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Thursday, November 23, 2006

New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Stanley Crouch: The hate factory

New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Stanley Crouch: The hate factory:
The hate factory

N-word outburst adds to the denigration
that passes as entertainment

When "Seinfeld" comedian Michael Richards lost his cool and began a racist rant at some noisy customers in a Hollywood comedy club, it seemed to surprise a number of people. It shouldn't. What is actually surprising is that it has taken this long for some airhead made famous by a very popular but insipid television series to flip out within the context of today's minstrel entertainments.

Naturally, a lawyer representing the affronted audience members did not feel that it was enough for Richards to apologize on television; he still needs to pay them some money for what they had to suffer at his hands.

The question, however, is what exactly did the patrons suffer?

What they actually suffered, if anything, was an unintended caricature of a redneck in heated rage, expressing conventional disdain for black people. Richards said that 50 years ago, the black members of the noisy group of comedy club customers would have been hanged, and stabbed in the backside with a pitchfork. Before leaving the stage, Richards reminded the assembled that when it was all over, he would still be wealthy and the black people would still be, well, N-words.

The painfully unfunny comedian Paul Rodriguez performed on the same stage that evening and told the press that if one uses the N-word and is not African-American, a lot of explaining will have to be made.

In the interest of equality, no black comedian should get a pass when using insulting and denigrating words in the middle of an act. It all seems very simple to me. We do not need to accept the conventions of insult and denigration that have been established by black comedians and rappers.

And I do not feel that there should be a freedom of speech issue raised either. Nor do I feel that any laws need to be passed.

This was another moment to question what the ongoing vulgarization of our popular culture has actually come to mean. Two groups - women and black people - are disdainfully addressed and demeaned constantly. Only one has made any protest against being the constant butt of overstated vulgarity. White women have stood up against the misogyny in popular entertainment, but black people have not had much to say about the denigration.

Rap producers and others in the business of selling anything that gives a little spice to the minstrel content of our popular culture have been known to claim that the N-word has become a common means of expression and has taken on a universal understanding through rap. We can now be treated to young people of all ethnic groups referring to each other when using the word.

Does that prove anything? I think not. When Richard Pryor first made liberal use of the N-word, he could not have imagined what emerged in the wake of his performances. But when Pryor himself took a position against minstrel updates, no one listened to him. He had passed out the right of irresponsibility and could not take it back.

So what remains before us is the issue of coming to terms with a popular culture in which the N-word, bitches and hos have become no more than condiments in a particularly unappetizing meal. We need not ban their use, but we do need to face the fact that we have been hustled far more often than not.

Originally published on November 23, 2006

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