07 June 2007
Well it was an unbelievably stupid thing to say, but was Big Brother contestant Emily really being racist when she blurted out the 'N-word'? This young lady, from my hometown Bristol (in fact, she's actually from my 'hood, a little suburb called Downend, not that I know her or anything) has been kicked-off the show in the worst possible circumstances. I hope it doesn't fuck up her life too much. But why did she say it? Surely no-one would knowingly make racist remarks knowing it was live on the telly and in the wake of the whole Jade Goody/Shilpa Shetty fiasco. With the N-word, context is everything, and I think that this is just an example of a white person using it in a clumsy, inappropriate way, rather than a deliberately offensive one. I think younger people of her generation perhaps don't fully understand the stigma attached to the word -it's so prevalent in music and films these days - whereas I can still remember as a kid all the casual racist nicknames, comments and jokes made by whites. Political correctness in the eighties helped to stamp a lot of that out. But black culture, particularly hip-hop vernacular, very successfully upended the meaning of the n-word, to a degree that is possibly unhealthy. In an ideal world, everyone should just stop saying it, but as long as it remains a so-say streetwise term in the black community, young white kids will always try to emulate what they hear. I used the word myself once in front of a black person, describing a mutual (white) acquaintance as 'my n***a'. It was a thoughtless, casual phrase which I regretted the instant it passed my lips, but to his credit the guy didn't bat an eyelid - he obviously understood the context and took no offence, for which I'm grateful. But this just proves how easily such a phrase can slip into one's vocabulary after listening to enough Snoop Dog records or Tarantino films. Young Emily applied the word incorrectly, but I don't think the world should start hating her for that. She's off the show, that's punishment enough, right?