If a white man says you're a house nigger…

Business first. Check this month’s piece for the Black Sports Network. I’m there once a month, and a “good lookin’ out” to David Cole for that.
Mailing list link is still down, but shoot me an e-mail and I’ll add you.
Gotten lots of questions about the regularity of updates. I’m writing this to pass some time, waiting for writer’s block to subside and/or motivation to get back to the office arrives. If this becomes the impetus for blogging, this thing will read like War and Peace in a week and a half. But, my expectation is for every week and a half or so.
Also, got the new ones from The Roots and Devin the Dude. Recommending both. And I recommend The Roots particularly to those that were turned off by that damn Phrenology (Aden, where you at?). Where Phrenology proved they can be weirder than anyone imagined, The Tipping Point reaffirmed that tey can be as good as it gets when they’re on a roll. As for Devin, it’s what you expect–good, profane fun. Not as hot as Just Tryin’ Ta Live, but it’ll do the job.
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I’m not too keen on white people using the word “nigga.” I’ve configured my own spell check to recognize it as a word, but it’s not a privilege I’m sharing with everyone. But when I heard Ted Rall referred to Condoleezza Rice as a “house nigga,” it was pants-pissing time.

That’s right, that’s funny. Really funny. Choke on a pretzel funny.
And that was before I saw the strip. It’s also got some doozies on Rummy, Colin, and Dick. Helluva trio when their names are rearranged in a few patterns.
But let’s think about this for a second…a white man has just referred to Rice as a house nigga. Aaron McGruder, who is employed by the same syndicate, doesn’t even use nigga in his strips (though he has used it to refer to himself at fancy dinners, and I love him for that). But a white man, one with a degree from Columbia, feels comfortable enough to refer to Rice as such.
Well, for one, she would be a house nigger, not nigga. The nuance of that would take too long to explain fully, but I’m sure iz could do so with more clarity and more panache that me.
So switch “nigga” to “nigger,” and Rall is right. Not quite a novel observation, particularly since that sentiment has been echoed in most barbershops in America (especially the ones with a shawty that does cornrows on Tuesdays and Thursdays). It also wouldn’t be a novel observation for me to say that the sky is blue.
But if Stevie Wonder said the sky is blue, that would be something, wouldn’t it?
(And one day, I’ll put something up on why I’m not convinced that Stevie’s blindness isn’t a hoax perpetrated by Berry Gordy).
House nigger is a term that doesn’t come up too much in mixed company. Perhaps white people use it a lot when I’m not around–I’m really skinny, but people know what’s up when it comes to that one–but I just can’t imagine white folks saying house nigger, and I really can’t see them saying so in a derisive way. As most people think of it, the only thing as good as a house nigger is the George Foreman Grill. And if your house nigger is ambitious, then why would you need a Foreman? So for any white man, even one as decidedly liberal as Rall, to refer to Rice as such, she must be doin’ that dance like it’s going out of style.
Picture someone doing the Tootsee Roll on New Year’s Eve ’93.
I prefer to call Rice the uber-coon (and for an unreleased piece from teh archives that explains this, send me an e-mail). Her behavior defies conventional slang. I can’t expect Rall to get too adventurous with his racial slurs–he might be twice my size, for all I know, but he knows what’s up when it comes to that–so he must thinks she’s really on some shit to put that down in print.
A white man has called her a house nigger. I had to type that again, just because it’s so incredible.
And he’s right. At least he’s right in the most common uses of the word. My colleague Jelani Cobb can give you more of the subtleties of real house niggers (of which there have been none since abolition, I hope), but she’s definitely a house nigger in the way we think of it.
That’s the context in which Malcolm used it. Yes, a white man is agreeing with Malcolm X. And Malcolm might agree with him.
Kinda like Reagan would agree with Bill Cosby, but that’s neither a whole ‘nother post.
An aside–I’m not going to explain here why she’s a house nigger. If one doesn’t think that about her already, then there’s nothing I can say that would generate substantive discourse. Mostly because I can’t fathom any strong argument against that, and weak arguments make my head hurt. But should you be unfamiliar with Dr. Rice, shoot me a note and I’ll rattle off some examples house-ish behavior. And if you’ve got a strong argument on why she’s not a house nigger, click the comments page at the bottom.
It’s silly of me to expect Condi to cut all that shit out based upon one comic, but I can hope, right?
I’ll put it on my list for Santa, right after Serena Williams.
To defend her honor, the black conservatives have jumped up. Here’s a quote from Michael King, a member of an organization I’ve never heard of…
“Is it OK for Ted Rall to use such vile language because he’s using it against a black conservative? I’m beside myself with anger over this comic.”
Chill out, Clarence. I’m more concerned with whether it’s OK for Condi to be a house nigger.
BTW, it’s not.
Buddy had more to say…
“From radical poet Amiri Baraka to singer Harry Belafonte and now cartoonist Ted Rall, too many people feel they have free rein to insult the dignity of Condoleezza Rice and have no problem injecting race into that abuse. It’s time for the civil rights establishment to stop allowing this assault on an accomplished black woman or they put their credibility at risk.”
So he refers to the civil rights establisment as “they”? At the risk of sounding like G-Dub, when it comes to black folks and the movement, you’re with it or you’re not. It’s hard for me to find much grey in this one. So if this cat is opposed to them, it sounds like he might roll with that other them.
Running with that them makes crying Racism sound awfully wolfish.
And is there any guarantee that being called a house nigger will offend her dignity? Must not digress…even on my own blog.
Rall has touched on a vagary of language’s evocative properties, though. Is it the same thing for a white man to call one of us “nigger” as it is for a white man to have a character in a strip refer to herself as a “house nigger,” which is a much more nuanced term than the simple slur? I’ll let you know when I come up with a good answer for that one.
I ain’t sayin that Ted should do this again, but I’m just not riled up over it this time.
But maybe this is simply a reflection of my own hypocrisy. It can be hard for me to wade through utter disdain and find my principles when someone’s dissin a person I absolutely abhor.
Plus, she is a house nigger. So much of one that a white man can see it.
What more can I say?
How ’bout that irony and my playlist have just collided? As that last character was inputted, “Monkey Man” by the Stones came on my playlist.
That’s right, Jagger calling himself a monkey. A white man calling Condi a house nigger. You can’t make stuff like that up.
Up next…who knows. But at the suggestion of the Flat Rock Sensei, I see something about Toms in economics coming up in the near future. But before that, the travails of “For Myself and Others,” that new new, ain’t even came out yet column I’m working on.
Blogging’s gonna be fun…

