I was scrolling through my timeline on Twitter this weekend, when amidst the usual Beyoncé worship was a retweet of a photo of comedienne Lisa Lampanelli and HBO’s Lena Dunham. Below the photo was Lampanelli’s caption that read “Me with my nigga @LenaDunham of @HBOGirls – I love this beyotch!!”
While I was angry to see the n-word being used by a White woman to describe another White woman, I wasn’t exactly surprised. I was familiar with Lampanelli’s crude and offensive style of humor, and assumed that this was nothing more than one of her usual antics. So instead of venting on Twitter, I decided to go to sleep and not devote any more energy to the matter than I already had.
But days later, Lampanelli has followed up with several interviews in which she unapologetically defends her use of the n-word. She reassures us that it’s ok though, because she used the word as a term of endearment to describe her friend Lena. She then goes on to educate us on the fundamental differences between the bad n-word that ends with an “er” and the good n-word that ends with an “a”.
But in giving her justification, Lampanelli fails to mention one important detail that negates her entire argument: She is white. The rules that she has just outlined don’t apply to her. She can’t use the n-word.
Which, of course, is precisely the reason that she does.
Because if this was truly about Lampanelli wanting to express her adoration for Dunham as she claims, she would have chosen another word that would have more accurately accomplished that.
And here lies the problem in this situation. It’s not just the n-word itself, it’s Lampanelli’s very purposeful decision to use the word just so that she can attract attention.
Because, for Lampanelli, that word isn’t about culture, or love, or inclusion, or camaraderie like it is for the African-Americans who choose to use it. Instead, for Lampanelli, the n-word is little more than a short and lazy path to controversy and publicity, effectively cheapening whatever endearing quality the word might have had.
And then to add insult to injury, she tries to convince us that the black lash she has received is unreasonable because she has taken “the hate out of the word”. As if we’re all too stupid to know exactly what she’s doing.
Well, Ms. Lampanelli, you might think you have taken the hate out of the n-word (you have not), but when you use it just to evoke shock and cheap laughs, you replace hate with something far more insidious: disrespect. And it’s that disrespect, that blatant dismissiveness of Black values that is just as vile as the word itself.
You see, African-Americans (or “The Blacks” as Lampanelli sometimes refers to us as), don’t have many advantages over our White counterparts. Getting to use the n-word, while White people do not, is one of only a few examples of Black privilege, if there even is such a thing. And even though our “nigga” benefits are trivial, pathetic even, we value them because we don’t have much else.
So go on, White people. Revel in being the majority. Live without fear of your local police. Enjoy your readily accessible superior resources and social rewards. We Black folks can tolerate all that. Just grant us one simple courtesy: Don’t. Use. That. Word.
But, no. Lampanelli, can’t even do that. Instead, she rubs the word in our faces, denying us what little privilege we possess.
Why? Because her privilege says she can.
It’s a slap in the face to “The Blacks” that have been fans of her work. It’s a “f you” to the White people who truly understand and respect why that word is off-limits. And it’s an insult to the women, like myself, who have been called the n-word by some random hateful idiot and have never, ever been quite the same. To hell with all of us. Lampanelli’s going to keep saying the word “nigga” because it’s kind of funny.
Except for the fact that it’s not.