Harvard University professor
of law Randall Kennedy has become the kind of race hustler that Dr.
King so aptly described. He has opportunistically used his status
as a well-known Black public intellectual to reap profit and a perverse
kind of fame through what Dr. Martin Kilson calls "a cold indifference
to the typical sensibilities of African-American citizens." Kennedy
cooperates and collaborates with those whites who would reintroduce
into polite society the term "nigger." Worse, he is a racial
free-loader, arrogantly claiming the right to a free ride among the
historical victims of whites' use of the word.
We would rather
ride him out of town on a rail. However, The Black Commentator is
very serious about the drawing of political lines separating conduct
that is merely disturbing or misguided, from that which constitutes
a conscious assault on African Americans as a people. Kennedy's book,
"Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word," falls
into the latter category. He has crossed the line, and should be repudiated.
the carcass of Kennedy, for whom we have no respect, we should address
the opinions of those readers who might believe that we are giving
the malefactor too much space in our publication - an arguable position.
We have long been convinced that a central weakness of the African
American body-politic is its tolerance of enemies within the ranks,
men and women who are allowed to circulate with impunity - and are
even accorded praise - while behaving with a depraved indifference
to the interests and "sensibilities" of the community.
adversaries interpret this tolerance as acquiescence in, or even approval
of, the actions of the "opportunists, profiteers, free-loaders
and escapists" of the race, thus boosting the cash-value of the
hustler class. Internally, these surrogates for the enemy infest Black
political discourse, causing confusion that we can ill afford. They
need to be unmasked.
The Black Commentator
seeks to devalue the likes of Randall Kennedy by stripping away the
veneer of authenticity and credibility that they are assumed to have
within the community. More importantly, we have an obligation to you,
the readers, to explain as clearly as possible why we have singled
out individuals for condemnation. We owe Kennedy nothing, and believe
he was quite stupid to give us another reason to examine his own "strange
of the Crime
in his pathetic response, throws out more defenses than a skunk spraying
stink - inventing accusations we haven't made and ideas we do not
hold - our charges against him are simple and straightforward. He
has transformed a Harvard podium into an auctioneer's platform, from
which he sells dispensations to whites who believe Blacks are enforcing
an unfair covenant against casual white use of the word, nigger. His
book is targeted at, and of use only to, white audiences, many
of whom badly want to believe that their racist behavior is sanctioned
by significant Black opinion.
stands in for that illusory opinion, for which he is paid. In polite
white American circles, the kind Kennedy moves in, only a Black person
could offer advice on the acceptability of nigger. He ducks and covers
to avoid the fact of his complicity. Kennedy and other conservative
Blacks have always used the fiction of intellectual "independence"
as a cover to clear shelf space for their anti-Black products, but
they are intensely aware of their true value in a racist society such
as ours. Black opinions carry no weight with most whites except to
answer the question: What do the Blacks think? Should we pay them
In this sense,
Kennedy is selling whites a false version of Black opinion, advising
them to ignore the complaints of those African Americans who insist
on maintaining strict social taboos on whites' use of nigger.
In the process,
he callously disregards the harm caused to members of the race.
He made Mamie
In an interview
with the collegiate website, ATHENSi.com, Kennedy gave the yellow
light option to whites who are itching to find a reason to say the
All-American word: "My position is that anybody who uses 'nigger'
as a term of abuse ought to be condemned - regardless of race. Other
than that, I'm open. Anyone can use it, depending on the intention.
My question is 'What is he doing? Is it anti-social or just dumb or
boring? Or does he have a point?'"
is Kennedy's slick trick. First, the pro-forma denunciation, one that
Strom Thurmond could fit his lips around. This allows Kennedy to deny
that he would countenance injury or insult to anyone. Then, Kennedy
follows with the open-ended nonsense about the speaker's intentions
and intelligence. He leaves that to white imaginations. Purposely.
