Take it from Snee: Read the context, dummy

So I was scanning the Drudge Report for today’s posts, which is the only place where SeriouslyGuys writes itself without worrying about stealing Fark headlines. While there, I found an irresistible potential scandal to cover:

Source: Drudge Report, Mar 12, 2008

My pulse quickened a little, especially since it fell under the Eliot “Whoremonger” Spitzer story, which has already been covered to death. I thought, “Awesome, here’s a chance to use some leftover Michael Richards/Mark Fuhrman jokes!”

Then I opened the article. Its headline is “Angry Kilpatrick attacks foes, media.” Matt Drudge felt it was important to add “; uses n-word.”

Did Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick call his foes the n-word? Nope. How about the media? That’d be funny, right? No. He used it to simply state what others were calling him and his family:

“In the past 30 days, I’ve been called a n—– more than any time in my entire life. In the past three days I have received more death threats than I have in my entire administration. I’ve heard these words before, but I’ve never heard people say them about my wife and children.

I don’t believe that a Nielsen rating is worth the life of my children or your children.”

OK, so Kilpatrick knew the networks might have a problem with airing his press conference when he used that word. He also knew that the media would cover it up for him with bleeping and creative hyphen-use. Drudge still wanted to lead readers into believing that the mayor of Detroit, an African-American, was using this century’s naughtiest of naughty words and belittling “his people.”

Inferring that Mayor Kilpatrick’s dropped n-bomb is reproachable is analogous to labeling The Diary of Anne Frank hate speech because she mentions “Nazis” and “kill the Jews.” If you somehow haven’t heard of Anne Frank, I guess you could pull those words out of context and call her genocidal. But by doing so, you’d ignore the context of “she was a Jew and the Nazis wanted to kill her for as much.”

The difference between Anne Frank and Mayor Kilpatrick, though, is their words. “Nazis” and “kill the Jews” are old-hat, ho-hum. After several decades of memorials, Internet debates and three Indiana Jones movies, they’re as antiquated as “cowboys and Indians.” … Er, Native Americans.

The n-word, however, is unspeakable these days (as evidenced by my frequent euphemizing in this article). It’s the new f-word, if only because we’re so used to fornicating under the consent of kings now.

Euphemizing it as “the n-word” or “n—–” in the press illustrates our own reticence to even discuss the word, no matter the context (e.g., The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn). Instead, Drudge reacted like any 6-year-old: “Oooooh, you said a bad word!” Never mind that just saying the word we’re talking about would clarify which n-word we’re talking about: Norwegian? NASCAR dad? Nincompoop?

The problem, of course, isn’t this word. It’s emblematic of a discussion nobody in America is anxious to start: are we still racist, and when are we all equal? We like to believe the book on race was closed after Bill Cosby became the model dad. Or was it when the civil rights bills passed? Or the Emancipation Proclamation? In any case, we (white people) always want this topic done with so we don’t have to potentially do something else. (Reparations?)

So, as we have with other troublesome topics, we’ve picked our usual battle: language. We didn’t want to talk about sex and all its perils (or even the good parts), so we banned the f-word … and the waltz. We didn’t want to fight the Russians, so we looked for anyone who didn’t call them the anti-Christ and tried them for treason. I guess someone finally invented ass-mints, otherwise that word would still be banned, too.

In other words, if it were permissible to discuss those topics in polite conversation, then words like the n-word could suddenly be in context and, therefore, also permissible. I could write terrible things like “fuck is not an acronym meaning ‘fornication under consent of king,'” “shit sounds like a librarian addressing a hermaphrodite” or “nigger is a hateful term that should not be directed at people.”

See? Context is everything, even with dirty words. Now would whoever’s attacking Mayor Kilpatrick and his family knock it off? Don’t make Matt Drudge come after you! (Don’t worry. He won’t really, unless you’re famous and/or black.)

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