search instagram arrow-down

Copyright Notice

© rauldukeblog and The Violent Ink 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to The Violent Ink and rauldukeblog The Violent Ink with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Archive

Can Bob Dylan Say, Nigger?

“Words don’t have a meaning without context.”

— Ta Nehisi Coates

“Language is a virus.”

— William Burroughs

So Bob Dylan’s counter culture street cred would seem impervious to criticism. His position as a totemic figure in the zeitgeist would seem beyond reproach. And yet for the linguistic and cultural ayatollahs and the aggrieved, on their unarmed road of flight, who are making a list of words we’re not allowed to say one wonders just what they would do or propose to do with Dylan’s song Hurricane about the legal lynching of Rubin Hurricane Carter?

This is a question of course because we are in a national state of crisis akin to a collective nervous breakdown. One of the symptoms of the national fever is the idea that certain words can only be said by certain people. Under siege by a racist and corrupt system, demeaned and abused by social norms that are tools put in place over centuries of systemic bigotry the impulse makes perfect sense. It is also a logical trainwreck and absurd or, reductio ad absurdum because once you start you can’t stop.

And this is why the neo-fascist Orwellian impulse to control language and proscribe words is always doomed to not only fail but also to fail like a structure that was built without proper support. It’s not a question of will it fall down but rather a question of just how long it is before it falls down and how many people it takes with it when it collapses.

The counter argument, such as it is, rests on two ideas. The first being that the oppressing class (White Americans)* have a sense of entitlement that they use at the expense of the oppressed (Black Americans) and that as a kind of linguistic reparations program Black Americans are claiming the right to decide which words can be spoken and by whom. The second and corollary idea is a kind of borderline passive aggressive rebellion in which, a particular demographic, unable to achieve justice by normal means (precisely because normal means are corrupt and stacked against them) resort to holding other people’s rights hostage and of course goes further still by asserting that the perceived right to use certain words is in fact invalid because it is a reflection of a corrupt system. The tactic has a certain visceral appeal and backed up by the threat of violence it is, in the short term, effective.

In the long run, it is a Balkanization of language and rights and it is of course doomed to fail. After all one can easily imagine any number of other rightly outraged groups making similar claims for a string of words that they alone can use – Chink, Spic, Kike, and so on. All of which if insisted on will inevitably end up in court and the Supremes will rule that the First Amendment makes no exceptions for words you or anyone else finds offensive. Because of course, the Bill of Rights does not recognize a right to not be offended. Or, worse still, one can image what success would look like and it is a linguistic ghetto or linguistic apartheid that turns everyone into a verbal cripple.

It is with a wry sense of irony that we point out that it was the currently disgraced Louis CK who said that saying “N word” is just a way for White people to get away with saying “Nigger” because as he points out, words are ideas and when you say a word you put an idea in someone’s head and saying “N word” puts “Nigger” in someone’s head because of course the structure is faulty and collapses. “N word” is synonymous with “Nigger” and everyone knows it so saying one instead of the other not only doesn’t do a damn thing to end racism it actually collapses the just cause and adds fuel to the fire. And if that weren’t enough we note with both ironic amusement and a sense of depression the resurrection of “Jig” by bigots who finding themselves unable to say “Nigger” have reached into the history books and brought back another way to be insulting.

So let’s imagine it’s a hot summer night somewhere in Jersey. Bob’s doing a show. He does Hurricane. He sings: “And to Black folks he was just a crazy Nigger.” And the shit hits the fan. There’s commentary on twitter. There’s a piece in VICE which gets mentioned in The New Yorker in which the caliphate of Manhattan declares Dylan must repent because it now finds the lyric (and by extension, Dylan) disgusting and the next thing you know…you’re living in a country that is demanding Bob Dylan can’t sing one of his songs.

 

Listen

 

*Not without taking into account the White underclass used as cannon fodder or as tools without rights who over the preceding centuries have been as sinned against as much as they have sinned.

Advertisements
Leave a Reply
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: