Alondra Nelson spoke on Monday; what did you learn? How did her talk connect to our discussion of health care? Why is this history so important?
Self-proclaimed comedian Lisa Lampanelli has once again proven her fondness for back-door racism by referring to creator of the hit HBO series Girls, Lena Dunham, as her “n***a” on Twitter. That in and of itself is nothing spectacular, but her pathetic, self-serving attempts at justifying her vocabulary choice have probably been her funniest — unintentional — jokes to date.
And I don’t mean funny ha-ha; I mean funny as in she sounds like a damn idiot.
Undeniably, calling a woman b***h as an endearment is another problematic conversation worth having; but today, let’s deal with the most combustible issue. From The Huffington Post to XOJane, Lampanelli has recycled the same tired, misguided rhetoric that some black people use to justify re-purposing plantation language as a show of camaraderie — namely, that the use of an “a” instead of an “er” makes the word acceptable. She told The Huffington Post:
“The N-word ending in ‘er’ is far different context from the word ending in ‘a.’ Ask any person who knows the urban dictionary, it means ‘friend,'” she said. “And by the way, if I had put the word ending in ‘er,’ that would have been a very derogatory thing about Lena meaning she is less than me, and I view her as very above me. ‘A’ on the end means ‘my friend.'””I’ve played every comedy club and every theatre across the country for the last 25 years and seen a lot of audience members from different ethnic persuasions,” she continued. “I have been using these words since I started in comedy and guess what, people? I won’t stop anytime soon, just because your ass is up on Twitter. I have always used in my act every racial slur there is for Asians, blacks, gays, and Hispanics. To me, it’s acceptable if the joke is funny and if it is said in a context of no hate. It’s about taking the hate out of the word.”
You may be asking yourselves right now, “Did she really refer to the Urban Dictionary to get a more comprehensive grasp of “n****r” etiquette?” Why, yes; yes, she did.
“… because I have, I think, over 800 likes of it on Instagram, I forget the number, I have to look it up. But here’s the thing, I’m not being pejorative, I’m not being dismissive, but I have to say I don’t care. And you wanna know why I don’t care? ‘Cause the minute a comic starts caring about every single person’s opinion, they become watered down, and horrible, and have no sense of relevance whatsoever.”
So, Lampanelli doesn’t care about feedback when it’s negative, but when it’s positive, she presents it as Exhibit A to prove that she can’t be racist because Instagram followers “liked” her photo?
Apparently, she never once considering that those 800-plus followers may very well be as simple –minded and thirsty for attention as she is. And while it should have been easy to just shake my head and keep it moving past another lost, white woman so in love with the idea of “all black everything” that she refers to her friends as “n****s” (Hi, Gwyneth), I realized that I just couldn’t indulge her delusional fantasies of bold, groundbreaking humor. Spouting the word “n***a” on social media — or any of the other racist language that she loves — then claiming that she was in character and would never say it in her day-to-day life, doesn’t make Lampanelli a fearless comic — it makes her a coward. In real time, she is trying to figure out whether it’s best for publicity to spin her use of the word as endearing or risque, when all she really needs to do is have a nice, tall glass of shut-up.
For many black people, myself included, the word “n***a” is not an endearment, but a word riddled with hypocrisy and internalized hatred. White women don’t get to sit in their Ivory Towers and tell black people how we should feel about bastardized language historically spewed to demean us; they certainly don’t get to browse through the Urban Dictionary and educate us on how we should collectively feel when, emboldened through its acceptance into pop culture, they grant themselves permission to fling it around at will. For better or worse, that is our debate. As a community, black people continue to struggle with the rules and regulations created to harness the ugly power of the word. We are still trying to build a foundation of cultural pride within our youth strong enough to withstand the commercialized hip-hop industry that tells them they are n****s every, single day — and not as in friend, but as in pen…itentiary.
