Andrew Harrison, Frank Kaminsky, And What It Means To Be Called A Nigga In America

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Siya
Here we go again.  Another weekend, another race debate in America. We can’t believe we have to blog this shit, but the tides of headlines forced us (maybe for the better) to release a piece we’ve been considering for a while. In a moment caught on tape (In 2015, you should always assume someone is listening), Andrew Harrison muttered “fuck dat nigga” in response to Frank Kaminsky’s perfect-season ending performance. Predictably, people got upset.  Cue the N-word discussions.

We collaborated to respond to this tired debate with no resolution in sight for several reasons.  I’m not an American citizen, and Ben is not black.  In a sense we both respectively hold insider (my being black, Ben being American) and outsider (Ben being white, my being African) views of the subject at hand.  While the word may have different effects on either one of us depending on who its coming from – as Ben will illustrate in his experiences – we agree on one point that seems to JUST NOT GO AWAY.  Even for our most thoughtful and sensitive of friends, this point has come up in candid debate. It comes up on a Friday night when the entire bar goes nuts to Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Niggas In Paris”, it was satirized by the great Chappelle in this skit, and it came up recently in the now infamous OU Racist Frat Incidence that sparked the debate yet again.  The point we agree on is quite simple. IF YOU GOTTA ASK, YOU CAN’T AFFORD IT.

Fair Warning: You won’t walk away with a pretty, gift-wrapped, conclusive understanding of the nuance and finesse in the usage of a word with such versatile power. The fire it packs is equally positive and negative, and can snap from one form to another at any time. The word’s meaning is fluid, volatile, and can light up a room as quickly as it can scorch the oxygen out of it in one breath.  The power it punches is filled with hatred and love, embrace and disgrace equally.  As the word’s half-life from the days of slavery pass, it has only become more radioactive and unstable to handle.  So much so, that some would like it sealed off from history and usage like spent uranium pellets doomed to live in the bowels of Yucca Mountain for a thousand years.  But, unlike the nuclear waste, evidence of the word’s past, presence [NO TYPO], and future exists far past the tons of concrete and mountain rock of false decency atop. The CONDITION it describes, celebrates, rebukes, and annotates is palpable in the everyday lives of the descendants of those who have equally suffered and benefited from its application in the past, present, and certain future.  Ben’s perspective is refreshing to me, because it addresses the WORD and this power.

Take it away, Ben

_______________________________________________

Ben
Seeing as I’m a white middle-class person in middle America, my opinion on the whole incident is to be taken for what it is, the views of an outsider.  I can’t offer perspective on what it’s like to be black in America.  All I can offer is perspective about what it’s like to be a white person being called that word.  For some reason, there was concern about how Kaminsky felt about Harrison’s comment.  He shouldn’t care at all.  Frank Kaminsky isn’t the first white person to be called a “nigga”.  I’m not the first white person to be called one either.  And I have been called it, some 34,434,434 times playing online video games, a few dozen times when hanging out in groups with Siya, and more than I can count in online forums. But, there are two times that stick out in my mind where I was intentionally called the N-word.

The first time was by another white guy my age.  It was pretty well known that he was the good-ole’ boy, redneck, Confederate flag waving kind of guy.  He wasn’t the type of person I would have had overlapping social circles with, but we lived in a small enough town that he knew who I was and what I was about and I knew the same about him.  I was out running errands, head down, sending a text, when I bumped into him.  With no hesitation, in a practiced tone, he spat, “Watch where you’re going you dirty nigger.”  Now, again, I’m white, that word doesn’t carry the immense racial baggage with me that it would for others, but the way he said it, with distinct poison in his voice, left a cloud of mustard gas over my entire day.  I wasn’t offended by the word itself, the word has never had an invasive grip on me, my dismay was in the way the word was painted in pure hate.  Only that specific word, spoken by a white person, could carry that much toxicity.  That moment has always stuck with me.

The second time was completely different.  Statute of limitation years ago I was in the market for an electronic device at a very specific price range.  Having exhausted the standard shopping outlets, I ended up talking to a black friend of a friend of mine who happened to have some gang ties.  He told me he knew a few guys that specialized in heavily discounted merchandise who would be able to help me.  He arranged the meeting, passing me on the time and place, an apartment building in a rougher part of town, nothing of surprise.  When I arrived, I was greeted at the door by three black men I didn’t know, and judging by the looks targeted my way, definitely weren’t expecting me.  I was quickly ushered inside, the door dead-bolted behind me.  The apartment was sparsely furnished and my eyes immediately darted to a handgun on the particle board coffee table.  To say the room was giving a hostile vibe would be like saying America has a race problem.   I started to get nervous.  I offered a, “Hey, I’m Ben.”  SILENCE.  The lingering distrust was palpable, the air heavy with an unspoken whisper, “Is this guy a fucking cop?”

