According to Tim Allen, our society is regressing in terms of race relations. In the 70s, we had revolutionary heroes breaking boundaries, but now, unfair rules and restrictions have been put in place to hold a certain demographic back. He calls for a reclamation of power to promote a happier and healthier society.
So, yeah, he wants to be able to say "n*gger".
In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times released over the weekend, Allen says, "(The phrase) 'the n-word' is worse to me than n*gger."
What surprised Eric Deggins, the reporter who conducted the interview, was that throughout the conversation, Allen said "n*gger" freely, without any self-censorship. The interview took place on the same day that news of Paula Deen's frequent use of the epithet broke in the mass media, which Allen admits influenced the discussion.
To Allen, the stigma associated with non-black comics using the word is a step backward from the heydays of his comedic heroes, Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce.
"You want to take the power away from that word so that no one is offended by it. If I have no intent, if I show no intent, if I clearly am not a racist, then how can 'n-----' be bad coming out of my mouth?"
Good question, Tim Allen. My answer: because it's a bad word.
Allen's "insight" into "how using racial [s]lurs feels from a white guy's perspective" is neither new nor profound. The debate over the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the n-word has been raging on ad nauseam for years, especially since news of the Paula Deen scandal broke out. It's a debate that trivializes the manifestation of racism in the 21st century and shows a deep cultural misunderstanding of the goals of the civil rights movement and the fight for racial equality in general.
But don't worry. I hear you, Tim Allen, and your confused friends with a "European mind" — truly, I do. You have black friends who say it to you endearingly, the word has been redefined, it only has power if you give it power, black people use it all the time, it's a racist double standard, etc., etc. I get it. It's confusing. So here's a helpful hint:
Don't say it.
If you're in the business of offending and disrespecting a group of people in the name of free speech, that's on you. But if you expect to use it without consequence or condemnation, you're in for an unpleasant surprise. You see, I'll be a little more interested in hearing how using a racial slur feels from a white guy's perspective when said white guy can articulate the pain and humiliation that comes with having a racial slur hurled at him. It's a word whose sole purpose is to dehumanize and subjugate its victim to a status less than that of livestock; it's a word of reducing black people to 3/5ths of a person, of innate inferiority, of perpetual insult and injury. When said white guy similarly thinks, like Oprah Winfrey, "When I hear the n-word, I still think about every black man who was lynched — and the n-word was the last thing he heard," I'd love to talk.
Tim Allen, I'm happy that you have friends who feel comfortable enough to call you n*gger affectionately; know that they don't speak for the entire black community. When Kanye West gives you permission to say it in concert, as if he even has the authority to dictate its use, know that it means little to anyone who is not, in fact, Kanye West. If the terms of racial inequality in the United States have been redefined, perhaps the n-word will be as well; but with a prison industrial complex that imprisons more black people than were enslaved, unemployment discrepancies between whites and blacks that mirror those of the Great Depression, and a pervasive devaluation of black life as we see time and time again in our legal system, what's been redefined?
Yes, a word only has power if you give it power — power such as that of transatlantic slavery, Jim Crow, and institutionalized racism. For, you see, the dream is not for white and black children to stand, hand-in-hand, saying "n*gger" all the livelong day. The dream is for no one, especially those who do not lay claim to the painful history and wretched aftermath that comes with the word, to desire to bring back a symbol of racialized oppression found in our nation's past and present.
So, Tim Allen, know that it is you, in fact, who is taking a step backward. If you're not convinced, just ask the late great Richard Pryor yourself: