In the aftermath of this exchange I was rather shocked to hear many (not all or even a majority even) educated African Americans defend the position of Whoopi Goldberg that while it is never all right for a non African American to use that word, it can be all right for an African Americans to use it among themselves.
Dr. Mark Lamont Hill said that language is too nuanced for the black and white view that a word is either strictly acceptable or unacceptable. Furthermore, others still, made the point that a white person like myself has no place to judge since I haven't gone through their experience. While I personally find that point to be just as fallacious as Whoopi's original point about the word's sometimes dual meaning, I will cede all African Americans their point that I haven't shared their experience.
Instead, I will only argue about things I know. I am of Jewish decsent and born in the Soviet Union, and for that, I have experienced bigotry nealy all my life. I don't know any Jew or Soviet ex pat that has ever used a derogatory term toward either race as a term of endearment. Furthermore, if I did, it would NOT be acceptable. I don't find it empowering to turn those terms around and make them mean something besides the hateful meaning of their intended purpose.
Don't get me wrong, I am no angel. I have used derogatory terms though very rarely. I know that the only times I have used them it was a result of hubris or frustration.
I found it interesting and revealing that Dr. Hill and every other African American defender of their dual usage pointed out that they themselves have never used as a term of endearment. I think this culture of victimhood that makes some classes feel as though they can turn around derogatory terms and use them as a term of endearment is nonsense. This is not a contest about which group has been victimized most. Very few groups have faced a longer and more vicious history of hate than Jewish folks. I don't know any Jew that thinks turning around derogatory terms has any empowering effect. I doubt very much you would get any Jewish leader defending such action.
Members of the same race that struggled for freedom in America and then to vote and eat in the same diners go to the same bathrooms and drink from the same fountains, now want to divide the world based on race when using a derogatory term. To me this sort of blatant hypocrisy is nothing more than excuse making for crude terms that have no business anywhere in our society.
We live in a world of gray that needs more black and white. Here is an opportunity for black and white where there is gray. A derogatory term is just that no matter who uses it or how they intended to use it. The best way to empower yourself is to move beyond derogatory terms not by turning them around for some other usage. Personally, I think anyone that uses a derogatory term as an empowering term is just plain ignorant. Everyone has their own experience and I won't pretend to know what sorts of racism African Americans have experienced. That said, I certainly know a derogatory term when I hear one, and it doesn't matter who is using it or why.
As I pointed out in my earlier piece, the only time I used a derogatory term to make a point was during a speech in my fraternity. I had experienced nearly four years of bigotry because of my religion. I wanted to make a point. (Arnold was an African American that brought us our meals and Macias was a Hispanic member of the fraternity) Here is what I said,
One last thing, when I first arrived here, many of you made comments about me being Jewish. At first, I figured it wasn't that big a deal because you weren't that mature, but since its been four years and you still haven't gotten over it. The only thing I can see is that to you I'm just another K%^E, just like Macias is just another S^&C, and Arnold's just another Ni$$er.
The reason that I did this was to throw the derogatory terms back in the fraternity mate's faces. I wanted them to experience being the recipient of such terms. It worked and for a little while they were genuinely affected. There are few absolutes in this world, and while abhor the use of racial slurs I also feel I used them properly in that context. That said, the idea that one group can use a term as an endearment while it would be viewed as derogatory when used by other groups is, to me at least, a pathetic excuse of crude language that has no business being used by anyone.