Today in Post-Race History: Hush
Gwyneth Paltrow’s little foray into the touchy words lexicon is not the latest instance for public discussion about the word nigga/nigger. In case you missed it, last week Paltrow tweeted a picture of herself and friends live from Jigga and Kanye’s Watch the Throne Tour Paris stop along with the message, “Ni**as [because the G’s carry all of the offense, I suppose] in Paris,
@mrteriusnash (the dream) tyty, beehigh.” Folks took issue. Paltrow responded with, “Hold up. That’s the title of the song!” and kept it moving. She didn’t remove the tweet, and didn’t apologize.
Initially, The-Dream pretended like he tweeted the message from Paltrow’s phone, only to later admit that he had done no such thing. The-Dream said he claimed responsibility for the tweet because he knew that responses to it would be “silly.” Strangely, I agree with The-Dream (oh my god what is happening to me!?) and appreciate Paltrow’s decision to let what she said stand. Responses were, indeed, silly.
I’m tired of fake debates. Certain truths just aren’t debatable. Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time. Period. Toni Morrison is God. Period. Biggie > ‘Pac. Period. Unless they are articulating their racial prejudices or reading Huck Finn aloud, white people should not employ nigga/nigger. Ever. Period.
To this last point, I kindly request that folks stop taking the bait–and proving The-Dream right. Whenever a white person utters the word–via Twitter, Facebook update, on stage, wherever–discussion about whether or not that person is a racist should not ensue. Blogs should also not serve as online refresher courses for who can say it and when. Chris Rock clips are not necessary. No need to pull out that trusty Tim Wise video to further validate what black folks have been saying for years. Unless, of course, that is how one wants to expend energy. The efforts seem misguided and asinine, really. We’ve had these talks already.
Just as there is no justification, there is no confusion. Which is why, I suppose, I’m glad we’re not dealing with a trite press release of an apology, or the removal of the post in an attempt to pretend that Paltrow didn’t type the word. Matters regarding nigga/nigger are very clear, and have been for some time. White people shouldn’t use it. Period. Thus, Paltrow feigning that she didn’t know, or pretending to be apologetic after folks got pissed would have been disingenuous. After all, I refuse to believe that any white person, especially one in the public eye, thinks that there is any context in which they can say nigga/nigger without a serious public relations fallout. As such, rehearsing who’s racist or posting reminders about who can and can’t say it is useless. Pretending remorse based on being unclear on the nigga/nigger policy would have just been a lie. So clearly, something else is going on when these moments erupt.
Paltrow’s arrogant “Hold up. It’s the name of the song” response is telling. And what her rebuttal exhibits is often obscured when folks act confused and/or immediately apologize after similar antics. Paltrow’s come back wreaks of a superciliousness, “you’re wrong; I’m not” tone only her kind of privilege can muster. Tall, thin, blonde, rich, Paltrow personifies the apotheosis of whiteness, which allows her access to practically anything she wants. What emerges if we jettison the normal, is she racist/white people shouldn’t say nigga/nigger conversation, is a potentially more telling discussion about the desire to want to access language of hurt. Tandem to that, I think, is the larger conversation about a kind of racial irony. What I mean by that is, we live in a culture where whiteness works as a kind of unrestricted pass; it allows unchecked access to practically anything–except, for example, certain language. In such instances, whiteness becomes ironic because it creates limitations. So when white people say things like, “Well, black people say it, why can’t I…” what I hear is “My whiteness has no limitations…doesn’t it?” And Paltrow’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge the ignorance of her statement allows that implicit position to marinate.
Friends like Beyonce, Jay-Z, and The-Dream simply further enable Paltrow’s conceit. She knows that she’s right because the combination of privileged whiteness and black friends have told her that it was okay, that responses that cried foul were “silly.” There is no doubt in her ignorantly self-righteous mind. Paltrow knows better than you do–and will correct you accordingly.