My Dear Readers,
At this year’s annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, African-American comedian Larry Wilmore recently ignited a firestorm after referring to President Obama as “my nigga.”
Needless to say, the response was immediate:
“Never before has the n-word been used to address the president. At least, not in public and most definitely not in his face. This is why Wilmore’s use of it was as shocking as it was disrespectful.”
-Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post
“A word that is one of the worst words, many people say, you could say to anyone.”
-April Ryan, American Urban Radio Networks
“Many African-Americans in the room, including civil rights leaders and other black comedians, were appalled …. Black Republicans were upset, black Democrats were upset. People felt that he not only threw the slur at the President, but at them as well, and in doing so, he diminished the office of the presidency and himself. Did he cross the line?”
Not so, according to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest:
- “What I would say is that it’s not the first time that people on the Monday after the White House correspondents’ dinner have observed that the comedian on Saturday night crossed the line.”
- “I had the opportunity to speak to the president about this briefly this morning and he said that he appreciated the spirit of the sentiments that Mr. Wilmore expressed.”
- “I take Mr. Wilmore at his word that he found that to be a powerful transformation just in his lifetime and something that he seemed to be pretty obviously proud of.”
- “I’m confident that Mr. Wilmore used the word by design- he was seeking to be provocative- but I think any reading of his comments make clear that he was not using the president as the butt of a joke. “
- “The White House did not see or vet Wilmore’s remarks before they were delivered but he (Earnest) felt they came from “a genuine place.”
My heart goes out to the press secretary. After all, he is putting out a blazing firestorm with an empty bucket.
Josh Earnest, a middle class white male with little to no experience in dealing with African-American culture, is now in a position where he has to interpret and downplay the traumatic impact of one prominent black man publicly calling another prominent black man, in this case, the President of the United States of America, “my nigga.” How can a white middle-class male explain away the event?
The answer depends on who is listening. The press secretary, having never had any experience with the term, can only provide an intellectualized response. Other white people, just like him, simply nod their heads, silently watch the firestorm unfold, and wonder when it will go away.
The black middle class, however, knows differently. They will still listen politely to Earnest’s explanations, but they know firsthand the psychological impact of being called a “nigger,” and they too want this event to go quietly away.
“Why do we do we, as a community, continue to hold onto this horrible event?” The middle-class black patient sitting on my couch asks me. With immense compassion, I reply, “Because we are a traumatized people and trauma is a permanent fixture that never, ever goes away.”
The patient looked at me as if I’d slapped his mother and burst into tears. He got it. He is now on a journey of self-discovery where he can now begin the healing of his own traumatic wounds associated with and triggered by, Wilmore’s use of that word.
A white colleague and Seattle trial attorney Mike Maxwell suggests the following:
“I think it was great for a black audience, but not for the general audience. Wilmore forgot who he was speaking to.”
My colleague Mike Maxwell is an excellent trial attorney with the firm Maxwell & Graham, and very knowledgeable in race-based trauma and discrimination law. However, he is wrong here. Larry Wilmore knew exactly the audience he was speaking to.
In calling out to Obama as “my nigga”, I submit that Larry Wilmore purposefully did so specifically for the black community. But, why:
- Was it payback?
- Was it an attempt to embarrass, humiliate or shame the community?
- Was it an opportunity to educate?
- Was it an attempt to create dialogue or bring into context the implications of using the N word?
As of this writing, Larry Wilmore has not yet commented on the reaction to his remarks. As a comedian with the object to impact others, his work is done. Now it is up to others, to either respond to this or allow this opportunity to drift into silence. Given this, what do we know?
- What is the definition of the N word?
- Why is this word so impactful?
- Why is it acceptable for one group to use this tern and not acceptable for other groups to use this terms.
- Under what guidelines should the N word be used?
The N word (two definitions):
- The word “nigger” has been used as a strongly negative term for contempt for a black person since at least the 18th Today, it remains one of the most racially offensive words in the English language. This word is so heavily laden that an edition of the Mark Twain classic “Huckleberry Finn” censored it, replacing it with slave. For many people this is a horribly offensive, racist word that should never be said by anyone.
- For others, particularly younger African-Americans—this is a casual word that has been reinvented and means something akin to man, brother, or buddy. Because it is such a charged word, saying “the n-word” instead of the term itself is common. In this setting, the word is used by black Americans in reference to other black Americans in a neutral manner as a term of endearment, and self-reference, and is only to be used by Black Americans.
So now that the word has been reinvented, was Wilford in calling Obama, “my nigga,” was he actually saying to him “my slave,” “my man,” my buddy,” or “my brother”? Does changing or reinventing the word remove, revise, reframe or reform the psychological traumatic experiences of shame, degradation and humiliation endured by African-Americans over the last 400 years?
There is a growing desire in the media and the black intelligentsia to scapegoat Larry Wilmore. However, he is not responsible for a firestorm that has been burning underground for three centuries, a firestorm that touches down ever so now and then. As individuals, we are responsible for healing the pain and suffering that prevents us from living our own emotionally healthy lives.
We can only do so by acknowledging that black Americans are a psychologically traumatized people. In essence, we are no different from others who simply seek to work hard, provide for our families and be law-abiding citizens. However it is time that we begin the process of psychological healing from this complex generational trauma.
Some individuals will utilize their reactions to this event as a wakeup call and begin to work healing their own psychological trauma. Trauma is a permanent fixture on the psychological self, so the objective is not to rid yourself of the experience, but to learn how to heal, balance the injury, and carry the experience and continue to walk the journey we know as LIFE.
Some will continue to reside in a closed and isolated system. They will continue to enjoy the success and privileges of black middle class life, hidden away, suffering in silence until the next firestorm, which is no doubt waiting for its turn to create more psychological havoc and injury.
I am deeply ingratiated to Larry Wilmore for having the courage to ignite this particular firestorm at such a public event, but I strongly disagree with the use of the N word in any form. Any word that is developed to stripped a person of his or her human dignity cannot be reinvented or redeem to form or define goodness.
As a child growing up in the segregated South, the very worst thing one black person could ever say to another is in the context of “you are acting like a nigger.” Such a statement generated waves of shame, disgrace and humiliation. If said within a group of people, silence and condemnation permanently followed that individual.
Neither Black Americans using that word as a term of endearment nor replacing that word in classic literary works reduces the psychological injury I, as an individual, have endured. I am neither a nigger nor a slave. I am who and what I am. I am a descendent of a chained people forced here to work the land for the benefit of others.
I will define myself. I am the son of Federal Police Officer (ret) Theodore T. & Mary Kane. My name is Dr. Micheal Kane. I am a Clinical Traumatolgoist & Forensic Evaluator.
“You can only be destroyed by believing that you are what white world calls a nigger.”
-James Baldwin, Author
Until the next crossroads…the journey continues.