Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Distinction Without A Difference

Richard Pyor is dead- literally and figuratively, and it's unfortunate on both counts.

Salon's Chauncey DeVega, praising the "beautiful and wondrous" moment of Larry Wilmore's routine, believes "the last correspondents’ dinner of Obama’s two terms was a fitting end to a landmark presidency as a president of the United States who happens to be black was accompanied by a comedian who is unapologetically black and together they played with, subverted, and mocked the White Gaze."

He is referring especially to the end of the speech in which Wilmore commented

Thank you for being a good sport, Mr. President, but all jokes aside, let me just say how much it means for me to be here tonight. I’ve always joked that I voted for the president because he’s black. And people say, “Well, do you agree with his policies?” And I always said, “I agree with the policy that he’s black.” I said, “As long as he keeps being black, I’m good.” They’d say, “What about Iraq?” “Is he still black?”

Stop right there, Larry. That's reasonably funny and point well-made.  Don't do it, Larry- don't do it! No such luck.  He continued

But behind that joke is a humble appreciation for the historical implications for what your presidency means.

When I was a kid, I lived in a country where people couldn’t accept a black quarterback. Now think about that. A black man was thought by his mere color not good enough to lead a football team — and now, to live in your time, Mr. President, when a black man can lead the entire free world.

Words alone do me no justice. So, Mr. President, if i’m going to keep it 100: Yo, Barry, you did it, my n—-. You did it.

Thank you very much, good night!

On Monday's Nightly Show, Wilmore slammed Pierce Morgan because "he quoted me as saying 'yo, Barry,you did it my n***er!'"   Wilmore maintained "Piers, you did not properly conjugate that slur." He continued "'N***er' is what white people use to denigrate, demean, and dehumanize black people" (point deserved for alliteration). Rather, "'n***ah' is a term of endearment that some black people use between each other to take back that power."

To take back that power. How has that worked so far for black people, Larry? For any of us, a few random David Duke(s) aside?

President Obama clearly was not unhappy with Wilmore's remark, nor was it much out of the mainstream at an annual event characterized far more by great humor than for good taste or inoffensiveness.  Still, "it's an ugly thing and I hope someday they give it up," Richard Pryor once famously said.  Pryor considered the word- in DeVega's phrasing- "the ugliest word in the English language."

And so DeVega is wrong in labeling "n***ag" the "linguistic cousin of 'n***er'." It is not the linguistic cousin- it is the twin brother. Rationalizing its as one used by blacks "to take back that power" is unexplained, unhelpful, and unwise.  It is a stark, raving example of a double standard. Wilmore hasn't taken back the power (whatever that is supposed to mean) and instead, by refusing to own up to what he said, has done his little bit to legitimize use of the term he recognizes as ugly when used by whites.

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