It’s a word laced with hate, meant to make a group of people feel less than human. It’s a word that’s helped build music empires. And it’s a word that’s ruined careers.
Paula Deen is the latest celebrity caught in a controversy surrounding her use of the N-word. Last week someone leaked details from a deposition where the celebrity chef admitted to using the racial slur.
Since then, three of Deen’s partners, The Food Network, Walmart, and Smithfield foods, have cut ties.
Wednesday Deen broke down in tears as she spoke to the “Today” show about the recent backlash.
“If there’s anyone out there that has never said something that they wish they could take back, if you’re out there, please pick up that stone and throw it so hard at my head that it kills me.”
“That’s just unacceptable in 2013, that’s just not the country we are.”
Activist Kevin Powell has lectured on both civil rights and hip-hop culture. Powell says it wasn’t just that Deen used the ‘N-word’ during her deposition that he found alarming, he was concerned when she referenced “rednecks” and Jewish people as the butt of jokes.
“It’s up to us to say these are human-beings and here’s a fuller picture of who they are as people. And I think until we do that the ‘N-word’ and all these other negative words will continue to be out there and pass from generation to generation.”
But comedians like Chris Rock, and rappers like Jay-Z have built careers on using the ‘N-word’ throughout their shows. Earning millions, even billions of dollars in the process.
Powell says when it comes to comedy routines there’s a fine line between funny and offensive.
“There are things that are funny about Italian people, about black people, about Jewish people, I mean we’re all hilarious. But do you have to say something that is mean spirited or use a mean spirited term to describe those people over and over again, and I’d say no to that.”
And when people hear rappers like Jay-Z use the word over and over again, they forget about the history of racial discrimination and oppression that created it.
“When you have someone on that level, who’s probably the most successful rapper ever and one of the biggest music moguls ever at this point, constantly using that word, people are going to think it’s okay.”
Actress Gweneth Paltrow recently took some heat after tweeting the name of one of Jay-Z’s songs during a show in Paris.
And Deen claims it’s difficult to understand how people really feel about the “N-word” when it’s used so often.
She says she’s heard employees refer to each other using the in most of the kitchens she’s worked in.
“These young people are going to have to take control and start showing respect to each other and not throwing that word at each other.”
“I agree with her that it’s problematic when a white person uses the word and it’s actually problematic when a black person uses the word. Until we say that, it’s not going to change.”
And ultimately how you spend your money will speak loudest to the artists and advertisers.
That more than anything will make celebrities choose their words more carefully.