A bedroom door opened, and out walked my friend of a friend.  He took one look at me and yelled out, “Yo! This is that nigga I was tellin’ ya’ll about.”  And just like that, the room changed!  The three of them became super relaxed and open, beers were brought out, blunts were rolled, music was turned on, guns were paraded in front of me in some sort of Lord of War show and tell ritual, and I ended up staying there for a while having a really good time.  Today, I couldn’t tell you any of those three guys’ names, I couldn’t pick them out of a crowd, but when my friend of a friend came out and called me that, we all became brothers for that moment of time.  No white person on Earth could create a positive vibe change in a room by using the N-word like that.  At absolute best, the usage could go unnoticed.  At worst, it’s met with violence.

The difference between white and black usage is embedded hatred vs communal understanding.  There’s no possible positive energy that comes from a white person using the word, the usage is always going to provoke memories of people like that racist bigot in my first story.  On the other hand, black usage of the word can and does create positive energy, it brings people together, it creates community out of strangers.  As a white person, when I heard the comment directed at Kaminsky, I didn’t assume any hatred.  I assumed Harrison was expressing a frustrated sigh, a perplexed expression about Kaminsky’s skills as a player, while simultaneously acknowledging that Kaminsky is on his level.  To me it just read as “I can’t believe we fucking lost, but that dude can play.”

If you reverse who said what, yes, it’s absolutely fucking racist.  That’s not a double standard.  That’s just the nature of the word.

Siya, your thoughts?

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Siya
I believe that’s exactly what Harrison meant. Kaminsky knows it, judging by his answers on the matter, and Harrison stands by it, based on his apology. As far as offense intended and received, Harrison might as well have said “fuck that MFA”, or “fuck that dude”.  Both guys are future NBA players, and if they’ve played basketball at the high collegiate level, its plausible to believe that’s not the first time either one of them has experienced the word or its unspoken rules of conduct amongst this generation (I’m sure our basketball playing readers will agree). The stage is just bigger than its ever been for both guys.

Kaminsky did not feel the poison that came from Ben’s first story bigot.  Kaminsky’s probably been to referred to in a similar manner to Ben’s second story, likely followed by how he’s a big-time baller, headed for the league. When we conceived this, I chummily titled my response “Nigga – If You Gotta Ask, You Can’t Afford It”.  That is a response to the inevitable cries for foul-play and hypocrisy that will come from those who would find themselves aligned with the now expelled OU Frat House boys.  The op-ed titles will inevitably read “Can You Imagine If the Races Were Flipped?”, “So As SAU Went, Harrison Should Go”, etc. For now, we’ll chill, but I’ll wait and see what Rushbo, and Don Lemon have to say before we stupidly have to break down how this works like racial Sesame Street.

Kentucky rightfully announced Harrison will not be punished for the slur and slip-up.  Was Harrison in his right to utter those words in frustration? Absolutely not! Not even in private. That’s why the steps he immediately took in directly addressing Kaminsky are telling of both young men’s characters. Is this just the reverse of the SAU boys saga from a few weeks ago? NO! No it is not, and if I must indulge your idiocy in that false equivalency, feel free to tweet us, or email if 140 characters is just not enough.

All in all, if this is still confusing, and you’re asking yourself who should pay what kind of price for usage of the word in all its various forms, consider a litmus test based on our now rejected title.  You might be fine to use the word, but since the mic is on and the world is listening – your circumstances might not be as lenient as they were for young Harrison. You might be partying your dumb ass off, and “not invoking tradition of your racist frat house”, while the world is watching. You might be Gwenyth Paltrow getting carried away in the moment of “Ni**as in Paris for real”. You might be Madonna with an itchy Instagram finger. Whatever the case is, the price to pay for reckless usage of the word is still far too high to pay, even if Nas foots the bill. IF YOU GOTTA ASK, YOU CAN’T AFFORD IT (you knew it was comin’).

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3 thoughts on “Andrew Harrison, Frank Kaminsky, And What It Means To Be Called A Nigga In America

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