Thursday, November 12, 2009

What’s Wrong With Using N**ger in an Explicit Content Comics?

I’m picking on the Buy Pile column a little bit, maybe a lot today, but Hannibal is an outspoken kind of guy and he can certainly sure defend himself. In this week’s column he says “The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title. "Sky Doll: Doll Factory" #1, "Anchor" #2, "X-Force" #21 (or you may know it as "Blackest Night: X-Men" ... dude, what the heck?), "Action Comics" #883, "Star Wars: Purge - Seconds to Die" (all that for what's essentially a clip show?), "Batgirl" #4, "Jersey Gods" #9, "Batman" #693, "Tracker" #1, "Batman/Doc Savage Special" #1, "Booster Gold" #26, "Shield" #3, "Titans" #19, "Blackbeard" #1 and #2, "Punishermax" #1 (was a racial slur on page three really necessary? Also, haven't we seen Wilson Fisk's rise to power before Frank Castle's campaign started? If not for Steve Dillon, this would have dropped farther)”

Obviously what I want to talk about is what I bolded. Hannibal has always been annoyed about the “N” word being used in comics and especially by white writers. Hannibal is black and feels that white people cannot possibly understand the entire context that word implies. I’m heavily cutting down on his viewpoint, but he does not like seeing the use of that word and especially if it is a white writer is the strong impression I have gotten.

First, I’m a white guy, so I will never fully understand what it means to be black. I also won’t understand what it means to be a woman, what it is like to grow up in New York, what it is like to have my family slaughtered by mobsters and then to take up a life of brutal vengeance. I’m also guessing I will never gain super powers and therefore will find it difficult to understand what it is like to wear gaudy costumes in public. Yet I think if I had the chance one day I could do a passable job writing a Punisher story or some other comic and try to at least draw on those aspects that are not part of my own unique experience.

Second this book is listed as explicit content and as the dialogue in question is coming from a mobster of Italian descent would his dialogue sound authentic if he did not use the racial slur to describe other people? At a poker game (where we play just for fun), I have been called b*tch and worse names because when you beat someone else in a hand they thought they had won and you are drinking those things happen. If my friend called me a “poop head” is would not have the same resonance.

So let’s look at the actual offense. The dialogue in question is “And once he brings us down, what then? We leave our streets for the N**gers and the Ivans to take over? F**k that.” If we change it to “We leave the streets to the African-Americans and Russian-Americans, forget that”, it loses something, I think.

On the next page we have dialogue of “That c**t-faced Mick psycho Finn Cooley” Now I’m half Irish and while I’m no Paul Newman or Pierce Bronsan in the looks department, I do not believe that description would be appropriate for anyone of Irish descent, yet no mention by Mr. Tabu of that racial slur and possible gender slur also.

So it is a little bit of a double standard being used and for my two cents as longs as within the context of the story it makes sense to use that type of dialogue, then its use is appropriate. Also I think words are often given power by other people. There was a story I heard about in a high school the students started to use “meep” in place of f**k. The school has apparently banned the term meep. Personally I like this as much as frell and dren from Farscape and now hope to be able to tell people to “meep off” in the future. It also cracks me up that there maybe a memo somewhere telling people to not say meep.

Anyway I thank the “Buy Pile” for the inspiration for this post and hope that if others disagree to please weigh in with your view. I’m just a poor half mick cracker from the Mid-Atlantic with one viewpoint.


  1. Why the asterisks? Are we PG rated?

    As you know, but others may not, I'm white and my wife is black. Our kids look more like me, which is to say they're pretty pale and Anglo looking. Do they get to use nigger like any kid in Pimlico or are they verbotten from the term because, though they are black, they don't look black?

    Now, in our house they've been raised not to use nigger or cunt because both words can seldom be used in anything but a pejorative way. The seven dirty words of Carlin fame, on the other hand, I frequently employ. My wife doesn't want the kids using those, either, so they don't, so far. (Actually, she doesn't want me using them but long ago gave up on that battle.) At 10 and 8 they listen to that sort of thing, but I'm sure as they get older they'll swear as well as their old man.

    Language is about communicating ideas. Sometimes those ideas are distasteful, but when a creative writer in a work of fiction is portraying a distasteful character, it would be an utter failure as a writer to have the distasteful character suddenly behave in a refined and polite way, in contradiction to the character. The overall skill of the writer is the important thing. I use the word fuck plenty of times, but a writer, or even a conversational speaker, who over relies on the word and shows an inability to express in any other way is just not worth my time. I'm not offended by the word, I'm offended by the lack of intellectual heft.

    Leave aside this comic just written this year. How absolutely wrong would it be to excise nigger from Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer? These are some of the greatest works of American writing. It's not a matter of Mark Twain writing as a product of his time. The word was just as offense then as it is now. Twain was writing fictional characters and using the language that would have been used by people in those circumstances at that time.

    I wonder, too, if Hannibal would object to a writer, regardless of ethnicity, having a poor, black, urban character using nigga, as is so often done as a more friendly gesture today. Does the ethnicity of the fictional character uttering the word make a difference? Does the use of the word solely in the pejorative versus the ironic usage make a difference?

    I tend to side with the free usage of language. Almost any word can be made into a weapon in the proper context and with the creative use of sarcasm. Why, even "is" can be used as a weapon if you're referencing Bill Clinton's legal parsing. The best way to combat words like nigger, mick, wop, chink and the like is to do what the young men have done and turn it around. Look at queer. Many gays have turned that insult on its head.

    It's also important to know your audience. If you are the speaker and you know a word will offend, and it's not your intent to offend, don't use it. If you intend to offend or you're speaking in the voice of another who intends to offend, then go right ahead.

    Thanks to Pops and Hannibal for elevating this discussion, though.

  2. The word "Nigger" is always going to bother somebody, and when you see it in a comic book it can cause a disturbance in the force if you will. I'm an American of so-called African descent(I have no proof of who my ancestors are beyond my grandmother), but anyway racism is obviously not going anywhere. I personally don't care when so-called white people use "the N word" because I treat everyone as if they're racist as a defense mechanism so that I'm never caught by surprise.

  3. I don't think "so-called white people" works the same way as "so-called African descent". White's just a descriptive of skin pigmentation. I either appear white or I don't. Granted, I have a lot of freckles so I appear white with brown spots, but you get my drift. Whether you're of African descent is obviously not necessarily determined by surface appearance but by geneology. You can hazard a guess by appearance, but that's about it. People often think I'm Irish but I'm mostly English, German and Scots.

    Dude, you've got to have sunnier outlook on people. You'll give yourself an ulcer if you think everyone's out to get you, which you kind of have to think if you think everyone's racist. Racism, by definition, isn't just categorizing people based on their appearance, as a mental shortcut, but acting on that categorization to the benefit or detriment of a person based solely on that appearance.

    Now, operating under the presumption that most people are stupid until shown otherwise, that's just good sense. Better for your safety when driving, too.

  4. I think racism has gotten better - it just takes time. A change in cultural worldview isn't going to happen overnight. Look how much our society has changed in just in the past 50 years. Or you could ask Jim since he's seen the past 50 years ;)

    Regardless I think people should strive for authentic characters and if that means using racial slurs so be it. As long as it's the character who's being a prick and not the writer.

  5. Red Dog (Thomm) - I use the ** to be polite, nothing more. Nice commentary.

  6. Isn't that PC? :-) Couldn't resist the reference to another conversation.

  7. Not PC - but could be viewed that way - funny.