Moments in the life of Mother of the Year:
I rode my bike down to the park to summon home Kate and a friend, who were playing there. When I found them they were crawling around in some bushes, trying to find her friend’s hat. The hat had been snatched, and hidden somewhere in the park, by a boy who lurks there and regularly gives them trouble. This was the second incident in a month, and I let fly with my opinion that this boy is “a nasty little shithead.” Well, it cheered them up, anyway. Where before they’d been near tears, now they were thrilled that they’d heard an adult — not only an adult, but a mother — use a bad word, and about someone they knew.
I’m sure it was all over the park in two minutes flat.
Mostly, I try not to swear around my kid. There will be time for her to discover the poetry of profanity, but that time isn’t now. What I try to do instead is use my entire vocabulary; if I’d been faster on my feet, that boy would have been “overcompensating thug-boy.” I also try not to be coy. I hate the way we think “fuck” is enough to cause fainting, but “f- – -” is A-OK. Some years ago one of my colleagues wrote a story about a dust-up at a high-school newspaper, which featured students quoted accurately using profanity. The stock phrase of description editors settled on was not “the students used a variety of obscenities,” but “the students used the f-word, the s-word, the a-word and several variations.” Something like that, anyway. It was so silly.
Needless to say, we never, ever used the word “nigger.” It was either “the racial slur known as the n-word” or “n- – - – -,” but the word itself was radioactive. A suspect in a racially motivated murder was arraigned, and the story pointed out that the man had several tattoos that suggested he would make no African-American friends in prison, so his lawyer asked for protective custody. Were it up to me, I’d have written, “The suspect has prominent tattoos featuring racial slurs,” but the AP went with “the suspect has a tattoo that reads, ‘Die, n- – - – -, die.’” When I first read this, I thought for half a second that he’d gotten a tattoo with dashes in it.
You see what I’m saying? Say it or don’t say it. But don’t pussyfoot around. The dashes don’t make it any less offensive. It’s just so much fan-fluttering.
After this, our editor, who was gay, promoted “faggot” and “queer” to dashed-out status, on the grounds they were the gay version of the ultimate racial slur. I truly mourned these, and not because I heard them so often coming out of the mouths of gay people. I just like language, all language, and the more, the better. Gay people have so many amusing euphemisms for homosexuality, I feared we were sliding down the slope toward incoherence, with such great terms as “nelly queen,” “Miss Thing” and my favorite — “nancyboy” — banished to the twilight of dashes.
You know where this is heading, don’t you? The NAACP is meeting in Detroit this week, and yesterday they “buried the n-word.”
Good luck with that. I’m sympathetic, but pessimistic. Also, cynical — I await the day, surely arriving any minute now, when someone says “nigga” is an entirely different word, and hence OK. I actually agree; if anyone can’t tell the difference between one black kid telling another “you’re my nigga” and a white racist saying the same thing in, eh, a different tone of voice, they probably haven’t read this far. Language is paint. You can apply it with a fine brush, a wide one, a spray can or a bucket, but the art is in the execution.
Interesting note: The Free Press marked this occasion with several stories, two editorials, a cartoon and letters to the editor about the issue. But they didn’t allow online comments on the original story yesterday. Now that would be an interesting thing to read an editor’s column about. I’m not holding my breath.
Not to change the subject too abruptly, but guess who’s coming to Detroit in September, and for whom will I shove aside all comers in my quest for tickets when they go on sale Friday? George Clinton, that’s who. Now two weeks away from his sixty-funkin’-seventh birthday, it sounds like George is sometimes baffled by kids today, and their filthy mouths, too:
Though he’s popular with rappers, Clinton says he doesn’t completely understand the hip-hop culture. “I can’t get used to [rappers] saying the things they say to girls and then expecting them to make love to that,” he laughs. “One guy was cursing this one girl out and I said, ‘Man, don’t talk like that to that girl,’ and she said, ‘Oh, here comes Captain Save-a-Ho.’”
By the way, if you want to know why Clinton is still important today, here’s a clue:
“We do it different all the time,” he says. “People want to hear the same songs they know, and at the same time they want something different. You have to be conscious of that. They say they’re nostalgic for that old music. I don’t want to be nostalgic,” he pauses. “I want to see what’s next.”
“I want to see what’s next.” I’ve known people who have been looking backward since they were 30 years old.
How the Chinese deal with corruption widely known to be deep, broad and systemic: They execute the head of their FDA equivalent. Well, that’ll surely take care of the problem, don’t you think? Everybody back to work!
Do you read the Comics Curmudgeon? If not, you should.
That’s all for this morning, the last (so we’re told) in the heat wave. And Mercury is no longer retrograde. Let’s all start new projects.
UPDATE: Undercover Black Man has your Giant Negro Roundup, for those you who follow such things. As I know UBM is a sometime writer for “The Wire,” I wonder if he shares any responsibility for one of the better lines from a recent season: After the shooting of Stringer Bell, one homicide detective asks another if they have a suspect description. “BNBG,” the second one says. “Big negro, big gun.”