Advice Goddess Blog
« Previous | Home | Next »

Backlash To The Future
Let's see more of this. Errol Louis writes in the New York Daily News of comedian Eddie Griffin getting bounced from the stage for using "the N-word" at a Black Enterprise event:

Griffin was 10 minutes into a comedy routine peppered with the N-word, asking the audience "Why are some black leaders telling us to stop using the N-word?"

An unexpected punch line came when Griffin's microphone suddenly went dead and Black Enterprise founder and bossman Earl Graves appeared onstage, like the fabled executioner at Harlem's Apollo Theater, to declare Griffin's set over and done with.

"We at Black Enterprise will not allow our culture to go backwards," said Graves. "Black Enterprise stands for decency, black culture and dignity and we will pay Mr. Griffin all that we owe him - but we will not allow him to finish the show if that's the way he's going to talk."

The crowd went wild. Graves got a standing ovation.

Griffin, who apparently wasn't finished making an ass of himself, reportedly wandered back onstage, hurled an obscenity at his audience and vanished.

Posted by aalkon at October 6, 2007 10:56 AM


It's all about context, isn't it? Griffin obviously should have found out more about his audience ahead of time, and chosen material to fit.

Back in the 60s I was once hired to do entertain at a fraternity banquet with material satirizing moral crusaders that I had been doing (successfully) at an avant garde coffee house. I knew nothing about fraternity banquets; the frat member that hired me didn't know enough. Only about a third of the audience was amused. The moral crusading third was offended, and the rest didn't get the point of the satire. Nobody pulled me off the dais, but the experience was disconcerting for everybody in the room.

Eventually, perhaps, the concept of race will fade in importance to the point where the n-word will no longer threaten the dignity or violate decency standards of Black Enterprise members. But then at that point, nobody with consider it important to have a separate association for black entrepreneurs.

Obviously we have a ways to go.

Posted by: Axman at October 6, 2007 6:11 AM

Oops! ". . . nobody *will* consider it important. . ."

Posted by: Axman at October 6, 2007 6:15 AM

But then at that point, nobody with consider it important to have a separate association for black entrepreneurs.

Great point.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 6, 2007 7:12 AM

I see what you mean, but it's not "all about context." The problem with the word nigger is that it portends violence and wretchedness in all contexts, not that it “threatens dignity” by being “important.” Apparently this is a Black Enterprise group that takes enterprise and seriously as blackness, and enterprising people are by nature not the type who enjoy wallowing in facetious pity.

I'm white so this is not entirely my call to make, but I think it would be great if the popular, Richard-Pryor-in-1976 style use of this word by black people came to a stop. Irony of that magnitude requires a more delicate kinda logic than you're likely to find in your average human being. This is the same reason you almost never hear the word “asshole” from the dais at a conference either, even though many of the people in the room could use it in private contexts without giving offense. It's too clumsy a tool for public use.

And if we get rid of it, the Imus types will be bereft.

Posted by: Crid at October 6, 2007 8:12 AM

...enterprise as seriously...

Posted by: Crid at October 6, 2007 8:14 AM

Perhaps the black Americans that have not yet been to Africa should go visit. Maybe they would have the same epiphany as Pryor, who promised to stop using the word 'nigger' from that point forward. To my memory, he never, at least during a performance, used that word again.

Posted by: brian at October 6, 2007 9:08 AM

This reminds me, for some reason, of the Tribe Called Quest song Sucka Niggaz, which was about their ambivalence (at the peak of the gangsta rap movement) about the casual use of that word:

"It means that we will never grow / You know the word dummy?"

It's a welcome development to hear a black forum oppose the use of the word nigger.

P.S. Midnight Marauders, the album those lyrics came from, is a must have for anyone who likes good hip-hop.

Posted by: justin case at October 6, 2007 2:25 PM

I'm waiting for Julie Andrews Does Death Metal.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 6, 2007 2:41 PM

Oh, I am so thrilled to hear these people stop using a word. /sarcasm

It does so much to keep thugs from shooting each other and young black women from single motherhood. I hope they're into that.

This guy Griffin wrecked a borrowed Ferrari Enzo, a sure sign of poor judgment. Italophiles want him dead for that.

Posted by: Radwaste at October 6, 2007 4:46 PM

Well, I think it's not just the word but being against such widespread glorification of thug culture.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 6, 2007 4:48 PM

Exactly. Language matters

But you're right about the car

Posted by: Crid at October 6, 2007 7:10 PM

Language matters: "Have you seen the new edition of the Newspeak dictionary? It's this thick. The next edition will be that thick. It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words."- Orwell, in "1984".

Political correctness is just the pretense that if you call it something else, you can pick up a turd by the clean end. If you pretend it doesn't exist, it won't stink, either. The next time you hear the term, "detainee", try to figure out the difference between that and prisoner. It's obscene how we let things go if we just hear something consoling or neutral.

Carlin's on tour. I bet he wipes the stage with these people. Their concern isn't going to cause anyone on the street to start calling each other, "at-risk, undersocialized, underprivileged youth of color".

Posted by: Radwaste at October 6, 2007 10:45 PM

I can't imagine what point you're trying to make. Words are precious tools, but only that. In an inferior trowel takes off too many gardener's thumbs, it should be replaced.

Carlin's been intolerably bitter since the death of his wife, and hadn't said anything interesting since Nixon's re-election anyway. The collapse of his novelty is emblematic of the dimming of lefty candlepower in those decades more generally. (He's handsomely godless and I've often quoted him in that regard, but that doesn't make him entertaining.)

> Political correctness is
> just the pretense that if
> you call it something
> else...

What's the "it" we're talking about? In this case, we're talking about the word 'nigger'. It's from a milieu of murder, kidnapping and subjugation, Western Civ's lowest crawl in a recent century. (Many would argue that modernity began with when abject slavery was extinguished.) Apparently you feel it's important that 21st-century Americans address each other that way, because it lends admirable authenticity.

I think you're terribly wrong. But maybe I'm thin-skinned. Tell you what, let's try something: Pick a grown woman in your life whom you somewhat admire and with whom you have frequent exchanges... Your bosses' secretary, a friendly peer/competitor, or a woman from your wife's side of the family. And for the next three weeks, resolve to address her as 'bitch' at least once during each encounter. Sure, it's a hurtful word often heard in violence, but it speaks to an inescapable component of feminine nature. And you wouldn't want to let that fundamental truth "go" just to be "consoling or neutral"....

Would you?

On Halloween, you can let us know how it went. (Boo!)

Posted by: Crid at October 6, 2007 11:39 PM

BTW, if the gender thing is to tender for you, try using "asshole" on your company's payroll director.

Posted by: Crid at October 6, 2007 11:40 PM

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 7, 2007 1:01 AM

No, no, no, you've got me all wrong. I'm not talking about me having license to use an offensive term. I'm talking about pretending that suppressing the term suppresses the thoughts!

As for your examples: peers use those terms between themselves all the time. Where's the crime? When we think we can hold somebody down because of it. When somebody lets themselves be held down by it. There is no derogatory term that counts when used on the white man: cracker, whitey, billigaana... start counting.

Posted by: Radwaste at October 7, 2007 12:04 PM

Well, the glorification of thuggery isn't a good thing. It's part and parcel of the idea that it's possible to have "easy money" and have it end well.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 7, 2007 12:14 PM

One way that people resist "let[ting] themselves be held down by it" is by telling you that if you call them that, they'll do Bonaduce on you. We don't let people chose their terms of address for us with the freewheeling recklessness of a schoolyard. We got a civilization to run here.

Posted by: Crid at October 7, 2007 12:33 PM

"One way that people resist "let[ting] themselves be held down by it" is by telling you that if you call them that, they'll do Bonaduce on you."

And so you justify physical assault as a consequence of calling a name, don't you? That's exactly what thugs do.

Posted by: Radwaste at October 8, 2007 2:34 AM

Maybe pushing this word to the back of the bus will have an effect similar to the anti-graffiti work in NYC.
Not the biggest issue in town, but one that affects everyone who has to come into contact with it.

Posted by: Gog_Magog_Carpet_Reclaimers at October 8, 2007 9:16 AM

> exactly what thugs do.

And what decent people do when they don't want to be called shitty names.

Posted by: Crid at October 8, 2007 9:58 AM

Besides, you creeped it up. I said people will tell you that they'll turn your lights out if you don't stop calling them names, and you assumed the bluff would have to be called. Maybe you're right: The Supreme Court's acknowledge that some words are "fighting words." Why should you let someone casually talk about you in language of violent deprecation?

Posted by: Crid at October 8, 2007 10:19 AM

Why should you let someone casually talk about you in language of violent deprecation?

Some people find that sort of thing really spices up their sex life.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 8, 2007 10:22 AM

Did no one go to one of Eddie Griffin's shows before they hired him? I think this was just a case of hiring the wrong entertainer for the venue. No, it was not appropriate for the setting, but someone should have checked out his act before they brought him in to perform. If they had, he would never have been brought in to represent this group of business people in the first place, black or white.

Posted by: mojo at October 10, 2007 11:15 AM

There's a gifted comedienne named Elaine Boosler who came around in the Reagan Era's Golden Age of Standup. She was spotlessly professional and just the right shade of blue, but she wasn't what America was looking for as a comedic superheroine. (There may be no such person.) She kind of hit the ceiling in terms of Carson appearances and sitcom probabilities. So then she turned her attention to business conference market, and she's been farting through silk ever since. She shows up, kills, and takes home a huge check. The audience is all liquored up and peering down the blouses of the other executive's wives anyway, and all they ask is that she weave in a few inside jokes about how the Southwest Sales Division had a bad year because of that thing with Stewie... But nothing to pointed, nothing too clever. Her clients fucking love her, and recommend her to their vendors for their next conferences. Kathy Griffin may be more famous nowadays, but is perhaps no wealthier.

Black American business doesn't have that kind of talent pool to draw on for such functions, which is how Mike Tyson got selected to judge the Miss Black America beauty pageant, which didn't work out so well.

Posted by: Crid at October 10, 2007 12:27 PM

I like her. Very smart, and very funny. We were once on Politically Correct together.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 10, 2007 12:32 PM


You are so busted.

Posted by: Crid at October 10, 2007 4:13 PM

Somebody please buy me a vowel. A consonant, too, thanks.

How embarrassing.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 10, 2007 4:22 PM

Leave a comment