Ice Cube schools Bill Maher on his use of the N-word


Bill Maher got in trouble last week for gratuitously using the N-word on his show. Ice Cube does an excellent job of explaining why it is never a good idea for people who are not black to use the word, except in very narrow circumstances, such as where there is an academic discussion about the word, its history, and its effects and even then only when its use is unavoidable. I have had long discussions about racism without ever having to use the word even though its presence hung in the air and was almost palpable. The fact that you have close friends or intimate partners or even spouses who are black does not give you a pass. Discussions about whether Maher is a racist or not obscure the important point that Ice Cube is making.

Despite his own apology for using the word, Maher was clearly uncomfortable at being told some uncomfortable truths. Marlow Stern helpfully provides a transcription of some of Ice Cube’s comments and some background on Maher.

“I accept your apology. But I still think we need to get to the root of the psyche,” Cube explained. “Because I think there’s a lot of guys out there who cross the line because they a little too familiar—or they think they too familiar—or its guys that, you know, might have a black girlfriend or two who made them some Kool-Aid every now and then, and they think they can cross the line. And they can’t. 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. I know they’re tryin’ to get it back.”

The hip-hop maestro was referencing Maher’s history of dating black women, and how he may have gotten “too familiar” and felt that it entitled him to cross certain lines of propriety. One of Maher’s exes Karine Steffans, who is black, once said of him “Bill wants someone he can put down in an argument, tell you how ghetto you are, how big your butt is and that you’re an idiot. That’s why you never see him with a white girl or an intellectual.”

With that being said, Cube wasn’t done. “And I’m not talkin’ about you, Bill. But I’m talkin’ about guys who cross the line every day because they got some black homies, they got some friends, they think it’s cool. And it’s not cool because when I hear my homies say it, it don’t feel like venom. When I hear a white person say it, it feels like that knife stabbin’ me, even if they don’t mean it,” he said.

Watch the full segment. It’s worth it.

Comments

  1. Slythers says

    Ice Cube, of course, has a rather long history with paying attention to the struggles of black people in the United States. After all, he was the main writer and arguably main rapper of NWA’s ‘ Fuck tha police’ plus solo albums with names like ‘Amerikkka’s Most Wanted’ and ‘Uncle Sam’s Curse’. Seeing the cover of ‘Death Certificate’ should also tell you enough.
    That’s not to say the man himself is spotless: he’s certainly tarred by association with misogyny throughout his career as a rapper and has, rightly I say, been accused of antisemitism and anti-Asian screeds early in his career.

    That being said, the man recently made a surprisingly good song about police racism after years of putting out sub-par music, called ‘Good Cop, Bad Cop’.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSKRLZSzCXA .
    While I have never been much of an Ice Cube fan, I have always thought his aggressive raps are *highly* effective. They certainly lend themselves very well to an angry song like this one and provide a good contrast to the mumbling rappers that dominate today’s airwaves.

  2. Smokey says

    “That’s our word now.”

    No. Just no. If a word is unacceptable, it’s unacceptable for everyone. You, Mr. Cube, are legitimizing the use of it based on skin colour, which is, you know, racist. And I sincerely hope you’re not trying to claim that blacks can’t be racists, because that’s nonsense. And racist.

    But say it’s OK. Then where do we draw the line, and based on what? How “black” does one have to be to be exempt from the general ban? Is it based on skin colour, stereotypical facial features, curly hair, or what? A consensus between hip-hop artists? Fighting racism with more racism is not the way to go.

    “And it’s not cool because when I hear my homies say it, it don’t feel like venom. When I hear a white person say it, it feels like that knife stabbin’ me, even if they don’t mean it”

    We don’t care about the feelings of Muslims when we draw pictures of Muhammad, why should we treat “homies” differently? Is it because the “homies” are right here, and the Muslims are all the way over there? I don’t think Mr. Cube has thought this through in his eagerness to get 15 more minutes of fame.

    Let’s not open this particular can of racist worms. The word is banned, for everyone, no exceptions.

  3. Reginald Selkirk says

    … explaining why it is never a good idea for people who are not black to use the word, except in very narrow circumstances..

    Sot it’s OK for one person to use the word and not OK for another person to use the word, because of the color of their skins? I don’t think you can explain that to me in a way that isn’t racist.

  4. says

    Reginald Selkirk@#4:
    Sot it’s OK for one person to use the word and not OK for another person to use the word, because of the color of their skins

    I’d say “yes, for at least the next couple hundred years.” Since that’s about all the reparations that black americans are likely to ever get for white american racism, that seems like pretty small beer.

    Smokey@#3:
    We don’t care about the feelings of Muslims when we draw pictures of Muhammad, why should we treat “homies” differently?

    Your inclusive “we” makes me a bit uncomfortable – who’s ‘we’? I certainly do care about the feelings of muslims when people draw pictures of Mohammed, so ‘we’re not all in agreement on this issue. Or did you mean “my keyboard and I…”?

  5. mnb0 says

    It’s quite simple. I wouldn’t like Ice Cube (or ManoS for that matter) using cheesehead either (a derogative word for Dutch). Ice Cube never has done so. So we (meaning he and I) have a deal.
    Nice to see Smokey doing some blacksplaining: explaining to a black guy who has experienced racism first hand what racism means. Way to go!

    “it’s like a knife”
    I can confirm that. Living as a very white Dutchman in Suriname for more than 20 years I’ve been called names on street. Rarely, but it has happened.

  6. Saad says

    Smokey, #3

    No. Just no. If a word is unacceptable, it’s unacceptable for everyone. You, Mr. Cube, are legitimizing the use of it based on skin colour, which is, you know, racist. And I sincerely hope you’re not trying to claim that blacks can’t be racists, because that’s nonsense. And racist.

    Maybe it’ll help you understand why it’s fine for black people to use it if you ask yourself why the word is unacceptable from white people in the first place. You can’t pretend that there are no historical and current associations that go along with the word. It’s not like black people picked a random neutral word like “refrigerator” and started getting upset over white people saying it.

    Maybe your concern is about internalized racism, which is a legitimate problem. But the way black people use the word isn’t it.

    We don’t care about the feelings of Muslims when we draw pictures of Muhammad, why should we treat “homies” differently?

    Non-Muslims and people outside of the Muslim experience (never-Muslims) drawing Muhammad cartoons in a non-Muslim society are being assholes. Their motivations are the same as those of anti-Muslim bigots. Don’t think for a second they’re doing it to champion some grand humanist worthy cause. They mean to simply provoke and hurt.

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