For an apparently large number of whites, this is the intrigue and
appeal of the book. It's all open to civilized discussion. The racists
might really be..., reasonable.
nigger!" The African American turns around to see the white face
behind the voice. "Pardon me," says the Black person, "but
how do you mean that?"
Is this what Kennedy
intends? Of course not; he intends to sell books and ingratiate himself
to a white public, some of whom yearn for any excuse to do the wrong
But we have no
need to construct a hypothetical. Mamie was sitting in her chair,
sobbing loudly and uncontrollably. In her 70s, Mamie is a flesh and
blood, real person who has worked as a domestic for many years - and
has never been a crier. Her white employer rushed to Mamie's room,
fearing the woman was deathly ill. From the radio came the voice of
Randall Kennedy, speaking words like those quoted above.
Mamie shook with
torment, unable to explain the loss of her famous control. Randall
Kennedy, the Harvard law professor whose social and professional rise
represented the dreams of Mamie's generation, had utterly betrayed
composed, the elderly woman explained to her employer the crushing
impact of Kennedy's remarks. As a Philadelphia teenager in the Forties,
Mamie was compelled to spend a summer with her uncle in South Carolina,
a place she didn't want to go. Her first cousin, the uncle's teenaged
son, didn't come home one day. Word was that he had made advances
on the white lady of the house where his mother did cleaning work.
A few days later,
her cousin's body was found in the woods. Details of his murder spread
around town. He had been dragged for miles behind a car, and then
shot twice in the head.
the funeral, the husband of the allegedly offended white woman pulled
up to Mamie's uncle's car at an intersection. The man was prominent
among whites. "You're a good nigger," the white man told
the grieving father, whom he had known for years. Mamie, sitting in
the car, still hears that white voice. "But if I had to do it
all over again, I would." He spoke as if he had committed no
crime, and drove away. Naturally, no one was arrested.
has no compassion for Mamie, or any other African American but himself.
It was Kennedy's words, not those of a dead or contemporary white
man, that brought Mamie to tears.
the word nigger a "cultural artifact." The first dictionary
definition of artifact is "an object remaining from a particular
period." Usually, artifacts are dead things from ages past, which
can be picked up and manipulated by... anybody.
In the case of
nigger, this fits nicely with the views of those whites who claim
that racism is a thing of the past. The word has lost its bite, its
kick, its power, they say, because the white users are not the same
old racists. "Can whites properly use this cultural artifact
or not?" Kennedy asks, rhetorically, in the online interview.
Yes, he answers himself, in his stock spiel. However, he gives no
real guidance on the matter, besides the usual admonition not to use
nigger as a term of abuse. Again, the deliberate vagueness. The issue
is "complex." Civilized people ought to talk about it.
The use of nigger
among Blacks is, indeed, complex and many-layered. However, that's
not the point of the book, the attraction (to whites) that made it
a best-seller. In fact, there is no other purpose of the book than
to justify white use of nigger.
think the fascination of the word itself helped selling the book?"
Kennedy was asked. "That's part of it," the hustler replied.
"I begin by saying that 'nigger' is a very special word in American
society. I've been asked if the title of my book is a provocation.
In a way, it is. I wanted to grab people's attention. I write a book
to be read, and I want as wide a readership as I can get."
Mamie is aware
of the specialness of the word, and Kennedy's motivation. That's what
made her cry.
Kennedy is among
a growing number of what could be called Black counter-opinion-makers;
African Americans who can be counted on to help whites rationalize
racism. This peculiar and perverted little industry has its own specialists
and, like flies drawn to cow dung, they find each other. It is useful
here to remind readers of the December 1, 2001, New York Times story
on Erroll McDonald, Pantheon's Black editor of Kennedy's book, as
cited by Dr. Kilson in his June 27 guest commentary, "The N-Word
as Therapy for Racists." McDonald, a true soul mate of Kennedy's,
couldn't get enough of hearing the N-word streaming from white mouths.
