Don’t Blame Eva Hoeke. Blame Us
1 year ago
Our use of the N-Word gives anyone else the right to use it
The views expressed in this Op-Ed do not reflect that of Loop 21.
Poor Eva Hoeke!
If you’re just getting up to speed on this, here’s the short version: Dutch magazine Jackie referred to Rihanna in the following way: “She has street cred, she has a ghetto ass and she has a golden throat. Rihanna, the good girl gone bad, is the ultimate niggabitch and displays that gladly. . .” Folks got wind of it and were outraged, Rihanna ripped the magazine a new one via social media, and editor of said magazine resigned soon thereafter.
I found it difficult to get very worked up about this for two reasons. Yes, the Dutch editor’s choice of words were stupid, but I don’t think it was done with malicious intent; she was trying to offer an honorific to an artist she admires. Second, and more importantly, black people, it’s our fault.
It’s been a slippery slope, but over the last 20 years, we’ve allowed, and in many ways enabled, the normalization of the N-word and its variants, particularly through hip hop. Now, it’s true the word has a long and despicable history in and outside our community, a holdover from this country’s overtly racist past. If you’ve never read Jabari Asim’s brilliant book The N-Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn’t, And Why, it’s worth it for the 400-year overview of the word’s evolution.
Not insignificant, as Brown professor Tricia Rose noted in her book The Hip Hop Wars, are the complicated roles of record labels and media companies for whom perpetuating a certain image of blackness and black authenticity means big profits.
But we can’t lay this all at the feet of hip hop. This is a black-people-in-America problem. Hip hop, that global cultural powerhouse, ends up reinforcing and transmitting our changing values and cultural boundaries around the world to hungry audiences who just so badly want to be down.
Mos Def linked the state of hip hop to the state of black people when he said, “Hip hop won’t get better until the people get better.” “The people” are us.
Add to the mix a whole generation of white kids who’ve grown up on hip hop. They love everything about the culture: The graffiti, the breakdancing, the beatboxing, the rhyming. And every black MC they admire—Lil Wayne, Drake, Jay-Z, Kanye, as examples--says the N-word with alarming regularity. The idea of appropriating such a loaded word is titillating.
We’re doing ourselves a disservice. Last year, Cee-Lo Green had everyone humming along to the chorus of “Fuck You”: “She’s just a gold digga/just thought you should know, nigga”. That song has over 64 million YouTube views, and it vaulted Cee-Lo to superstar status.