Lisa Lampanelli is to comedy what the Tea Party is to patriotism. And for her to think that she has the right to progress a racial dialogue that has never affected her in any way, shape or form — other than a few extra Twitter mentions and a spin around the news cycle — solidifies her position as one of the most ridiculous people on the planet. She needs to understand that she is not knocking down any walls nor shattering any ceilings by frivolously parroting the word “n***a;” in fact, by doing so, she accomplishes just the opposite, rendering herself nothing more than a walking cliché. In her haste to appear fearless and post-racial, she merely becomes another white person who feels that minimizing the emotional heft that the term “n***a/er” carries grants her inclusion into a circle that she would otherwise not be allowed into — no matter how many times she mentions that she played the Apollo Theater or had sex with black men.
Using the word “n***a” to refer to Lena Dunham (who has her own black people issues as discussed in an insightful, thoughtful piece by Rebecca Carroll) doesn’t make her bold or funny or shocking or different; in this hipster America, it makes her basic and typical and boring. To then pat herself on the back for standing up to black people and their “f**king phony semantics bullsh*t” like she’s Mitt Romney threatening to repeal Obamacare at the NAACP convention, makes her her own funniest punchline to date.
As Paul Mooney said, “Everybody wants to be a n***a, but don’t nobody wanna be a n***a.”
The dismissive, condescending tone of “I’m white, so I can say whatever the hell I want and you will deal” while simultaneously trying to fold into black culture is not groundbreaking — it’s sad and embarrassingly unoriginal. Hopefully Lampanelli has some real friends (not 800-plus Instagram followers) who will tell her that — and soon — before she becomes more of a joke than she already is.
An earlier version of this article appeared on HelloBeautiful.com
Killing people of color just for being a suspected threat is a total outrage for liberals. Well, sometimes
Since the reelection of President Obama, liberals have made some bold admissions. Commentators like Touré Neblett of MSNBC’s The Cycle have enthusiastically and repeatedly defended the president’s authority to launch drones against anyone, including American citizens, if he suspects that they are “trying to kill us.”
At no point in his several defenses did Touré reconcile his position with once-popular Constitutional precepts that every person should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and know the charges and evidence against him, and have the right to a fair trial. Neither did he explain why ordinary Americans should suspend their longstanding skepticism of politicians in power or withdraw the demand that the president and Congress be accountable for their actions, especially the taking of someone’s life.
Sadly, Touré isn’t alone in trusting the president’s complete discretion to decide which individuals are threats to American safety. Other liberals, from Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, to Touré’s MSNBC colleague Krystal Ball, to liberal bloggers also admit to a higher level of comfort with President Obama’s overseeing of otherwise troubling policies such as secret kill lists, targeted killings, and preemptive detentions of suspected terrorists. They are joined by 54% of Americans, who agree that the Obama Administration should have the discretion to kill anyone alleged to be senior al-Qaeda members.
The hoopla has been described by other pundits, liberal and conservative, as hypocrisy or, more accurately, shameless political double standards. Why exculpate a Democratic president for the same troubling, and extrajudicial, policies once engaged in by a Republican president? They’re right, of course. But there’s another double standard to worry about: one that assumes brown/black foreigners shouldn’t receive the same benefit of the doubt about their guilt that is regularly given to other Americans. It can only be ascribed to a racial double standard, one consistent with an aggressive jingoism.
The same racial double standard is exemplified by the deep American indifference to the fact that the subjects of targeted killings, kill lists, no-fly lists, preemptive detentions, and FBI-led entrapments are almost always brown and black foreign nationals, despite the murkiness of the reasons for which the U.S. designates someone a terrorist. As Scott Shane of the New York Times describes in this PBS interview, the criteria by which names are placed on various kill lists or drone lists vary. Regarding drone strikes, although the Administration suggests that they only target members of al-Qaeda, neither they nor the CIA have felt a need to provide evidence of this. We know generally that an able-bodied, military-age male, who is 16 or older, in the “strike target area” constitutes a legitimate target. And that criterion is fairly shaky to begin — or end — with.
When the casualties are young kids taking part in a wedding celebration in Yemen, the indifference is reflected in the claim that their deaths are accidental. Collateral damage. Despite the inaccuracy of the term, most liberals buy the answer.
