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The White N-Word (The Case for Quentin Tarantino)

By Kathy Y. Wilson · January 8th, 2013 · Kathy Y. Wilson

It’s 2013 already.

The rate at which calendar pages blow past means there’s not enough time to school you on the ever titillating suffixal differences — which are also cultural and racial — between the -er and the -a.

White folks want to say the word soooo badly it’s funny. 

During the holidays, visiting friends and I traded lynching stories of the times white people we thought we knew well uttered it, sprayed it, addressed us by it. And there were even times some of those white people tried logically justifying it.

Like when it’s in a song and they’re merely repeating the lyric.


In mixed company.

Personally, I prefer the -a version; I use it with impunity and in mixed company. I do not hold to hard and fast rules like I used to. That may be because I’m kicking 50 in the ass and I am much more concerned with reaching that space, and comportment women’s magazines have been whispering to me and my generation that we have a right to be bad asses.

This means we are less concerned, as I recently heard a ghostly Gore Vidal say on PBS, with what people think of us as were are with what people think we’re thinking of them.

So — heavy sigh — I used to say the -a version in mixed race company for affect and shock.

Too performative.

Too intentional.

Now I say it as I see fit.

And now I see fit to lump white folks in with a class of people and not a lowly race of people.

’Cause white folks, y’all can be some -as, too, sometimes with your ignorance, your cheating ways, your loud-but-not-important-public-cell-phone-talking selves.

See, that’s all -a ish and it no longer solely belongs to us.

Look, I know you will disagree and you will be joined by an army of Negroes who disagree with the very conversation about all of this. 

That will not be surprising. 

We are the same people who didn’t want Anita Hill speaking publicly about Clarence Thomas’ self-loathing buffoonery, either.

It’s not that we didn’t believe her. 

It’s just that it was so damned ugly.

But keeping such things as white -as and black self-hatred relegated to black-only conversations are but a small part of why black folks are so tired all the time.

Play acting takes a lot out of a race.

Thus, we have always needed white saviors; those who sit high, look low and have ghetto passes that never expire.

Your Jesus, for example.

Eminem, Bill Clinton, Warren Buffet and Quentin Tarantino also come to mind.

What all these men have in common is they each, within their own disciplines, have sacrificed their white privilege for the greater good at the risk of being called names they weren’t born under because they possess vision. 

And they have this vision because they have been afforded opportunities to woodshed, explore, invest, take risks, re-invest and ultimately pursue.

At least three of them have so closely aligned themselves with not just black folks but with black -as they are precisely what Norman Mailer described in “The White Negro” in 1959:

So there was a new breed of adventurers, urban adventurers who drifted out at night looking for action with a black man’s code to fit their facts. The hipster had absorbed the existentialist synapses of the Negro, and for practical purposes could be considered a white Negro.

This may seem, 54 years, three major assassinated black American martyrs and one biracial president later, like a slam or like ghettoization by association, but it is the highest compliment and it pre-dates modern academic deconstructions of white appropriation by a generation.

The absolute master at what Mailer describes is and always has been Tarantino.

And not merely for the lashings he takes for putting the -a/-er in his characters’ mouths in his movies.

He has a genuine affectation that moves him closer to blackness than the shenanigans and caricatures of the fools in Soul Plane; there is something about the totality of his once-and-sometimes-still outsider status — yes, even as a white-skinned man — that fearless black folks respond to and therefore Tarantino, in turn, has become kin with them/us.

I am not bothered when I see him in a Wu-Tang hoodie and a backward Kangol. That feels genuine. I am, however, bothered — no, enraged — when a monied white man asks me multiple questions about crack cocaine at a cocktail party. (It happened. Yet another lynching story.)

Those, you see, are two vastly different ways of scoring black points, and Tarantino has them to spare while that other fool really does not want them — he just enjoys the colored driveby and the titters his questions might elicit from other, likewise, frightened and ignorant whites within earshot.

