No 'N-Word Pass' For Justin Bieber
Bieber pronounced the "n-word" with the “-a” ending, making it sound more casual, as if he had used it many times before. If Bieber had joked around using the n-word with the “-er” ending, he would be way worse off than he is now.
Like most terms, the spelling and pronunciation of the n-word control the message the speaker wants to convey. In his work, "A Treatise on the Intellectual Character and Civil and Political Condition of the Colored People of the United States and the Prejudice Exercised Toward Them," Hosea Easton refers to the "-er" spelling of the n-word as:
...an opprobrious term, employed to impose contempt upon [blacks] as an inferior race… The term itself would be perfectly harmless were it used only to distinguish one class from another; but it is not used with that intent… it flows from the fountain of purpose to injure.
Even though Easton wrote these words in 1837, most African-Americans today are expected to understand the differences between the two types of “n-word.” Justin Bieber may have used the “-a” ending, indicating a familiarity with hip-hop culture and Ebonics, but there is still the question of whether he has the right to say the n-word at all.
Many African-Americans throw around the n-word amongst themselves as a term of endearment, but reject the idea of certain non-black individuals even trying to say the word Negro.
Justin Bieber is not African-American, and doesn't seem to have an immense understanding of or passion for black culture, meaning he shouldn’t be using the word at all. But other African-Americans, like Kenny Hamilton, Bieber’s past bodyguard, actually defend his repeated use of the n-word, saying “he isn’t racist, he’s just a bad joke teller.” Other celebrities such as Mike Tyson, Whoopi Goldberg and Russell Brand have also come to Bieber's defense, because "everyone makes mistakes."
There are few select celebrities, friends and loved ones, who some African-Americans feel comfortable enough to use the n-word with or give what linguists call "the n-word pass.” Usually these people are like family outside of the family, cousins who aren’t really cousins, or among non-black people who "can still hang.”
However, Justin Bieber is not one of those people, and never has been. So, he may have been nominated for an NAACP image award in 2009, but he doesn’t represent black integration into mainstream culture. Bieber can’t be blamed for a lack of exposure to black culture during his upbringing.
Non-black people who do “pass” usually come from predominately black areas, befriend black people or make serious efforts to understand what it means to be black, giving them an attractiveness as companions because of their willingness to listen to what it really means to be a minority in America.
Marshall Mathers, also known as Eminem, is known for pairing up with outstanding producers like Dr. Dre and was featured in the gritty film, "8 Mile," that revealed so much about the social and cultural circumstances that continue to shape his image and lyrics. Because Eminem was raised in a predominately black part of Detroit, his image has become associated with "being able to hang."
In contrast, hearing about Justin Bieber's video antics doesn't surprise me, because he isn't an artist who seems like "he can hang." Before his career, Bieber's socioeconomic background did not heavily influence his perceptions of black culture and language. Within the last week, two videos have surfaced of Justin Bieber making a mockery of African-American historical memory and trauma. According to Hollywood Wire, several sources have reported there may be evidence of a third video, including more racist footage.
From his awful attempt at (black) soul music, to falsely imitating Michael Jackson's moves, Justin Bieber willl never be considered one of the few, culturally sound celebrities who are cautious enough to know when and how to use the n-word.
Reach Contributor Maya Richard-Craven here.