By Mikel Kwaku Osei Holt
I don’t know what’s worse: That in one of his most absurd and self denigrating rants, gangsta-want-a-be’ Suge Knight told the world that he prefers being called a ‘Nigga’ verses African America, or that the White-owned gossip television show and web-site TMZ would publish a poll asking which of those two adjectives/nouns Black Americans prefer.
From the onset, I admit I’ve never been a big fan of TMZ. Until this ‘story’ broke, I had never visited the website, and as best I can remember, I may have watched part of two of its signature television episodes. I changed the channel 10 minutes into the broadcast because it came off as intrusive, sensationalistic and border line libelous. For the uninformed, TMZ’s primary staple is Hollywood celebrity gossip. And as with most gossip shows, TMZ frequently stretches the truth beyond recognition, or sometimes publishes completely erroneous reports. In one such case TMZ published a ‘story’ on the late President John F. Kennedy, complete with film supposedly showing the president engaged in an orgy on someone’s yacht. The allegations proved to be completely baseless, a fact that hasn’t deterred TMZ’s from conducting similar ‘investigative reports.’
Simply put, TMZ pushes the envelope of journalistic creditability, and like those grocery story gossip ‘tabs’, thrives off meaningless and superficial trivia, innuendo and sensationalism. As an advocate of free speech, you won’t find me in Madison lobbying to enact censorship legislation, but that doesn’t deter me from calling on my fellow ‘Hue-mans’ to diss TMZ.
If its record of tainted journalism is not enough to steer you back to credible journalism, the controversy over the survey should be the straw (or noose) that breaks your back (or neck). Ignoring for a moment the idiotic premise behind the question of whether you can associate different meanins to different spellings of the racist epithet (niggra, vs. nigga, versus nigger), all people of color and common sense should be insulted and angered that TMZ would engage in this racist fiasco.
And I’m not the first to call for a boycott. Two weeks ago, news of TMZ’s survey prompted Ebony magazine to encourage its readers to boycott TMZ. Dozens of Black blogs, civil rights groups and cultural advocates have also denounced TMZ.
(President Barack Obama probably thought about issuing a similar retort, but decided against it for the same reason he has not named an African American to the Supreme Court or used his executive order to install dental implants in the toothless tiger once called ‘affirmative action.’ Appropriately, one Black group questioned why there is no greater outrage over TMZ’s poll.
The popular website Madness at Reality editorialized that our collective anger should be directed more so at TMZ than at Knight, because the medium should have followed basic rules of civility and racial sensitivity. “TMZ’s poll is a prime example of thoughtlessness and cultural insensitivity,” the Madness editorial declared. “It is clearly racist. Imagine if TMZ created a poll asking if Jews should be referred to as Jews or kikes.
Imagine if TMZ created a poll asking if lesbians and gays should be referred to as LGBTs or faggots. Those groups would raise holy hell, and rightly so. “Where is our outrage? While the world is up in arms about a backwoods, red neck reality star for expressing his religious views, we do not hear a peep from those same people about TMZ’s racist poll. “Where are the letters or petitions to TMZ condemning TMZ’s poll? Where are the demands for an apology to the African American community?” What is also interesting is that TMZ recently lambasted Sylvester Stallone for reportedly referring to one its Black photographers as a ‘nigger.’
(Some media questioned whether Stallone in fact used the racist epithet; the only evidence is which is a TMZ recording that is barely auditable.) There is no controversy, however , about TMZ being at the vanguard of criticism of several reports on high profile celebrities who have been lambasted for uttering racist, sexist or homophobic comments. Thus, the poll seems out of character. But then again… According to reports, over 80,000 people responded to the survey, with 54% saying they preferred ‘Niggra’ over African American. But take that statistic with a grain of salt. Obviously, not all of the people who answered the survey were African American. Moreover, TMZ’s audience represents only a small segment of the Black community.
In other words, the survey is tainted—statistically flawed-- although we can’t ignore the fact that despite a high profile burial a couple of years ago of the ‘N’ word by the NAACP, and thousands of denouncements by Black folks who know who we are and where we came from, a large segment of our community, and maybe a majority of our youth, cling to the ever present slave chain link that keeps us culturally impotent, spiritually impoverished and politically irrelevant. Most of that demographic probably view Suge Knight as a spokesperson for their generation. So when Knight, a rap producer with the intelligence of a Neanderthal (and the looks of one too, a sister recently told me), says “we are not from Africa,” he speaks for a large segment of the community who look in the mirror and see a descendent of some mystical country called Niggraland instead of the descendents God’s true chosen people-- the inventors of math, science, astrology and medicine. Knight told TMZ that certain uses of the N-word are acceptable.
He added, “I like [the N-word] better than ‘African-American.’ We’re not from Africa; we’re Black. Even Africans don’t call themselves African—if they’re from Kenya, they say they’re Kenyan.” From that vantage point, boycotting TMZ won’t make much difference, other than to give voice to the ignorant among us who probably don’t read or possess even the rudimentary knowledge of our history. I used to believe that those of us who see ourselves as part of the Diaspora, linked by culture and blood to the Motherland, would drown out the wicked cries of the ignorant. But to be honest, I’m no longer confident we can achieve that goal. That new found fear is particularly alarming because as a student of history, and life long advocate for Black empowerment, I am well aware that there is a link between how we perceive ourselves and our standing among the ethnicities of this planet.
I have also learned that others not only revel in our lack of self-respect and cultural impotency, they capitalize off it. As in get rich---through poverty programs and prisons, social work, foster care and, of course, the music industry which has made, according to some estimates, half a trillion dollars from Black folks who purchase CDs that degrade us, our women and our culture. No other people would pay to convince each other that Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, is a Nigger. Or, excuse me, a Nigga. One other lesson years of activism has shown me is that one old adage rings true today as it did 1,000 years ago: Knowledge is power. The absence of knowledge is ignorance. The abuse of knowledge is stupidity. I have to assume Suge Knight knows better. He has to know we come from Africa, and not some fabled country called Niggerland. And assuming he knows that undisputable fact, that means he is not ignorant, but instead stupid, as are many of those who agree with his rant. Maybe TMZ can undertake a survey on that assumption! Hotep.