Bill Maher caved. At least that is what some people are thinking now that he has apologized for using the N word as part of a joke during his show Real Time. Watching the clip I saw his expression while listening to the tone he used and as someone who is not really a fan of his show, I understood it was a JOKE!
The first thing I thought to myself was he was going to get raked over the coals for this. My second thought was if he was black, no one cares. Chris Rock gets away with that joke. But then, Chris Rock is black and the “N” word is pretty much expected to be used by any black comic who wants to be considered relevant or cutting edge.
Being a comedian is one of the most challenging career choices a person can make. Wanting to get paid while standing in front of an audience and trying to make them laugh is not for the feint of heart. Traveling the nation and doing it before audiences that are often liquored up is about as tough as hitting a golf ball straight for a living.
Trying to make people laugh who have lost their sense of humor is just about impossible. I am not justifying the use of the “N” word by white comedians. However, we now live in a world where a white comedian has to be far more sensitive to a culturally sensitive generation that is all too quick to run to the internet and tell the world what you said.
No one makes the kid on the playground laugh who three or four times a day drives his teacher crazy by saying, “Ooooo, I am telling the teacher on you.” Now that we have a generation of kids who take everything seriously, white comedians are pulling up shop and refusing to perform at colleges.
In case you don’t know it by now, I am white, and I was raised in an era where we learned to laugh at things that were a bit dark and Bill Maher’s joke was a bit dark. He is not a racist. He is just another comedian who today is probably scratching his head and wondering what the hell has become of this nation. We really did have a sense of humor at one time.
Today, it seems we have to look at who the comedian is and who is in the audience before deciding whether or not to laugh at a joke or become enraged over it. A joke is either funny or it isn’t no matter who tells it, at least it should be. Again, Chris Rock gets away with that joke.
But lets get back to the “N” word. You see, I can’t even write the word “nigger” without fearing I will be labeled a racist. I don’t believe I am. Years ago my father kicked his father out of our house because Grandpa called a group of protesting blacks in Oakland, “A bunch of God damn n—–s.” I know because I was the only other one in the room and it was my father’s position that while his dad was free to think and feel that way, it was my dad’s house and when Grandpa was in it he was not allowed to use that word.
My dad was not a saint. He was the first to share an off-color joke he heard at Rotary, but he also cracked plenty of jokes at the expense of whites, lawyers, ministers, golfers, and just about anyone else. What was not funny was using a word in a way to instill racist thinking into someone who should be allowed to grow up and decide for himself how he viewed the world.
Like most people in this nation, I do not like hearing the “N” word. However, I have come across it countless times while reading books that used it in its proper context and not just for shock value or spreading hate. I do not believe we need to strike the word from works of literature, but should make an effort to avoid it for future works.
All that said, what bothers me the most about the “N” is how a segment of the black community has absorbed it into their daily use while still being offended when they hear it used by someone who is white.The word has an ugly history, a history some still feel negatively impacts the African American population today. I find it not just hypocritical, but down right disrespectful when some members of the African American community justify its use and explain how the word has changed over time making it all right for them, and only them, to use it.
Sorry, but I am calling Bullshit on that argument. No sane person who believes we need to right the present day wrongs from our slave history would use the very term that denoted the horrific treatment of slaves. I don’t care if you have dropped the last two letters from the word and replaced them with the letter A. There is no excuse to continue using a word you do not want others to use or to think a word can be owned by one segment of our population that you do not want used by another. It is beyond the comprehension of this man. It’s also beyond the comprehension of many others.
This insistence of being allowed to use the “N” word in a new manner keeps the word alive in our culture which leads to funnymen like Bill Maher having to tell the world he was sorry for using it and that he never meant to offend anyone. Worse, it leads to it being passed down from an older generation of racists to a future generation for use.
The use of the “N” word by whites in any context is all too often used to denote a lack of respect for blacks and their history in this nation, a lack of respect for their culture in general, and will lead people to think of you as a racist. Most of us who are white get this. However, I believe the part of the black community that insists on keeping the word as a commonly accepted term amongst themselves shows an equal ignorance to the history of this nation, a lack of respect for the slaves who were never allowed to be a part of the free society, and makes them hypocrites for thinking they should be allowed to have it both ways.
As for comedians, all I can say is I feel sorry for you. If you are feeling a bit down on how we have lost our ability to laugh at ourselves, go look at an old clip of Richard Pryor doing his impression of white people. You will laugh until your stomach hurts while Pryor is probably turning over in his grave over how upset people are at Maher for making what I believe he’d find to be a very funny joke.
Top photo: Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska with Bill Maher on “Real Time” (YouTube)
Jim is a life long resident of California and retired school teacher with 30 years in public education. Jim earned his BA in History from CSU Chico in 1981 and his MA in Education from Azusa Pacific University in 1994. He is also the author of Teaching The Teacher: Lessons Learned From Teaching. Jim considers himself an equal opportunity pain in the ass to any political party, group, or individual who looks to profit off of hypocrisy. When he is not pointing out the conflicting words and actions of our leaders, the NFL commissioner, or humans in general, he can be found riding his bike for hours on end while pondering his next article. Jim recently moved to Camarillo, CA after being convinced to join the witness protection program.