What Bill Maher And Most White People Don’t Get About The N-Word [Opinion]

Bill Maher did what seemed like a thousand mea culpas on Friday night’s edition of the HBO talk show Real Time, though the jury is still out on whether he learned his lesson.

Unfortunately, a lot of white people like Bill Maher don’t get it when it comes to the N-word, which he used in a joke on the June 2 episode while chatting with U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska).

Sasse, for his part, was visibly uncomfortable with the joke, and later issued apologies for not speaking out strongly enough against Maher’s use of the word.

For the most part, Sasse has escaped damage, as he probably should have, since it was one of those unexpected uncomfortable moments followed by a quick change of the subject to another topic.

It was not until Sasse had a chance to think about what Bill Maher said that he realized what he should have said. His next-day response was detailed here by Slate.

The incident is a stark reminder that a lot of white people still don’t get why it is they shouldn’t use the word, even in jest.

Frankly, there is no “jest” when it comes to whites and their relationship to it.

Now some of you are probably thinking, “But black rappers say it all the time.” That’s true. Many do. But it does not give you a green light to say it if you’re white, and it doesn’t mean you get to pass judgment on any African-American who does.

Here’s why.

The N-word was used ad nauseam for a number of years by white people in a disparaging way as a means of dehumanizing slaves.

According to the African-American Registry, “by the early 1800s, it was firmly established as a derogative name.”

And while the Civil War effectively ended the practice of slavery, it did little to improve the situation of most black people, who still suffered under the heel of racism in the North and the South, and through Jim Crow laws, were treated as less than human despite the fact they were no longer technically slaves.

America continues to feel racial tensions from the effects of the last 200 years, and the N-word is a stark reminder of that.

A black rapper, or any African-American, using it as they determine is not permission-granted for you to do so, even if you think that by using the word, you are robbing it of its power.

That is their decision to make if they choose to do it, not the decision of Bill Maher or any other white person who thinks society is at a place where it’s “accepted.”

You may not understand why a black person would want to use the N-word considering what it has meant for so long; but you don’t really have a right to make sense of it.

Maybe, just maybe, by having sole ownership of the word, black people are telling racism as it exists today and as it has existed for at least the last 200 years, that the power it once held is no longer the world’s to hold.

Ice Cube probably said it best in his takedown of Bill Maher on the Friday show. Here’s his explanation.

“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.”

Hopefully, the Bill Maher incident, and Cube’s explanation, is a teachable moment for most white people, though racism will continue.

But what do you think, readers? Sound off in the comments section below.

[Featured Image by HBO, screenshot]