Thursday, May 17, 2007

Mr. Nigga (1999) – Mos Def featuring Q-Tip

Given the recently revived debate on removing certain words from the vocabulary of entertainment, is banning the use of the “N-word” an efficacious step in reshaping race relations? As Michael Richards’ Laugh Factory diatribe suggests, it’s not his use of the word per se that was deplorable, it was his underlying premise of supremacy in denigrating the African-American audience members who had dared to heckle a white man, drawing upon U.S. historical transgressions in reminding them that they were “privileged” to be allowed to speak freely in today’s society, whereas once they would have been lynched for doing so. Sure, he was speaking primarily out of frustration, but he obviously had a preconceived notion of racial status in this country, and the humiliation of being disrespected on stage caused the ugliness to surface.

So would it make a difference if this particular racial slur/term of endearment is banished from the lexicon?

According to Mos Def, it probably wouldn’t. He lets us know that, even having found success as a rap artist and Hollywood actor, despite the luxuries he can confer upon his loved ones, at the end of the day he’ll still be Mr. Nigga. In his guest appearance, Q-Tip brings along a variation of the concise refrain from A Tribe Called Quest’s “Sucka Nigga,” which itself explored the use of the word.

Mos brings it back down to the clichéd, but epidemic, common denominators that plague young black men: to the officer, you’re a criminal, guilty of DWB; to the flight attendant, you errantly stumbled into first class; to the landlord, you are the tenant whom nobody wants as a neighbor; to fellow Rodeo Drive shoppers, you couldn’t possibly be anything other than an employee; to airport security worldwide, you are a drug smuggler. His attempt to analogize Woody Allen’s seduction of Soon-Yi Previn to Michael Jackson’s alleged pedophilia and O.J. Simpson’s alleged double homicide misses the mark, but his frustration with society’s apparent ostracization double standard is duly noted.

In the end, even those who think they are liberal might be surprised when their actions reveal latent prejudices. Despite lip-service to equality and civil rights, it doesn’t matter to Mos if you use the word, or merely think it, if your actions ultimately reflect it.

Perhaps at times there’s an obnoxious defiance in the conspicuous consumption of young black athletes or entertainers who hit a financial goldmine, but they’re just celebrating and asserting themselves in ways their forefathers couldn’t—in ways that probably piss off Michael Richards.

  • Listen to "Mr. Nigga" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
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