Growing up in the Washington suburbs, my best friend was Norwegian American; they were the only young White family in our predominantly Black neighborhood. From first grade until we got to high school, we would hang out almost daily, naturally standing out because of our differing skin tones. One day in 1989, we’re listening to N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton” and my friend dropped a few N-word bombs. At first I tried to ignore it, but when it happened again, I shut it down immediately. He apologized profusely and we went back to being the tight buddies we are — nearly 35 years now.
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It’s understandable why some Whites would feel comfortable speaking the racial epithet, considering the word peppers the speech of many African Americans, especially in the realm of hip-hop. Kanye West and Jay-Z’s collaborative album, “Watch the Throne,” has spawned the hit “N****s In Paris” — perhaps one of the most unavoidable rap songs ever crafted. In its popularity, the song has given some non-Blacks license to use the N-Word – even if they swear it’s all in jest.
Hollywood actress Gwyneth Paltrow found herself ensnared in a controversy surrounding the N-Word, when at the top of this month, Paltrow tweeted “N****s in paris for real” to coincide with Kanye and Jay’s Paris concert and the performance of the single. Naturally, folks on Twitter handed her heavy criticism to which she responded back by writing, “Hold up. It’s the title of the song!”
Strangely enough, several Black entertainers fell on their swords for the actress, including Toure, Russell Simmons, R&B singer The Dream and, most recently, Nas. Although the diplomatic approach employed by Simmons and The Dream was head-scratching, nothing could top Nas and his defense of Gwyneth Paltrow during a recent interview last week with CBS.
I would slap the s–t out of somebody for Gwyneth Paltrow. She’s the homie, she’s cool. Gwyneth gets a pass. Real people get a pass. We know what this s–t is. We don’t interrupt Italians when they say, ‘Wop,’ to each other. They gonna punch you in the mouth if you interrupt that. Don’t interrupt us. We pick and choose.
Nas would go on to declare the actress a “real n***a.” What makes this irresponsible is that the Queensbridge rap veteran is essentially giving the green light to Whites to use a term that nobody should be using in any fashion.
In effect, Nas is saying to White America that using a racist term is cool, but only if we think you’re cool enough to say it.
What happens when little White boys sling the word around little Black boys and gets physically harmed as a result? Is his reasoning for saying that term going to be that Nas said that Whites can be “real n***s” too?
A Tribe Called Quest‘s front man Q-Tip was one of the few high-profile rap entertainers to speak out on the controversy with any reasonable sense. In a series of tweets, Q-Tip spoke directly to the Paltrow defenders in a gracious attempt to highlight the fact she didn’t even apologize for stepping out of line.
Ironically, Q-Tip is now signed to West’s G.O.O.D. Music imprint and surely has the ear of the superstar should he require contact. It would be interesting to see what the creators of the “N****s In Paris” track think of the brouhaha surrounding Paltrow’s tweet. One has to wonder, however, if behind closed doors if anyone close to the actress truly checked her on her freely dropping the N-word given her profile.
As Q-Tip noted in his tweets, Gwyneth Paltrow has to be aware of the historical context of the word and the psychological damage it has caused for generations. Yes, we’ve heard the argument that the word is given far too much power but that doesn’t explain how an actress can feel so comfortable saying a word where many of her Black contemporaries are hardly moved to react. Allowing Gwyneth Paltrow the space to say that word doesn’t lessen its power by any means. In fact, it dangerously emboldens it.