Was it wrong for a pro-Obama article to use the n-word?

A quite pro-Obama article in a small neighborhood newspaper in New York City is facing criticism for using the n-word in its headline.

The piece is about how Eric Cantor’s surprising recent loss in his primary is evidence of a larger racism on the Republican far right; directed primarily, but not exclusively, at President Obama.

According to the writer, James Lincoln Collier, far too many Republicans still see Obama as the “n*gger” in the White House — thus, the title to his story:

the-n-word-in-the-white-house

(FWIW, I’m using an asterisk in the word because of ad filters.)

Here’s a bit from Collier’s piece:

Presidents have been subjected to stinging attacks before. Franklin Roosevelt was royally hated by conservatives for his advocacy of social programs and support for unions; and Lincoln was shot for his tolerance of the recent enemy. Ironically, Obama has never strongly pushed for the strong social programs liberals expected of him. He has, indeed, been quite passive in his approach to governing. Conservatives ought therefore to have recognized that for a Democrat Obama was about as good as they could get. But, says the Times, “any hint of cooperation with the president” was the kiss of death for candidates in conservative territory.

It is possible to draw only one conclusion: these far right voters hate Obama because he is black. The simple truth is that there is still in America an irreducible measure of racism. A large minority have for some six years have been quietly angry that they must have in the White House a member of an inferior class of people. Until recently. however, they have felt constrained to keep their mouths shut. But America’s increasing tolerance of far right opinion has made racism more acceptable, so long as it can be disguised, however thinly, as politics.

CNN did some pretty good coverage of the controversy, and it’s worth watching before delving into the pros and cons of what Collier did:

Collier’s paper also printed a commentary critical of the headline, right below the article itself.

As for the issue at hand. CNN’s media critic Brian Stelter thinks that if the headline detracts from the main point of the story, then it’s a bad headline. And maybe — in that, regardless of whether the criticism is just, if the main point of what you wrote is lost because of the way people react to your headline (rightly or wrongly), then perhaps the headline wasn’t so great an idea after all. I can accept that logic.

But I do wonder if some of the criticism Collier is facing isn’t a bit of a Suey Park redux. Park was the hacktivist who decided that Stephen Colbert’s show on Comedy Central should be canceled because Colbert did a segment mocking racism, and Park (who has her own racial demons to confront) didn’t quite get the joke.

You find if you write for a living, that a lot of people don’t get the joke.  Nuance is a difficult thing to do well.  Not that any particular writer won’t do it well, but rather, a lot of people won’t get it, regardless of how well you do it.  Sometimes satire doesn’t work because it’s bad satire. But even “good” satire won’t be got by a sizable portion of the reading public, regardless of how brilliant it really is.

I think back to my “infamous” headline about Chris Christie being bi on whether gays can change.  Some bisexual activists decided that my pun was evidence of my “life-long animus” towards bisexuals — when in fact it was simply evidence that I make “gay” puns in headlines all the time, and wasn’t about to spare bisexuals the same joshing I give the rest of our community.

I know it’s not particularly safe to have a contrary view to Outrage, Inc., lest ye too be branded a bigot, a bi-phobe, a cat-hater, an un-American.  But just as with Colbert, I’m somewhat taken aback by the notion that we should beat the cr*p out of people who agree with us, but simply don’t express themselves the way we might like.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t correct an ally if they get it wrong. But does using a slur, however artfully, per se make you a bigot?

This fag isn’t convinced.


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Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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