What’s a white guy to do?
How confusing this must be for white people! Paula Deen admits during a legal proceeding that she may have privately used the n-word at some point in her life. She suffers public scorn and humiliation which causes the collapse of her multi-million dollar empire. But Richie Incognito uses the n-word openly in front of 300-lb black men, and some of them publicly come to his defense and say he’s not a racist. Say whaaaaaaat?!?!
Here’s the difference: Incognito had permission.
There is no way Incognito would have used the n-word around his teammates unless he knew it was OK. Seriously, can you think of a worse place for a white guy to be using the n-word than in an NFL locker room where he’s outnumbered by black colleagues who also happen to possess superhuman strength? Still, given the immediate backlash anytime there are stories of a white person/celebrity being caught using the n-word, now comes word that black people are allowing it in some circles?! That’s news to some. But not to most black people.
Just about every black person has gone through this experience: a white friend or colleague becomes so close to you and your group of black friends that he/she is barely distinguishable outside of skin color. Then, one day, that white friend does an n-word test run to see if they can get away with it. It’s usually pretty subtle. But, at that point, you either check them on it and shut it down right there. Or, you allow it.
It’s difficult to say that a white person could mean no harm by using the n-word. I suppose it’s possible that Incognito is not a racist, yet it shows disrespect and a level of ignorance and immaturity to use the word around his black teammates, even if they didn’t complain about it. And, there has to be some fault with the black players for allowing it. I have talked in the past about being disappointed in my own use of the n-word and that black people should also be held accountable for using it, as well as how our gratuitous use of the word normalizes and sanitizes it. Now, throw in this Incognito story and what you have are people outside of the black community who hear us use it regularly, tell them they can’t use it, but then, we turn around and allow some exceptions. What’s a white person to do!