Contemplate the sick games he played:
We wonder how
many African American organizations have made a cursory assessment
of McDonald's accomplishments in the publishing industry and dubbed
him a "credit to the race."
effort to erase nigger altogether would have bad consequences that
would supercede the good that might be achieved," writes Kennedy,
in his response to Kilson and The Black Commentator. He whines on
for several paragraphs about people who want to "expunge"
or "eradicate" the word. Yet, neither Kilson nor BC ever
called for erasing nigger from historical or contemporary America.
We denounced Kennedy for encouraging white people to put the word
back in their mouths, where it seems to have lain, semi-dormant, awaiting
the signal to re-emerge in full malevolence. Kennedy provides that
Neither of us
said a single word about Black people's use of nigger - be they Rappers
or otherwise, in all-Black company or within earshot of whites. That's
a different subject, entirely. Nevertheless, Kennedy rambles on, imagining
himself in the company of Mark Twain, the publishers of The Crisis
magazine, and Dick Gregory. What gall, from the hacker of a racist-friendly
If we were attempting
to be civil, we would call Kennedy's irrelevant squirmings a red herring.
However, we do not intend to prettify the situation for the benefit
of a man who would sell Black people's honor, as Dr. Kilson might
put it. Kennedy is like a pickpocket caught in mid-act. Frozen in
crime, he points, "Look, over there!"
From the Serpent's
is not a smart man, merely clever enough to insinuate himself into
the darker recesses of some white minds. The sleazy scholar succeeds
in damning himself in one, short paragraph.
Regarding an outbreak
of white usage of nigger on Harvard's campus last spring, following
publication of his book, Kennedy says: "A connection was plausible,
even likely." Then, he dares Kilson and The Black Commentator
to "clearly" make the connection. Why? He already admits
that it is "likely."
on, digging himself in deeper: "But let us suppose that, in fact,
my book did prompt the misbehavior. Is a writer obligated to avoid
a subject because some reader might misuse the writer's work?"
A writer, one who goes about the work of describing the world as he
or she sees it? Probably not. However, a public intellectual
who intends to influence public policy and behavior is unquestionably
obligated to be concerned for the effects of his speech - that is
his very reason for being. Kennedy knew what the effect would be,
and cares nothing about the consequences to African Americans. As
a public intellectual, he is a fraud; he admits as much, by conveniently
claiming to be a simple writer.
Still, the troublesome
fool persists in denying any responsibility for his audience's actions.
"I think not. The alternative approach would permit bigots too
much sway." It is Kennedy's purposefully vague advise to his
white readers on the do's and don'ts of using nigger that gives bigots
all the "sway" they could want.
is "sure that some racists will make mischief with my book. I
cannot prevent that. I can only hope that the good that comes from
the public education I attempt to impart will supercede the instances
of misuse that are almost certain to occur."
education," Kennedy's book is useless. His is a shallow, small
work that, like a bad disco record, has only one "hook":
constant repetition of the word, nigger, designed to titillate whites
who may or may not find use for the word under ill-defined circumstances
that he cannot control, yet to whom he gives at least a yellow light.
His attempts at the "history" of the word are rehashes of
well-worn material, unimaginatively executed.
There is no new,
independently developed thought, no fresh fact - nothing! - in Kennedy's
book, lectures or talk circuit interviews that we have encountered.
Here's an example from one of his articles: "Leading etymologists
believe that 'nigger' was derived from an English word 'neger' that
was itself derived from 'Negro', the Spanish word for black. Precisely
when the term became a slur is unknown
." On and on he drones,
dribbling widely known facts to nowhere. This book exists only for
the purpose of holding out hope for nigger-using white respectability.
Useless (to Black
people) and helpless - that's Randall Kennedy. Naturally, he is also
helpless to prevent Mamie from crying. Too bad for her.
To be accurate,
raw young racists are not at the core of people that Kennedy is trying
to influence. These volatile elements are not rich and powerful, nor
are they dependable book-buyers.
