PHOTO CREDIT: TheLifeFiles
Gwyneth Paltrow is not a racist. But she can’t call me a “nigga.”
A few days ago, fresh off a monumental celebration, the Oscar-winning actress tweeted a picture of The-Dream and Jay-Z’s cousins TyTy and BeeHigh. Under it, the caption read: “N*ggas In Paris, for real.”
What followed was a contained outrage from many African-Americans feeling slighted by the joke and demanding an apology. There was no apology. Instead, Paltrow defended her use of the phrase by tweeting, “Hold up. It’s the title of the song!”
Paltrow is correct in that the name of the song is “Niggas In Paris,” titled to represent the unfathomable journey these two Black men have made from their humble beginnings in Brooklyn and Chicago to the lavish life they’ve earned for themselves. “Niggas in Paris” is an homage to being self-made. “If you escaped what I escaped, you’d be in Paris getting fucked up to”
While it’s uncomfortable to see non-Black people say the uncensored title, it’s the name of the song. But that is not what Paltrow did. The use of the phrase “for real” changed the game.
Russell Simmons lackadaisically defended Paltrow, blogging that Paltrow was just in Paris having fun with her friends. No harm. No foul. However, he never addressed the actual offense, which wasn’t saying the song title. It was applying it. Jay and Kanye labeled themselves “Niggas” because that is their right to do. Gwyneth publicly labeled three Black men “niggas,” which was uncomfortable to watch.
Less than twenty-four hours later, The-Dream debuted his new single, “Dope Bitch.” In homage to his lady, Terius sings, “and I mean no disrespect by this line, I got a dope bitch.”
This time discomfort came from several women taking issue with The-Dream’s use of the word “bitch.”
We could resurrect the ongoing debate over the use of the words “nigga” and “bitch,” but that’s not the point being made here. What I found most interesting about the digital ground-swell that followed both issues was the opposition to those annoyed.
In defense of The-Dream’s new song, several referenced the song “That’s My Bitch” in which Jay-Z closes his verse by referring to his wife Beyoncé as his bitch. That’s fact. It’s undeniable. It happened. But what does that have to do with the rest of us?
It is immature to try to bully someone into agreeing with your point of view by invalidating their feelings. It is irresponsible of people who are not minorities to tell minorities that it’s no big deal if they use the n-word or for a man to tell a woman she’s overreacting because she doesn’t want to be called a bitch.
Yes, we give words power. But how those words are received–and more importantly–the choice to receive them belongs to us individually. That is what the fight was for, not to eradicate the words but to create a space where we are allowed to determine who we are, for ourselves.
In 2009 there was an interesting exchange between Jay-Z and Oprah when he made his debut on her show. Oprah–a very vocal opponent to hip-hop lyrics–took Jay-Z to task over the use of the n-word. Winfrey, more than a decade older than Jay, had lived through the era where that word was hurtful. Jay-Z came from a time and place where the word had been reclaimed and re-purposed, and now it was his to use as he saw fit. They were both right. And we watched them battle it out, finally agreeing to move forward respecting each other’s right to disagree but allowing the other to feel the way they chose.
Social networking gives everyone an opportunity to weigh in on just about everything, but the right to give your opinion shouldn’t be mistaken with audacity to snub someone else’s. It’s not your job to tell me what should bother me, just as it’s not my place to truly tell you what words you can or cannot use. However, if we are to interact with one another peacefully, an understanding should be in place on what’s said and what each other is to be called. And if you can’t respect that, your whole perspective is wack.
–Jas Fly (@JasFly)