The American indifference turns to murmurs of indignation when the casualties are 16-year-old American kids who are the sons of irresponsible fathers, in the inspiring comments of presidential advisor Robert Gibbs (see this link beginning at 2:08). Sometimes, the indifference turns into a derisive cheer when it turns out that the targets of assassinations are brown American citizens. In the inspiring words of Touré, those Americans who join al-Qaeda “should be killed.” And they certainly “shouldn’t expect Constitutional protections.” Yet there is widespread evidence that American Muslims make up a negligible percentage of suspected terrorists.
The racial double standard is exemplified in the general American indifference over the deaths of foreign nationals or brown American citizens, in contrast to the rightful outrage over the needless killings of many other young African American men and women — from Trayvon Martin to the multiple state-led attempts to execute Warren Hill, a mentally disabled prisoner on death row in Georgia, and Hadiya Pendleton, a recent victim of gun violence.
Racism is unacceptable for American liberals. But many critics of racism are surprisingly comfortable with a jingoist foreign policy, even when it includes the deaths of Pakistani and Yemeni toddlers. Jingoism is just another word for extra-national racism, made acceptable by the constant references to American safety and freedom. The ubiquitous existence of the U.S. Homeland is evoked through the Orwellian Department of Homeland Security, whose function of policing the borders hardly repels the troubling resonance with the German homeland. We see further iterations of the Homeland on a daily basis, from DHS’s “See Something, Say Something” public campaign (the DHS video is a must-see, especially for its scary music and self-conscious inversion of racial stereotypes of terrorists and victims) to its federally imposed Secure Communities program. Both gratuitously justify racial suspicion as an integral part of national security and mutually reinforce the message that America is under radical threat at the national and local levels. Those messages are entrenched in the DHS’s massive deportation of 1.5 million immigrants under a Democratic president, and its periodic use of undocumented migrants as target practice. Indeed, that is the Department of Homeland Security’s figurative and functional purpose: the constant symbolic, penal, and lethal reinforcement of the boundaries of the Homeland.
We see reinforcement of the Homeland ideal in other dimensions as well, such as in the profiling of Latinos and other dark populations in the anti-immigration laws of various states. The latest expression of the Homeland can be seen in the newly minted partnership between Yale University and the Department of Defense. Giving each partner a mutual elite imprimatur, they will jointly host a training center where US Special Forces agents will learn new interrogation techniques by experimenting upon the dark immigrant residents of New Haven. The director of the center will be psychiatry professor Charles Morgan, who, as Democracy Now reports, previously conducted research on how to tell whether Arab and Muslim men were lying.
Over the last decade, the Homeland has become an explicit framework that normalizes the militarization of society — especially for darker men and women, who have become used to having their dignity violated through requests for their ‘papers,’ or by being subjected to questioning or frisks at airports and on city streets. Through the Homelandish mindset, many Americans have become immune to the need to respect the humanity and lives of dark foreigners.
After 11 years of vigorously reinforcing those boundaries internally and externally, we’ve forgotten that killing folks outside our nation — without accountability and compelling evidence — amounts to an aggressive xenophobia, which is a heinous racism hiding behind the pretense of “national security.”
Consider the following description by progressive House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in defending the Obama Administration policy of targeted killings.
“…The values on the other side are not there. This is their life’s work to go to heaven — not to put down their beliefs, but the fact is, we don’t have a shared respect for life.”
Which “they”? Which “we”? Someone needs to remind Rep. Pelosi of sociologist Charles Kurzman’s findings, cited in multiple news sources, in which he points out that radical Muslims pose little threat to Americans. Others, such as Glenn Greenwald, have pointed out that continual extrajudicial killings and other aggressive foreign policies engender much more hostility, hatred and violence than they quell.
It is reminiscent of the conservative logic behind the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The same logic was spouted by Army Lt. General William Boykin, a senior Pentagon official under the Bush Administration. In 2003, he defended the incursion into Iraq by insisting that “We are a Christian Nation leading a war against Satan.” Boykin’s phrase was reported by the New York Times as having been praised by Donald Rumsfeld, then defense secretary.