Aid and Comfort
We need only observe
the reaction of Kennedy's most immediate market - the media outlets
that hold the keys to his career as a "public intellectual"
- to gauge the effect of his book on white opinion molders.
"This may be the book that re-ignites larger debates over race
eclipsed by September 11. Look for a best selling run and huge talk
show and magazine coverage...."
made his case: that this 'troublesome' word is only a word. And that
words - like people - can always change."
Andy Rooney, 60
Minutes: "The best way to get rid of a problem is to hold it
up to the bright light and look at all sides of it, and that's what
Kennedy does in this book. He takes a lot of poison out of the word
while he's doing it.... This is the way to get rid of words like 'nigger'
and all the contemptible ideas that go with it."
The New York Observer:
"Calm, correct, informative."
The New Republic:
"Kennedy's commitment to racial justice is plain, and so is his
impatience with the subverting of empiricism by the theatrics of the
underdog.... He frequently throws the cold water of common sense upon
issues that are too often cloaked in glib histrionics."
We lifted these
reviews from Kennedy's own publicity material, and can assume that
he is pleased with the opinions stated by his friends in the corporate
press. What are they saying?
looks forward to the debate. Since Kennedy's repackaged "history"
of nigger contains nothing exciting or debatable, the industry's hype
magazine is referring to the coming debate over white folks' newfound
options to use nigger. They thank Kennedy for the favor, and bless
his sales. So much for Kennedy's service to "public education."
proclaims that Kennedy has convinced them that nigger is "only
a word" - one that a "changed" (white) people can comfortably
reacquaint themselves with.
The old irritant
at 60 Minutes, Andy Rooney, who has had racism scandals of his own,
feels vindicated by Kennedy's contribution. He can almost taste the
word, now that Kennedy has removed the "poison."
The next two reviews
get to the white supremacist heart of the matter. The New York Observer
is soothed by Kennedy's "calm" presentation, apparently
a rare trait among African Americans. The neo-conservative New Republic
believes that Kennedy, like itself, is fed up with Black people's
"theatrics" and subversion of "empiricism" - which
basically means that most Black minds are not rooted in reality, i.e.,
they imagine things like racial insults.
These are the
sentiments that Kennedy evokes, the real "poison" that his
book calls forth, from the places where Kennedy, like a tomcat in
heat, really wants to make his mark.
Are Jews Too
Sensitive About the Holocaust?
Back in June in
these pages, Dr. Martin Kilson compared Kennedy's loonyness to the
idea "that the more today's German citizens in Germany employ
anti-Jewish epithets the more freely German citizens will finally
purge anti-Semitism from their souls...."
We would expand
on Kilson's approach, and insist that the anti-Semitic terms evoke
murder and dehumanization, just as nigger does in white American mouths.
Imagine the following dialogue:
Public Intellectual (JPI), greeting a group of Germans:
"Hello, my German friends. I as a Jew am here to explain to you
the reasons my fellow Jews are so upset about being called 'blood
suckers of children' and 'Christ-killers.' Of course, you may be aware
that they suffered greatly here on German soil."
"Yah, yah, we have heard some terrible things. But, that was
a long time ago. Why are they still so super-sensitive? It makes us
feel uncomfortable. It's a New Germany. Why can't we use the old words?"
"Ah, but you can, my friends. Relax, and read my book, 'Christ-Killer.
'Christ-Killer' is well worth the price. It will bring you peace of
mind, believe me. Go ahead, say the title a few times, see how it
Germans, in unison:
"Christ-Killer, Christ-Killer, Christ-Killer! Das es goot! But,
are you sure this is acceptable speech from an Aryan... I mean, from
a German's lips? Won't the Jews become angry?"
"Don't worry your little blond head about it. These are my people.
They'll just have to get used to it. It's your emotional health
I'm concerned about."
(Even the fictional
TV character Sergeant Schultz from Hogan's Heros is not so stupid.
