Issue Number 10 - August 22, 2002

The N-Word 3-Ways - Part 3

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We hope you have already read the N-Word author's request for an apology in N-Word Part 1 and N-Word Part 2 in which Harvard colleague, Dr. Martin Kilson says an apology is not warranted.

In our July 8th issue we published the following e-Mail message from N-Word author, Randall Kennedy:

May I have space in your publication to respond to the charges that have been aimed at me and my work by you and Professor Kilson?

Kennedy was the subject of a June 27 Guest Commentary in these pages by Harvard's Dr. Martin Kilson and an additional comment in the July 11 issue. Although The Black Commentator was under no obligation to Kennedy - moral, ethical, or otherwise - we responded:

As you requested, we will make space available in The Black Commentator for your response "to the charges that have been aimed at me and my work by you and Professor Kilson." Please use as much space as you feel necessary. We will publish every word, as written.

We promised our readers a very interesting issue. Here is Part 3 from the publishers of , because the N-word author asked for it!

The Hustler as Public Intellectual
Randall Kennedy's cold, calculated disrespect

"There are Negroes who will never fight for freedom. There are Negroes who will seek profit for themselves alone from the struggle. There are even some Negroes who will cooperate with their oppressors. These facts should distress no one. Every minority and every people has its share of opportunists, profiteers, free-loaders and escapists."

- The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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.

Before dissecting 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.

Black people's 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 career."

The Nature of the Crime

Although Kennedy, 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.

Randall Kennedy 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 any attention?

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 cry

In an interview with the collegiate website,, 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?'"

Purposeful vagueness 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.

"Hey, you, 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 thing.

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 her.

Later, finally 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.

Shortly after 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.

Randall Kennedy 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.

Kennedy discovers "complexities"

Kennedy calls 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.

"Did you 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.

Cohorts in crime

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:

Mr. McDonald enjoyed the reactions of colleagues, almost all of them white. He carried a piece of paper around the office with the word "nigger" written on it, asking people to pronounce it. Presenting the idea [for the book] at a planning session in January, he asked about 45 editors and other executives to say it [nigger] in unison. In both cases, some refused. "I think it is pretty fun[ny]," Mr. McDonald said, imagining customers asking a bookstore clerk, 'Can I have one Nigger, please?' He added, "I am not afraid of the word 'nigger.'"

McDonald and Kennedy understand each other, and the positions they have both volunteered to assume in the race-business.

The publishing house and the trusted Black editor look for products like Kennedy's to hawk to white readership - a book to serve as a counterweight to prevailing Black opinion. They got exactly what they paid for.

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."

Diversions and Lies

"[A] serious 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 signal.

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 book!

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 Mouth

Randall Kennedy 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."

Kennedy presses 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.

Finally, Kennedy 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."

As "public 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.

Publishers Weekly: "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...."

Newsweek: "He's 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?

Publisher's Weekly 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."

Newsweek solemnly 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:

Present-day Jewish 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 feels."

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 with Jews.")

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 Kennedy.

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.

Thus, Kennedy 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.

Repudiate the bum

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.

Kennedy professes 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.

Consider this 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.

When the axe came into the forest,
the trees said, "The handle is one of us"

From the American Directory of Certified Uncle Toms, Published by the Council on Black Internal Affairs

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