Thursday, January 6, 2011
Can White People finally say the word "Nigger"?
Yesterday, I heard about this on Facebook. Fox29 reporter-anchor Tom Burlington used the word "nigger" at work, got fired and now has the audacity to claim that his employer discriminated against him. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that:
A federal jury will be asked to decide whether it is acceptable for an African American person, but not a white person, to use the "n" word in a workplace.
U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick has ruled that former Fox29 reporter-anchor Tom Burlington's lawsuit against the station, claiming a double standard and alleging that he was the victim of racial discrimination, may go to trial. However, Surrick denied Burlington's claim of a hostile work environment.
Burlington, who is white, was fired after using the "n" word during a June 2007 staff meeting at which reporters and producers were discussing reporter Robin Taylor's story about the symbolic burial of the word by the Philadelphia Youth Council of the NAACP.
Burlington, who began work at the station in 2004 and is now working as a real estate agent, was suspended within days and fired after an account of the incident was published in the Philadelphia Daily News. He alleges that he "was discriminated against because of his race," according to court documents. He claims in his lawsuit that at least two African American employees at Fox29 had used the word in the workplace and were not disciplined.
The dispute began after Taylor, who is white, used the phrase the "n" word during the 2007 staff meeting. She said participants at the burial had said the full word "at least a hundred times or more," according to court records.
"Does this mean we can finally say the word n-?" Burlington asked colleagues, according to depositions.
Nicole Wolfe, a producer and one of the three African American employees among the nine people at the meeting, exclaimed: "I can't believe you just said that!"
Burlington told Taylor that although he did not necessarily expect her to use the word in her story, he thought that doing so gave the story more credence.
Burlington says he used the word only once and approached several attendees after the meeting to explain himself. The Daily News account said he had used the word more than a dozen times.
Surrick, in denying Fox's request to have the suit dismissed, said that federal courts had not determined whether a double standard, if true in this case, would violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which deals with equal opportunity in employment.
On the one hand, he wrote in a memorandum Dec. 23, the word is "considered by many to be the most offensive in the English language" and "has been used by whites as a tool to belittle, oppress, or dehumanize African Americans. When viewed in its historical context, one can see how people in general, and African Americans in particular, might react differently when a white person uses the word than if an African American uses it.
"Nevertheless, we are unable to conclude that this is a justifiable reason for permitting the station to draw race-based distinctions between employees."
Surrick wrote that "there is evidence in this case to suggest that at least two African Americans said the word in the workplace with no consequences."
No one should use the word "nigger". Any prudent employer would prohibit all employees from using any racial, ethnic or religious slurs. Any employee using that word should be fired.
However, from a socio-political perspective, there is an obvious difference between a white person using the "n" word and a black person using it. White people created and used the word to degrade and dehumanize the African. Consequently, when whites use that word, it will always be an unforgivable insult. Frankly, the "n" word does not have the same meaning or impact when blacks use it. So, I have no sympathy for Burlington.
Unfortunately, African Americans internalized their historic oppression and started using the "n" word to describe themselves. