Why is it that every war fought within this nation ends up a war against black faces, and more specifically the black male?
The War on Drugs became the War on Black Men, with them ending up incarcerated at higher rates and for longer sentences than their white counterpart even as surveys continue to prove that the percentage of drug use in the black community is no greater than in the white community.
And then there was the War on Poverty, which the nation saw as fine in the 1930s as long as the recipients of these federal benefits were mostly white, thanks to the way the law was written and blatant efforts and racism; then, in the 1960s, when President Lyndon Johnson expanded these benefits to include African Americans, they became demonized — their recipients all of a sudden seen as lazy and undeserving. Not surprisingly, opponents started arguing that if black men would care for their children, there would be no need for these programs. Not part of the continuing conversation is the fact that these men are plagued by higher unemployment rates, lower wages and, of course, higher incarceration rates – which not coincidently leads to higher unemployment and lower wages.
And now comes the NFL’s war on the N-word.
The NFL Competition Committee discussed the possibility of a 15-yard unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty for players who use the N-word during games.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a vile word that I wouldn’t mind seeing disappear. But the word has a complicated history, especially when used in the African American community where its use can convey dislike and love in the same sentence. And that’s why the NFL needs to stay out of it.
I’m not alone in that position. ESPN has given the issue a fair amount of air time and many of its speakers have taken exception with the NFL’s efforts.
Seahawks cornerback and lightning rod Richard Sherman called the penalty “an atrocious idea.”
“It’s almost racist, to me,” he said. “It’s weird they’re targeting one specific word. Why wouldn’t all curse words be banned then?”
Bomani Jones recently echoed the sentiment on his ESPN television show “Highly Questionable,” noting that the NFL would be sending the message that racial slurs are only okay if there is money to be made off of them like with the Washington Redskins. Meanwhile, he said, “we sure do have an openly gay player coming into the NFL for the first time and nobody’s talking about that F-word.”
But more to the point is the observation Pittsburg Steelers safety and 12-year NFL veteran Ryan Clark made on the ESPN show a special report edition of “Outside the Lines” about the words use among players. “Most of the time you hear it, it’s black players using the word,” he said.
And to me that’s the bigger point. I don’t like the idea of well intended white men dictating the vocabulary or African American men. Maybe the committee is trying to use a cookie cutter solution to a complicated problem. This wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened and it certainly won’t be the last. But it also comes across as another example of white men saying that I can’t do it, you can’t either – or more specifically, if I can’t use a word, you can’t either.
I acknowledge that my own relationship with the word is complicated. Like I said earlier, I don’t like the word, and wouldn’t miss a minute’s sleep if it were to disappear. I also understand that each generation gets to decide what it will and won’t do and how each word and relationship will be defined. Gay doesn’t mean what it did 100 years ago, and being gay isn’t viewed the same way it was just 20 years ago. But I was opposed to taking the N-word out of Mark Twain’s books, and I’ve even use it in some of my own books — as the racial slur that I and people from my generation can’t help but think it is and take it to be.
What I really wish is that we were putting as much energy into abolishing the sentiment that has historically been behind the word’s use than just the word.