In A Grain of Sand – Politically Correct Rap

Dahlia Rizk

People always ask me, “Remember that episode of Seinfeld when…?” I don’t usually know what went on in Episode # 674387, but like many this past week, I figured out quite a bit about Michael Richards, aka Kramer. Undoubtedly, Richards regrets his use of the n-word. He has come forth and apologized to the African American community more than once, claiming that he is ‘shattered’ by his racist remarks. But as he tries to put the pieces back together, the question that has been brought to the surface is: is the use of the n-word ever acceptable, or does society tolerate the circumstances that perpetuate its use?

Part of me feels that it should not be used, regardless of the circumstances or of who says it. I feel that such a word carries with it certain historical and racial baggage that we snub when we decide to use it. The word was created to hate and to demean. What is the point of language if it seeks to do something other than communicate and facilitate understanding?

So, I ask myself, why is it that I can listen to Busta Rhymes or the Ying Yang Twins on my iTunes and actually enjoy it? Is the context of using the n-word in art or entertainment enough to make it ‘ok’? If Kramer were the one using the word on the set of Seinfield instead of Richards on an off day, would that make it any better?

Notice that I am giving you a lot more questions than answers. (Rhetorical questions are great like that. How else can you ask an impossible question and then NOT answer it?) Nonetheless, I think we’re starting to see the outline of the dilemma here: to what extent is expression or entertainment free from social stigmas or sensitivities?

In late September, a major German opera house, Deutsche Oper Berlin, cancelled performances of Mozart’s Idomeneo because it depicts the Prophet Muhammad in his human (as well as decapitated) form. This gesture was in response to potential upset from Muslims who do not believe that the depiction of the Prophet is acceptable, regardless of the circumstance. The “it’s art, so it’s ok” argument didn’t hold too well. People get upset. Period.

At the present moment, circumstances like these are not holding well with leaders of the black community either, and they are calling for an abolishment of the n-word in entertainment.

However, I question whether such a move is feasible and, quite frankly, necessary. Even given my view on the use of the word, I start to wonder what would happen to rap music if it were to ever become politically correct. In fact, the idea itself seems paradoxical. Gone would be the cut-and-dry, yet also the frustration that makes rap what it is. Obviously, those that are buying this music and listening to it are the ones who enjoy rap for what it is.

And who would drop Busta Rhymes’ latest album the moment he looks around after a performance and says: Oops, sorry, did I just say that?

Wow, lame. Really lame.