I don’t pretend to fully understand why there are such complexities to urban musical slang versus hateful, bigoted slurs, or why it is appropriate for a person to sing “nigga” in a rap song while the same word is reprehensible in common conversation. I also don’t pretend that the lines of reasoning people use to defend such distinctions aren’t often circular or inherently flawed in their construction. (Can such words really be empowering and familial in one context while xenophobic and vile in another?)
I can, however, say with cautious certainty that a tangible distinction between the contexts of such controversial language indeed exists, and it’s a futile exercise to universally condemn those individuals who employ such loaded language in the friendlier sense. While I may be confused at why Timbaland wishes to croon “All the hoes love a nigga, they be backing it up,” I cannot reasonably respond to his lyrics with the same anger I direct at the distasteful comments of Don Imus (official understatement of the year on Oh Kermie). Which is why I am so irritated with Colbert I. King’s rant on Senator Clinton’s recent $800,000 fundraiser hosted at Timbaland’s Florida home, featured this weekend in the Washington Post:
“This much I do know: If Hillary Clinton wasn't playing a hypocrite in the Don Imus episode and is, in fact, a leader who matches her lofty ideals with stand-up behavior, she should return the $800,000 Timbaland raised for her at his swank affair.”
Can I get a what? I’m not going to try to avoid King’s “duh” finger-pointing at the society’s obvious double standard for racially and sexually loaded language. Good job, man, you found it, let me find a cookie for your sleuthing! But without any suggestions for rhetorical reform or an explanation as to why this language is tolerated in the largely ethnic hip-hop community, his criticisms are disingenuous and cheapen the significance of this unique union for political gain.
Clinton’s successful appearance in the hip-hop community should be celebrated for engaging a demographic that doesn’t historically storm the polls with all its potential might, and should be seen as a start of an electorate-candidate conversation (Hillary’s good at those) with big possibilities for 2008. And while King can argue that this target demographic was excluded from the $1,000-per-plate benefit last month, there is no denying that the stamp of a prominent rap mogul on partisan politics might have great implications for the mobilization of hip-hop generation voters.
My advice to King? If you really want the authority to launch a polemic against a popular candidate for the presidency (whose “lofty ideals” are proving a hit with key demographics), figure out why such a significant portion of society indulges the language you happily condemn. Until we can take this controversial lexicon out of our mainstream social dialogue, candidates cannot hope to bridge the incredible gap between their elite political camps and Timbaland-bumping citizens without waltzing into at least a bit of moral mud. And let’s be honest – there’s quite a bit of murky area out there for sludging through.