Friday, November 18, 2016

After WDIV 'n-word' scandal, we should all reflect on the use of the word

Posted By on Fri, Nov 18, 2016 at 6:13 PM

  • WDIV

It's been two days since WDIV personality Lauren Podell resigned after allegedly making an off-air comment about being tired of reporting on "these niggers killing one another in Detroit" to a coworker back in April.

I do not speak to the validity of the comments made by Podell because I was not there to hear it. After speaking to a few WDIV employees off the record, Metro Times learned that while Podell may have had "quite the mouth" (the comment comes a few years after Podell let slip on air that she couldn't "get this fucking thing in there," referring to some equipment she was using during live coverage of a fire in Lapeer back in 2012), this seemed out of character for the 31-year-old reporter. (Talking to the Free Press, a WDIV spokeswoman acknowledged "an unacceptable off-air comment was made by a reporter in front of a coworker, but not as quoted on social media.")

What I can say is that similar comments have been appearing all over the internet since Donald Trump won the election. To be fair, sure, there were plenty of videos and claims of racist comments made before the election even started. Blaming it solely on the election results is an easy out for most people because it creates a narrative rather than demanding reformed thinking and vocabulary.

But we should take this opportunity to reflect on the use of the word. A lot of people argue that barring one particular race from using the word is not fair and racist in its own right because blacks and other minorities can use the word so leisurely, but white people can't. The thing is, whites' creation and use of the word was meant to degrade, demean, and dehumanize black people. We weren't considered people because we were this subclass called "niggers."

The only time I ever experienced white people using the word is when they are angry. It is thrown in our face when people are frustrated, irritated, annoyed. Sometimes you get the occasional song quote, but that's usually an exception and overlooked.

If, in Podell's case, she did say "nigger," then I do believe it was out of anger. Figuring out whether that anger was specifically aimed at black people or the actions she was covering is up for debate. Maybe she was pissed off, like anyone would be, that she had to cover so many murders within the city of Detroit. Or that she had to break her routine to cover another black on black murder. So in that frustration, she blurted it out.

I am not trying to defend her words and actions, by any means, because it would be a poor choice of words for both a white woman and a respected journalist. The use of the word "nigger" has a specific sting when heard coming from the mouth of a white person.

Journalists are expected to stay away from prejudices and be completely unbiased in their presentation of information. It would not be acceptable for any journalist, at least in my mind, to use the word during "work hours" because it isn't politically correct. That includes black journalists too.

In our attempt to reclaim the word and change its definition, we have set up "rules" if you will as to who we feel comfortable with using the word. That is why certain people can say it and others cannot. It's a pretty simple concept: If a white person uses "redneck" (let's say, for comparative purposes) then it has a different meaning than when blacks say "redneck."

But the amount of people comfortable with the word is what makes this situation really messed up. The simple fact is this word is not going to disappear. Not any time soon. Probably not ever. We, as a country — and specifically our culture — tried that already and failed miserably. People are going to use it no matter what anyone says or does.

If black people don't want whites to be comfortable enough to use the word, then stop using it in front of them, and stop using it altogether. It's simple. White people shouldn't want to use the word. And I think blacks shouldn't comfortable with using or hearing it, even if it comes from another black person, either.

The only advice I would give: it's best to just leave the word alone.

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