It's hard to believe how quickly the years are going by. Just three years ago, I was debating whether or not to make my annual Martin Luther King Day CD. New York City seemed to be changing drastically and the kids who were coming out to Escuelita were not interested in my traditional musical celebration of Rev. King.
Last year at this time, I posted a blog about my appreciation for the achievements of President Obama. That blog garnered me some unwelcome comments - a well known drag queen high-jacked my blog to promote her agenda of bad-mouthing Obama. She went on and on about all the things he did wrong or didn't do. It was almost as though she was telling me that I had no right to be proud of our first African-American President.
And now that I am spending most of my time in Canada where they do not celebrate "Martin Luther King Day", I really had to take a moment to think about what the holiday means to me.
A long time ago, I looked up the word "nigger" in the Webster Dictionary. It defined the word as "a stupid person" and "a racial slur for Africans". As I look around in this New Year, it disturbs me that this word is part of the daily lexicon in our youth's culture. Thanks to Hip Hop artists keeping it real, everyone feels like it is okay to just drop the N-word whenever they feel like it.
Last year, a popular gay burlesque troop in Toronto had a major show where one of its black performers was being honored and a white dancer paid tribute by performing in black-face. A female impersonator from Toronto actually had professional photos of himself in black-face posted on his facebook page. And in the news, there were some firemen who dressed in black-face for Halloween.
And let us not forget the popularity of another black-faced performer....Shirley Q. Liquor. I must admit when I first heard her material I laughed. She is a brilliant comedian and if I had never seen her, I'd probably still be a fan.
A long-time friend released an old skool bitch track where he says "nigger please" twice in the recording and on his YouTube video. After closer inspection of some of his videos on YouTube, I noticed that the N-word was dropped very casually in several. I mentioned it to him, but he said that it wasn't racial it - was just how the kids talk.
Almost every trip I take to New York City, I cringe at how many latinos are dropping the N-word like it's going out of style. But if someone said "wetback" or "spick" they'd be ready to fight in a minute.
Well in my opinion, all of these folks using the N-word (or any racial slur) are the first definition of the word!
I dated an individual who was from St. Louis and he was what some might call a "wigger". He had all the slang and had no qualms about dropping the N-word. At the time, he really wanted to go out with me, but I told him that I couldn't. Mainly because of his unfortunate use of the N-word. He saw nothing wrong with it. He tried to tell me that the young people of today have taken that word back and it has lost its power.
NO IT HASN'T! The older people who run congress and the finances in the United States have not forgotten what it means. The Republicans who are running for the oval office have not forgotten what it means. The people who hire and fire employees have not forgotten what it means. It's just your stupid asses who are running around disrespecting the African-Americans who gave their lives for you to be able to walk and talk freely. And this is what you do with your freedom? Sitting on subways talking loud and cursing while calling each other "nigger". That is the true meaning of "a stupid person".
Because I was raised by my grandmother, I grew up with a different sensibility about race. I know what it is to have a bottle thrown at you from a passing car as someone yelled "nigger". I watched my grandmother get spit on in a grocery store by a white woman who called her "nigger" because she wanted to skip her in the check-out line. I grew up watching my grandmother despise "All In The Family" because the Archie Bunker character was just a little too real for her. So, don't tell me that the word has lost its power.
Just like slavery was abolished, so should the word "nigger" be.
Back in the 70's, my mother had an album by The Last Poets. On it was a track called "Niggers Are Scared Of Revolution". I used to listen to it even though I didn't fully understand the meaning behind it. It wasn't until much later in the 80's that I really got what they were saying. The stupid people were afraid of change. And in a way when I hear a young black kid say "nigger" I believe that his family and education has taught him to hold on to that word. There is a safety in that word. You know where you stand with that word. I have never accepted that word and never will!
I don't believe that Martin Luther King or Malcolm X died for black people to accept being called that word. No matter who is saying it. You as black people are giving everyone the right to call you that word when you callously just drop "nigger" in a sentence.
I remember watching Jay Z on Oprah and she had an issue with the word in his music. He explained that rappers are telling stories that the police don't want you to hear. BS! You stupid people are letting the music industry exploit you. They give you a lot of money to get on a mic and be as black as you can be. Meanwhile, back at the ranch....some midwestern teenager thinks it’s cool to sound and act black. But deep down inside, they would never want to be black. They know the repercussions and deep down inside, so do you. You have been conditioned to let that word live. Let it be an anthem for black youth. Well, I say it sucks!
As a drag performer, I occasionally lip synch to Millie Jackson. Most of her material uses the N-word. So, I always give a disclaimer about the N-word (especially if it is a predominantly white audience). I tell them that it is not cool to use that word. I advise against it. Why do I do that? I do it because I feel a responsibility to those who came before me. All of the people who fought for equal rights. All the people who died in the struggle. And I know the word isn't going to go away. But I would hope that as this Martin Luther King Day arrives everyone will take a moment to really think about what the word "nigger" is still doing to our lives and culture.