There is a nearly inexplicable chemical response occurring within the physiologies of black folks who pay good, recession-era money to see a movie that spews the -er version of the word 108 times and that is the first in my lifetime and my memory to depict the treachery, backroom dealings, intra-racial crabs-in-a-barrel class strata, bloodlust violence and the ensuing insanity of slavery so unapologetically it seems surreal.

Seeing that movie publicly is like asking to get your ass whipped in front of the good, well-meaning white people of Clifton on a perfectly fine, clear and cold winter day.

Walking out of Django: Unchained I realized every single cinematic depiction of slavery I’d been raised on — including and especially Roots — had been soft focused and spun into absolutes and nearly rangeless stereotypes.

I usually don’t like to see these kinds of movies in mixed company and wait, instead, for the DVD so I can cry, pause, pace, write sentences, or just be gobsmacked in the privacy of my bedroom, because in movie theaters white voyeurs like to watch blacks’ responses when the lights come up and then they think they’re doing race work.

Lazy niggas.

CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: letters@citybeat.com



01.11.2013 at 09:56 Reply

As a member of the "white folks" demographic your article identifies, I feel obligated to clear up an erroneous point your article makes. You state, "White folks want to say the (n) word soooo badly it's funny."

This is, of course, pure hyperbole. I believe that it would be safe to assume that I know just as many "white folks" as you, probably more, and I have rarely sensed from these "folk" an undying urge to spew forth with delight this type of ignorance, whether as an insult or lyric. I will not deny that it happens; I've also encountered this type of ignorance and hate from morons of all races.

So how is it that you praise "white saviors" (gag) for "sacrificing their white privilege" and see fit to grant them immunity from racist remarks? Truly, there is no honor in perpetrating or excusing this kind of bullshit, and I tire of hearing it explained away under the guise or art or social awareness. Many "white folk" feel as I do; perhaps you should broaden your social circle beyond "the good, well-meaning white people of Clifton".

Thank you.


01.11.2013 at 02:27

So, Mr. Heister, let's get this straight. When a person holds a position contrary to your own and gets it published, that's perpetrating bullshit? I mean, I guess so, right? They sound like the words of a simpleton stuck in his ways, yes, but in our vast written history, surely there are not myriad examples where you, Mister, are without a doubt in the right?

Though, some might call bullshit on denouncing a writer's credibility by suggesting you know more people of a certain demographic than they do without any sane measure of proof. Congrats on not being afraid of falling on your face, pulling a fourth-rate trump card and adding stuff of true merit to the discourse.

It takes courage to approach subject matter as hefty and controversial as deciding who can and who can't use the N word, and thanks to Mr. Tarantino it is also topical. On a layman level it's a sticky discourse with possibly no end. Here's to Ms. Wilson sticking her neck out, initiating a forum with no small amount of grace, lightheartedness, a few small jabs and some solemn introspection. 

Ignorance and hate don't come from morons, they are human conditions that can be overcome. Irrational blog comments can come from morons though--if you don't know what hyperbole means, don't use it in a sentence.

"an undying urge to spew forth with delight this type of ignorance"...touché, sir. 

As the second white dude to respond to this blog post, I have to agree with Wilson's assertion. I desperately wish I could use the N word. Albeit the -a variety. To be granted that privelege would be a form of granted absolution, forgiveness, if you will. Because there is a guilt that comes with knowing it's inappropriate for me to say, but not for other people. Well, black people. Empathy can only go so far, so I think it's safe to say that even the most objective or socially educated white people can not actually comprehend the weight of the word. I'd venture even the liscence granted to writers composing characters, like Mr. Tarantino can not 100 percent flesh it out. It isn't our word. It never will be. I should backtrack or at least clarify. When I say I wish I could say the N word, I'm really saying I wish it didn't exist at all and could disappear from our collective vocabulary. It's so volitile. That too, however, is probably a somewhat misguided vision for disappating tensions. Canundrums this big don't just go away!

I'd like to end by echoing the sentiment expressed in Heister's response. Maybe, yes, we could all afford to expand our social circles in Cincinnati. Easier said than done, but if I might suggest, Washington Park is a good place to start!


01.14.2013 at 10:30