13 comments on “If a white man says you're a house nigger…

  1. Killa Cal says:

    First of all I’ve been following your work since we graduated (especially on Page 2, big ups on that!). Plus, beyond the Honda thing I found out we have some mutual friends. You are doing truly big things man!
    Okay on to the entry itself. I have to agree with you as it pertains both to Ted Rall’s use of that term as well the conflict in using the n-word itself.
    I am pretty prolific in using the word nigga myself, but I’m also wary of people outside the race getting comfortable with it. I think you expressed most of my sentiments on the issue pretty accurately.
    I’m adding a link to you on my site and look forward to reading more of your work. Keep up the good work.

  2. Monique says:

    I completely agree that the Roots new CD is beyond wonderful. Thanks for having good music taste unlike the rest of these pseudo-Roots fans who thought Phrenology was the jump-off.

  3. Fred Batiste says:

    Bo…
    Now I know your affinity for Dr. Rice is very low. But you have to admit her “coonin'” is so obvious that a white man used the correct derrogatory term in describing Condi’s actions…

  4. Deah says:

    Hey Bomani… Deah from Spelman’s HCASC team here… Just wanted to drop you a line… I’m feeling what you just wrote. I will be back! take care

  5. Katrina says:

    hey bomani…katrina from spelman’s HCASC team…we still roll deep and things…i think i may be the ONLY person in the world not totally feeling tipping point, but i listen to illadelph halflife EVERYDAY. phrenology wasn’t great but “break you off” served its purpose. as far as the rice situation, i think it’s interesting as hell that one of the few “strong,” if you will, black women being thrown in our faces STILL isn’t about shit.

  6. Melissa says:

    Hey Bomani
    This is Melissa from Claflin’s HCASC team. You know I will always be a big fan of yours. I am truly feeling what you just wrote. Continue to keep me posted.
    Mel

  7. JPhillipBryant says:

    Hey Bomani…Julian from FAMU’s HCASC team…I got here via Killa…good to see that you are doing well. Interesting POV…it is hard to get mad at someone who states the obvious. Maybe I’d have a different reaction if he’d said it directly versus indirectly in a comic strip. But he didn’t, so I don’t.
    I’ll check out more of your work…be easy.

  8. Stephanie says:

    And just when I was staring to feel special . . . .this is Stephanie from Southern’s HSASC team. I see this as a tragedy (not the nigga, nigger thing), the one time that I black woman is THE most powerful person in the world, she has to be talking to a dumbass. (She just happens to be misguided and a house nigger. But I feel that’s an aside.) We all as black women are some where in corporate America at the water cooler or around the espresso machine laughing, cause not only did they let one in, that gives the rest of us hope that it CAN happen again. . . and maybe this time they will get it right. This is the number one reason we keep coming back to this triflin’ job. Feel the Geroge Forman thing. You know I think your like Chris Matthews only Black and right . .. and since he took your TV show’s name your going to have to think of a new one!!

  9. katrina says:

    so um, stephanie…ARE YOU SERIOUS?

  10. melissa says:

    dude, how many times in the ’90’s did we have to bob our heads to wu-tang and every other so-called enlightened rapper from the north…calm it down, man, “white t” is just a song…sure, the songs become redundant, but did you have to cut it up like that? i’m from atlanta, but i listen to music from every corner of the world and “crunk music” is just another variation…let “dem” boys do whatever “…in their white t” and shut the fuck up…i just got wind of your site and maybe i missed a rant you may have done on method man, but if anyone needs to be told to give up the ghost, it needs to me that dude for that crappy show…

  11. I see this as a tragedy (not the nigga, nigger thing), the one time that I black woman is THE most powerful person in the world, she has to be talking to a dumbass. (She just happens to be misguided and a house nigger.

  12. damn says:

    HAHAHA OH WOW you actually thought The Tipping Point was good?

  13. Tim says:

    So it’s okay for white people to call a black person a nigger as long as it’s a liberal white person doing it, right hypocrite?

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