The D-Word: Michael Eric Dyson and Tim Allen D-isagree over use of the N-word

Comedian Tim Allen re-ignited N-word controversy this week, drawing harsh criticism for his comments to a Tampa Bay newspaper about its use in comedy.  Channeling Paula Deen, Allen contends that his use of the actual word should be inoffensive, given his lack of racist intent.   Allen thinks saying  the N-word should be more offensive than the actual word.

I’m inclined to agree with the former star of Binford’s Tool Time, especially if we were all living in the imaginary world that seems to permeate my daydreams.  What we all call the “perfect world”.

Sadly, Toolman, ours is not a perfect world and those of us with nothing but love in our hearts must pay for the sins of the heartless by refraining from certain references which might cause pain in the hearts of others.

Shakespeare’s Juliet said, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet.” Or would it?

A stiff tariff was levied on the “melonette” when it was first imported from New Zealand during World War II and it wasn’t very popular with American consumers.  After its name was changed to kiwifruit by an importer named Jack Turner in 1959, the tariff on the fruit dropped and fruit-lovers devoured it in record quantities.

Fish-eaters might reject out of hand an entree of Patagonian Toothfish, but can’t seem to get enough Chilean Sea Bass. (Spoiler alert: it’s the same thing)

What is it about words that make them so powerful?  Why is the pen mightier than the sword?  The faithful out there may remember that Jesus said, “What goes into your mouth does not make you unclean, it’s what comes out of your mouth that makes you unclean”.

There’s another hypenated word that I can not utter, type or write under threat of harsh penalty. It’s not the F-bomb, but we’ll get to that one next.   It’s the C-word and if you don’t know what I’m talking about then you may be a Redneck.

For no particular reason I’ve never been a fan of the C-word or let it creep into my vocabulary, but neither did I feel strongly about it one way or the other.  I learned early on from the woman with whom I’ve shared most of my adult life that it was anathema to her and have taken on some of her enmity by association.  Be forewarned: Do not use in her presence.

At some point in our culture the F-word became the F-bomb.  Maybe it’s a reflection of the violent world in which we live or maybe it has something to do with the way guests casually drop it on talk shows.   On this word I straddle the fence, both loving and hating it.  I love it when I use it, I hate it when my daughter uses it.   I laugh when my wife uses it to be funny, but I cringe when she says it in anger.

It’s an amazingly short but powerful word. It’s one of the only words in our language that can so accurately sum up the full range of human emotion.  It seems that its only real sin is its description of the dreaded S-E-X.

I could argue that the word “fuck” can be defined both by its usage and the intent of the user.   I can also argue that assigning the word “dirty” status is completely arbitrary and based on our Puritanical beginnings.   And yet, I would still tell my children it’s not polite to ask for the “fucking” cranberries at Thanksgiving.

Contrary to what Michael Eric Dyson said about the N-word being created solely for the purpose of dehumanizing black people, it was not.  It’s use goes back to the 1600’s in a variety of forms and spellings.   It did, however evolve that way as slavery flourished in the American South.

In Allen’s defense, he’s not addressing everyday usage of the N-word in polite society.  That would be an oxymoron.  His remarks had to do with its use among his black peers in comedy clubs and in films featuring mostly black actors.   Allen seems to feel that his ban from using the N-word based on his whiteness creates an unfair playing field in the field of entertainment.

Tim Allen’s not the first person to question the double standard that allows black people to use the N-word while whites can not. In many instances that argument is disingenuous, but I think that in Allen’s case it’s a manifestation of his frustration and the confused state of race relations in America.

In the end, Allen may find that he’s tilting at windmills.  At the very least, his arguments may be falling on deaf ears.  We have to remember that the enslavement of Africans lasted a long while in this country and that scab has yet to completely heal.  It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that we finally rid ourselves of the Jim Crow laws.   That’s pretty recent history considering the fact that Muslims still harbor hatred toward the West germinated during the Crusades.

So, yeah blacks can call each other, “nigga”.   Jews can call each other Hebes and Greeks can call each other whatever it is Greeks call each other.   As long as there are still those, and there are plenty of them out there whose use of the N-word reflects deep-seated hatred and a desire to convey that hatred through a powerful, spoken word, it may be good judgement for the rest of us to avoid joining that chorus.

At some point, when real equality reaches every American it may not matter what we call each other. Until then, Toolman, you’ll have to leave that one in your tool belt.

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