When liberals uncritically parrot the racist responses given by conservatives, what is left to differentiate ourselves? Pelosi’s response is a microcosm of a larger liberal issue: the tendency of racially progressive liberals to accept troubling policies like the kill list and targeted killings when they learn of the president’s support for them.
“[W]e also should ask ourselves the question recently posed on twitter by @public_archive: ‘Trayvon was executed because of a perceived threat; US launches target assassinations because of perceived threats. Both are somehow legal?’” Unfortunately, they are.
“We should be outraged at all of these deaths. Trayvon Martin, Adbulrahman al-Awlaki, his cousin, and the countless civilians — so-called terrorist targets — who are victims of a US policy of drone strikes and who have no recourse to the law, and no appeal to human decency.”
I would add: We should be vigorously challenging the racial double standard implicit in the endorsement of Obama Administration policies such as kill lists, targeted killings, and other clearly racist foreign policy measures. We should be demanding proof of guilt rather than placing blind faith in any president’s demand for unilateral authority or discretion.
As Pierre argues:
“Our righteous indignation and anger over the Trayvon Martin murder has to stretch beyond our community to consider a global humanity — and especially the nonwhite victims of US militarism and racism. We must pause and reflect on the injustice of the US government’s extrajudicial assassinations, and the fact that the Obama administration has claimed the right to kill people in multiple countries around the world whenever it wants.”
Skepticism, not trust, is needed in the face of the current administration’s national security and counterterrorism policies. Liberals must start to become more critical of the constant warnings about a “wolf” in “national security” clothing. Just because a president they like is calling for targeted killings doesn’t make the policy any less troubling — politically or racially.
Falguni A. Sheth, a professor of philosophy and political theory at Hampshire College, writes about politics, race, and feminism at translationexercises.wordpress.com. Follow her on Twitter: @FalguniSheth.
Please watch President Obama’s speech below and go here to listen to Dr. Melissa Harris Perry’s response here
After you have watched, please reflect on what each is saying here, how this relates to our discussions of family, notions of innocence, the role of government, how race and class impacts discussions of family? Do you agree with Dr. Harris- Perry’s response? Why or why not
Conversation ended March 31, 2013
Scenario: You are a single parent living in Pullman. You work full time (40 hours a week) at a local fast food restaurant and make approximately $18,803.00 a year before taxes and other standard deductions (at WA’s minimum wage $9.04). Your annual net salary (what you take home) is around $13,000. You have two kids, ages 3 and 5. According to Federal guidelines, the minimum poverty threshold for a family of 3 is $18,530.00, which means you make too much money to qualify for financial assistance. That means that given Washington’s minimum wage (the highest in the nation), you and your children do not qualify for Head Start, food stamps, welfare checks, subsidized housing, subsidized childcare, or any other federal aid program.
Task: Based on that information, create a monthly budget for your family. Be sure to account for the following: • groceries • rent (in town, $700 for a two bedroom house/apt; out of town $450.00 for the same deal—if you choose to live out of town, you have no option but to own a car and incur in the expenses associated with it as listed below) • car payments/maintenance (if you wish not to have a car, you will need a bus pass—monthly expense $14 for you and $10 per child, a total expense of $408.00 a year). • car insurance • health insurance (no less than $3,000.00 a year for the three of you) • life insurance • gas • child care • utilities • electricity • phone/cell • garbage collection • water • cable • Internet connection • clothing for you and the children • entertainment • school supplies for older child • savings account • children’s College 529 Plans • retirement for you ‘
Things to consider: (1) Some of the things I listed above are optional (e.g., entertainment and cable), but others are definitely not. (2) Although things like clothing and school supplies are not needed on a monthly basis, you still need to budget for them, as this is a yearly salary. Even if you only buy them once or twice a year. (3) Give realistic numbers, for this is a real budget and a real situation for way too many people in our state/country. Finally: That is all the money you have. No “my parents sent me money,” and no “I won the lottery.”
For most people in this situation, those are not real options. In space below, provide a budget and provide explanation for what you spent money on, why, what issues you thought about; reflect on process
Thanks to Carmen Lugo-Lugo, who created this assignment
Last day to participate March 15