Before I start, let me remind you: Ice Cube used logic and not idealism per se. Yes, this is the same man that has used misogynistic themes in his music. Yes, this is the creator of the club smash “We Be Clubbin’”. But, this will not disqualify him from speaking on a subject that he should be talking about. If you know what Ice Cube knows, then you understand that he is just as equipped as anyone to speak on the matter.
Now, back at the business at hand.
We should all be familiar with Bill Maher’s quip about the “house nigger” commentary on a previous show during an exchange with Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska). Sasse made a comment about Maher “helping out in the fields” or what not. Maher, being the habitual line stepper, made the comment that has put him under fire. And this is where we are at with it now.
Many people had their own opinions about the situation. Some people wanted him to be punished. Others feel that “since black people say it, then it makes it okay for others to say it”. Some don’t care for the apology issued by Bill Maher because we know he is racist anyway. And then, there are those that are more concerned with things that have nothing to do with the word either way. All of this discussion over a word that is being used by a subset of people within a cultural spectrum sure is making for an interesting discourse.
With Ice Cube being Ice Cube, he decided to not rescind his invitation to go on the Bill Maher show and promote the 25th Anniversary of his Death Certificate album. In fact, after noting that he knew Bill would eventually “fuck up”, he had this tidbit to say:
I accept your apology. But I still think we need to get to the root of the psyche. Because I think there’s a lot of guys out there who cross the line because they a little too familiar—or they think they too familiar—or its guys that, you know, might have a black girlfriend or two who made them some Kool-Aid every now and then, and they think they can cross the line. And they can’t. It’s a word that has been used against us; it’s like a knife, man. And you can use it as a weapon, or you can use it as a tool. It’s been used as a weapon against us by white people, and we’re not gonna let that happen again by nobody, because it’s not cool. Now, I know you heard [it], it’s in the lexicon and everybody’s talkin’, but that’s our word now. That’s our word now. And you can’t have it back. I know they’re tryin’ to get it back.
Whether Ice Cube accepted the apology is immaterial to the matter. What does matter is the idea behind what he said: Bill Maher overstepped the line. And this only makes sense if you look at it from a cultural standpoint.
Ice Cube and The Idea of Emic Language
Here is where many white people get things confused: certain jargon, colloquialisms, and even prior insults fall into emic language. If we understand cultural anthropology, then we should know that people are shaped by their cultures and subcultures. With that, there are going to be things a group take on that may be considered strange and problematic. Still, those cultural derivatives are all their own. Thus, any outside opinion about it becomes null and void.
In short, Ice Cube was correct.
No, white people should not use the word the same way Black people should and they need to get over it. Everything is not about the inclusion of others. Some things need to stay relegated to a cultural subset. What needs to happen is a respect for that culture and the effort to not step out of bounds. Anything else is just white privilege with confused appropriation.
So no, white people, you shouldn’t use the word nigger or nigga unless you are flat out trying to be racist and want someone to beat your ass. It is just that simple.
Ice Cube was Right So Get Over It
At the end of the day, a culture does what a culture does. Black people can have all the discussions about the word if they want to. White people will be left out because they don’t matter. And that is perfectly fine. Black people are not here to be defined by the white gaze anymore. That ship sailed with the end of slavery and beginning of true understanding of history. White people don’t own our souls and damn sure don’t own how we use our culture. I would hope that Bill Maher remembers this while he gazes at black women and tries hard to Rick James his way through the media.