Friday, July 20, 2007

DISCUSSING the N-Word, the B-word, and F-word in our Media, Music, and Images around the Globe

By Kevin Stoda in Kuwait

I was listening to an interview on Democracy Now with Professor Michael Eric Dyson, which also included a report on hip-hop by Mumia Abu-Jamal, this past week. The title of the lengthy interview was: “Professor and Preacher Michael Eric Dyson on Hip Hop & Politics, Don Imus, the “N”-word, and Bill Cosby”. In the interview, the Georgetown Professor Dyson defends the use of the n-word by blacks and opposes its usage by whites and others.

His arguments are strong and extremely Afro-American-Male-centric. He ridicules to some degree the attempts by those African American leaders, like Julius Bond, who are telling black (and white) rappers and comedians to stop using the misogynist and race-degrading language of their forefathers.

Although the use and abuse of misogynist words and language in the black and white communities of the USA was the main focus of the discussion, I hope that the listeners and progressive readers are thoughtful enough to follow me in my fly-on-the-wall perspective from Kuwait on this on-going debate about the racism and women-demeaning or marginalizing language of far-too-dominant in hip hop and other forms of art and expression these days. More to the point, these are the very form of so-called cultural imperialism which Americans are exporting around the globe on an hourly basis due to America’s post-WWII hegemony in the area of culture, media, entertainment and art.

Let me explain the perspective in which I see American culture and language being bandied about in this corner of the universe we know as planet EARTH. This place has become a borderless planet and both language and culture bounce off satellites as easily as any car bounces off another on the dangerous highways of Kuwait.

That is, Kuwaitis and others in the Middle East can hear abusive and originally hostile words and phrases like “nigger”, “bitch”, and “mother-fucker” on local radio, internet and TV. What are the chances of these words being miscomprehended or abused here?

Very high!! Believe me.

For example, I was listening one afternoon to Voice of America’s (VOA) regional broadcast of American pop music—which has become predominately rap in recent years. I know that people in Africa, Asia, South America, and Europe as we in the Middle East do. Typically, the callers on VOA’s call in shows prefer less vulgar music. I have rarely heard anyone demand any racially slurring music on any of the VOA’s world-wide call in shows.
However, some afternoons or mornings, when there are no call-in programs or news on the air, occasionally there have been fairly obscene lyrics in song after song—when the VOA has tried to introduce what kind of popular music is being aired in the USA these days.. There was, for example, a woman who in her song over-and-over again asked to be humped. There was also a man calling all women mentioned in his song “bitches”. Only the f-word hasn’t been used too noticeably of late.

Finally, once again I recognized that I had a choice. I angrily turned off the radio and put on a CD of my own, which did not hurt my ears or leave one with the impression that no one in America or Kuwait these days is ever offended by someone else’s use and abuse of language or misrepresentation of culture.

This is nonsense. There is certainly a reason that some fundamentalist in the Middle East and in the USA are teamed up and decrying some of the words played hourly on American radio and MTV around the globe.


Why do I say “misrepresentation of culture” in those segments when the VOA is supposedly trying to present representative popular music?

Well, basically:

(1) rap is currently extremely dominated by male voices in this era,
(2) it marginalizes women and women’s voices, and
(3) whenever the majority of music presented in any one-hour on VOA at U.S.
tax payers expense is rap, it is thus exporting a vision of America that is

(a) degrading,
(b) demoralizing, and also to a degree
(c) inaccurately portraying some of the great progresses in America of the last 50 years in terms of its having provides some disadvantaged humans of particular gender- and race with more advantages than many of their forefathers (and foremothers) had experienced.

Yes, I am a lifelong educator and a Christian, but I believe as much as the next guy about the freedom of speech.

Nonetheless, no one should have to put up with lame excuses that because some male rappers come from a disadvantaged community that they deserve the right to promote abusive language all around the planet—without being challenged by others around the planet—such as by lifelong cross-cultural educators like me.

In short, as humans, we all are born with gifts and advantages. Some have more advantages and more gifts than others and this is not normally just in any of our eyes.

Likewise, many of us are born with less gifts and advantages than others. Further, this is not always a just situation for many. However, being different and having different life experience is not always an unjust situation either

Using language that is abusive and misogynist and twisting it around while claiming it to be the language of the disempowered does not always build stronger and better life in America! Nor is it a great thing to export to the world without a proper dose of self-criticism and analysis. In short, living out loud in America today is to live out loud on the whole planet. We should be more discerning as educators and promoters of peace around the globe.

So, even if the normally brilliant and preacher Professor Michael Eric Dyson does have a few good arguments for supporting any black singer using the n-word, the b-word or the mf-word in his/her songs, he needs to admit that some common sense is needed when living out load all over the planet—and perhaps when living (out loud) in the USA too boot.

This common sense should include the wisdom that what goes-around does come-around. That is: If a black man uses, a white man abuses, or a red man excuses--maybe all races could loses.

Let’s not only admit that some words should not be used in public or they will automatically be misused from then on. In short, Mr. Dyson, you will have Latinos or Indios using the n-word and demanding the same right to use it in places, like the Caribbean and South American countries, where blacks outnumber whites.

Moreover, in your-face exploited Asians or rich Arab musicians might appropriate the word and use it—and use it in your face, Mr. Dyson, in ways that are not polite nor aiding the cause of developing a better planet either.

Let’s call a spade a spade.

Americans are doing bad enough at representing ourselves and our belief systems to others around the globes these days without great speakers, like Professor Michael Eric Dyson, telling us on Democracy Now that black people in America have appropriated the n-word for their own usage only—and no one else, especially whites (whether racist or not), have that same equal right.

Come on! In the competitive global economy with all its pressures, who is going to be able to tell another brother—of whatever color—that one race can abuse a word, language or culture while another race cannot.?

Such n-words, b-words, and mf-words not only senselessly hurt ears around the planet due to commendable religious and humanitarian beliefs about how to communicate to one’s fellow man or woman, these same words are misrepresenting much of American culture, too.

Please, Voice of America Radio, go out and find some more marginalized voices, like women rappers and other varieties of singers—besides these Big Rich Rappers—to teach the rest of the world about what America is about!

That is, please stop running roughshod over listeners around the globe with abusive language. Learn to respect the local cultures in both the USA and around the world, who wish America to have a better future—one where bad and abusive words are not shouted at us while we try to listen to and appreciate different voices in American culture.

There are 1000s of alternatives to listening to some of the variety of pop music we are being spoon-fed these days

Likewise, Professor Michael Eric Dyson, call a spade a spade and promote disuse of abusive language--and not its use!

Gracias, Danke, Swhukran, Domo arigato, Grazi, Merci, Thanks!



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