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`KRAMER' AND THE N-WORD DOUBLE STANDARD.

Byline: EARL OFARI HUTCHINSON

FORMER ``Seinfeld'' star Michael Richards quickly bowed to public pressure and apologized for his boneheaded, n-word-laced diatribe against black customers who heckled him during his recent appearance at Hollywood's Laugh Factory. But Richards was a soft target. He's a white man who sprinted way over the line of racial etiquette. It was a no-brainer that blacks would rage against him. They have done the same against the legion of other white celebrities, politicians and public figures caught with their racial pants down.

When the predictable firestorm hits, the offenders backpedal fast, say their mea culpas and declare they're not racist.

The same can't be said for the legion of black comedians and rappers who have virtually canonized the n-word. They sprinkle the term throughout their rap lyrics and jokes. Black writers and filmmakers go through lengthy gyrations to justify their own use of the word.

During a panel discussion at the Summer Television Critics Association tour in 2005, Aaron McGruder -- creator of the popular ``Boondocks'' comic strip -- defiantly told the audience that he used the n-word as much as he pleased in his comic strip and in his series on the Cartoon Network's ``Adult Swim.'' If folks don't like it, well, tough.

McGruder and other black n-word users serve up the lame rationale that the more a black person uses the term, the less offensive it becomes. They claim that they are cleansing the n-word of its negative connotations so that racists can no longer use it to hurt blacks.

Comedian-turned-activist Dick Gregory had the same idea some years ago when he titled his autobiography ``Nigger.'' Black writer Robert DeCoy also tried to apply the same racial shock therapy to whites when he titled his novel ``The Nigger Bible.'' The black n-word apologists tick off an endless storehouse of defenses to rationalize using the slur. They claim that that it is a term of endearment or affection. Others use it in anger or disdain. Still others are defiant. They say they don't care what a white person calls them since words can't harm them.

But the apologists forget, ignore or distort one thing: Words are not value-neutral. They express concepts and ideas. Often, words reflect society's standards.

If racism is a deep-rooted standard in American life, then a term as emotionally charged as the n-word will always reinforce and perpetuate stereotypes. It can't be sanitized, cleansed, inverted or redeemed as a culturally liberating word.

``Nigger'' can't and shouldn't be made acceptable, no matter whose mouth it comes out of or what excuse is tossed out for using it. There are still dozens of daily examples where whites (and other nonblacks) taunt and harass blacks by calling them the n-word; spray-paint the slur on their homes, businesses and churches; physically assault and even murder them. In the FBI's annual count of hate crimes in America, blacks still make up the overwhelming majority of victims.

The n-word reigns supreme at the top of the stack as the favorite racial epithet hurled at blacks during these crimes. Even when the word isn't used, the sentiment is that blacks are still fair game to be abused and dehumanized, and the n-word reinforces that belief.

The word is and will always have grotesque and deadly meaning to them. And, even if some blacks do occasionally go off the deep end and wrongly harangue whites for using the word, maybe that's because the term pricks agonizing historical and social sores.

In all fairness, a handful of black activists has waged war against the n-word. There's a Web site that hawks T-shirts and DVDs exhorting blacks, especially young blacks, to solemnly pledge not to use the word or patronize anyone who puts out products that use the word. Presumably that's aimed at those rappers and writers who have turned the n-word into a lucrative growth industry.

But they have been the exception. Blacks have been more than willing to give other blacks who use the word a pass. The indulgence sends the subtle signal that the n-word is hardly the earth-shattering, illegitimate word that its black and white opponents brand it.

Richards gave no public hint before his profane outburst that he was a closet bigot who routinely used the word in reference to blacks. But he didn't have to. The obsessive use of and the tortured defense of the word by so many blacks gave Richards the license to use the word without any thought that there would be any blow back for doing it.

Richards was terribly wrong and got publicly called out for it. The blacks who use and defend the n-word should be called out, too.

Who's willing to do that?
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Title Annotation:Viewpoint
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 26, 2006
Words:782
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