June 22, 2015

"Obama uses the N-word in podcast interview."

A Politico headline that uses the word "uses" in a way that not everyone uses.
“The legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives, you know, that casts a long shadow, and that’s still part of our DNA that’s passed on. We’re not cured of it,” Obama said in the interview, posted in full on Monday. “And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘n——-’ in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. … Societies don’t overnight completely erase everything that happened 2-300 years prior.”
That is not a use of the word in the way that is used by those who are aware of and conscientious about the use/mention distinction.

38 comments:

Brando said...

Count me in the "use/mention distinction" camp. It's not like saying some magic word will call up Chtulu or something--clearly context matters.

Besides, if we did make it some Unmentionable Word That Must Not Be Said, then it retains special power compared to any other word.

And as Louis CK put it, get rid of the cop-out term "N-word". Everyone knows what word you're referring to, and you're just making us say it in our own heads!

rhhardin said...

This sentence has three a's, two c's, two d's, nineteen e's, six f's, two g's, five h's, ten i's, two l's, twelve n's, nine o's, five r's, twenty six s's, sixteen t's, four u's, four v's, eight w's, four x's, and two y's.

Is that use or mention?

rhhardin said...

Black people faint if you say nigger.

You have to make up an offense so that you can refer to it.

Alynski or somebody.

Bobber Fleck said...

Societies don’t overnight completely erase everything that happened 2-300 years prior.

Of course, we don't want to erase everything. That would be a bad thing and would re-write history.

And, of course, if we forgot what happened 2-300 years ago we'd have nothing to dredge up and complain about when convenient.

And nothing to point to as being a permanent obstacle to success. (We shall overcome... Just don't rush us.)

Michael K said...

We know it is in his DNA.

Matt Sablan said...

I agree. This is mentioning, not using.

And, he's right. It's something you don't say in public if you don't want to risk offending people.

clint said...

Oh, he's definitely using the word.

He's using it to get us to talk about what he's saying (i.e. spread it around) without talking about what he's saying (i.e. considering it critically or even refuting it).

He's making a scurrilous accusation of widespread racism, and then using the infamous N. to spread it without comment around the internet, around talk-show tv-news, around Facebook posts and twitter twitterings and water cooler conversations.

It's a brilliant use of social networking for propaganda purposes.

How many people will retain, weeks and years from now, the idea that this insane loner proves the existence of widespread violent racism in this country, when quite the opposite is true?


Sprezzatura said...

What's with the 2-300 year time span?

Even today R candidates can't say they think the flag of government enforced white supremacy shouldn't be flying. How can NRO look at facts but not the leaders of the Rs?

http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/420015/two-thoughts-confederate-battle-flag-reihan-salam

Presumably R candidates would have an opinion if some state decided to fly an ISIS flag. It almost seems as if this is a political decision, i.e. ISIS doesn't vote for Rs, racists do.

Matt Sablan said...

"Oh, he's definitely using the word."

-- Well, yes. He's using it. But, I think that if I were to quote from Mark Twain's works, it would be kind of disingenuous to say I was "using" the word. The proper context would be to say HOW I used it, since it is such an inflammatory word.

PB said...

The Obama administration has been constant scab picking when it's not poking us in the eye with a sharp stick. Nothing to help healing.

Sprezzatura said...

Btw, it's funny to hear cons fussing about BHO using this word.

It reminds me how talk radio folks loved playing clips of BHO reading this word as part of his audiobook.

At some point y'all will no longer care about this word. Hopefully sooner than later.

The Drill SGT said...

PBandJ_LeDouanier said...
What's with the 2-300 year time span?

Even today R candidates can't say they think the flag of government enforced white supremacy shouldn't be flying. How can NRO look at facts but not the leaders of the Rs?


Does that mean the Maryland and New York State, both of which endorsed slavery and ran slave markets into the 1800's should burn their flags as well?

Even Today, D candidates can't admit that it was the Republican party party that freed the slaves in the 1860's and the Democrats who turned dogs and fire hoses on black marchers in the 1960's.

Jane the Actuary said...

The Use/Mention distinction? Actually, the Left doesn't believe in that -- the operating rule seems to be that you always have to say "the n word" or "a racial slur offensive to African-Americans" and that if you don't, the intent and context aren't mitigating factors.

Matt Sablan said...

"Even Today, D candidates can't admit that it was the Republican party party that freed the slaves in the 1860's and the Democrats who turned dogs and fire hoses on black marchers in the 1960's."

-- Remember, some magic happened that caused all the Democrats at that time to become Republicans, and all the Republicans at that time to become Democrats. Why? REASONS!

Anonymous said...

clint: He's using it to get us to talk about what he's saying (i.e. spread it around) without talking about what he's saying (i.e. considering it critically or even refuting it).

Maybe he used it advisedly, maybe a public figure was for once talking like an adult and not a ninny. I dunno. But your point about the speech is correct regardless. We're supposed to accept without argument that "the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow" accounts for every race-related problem and racial disparity.

It must be the only "legacy" in history whose influence apparently increases over time rather than decreases. The more cynical people become about this unfalsifiable explanation, the more desperately loud ("white privilege!", "microaggressions!") the true believers (and those whose livelihood and careers depend on it) get.

Ann Althouse said...

"The Use/Mention distinction? Actually, the Left doesn't believe in that -- the operating rule seems to be that you always have to say "the n word" or "a racial slur offensive to African-Americans" and that if you don't, the intent and context aren't mitigating factors.


I think the point is, rather, that even the mention is rejected. I, myself, would never use the word, and I also refrain from mentioning it. I know the distinction, but I reject both things.

Anonymous said...

Matthew Sablan: -- Well, yes. He's using it. But, I think that if I were to quote from Mark Twain's works, it would be kind of disingenuous to say I was "using" the word. The proper context would be to say HOW I used it, since it is such an inflammatory word.

