Back, a couple of years ago, I worked in Washington D.C. With respect to the privacy of those involved, I will just say it was largely conservatives. While there, a black relative passed away from health problems. He was the son of my aunt, whose daughter had passed (also from health problems) the same season when I was born. While working there, I was on and off the phone with them as they prepared for a funeral.
During that same period, I heard a good amount of racial or racialist comments, again, without going in to any sort of specifics. It was a bit pronounced where I was at but then it was also felt throughout Washington D.C., even in much different environments. Being black in D.C. has just never been a good scene. The political correctness and cold culture of Seattle, where I was raised, didn’t prepare me for that sort of raw humanity. I hadn’t really ever heard people talk that bluntly about such things and it wasn’t the best time for me to hear it.
I was upset at first but, despite some potential media to it, I never pursued it besides one blog post that I later took down. As I thought about it years later, I remembered my aunt (whose son had passed) joking about the “n-word” with me nonchalantly when I was a teenager, with me afraid to repeat what she was saying. I remembered all the rap music that I listened to during the 1990s and 2000s, with rappers like Black Thought or Nas who sometimes had songs where every bar ended in “nigga.”
“Nigger” or “nigga” (and the alleged difference between the casual “nigga” and the word with the hard “er” really is ridiculous – it is the same word) is, after thinking about it for some time, the core example of American neurosis and self-loathing. The last few years have been a gradual process of “political correctness,” the decorum that people exemplify to one another while living in one of the world’s most diverse societies, breaking down. Of course that breaking down would lead to a symposium on “the N-word” – that mark is the center of our neurosis. It’s a word that is meaningless and jovial for some while the center of hate and evil for others. Sometimes it’s both those things for the same people.
On one hand, Hollywood and other parts of industry have allowed the #metoo campaign to rampage through creative circles, leaving all sorts of creative men jobless and tainted doing to allegedly saying this or that. The most jarring and recent example is James Gunn, who was fired from the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise after old tasteless jokes about pedophilia were found on his Twitter account. Unlike many who were accused of sexual harassment, Gunn has had stars from his brilliant film series GOTG rush to his defense. Dave Bautista, who plays Drax, has even said he won’t be involved in any further GOTG movies unless Gunn is.
A professor that I knew at Seattle Pacific University, Gregory Wolfe, lost his job as head of the MFA program after it was found he had made unwanted sexual advances. In our sexually tense society, that is an accusation that could potentially bring down any man. The accusations listed were not physical and involved him saying stuff like “maybe we met for a reason” to female employees.
There are some things that are morally repugnant and unforgiveable, sure. We blacklist pedophiles, rapists, murderers and the like. However, our signals on what is okay to say are completely schizophrenic. Our society is getting offended by something said within it every day and we seem to be more obsessed with words that were said than anything that could potentially positively impact our lives. Donald Trump rose to the presidency while Bernie Sanders was left in the dirt as one was talking about policy to improve our lives and the other was keeping people’s attention by making egregious statement after egregious statement, again and again. It should be no wonder that it is hitting its crescendo mark with allegations that Trump dropped “nigger” repeatedly – that would be the high mark in a candidacy and presidency that is essentially a rebellion against political correctness. If he really is a man “with no impulse control,” that was part of the appeal.
Meanwhile, major cities like San Francisco are littered with homelessness, with tent cities and encampments that look like refugee camps. Bills that could have eliminated zoning regulations have been rejected. Our country cannot repair a bridge while China, with its One Belt, One Road initiative, is literally rebuilding most of the world in a project that is quite literally not mentioned in American media at all.
Maybe our challenges are so daunting that we’d rather be offended (or be offensive) by them than take them on. Depending on where you are at or who you are, claiming to be offended or trying to offend provide a sense of power an incompetent society can’t otherwise grant.