the past few decades. And it is this impact upon the victims of hate speech that has spurred the efforts of well-meaning individuals to stigmatize this, and other, hurtful language.

There always has been a reservoir of belief in this country that entertainers are allowed to say things the average unsophisticated rube is not. Perhaps it's the idea that bigotry is acceptable when done for a profit (think Steven Colbert's trashing of Catholicism, ironic though it is from a church-going Roman Catholic), or that the harm wrought by hate is inversely correlated with the number of people exposed to it. If that doesn't make any sense, evidently you're not part of the ignorant mass to which Ms. Shepherd would like to consign you.

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