During my workout this morning, I caught the Oprah show on TV. (No, this won't turn into a post about the Oprah cult.) The show featured two families -- one black and one white -- who with the help of five hour makeup sessions lived for six weeks as the "other" race. The black family became a white family, and the white family became a black family for six weeks. They were the subject of a documentary-style television series called "Black. White." premiering on FX in March.
While the entire concept is fascinating to me, one aspect of the transformation really stuck out in my mind. When the white family was learning to "speak black," they were told to say the word "nigger" for the first time in their lives. In a black community focus group, the father said it and faced no repercussions.
It just hit me that it is so strange that what would likely get the father (without makeup) jumped or worse in real life is perfectly acceptable when he says it with makeup, looking like he belongs to the group to whom the phrase is highly derogatory. I must admit that I myself have made jokes and then used the phrase "See, it's okay for me to say that because I'm Asian." It seems that the only racial jokes that are "okay" to make are those that pertain to your own race.
Why, though? Why is it okay?
On the one hand, I can see deliberately using a derogatory term or negative stereotypes frequently in an attempt for them to lose their force and ability to subjugate. If that's your goal, then you have quite an uphill battle because, on the other hand (maybe I'm short-sighted here), I can't see some words or stereotypes ever losing their power. I'll always hear the word "nigger" and cringe. Someone else will hear the word "puppies" and smile. Some things just don't lose their meaning.
Why is it socially acceptable, then, for you to use it against or about your own race?