In a reference to racial duality lost amid some Black people’s knee-jerk reaction to the word “nig*er,” Salon.com (Black) writer Rich Benjamin dared to ask the burning question:
Some of us have an Inner Child. Others have an Inner Nig*er. Is Holder the president’s conscience? Or his Inner Nig*er?
It was bold. It was insensitive. It was controversial — exactly like the monster of racism, and the Twittersphere has demanded an apology from Benjamin and a call to boycott Salon.com swiftly ensued.
In context, Benjamin was referring to Obama’s gift for tap-dancing around the issue, while appearing to actually give a damn about it. His almost piercing ability to describe everything and nothing at all, to paint an abstract picture in such excruciating detail that you walk away satiated –before realizing that the Emperor has no clothes.
Finally the president has spoken about George Zimmerman’s acquittal. Even as the country waited for his singular response – the nation’s leader and a law professor who once looked like Trayvon Martin – the president danced around the issues. And what a dramatic anti-climax, listening to the president refuse to say anything insightful or profound about the acquittal. In signature professorial style, the president gave us the “context” to the episode and to black people’s “pain.” But he didn’t offer a meaningful opinion on the episode’s hot molten core: racial profiling, vigilantism, and “Stand Your Ground” laws.
No, he didn’t. What he did offer, at least for a moment, was a glimpse into his Black experience at a time when Black manhood — no, Black boyhood — was placed on trial from the grave and found guilty in a Florida courtroom.
And it was stunning.
On the other hand, Attorney General Eric Holder got down and dirty. Yes, there are those issues with gun-walking, disparities in drug sentencing, and police brutality that need to be investigated as domestic terrorism, but Holder went there in his speech to the NAACP:
It’s time to strengthen our collective resolve to combat gun violence but also time to combat violence involving or directed toward our children – so we can prevent future tragedies. And we must confront the underlying attitudes, mistaken beliefs, and unfortunate stereotypes that serve too often as the basis for police action and private judgments.
Separate and apart from the case that has drawn the nation’s attention, it’s time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods. These laws try to fix something that was never broken. There has always been a legal defense for using deadly force if – and the “if” is important – no safe retreat is available.
But we must examine laws that take this further by eliminating the common sense and age-old requirement that people who feel threatened have a duty to retreat, outside their home, if they can do so safely. By allowing and perhaps encouraging violent situations to escalate in public, such laws undermine public safety. The list of resulting tragedies is long and – unfortunately – has victimized too many who are innocent. It is our collective obligation – we must stand our ground – to ensure that our laws reduce violence, and take a hard look at laws that contribute to more violence than they prevent.
Could it have been just lip-service? Of course. But it was risky lip-service, not words so subjective at the core that a racist like Robert Zimmerman, Jr. could twist them and agree with them in an obvious attempt at distortion.
Was Benjamin’s word choice unnecessarily provocative, discordant and jarring? Absolutely.
Was it disrespectful to the President and the Attorney General? There is not a doubt in my mind.
But it is also ugly and painful, and a nod to how “angry, Black men” are perceived in this country. Attorney General Eric Holder opened himself up to being called a “nig*er” by racist White Americans– as if existing in Black skin isn’t enough. He opened himself up to being viewed as being the ‘Attorney General’ for Black people; conversely, the POTUS so very much wanted to distance himself from Black America that when a rumor began circulating that he had put in a call to spare the life of Troy Davis before he was murdered by the State of Georgia, he put a halt to it and made it very clear that he had done nothing.
Just in case White folks were watching.
This is not to say that Obama’a speech wasn’t powerful. The Leader of the Free World is Black like me, Black like my sons, Black like Trayvon –and unlike any empathetic White president could have responded, President Obama let us know that he knows.
He just didn’t say what he planned to do about it. And that’s a moment, not a movement.
So, while Benjamin’s word choice would not have been my own, I get it. I don’t like it, but I get it.
The “inner nig*er” is who America is afraid of, because one day he’ll realize that he doesn’t have to color between the lines drawn by White Supremacy and that he’s not a “nig*er at all.
Not a field ni*ger, not a house nig*er, and definitely not a White House nig*er that needs to be silent. And when that day comes, that change might come after all.
So, no, I won’t be boycotting Salon.com or Benjamin. And I hope those offended by the word — as I was — will quiet the internal dialogue for just a moment and listen to what he has to say.
‘Duality Duel’ by Daniel Beatty might be a good place to begin: