Beyond Riley Cooper: Notes on a Slur

Credit: Associated Press

Is there something in the water?

Seriously, is there a potent racial slur solution that has been dropped into our drinking sources?

We can’t go a week without somebody dropping the n-bomb as a racial slur. This time, up to bat, we have Riley Cooper, a Philadelphia Eagles player who was so incensed at a Black security guard during a concert that he told his friends he wanted to jump a fence and “beat up every ni**er” in here. (Caution: actual clip containing the epithet ahead.)

Wow.  So, that’s how you feel, Coop? (And supreme side-eye to his female companions for the Trinidad James-like refrain.)

The football fool has already been fined, apologized and accepted the forgiveness of his team, as delivered by Michael Vick. He’ll undergo some two-bit sensitivity training that somehow eluded him the first 25 years of his life.

But regardless, his bigoted tirade will no doubt stir up an extremely irritating conversation about the slur in question, i.e. whether he meant it in a cruel way, is racist (or was merely frustrated) and the inevitable: why brown people themselves can use this term.

To help you sidestep such heated debate with your diverse group of friends, just forward along these three points to anyone cramming to understand why this is such an outrage. You’re welcome in advance.

Point #1: What’s the big deal? Black people use it all the time.

That is a really old and quite desperate defense. Clearly, the supposed co-opting of the term was an effort to take the pain out of it. It is a deliberately dehumanizing term. It is bloodstained and never to be taken lightly, no matter what mainstream music and Worldstarhiphop videos would lead you to believe. Complicating matters, it is debatable that this reclamation effort has worked in any way, seeing as how every frothing-at-the-mouth pundit (Rush Limbaugh) and out-of-date comedian (Tim Allen) seems to be obsessed with taking it back.   Maybe, like Allen, you are tempted, but let me help you out: You don’t want to let rappers, Def Comedy Jam reruns, and conversations you overhear on the street get you punched clean in the kisser.

And my personal take for my fellow people of color: We clearly still have other battles to fight. It might be time to concede, we didn’t win this one. Let the word be restored to its racist meaning, i.e. stop trying to turn it into a term of endearment/empowerment, and then it will be CRYSTAL CLEAR when a non-Black person is using it that they are interested in oppressing people. Then,  we won’t have to deal with the next item on our list.

Point #2:  What if a non-Black person uses the “ga” not the ‘ger?

We all know that the subtle inflection doesn’t truly distinguish this term for everyone. See the humorous Vine to that point, below.

You could end up sounding like Rush Limbaugh who did this embarrassing, I’m-about-to-lose-my-contract-anyway segment.  Rachel Jeantel has somehow given him license to use it, he claims, per a recent CNN interview where she claims in the 2000s, it lost its harshness. And we’re supposed to believe Limbaugh takes his cultural cues from a teenage witness in a racially polarizing murder case?

Welp, I hope ol’ Rush had fun saying it in that interesting little clip. Now if only George Zimmerman’s MMA coach can give him some pointers so he can survive uttering that again in a public space.  This New York Post article  provides a pretty good preview of what will ensue if he does not get said training.

Point #3: We live in an increasingly colorblind society.

Jay-Z might believe that former Disney Princess Miley Cyrus training herself to twerk symbolizes the end of racial conflict, but unfortunately, a number of developments reveal that this simply isn’t the case. Riley Cooper plays with African American co-workers and is only 25 years old. He’s not exactly running in the same circles as Paula Deen or Michael Richard. Young people were incensed just last year when (gasp) Black actors were cast in the movie version of the beloved “Hunger Games” novel.  I’m not a pessimist and I am certainly encouraged watching segments like this one (below), but let’s not be stupid.

Mainstream America is still comforting itself with the false notion that a young Black teenager died simply because a neighborhood volunteer was trying to be a good member of the community. We have racial profiling blatantly occurring in New York, voters rights being snatched across the South and numbskulls trying to distract us from these societal ills by asking what we’re doing to combat violence in our own communities. Go sell that Kool-Aid up the block. I ain’t buying.

YOUR TURN: What do you think of the Riley Cooper controversy?  Will you stop supporting him as a player?  Do you think that this slur has lost its sting or should it, and the thinking behind it, be more harshly condemned?