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