He is smart enough to say to his fictional commander, Colonel Klink:
"I don't think it's acceptable to use the K-Word when talking
No, you can't
imagine such a conversation; it could never take place. And, yes,
we have arrived at that time-honored juncture when comparison of Jewish
and African American communities is in order. Readers of The Black
Commentator are smart. We won't condescend to you with elaboration
on the meaning of our little fictional dialogue. You get it.
What to do
with a Troublesome Fool
As discussed earlier,
slick Black counter-opinion-makers like Kennedy are extremely vulnerable
to the charge of being unrepresentative of the race - or, at least,
some significant segment of it. Minus the cachet of authenticity,
the Black surrogate for racist opinion or power is useless to his
employers and, therefore, harmless to his intended victims.
That is half of
the reason we rail against the Randall Kennedys, Cory Bookers, and
Condoleezza Rices of the day. Silence is acquiescence, and keeps them
in their traitorous business. For Kennedy to prosper, he must convince
his patrons that he speaks for some significant Black public opinion.
Black Commentator does not hesitate to say that we despise him and
his works. We wish many others would do the same. In this regard,
Dr. Kilson's forthcoming book, "The Making of Black Intellectuals:
Studies on the African-American Intelligentsia," performs an
invaluable function on a grand scale, delineating the wondrous continuity
of progressive Black thought in the 20th Century, and exposing the
aberrant pretenders and hustlers along the way, including Randall
If Clarence Thomas
didn't have a lifetime job, but stooged for the Republicans as a transient
appointee somewhere else in government, they would have gotten rid
of him by now. Thomas is so clearly reviled by the vast bulk of African
Americans, his value as a credible, alternative Black voice is nil.
Even Jay Leno knows that.
must adorn his response to Kilson and BC with references to his Black
students - captives of the preening poseur - and list his appearances
on Black-oriented media.
We have observed
that most Black collegiate audiences react quite negatively to Kennedy's
remarks. Certainly, our readers do. So, why does he take time out
from his busy white schedule to make stops in hostile, Black territory
- including his insistence on a response in this publication? The
answer is simple: Kennedy must present a false front of Black
authenticity to whites, who can then say they learned the correct
uses of nigger at an actual, Negro knee. We are all sales tools for
Kennedy, the conniving racial entrepreneur, including his students.
He may even attempt
to use his presence in this issue of BC to demonstrate to whites how
brave he is; how he struggles with the backward and narrow elements
among Blacks, all in the effort to establish a reasoned, civilized
atmosphere in which to calmly discuss white uses of nigger. How heroic!
Perhaps Kennedy's tales of his travails among dark, undisciplined
minds will be worth another book.
We are confident
we will achieve the opposite effect, by demonstrating that Kennedy
is hated for his callous disregard of Black sensibilities.
Kennedy says Glen
Ford "extends the attack to my career as a whole." Yes,
emphatically, as does co-publisher Peter Gamble. We maintain that
Nigger is the financial highpoint of Kennedy's career, and the low
point of his moral existence.
We don't care
how Kennedy makes his money - unless it is by giving aid and comfort
to racists. We believe Kennedy's calculated maneuvers are more harmful
than the crimes of common felons, no matter how much or how little
he is paid. The magnitude of the offense, not the profit to the perpetrator,
is what counts.
to be upset that "Mr. Ford did not call" before denouncing
him. Why should we? Kennedy pays Black people no respect, yet
he thinks he deserves a phone call. Amazing. He needs to wander in
the wilderness for five or ten years, to do penance for his crime,
followed by additional years of atonement.
We didn't call
him, we didn't invite him, and we have absolute contempt for him.
commentary an exercise in drawing lines; that's the other half of
our reason for allowing Kennedy to respond. If we do not learn to
protect ourselves from the servants of money among us - at the very
least, by exercising our powers of indignation -we will surely be
crushed. Repudiate Randall Kennedy, loudly, wherever and whenever
he pops up, and you will have neutered him, and made others consider
taking another path.