I think you're missing clint's point. He is talking about how it was used. You may disagree that Obama used "nigger" advisedly as a deflection, but clint is obviously not missing the use/mention distinction here.

Ann Althouse said...

For example, I would never write something like rh's 8:58 AM comment (even if the exaggeration about fainting were modified to something like "don't like it).

Hagar said...

BTW, I have it on good authority that the slave market at the Taos Pueblo did not completely die out until about 1930.
Why is there no "outrage" about that?

Rumpletweezer said...

It is sad and disturbing that "Blazing Saddles" could not be made today.

SteveR said...

I'll cut to the chase, after all this time we've been listening to him, he's proven that he's not that smart. DNA? Like really? Which genes?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rhhardin said...

For example, I would never write something like rh's 8:58 AM comment (even if the exaggeration about fainting were modified to something like "don't like it).

But fainting is the point. It's supposed to be a horrible horrible thing to say nigger. Fainting is why it's horrible.

Not liking it isn't enough to support the permanent myth of black childishness that is so necessary to treating them as useless victims.

The eggshell-walkers are not the friends of blacks, just as the feminists are not the friends of women.

In my own life, nigger has only come up in eenie meenie miney moe. And lo!, what's-his-name got fired for it. Just saying the first line of the jingle.

What must you think of blacks to react that way. Do you think they're idiots? Unable to deal with context?

Precious snowflake is not an adult category.

MayBee said...

Using the word served its purpose. It gave people something to talk about to keep the Great Racism Conversation going. CNN is talking about it, asking the President of the NAACP what he thinks of it, asking Marc Lamont Hill, Van Jones, and Charles Blow what they think about it.

They also mention Obama is finally "feeling free" to say what is on his mind. As if that is something they have been waiting for, too.

cubanbob said...

Your people got off the Mayflower, and kept slaves. Correct?

I can see why you are nervous about symbolism and word usage. If it comes to paying reparations for white privilege, your people -- who have been in this country since slave times -- are top of the list."

First on the list of those to pay compensation are the ones who sold the slaves to the slave traders.

rhhardin said...

Not writing nigger means not that you're not racist, but that you're afraid of the PC police.

The offense taken is by those who think the PC police ought to rule, not by those who are hurt otherwise.

Nigger has a positive register as well, by the way. The word goes there, it has that performance.

And so it has a neutral performance too, as in eenie meeney miney moe.

Lit crit ought to rule.

No more public lies.

rhhardin said...

The news on KTBL played Obama saying nigger, but they bleeped the word.

How dumb to you have to be to do that.

Matt Sablan said...

"How dumb to you have to be to do that."

Unless they said it too, they may just be trying to avoid fines from the radio people.

... I don't work in radio! I'm just guessing!

holdfast said...

Using the word served its purpose. It gave people something to talk about to keep the Great Racism Conversation going. CNN is talking about it, asking the President of the NAACP what he thinks of it, asking Marc Lamont Hill, Van Jones, and Charles Blow what they think about it.

Bingo - It's the Obama Admin's "stray voltage" theory - essentially if you don't give CNNFOXMSNBC something to talk about all day, they might talk about the anemic economy or the disaster that is the Middle East/Arabian Gulf. Or Jonathan Gruber.

So instead we get this silly stuff.


http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2014/04/barack_obama_trolls_the_gop_the_president_intentionally_baited_republicans.html

http://www.nationaljournal.com/magazine/david-plouffe-s-stray-voltage-theory-20120712

Brando said...

"Not writing nigger means not that you're not racist, but that you're afraid of the PC police."

It could also just mean you're trying to be polite. I generally avoid that word, never use it in an insult and in other contexts will avoid it except where discussing the word itself. I'm not afraid of PC police--what can anyone do to me?--but it is a vulgar word, and in some contexts I could see it hurting someone's feelings.

rhhardin said...

I use asshole a lot. Apparently feelings aren't that important compared to the mot juste.

Fernandinande said...

Anglelyne said...
It must be the only "legacy" in history whose influence apparently increases over time rather than decreases.


It's the strange physics of imaginary things and false ideas.

SteveR said...
I'll cut to the chase, after all this time we've been listening to him, he's proven that he's not that smart. DNA? Like really? Which genes?


Obama's smart and sciency so he can't be a Lysenkoist; no doubt he was referring to the Distributed Network Attack from China, something relevant and worthy of a President's attention.

James Pawlak said...

What is the problem with writing or saying, to emphasis a point or consistent with the setting: "Fuck"; "Kike"; Nigger"; "Dumb Pollack" (Like me)l "Wet Back", "Slope"; Etc.?

rhhardin said...

Do people still read Catch-22 in school? It has nigger in it.

eddie willers said...

Societies don’t overnight completely erase everything that happened 2-300 years prior.”

Except on gay marriage, where we can overturn 5000 years and stop on a dime.

Sigivald said...

Societies don’t overnight completely erase everything that happened 2-300 years prior

Well, slavery was abolished 150 years ago, and the Civil Rights Movement was a mere 50-ish.

And it's more than fair to note that mass discrimination, under force of law and with local police enforcing it, is well within living memory.


But ... we don't need to talk about 300 years ago; what, is he invoking the French And Indian Wars? Are we meant to finally be coming to terms with George III, after so very long?

Baffling.

"Living memory" is much stronger than "200-300 years ago", and more apt; why not use that?

mccullough said...

Most of the people living in this country were born after Obama. The Civil Rights Movement is living memory to the old. A 20 year old was 6 on 9/11. It's not living memory to them. The Civil Right Movement was the stone ages to them.

BobJustBob said...

It's not “the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination”. It's the legacy of The Great Society.