As it does from time to time, the world of sports got entangled in the world of music earlier this week, before the two of them crashed into a popular societal debate that surfaces every couple of months. Such was the case, when sports columnist Peter Vecsey used a censored version of the n-word last night in a tweet about NBA star LeBron James.
In the heat of the Knicks-Cavaliers game two nights ago, James and Knick's player Enes Kanter got into several confrontations, as is prone to happen in sports games. Kanter is well-known for his criticism of Turkish President Recep Erdogan. For some reason, Vecsey in his infinite ignorance decided to tweet a Biggie Smalls line that included the n-word in highlighting Kanter's lack of fear in standing up to James.
To say that there's a couple of things wrong with this is an understatement. Vecsey's choice of words is incredibly suspicious. Though he might deny it, or one might try and defend it as just being part of the lyrics, the insinuation from the tweet is that Vecsey referred to LeBron James as the n-word, wholly inappropriate in every way, shape and form. But as Internet users rightfully began to call Vecsey out, he stubbornly stood his ground, and made an argument that has been heard time and time again when discussing racial slurs in conjunction with lyrics written by persons of color.
Vecsey is arguing that since he himself did not say the words, that since he quoted, and censored, them from lyrics written by another person, it is okay for him to use the word as a white person. This argument is nothing new, and was used as recently as September, when a sorority in New Hampshire came under fire for a video that showed them saying the racial slur while singing along to Kanye West's "Gold Digger" track. In both cases, and many others, white people are trying to absolve themselves of using racist language by arguing that its use in a song or artistic medium differentiates it from use in everyday speech. Additionally, some have used the "I have a black friend" argument by pointing out black people who have stated that they don't see it as racist.
We are starting to teeter into the realm of language reclamation, and so we must take a step back to take a look at things. Oppressed groups attempt to reclaim slurs and hate speech for a variety of reasons, and that is a conversation solely for them. Some black people are staunchly against the use of the word in any form, by any person, while others reclaim it for several reasons, a sense of empowerment included. Columnist Will Lavin summarized the reasons for reclamation succinctly after the issue in New Hampshire when he said, "Considered a term of endearment, the ‘a' version of the word is often used by members of the black community to describe a friend, a homie, a brother. It's used, without irony, either to neutralize the word's impact – you'll often hear people say that the word was taken back to remove the sting of it – or as a sign of solidarity."
While some might see a problem with it, and others don't, it is not appropriate for white people to interject into the conversation, and dismiss the concerns of a group just because a commenter on Facebook said they don't mind.
If Kanye West, Biggie Smalls, or any black artist decides to use the word in their work, that is their prerogative. Any debate over whether or not black artists should be using the word in their work is a conversation solely for the black community. While the black community can decide where the word fits with them, white people in America must realize that its use by whites has only ever existed as a tool of oppression and hatred.
It is okay for white people to enjoy rap music and other elements of black culture. But it must be made very clear, there are certain things that are very off limits for us. And whether it is used in a song or not, even if a black artist said, use of the word by white people is unequivocally racist.
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