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Jan 18 2014
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Madonna-disnigga-racist-Instagram

Madonna's Instagram continues to be an unexpected lightning rod of controversy. This time, she posted a faux-tough image of her kid, Rocco, along with a quip hashtagged "disnigga."

Immediately, people were offended. Then, predictably, ostensibly non-racist white people began seething about not "getting" to use a word that black people use all the time, and spinning their wheels about how Madonna isn't a racist.

First, Madonna isn't a racist. #duh You don't have to be crass and point to her children or past boyfriends as so many are wont to do, you just have to look at the totality of her life.

Second, it's not about whether Madonna is "a racist." Unfortunately, when these things happen, people begin debating what's in the heart of the person in question. If you're deciding whether to be someone's fan, then it's appropriate to get into that. But the real issue is: Is that word always offensive? Is it offensive in this circumstance?

Breaking news: One can be a non-racist and say something that is racist or even just racially insensitive.

Madonna quickly replaced the text with something altogether different, so clearly got the message that it didn't go over well. I'll be curious to hear her forthcoming statement, presumably of regret.

But I will say this: "Nigga" is not, as so many online articles have breathlessly trumpted, "the N-word." That word ends with an "-er" and it is different, though not wholly, from "nigga." The two are not totally interchangeable. "Nigga" has been in so many popular songs (different from movies since songs are much more clearly extensions of their singers' personae and not just scripts) and has saturated our culture to the extent that I'd be willing to bet most younger people wouldn't think twice about an older white lady using it ironically. (Finally, Madonna's favorite defense that she was doing something "ironically" would actually apply here!)

My opinion: I don't like the word or the N-word. I wouldn't use either. I think Madonna was stupid to use it, and it's disappointing that she would use it thoughtlessly. Her best provocations have a point, and the point is how stupid the world is to be sensitive about the subject at hand: about a woman kising a black man ("Like a Prayer"), about teen pregnancy ("Papa Don't Preach"), about sex (uh...her whole career). In this case, no reasonably intelligent person with any knowledge of, let's face it, very recent history could argue that black people are too darn sensitive when it comes to the N-word.

So what if they have reappropriated and use it themselves? That doesn't mean white people can use it in exactly the same way without potentially causing offense.

It's all about context. It's context that saves Madonna from coming off as actually racist, but it's also context that reveals her to have been insensitive.

   

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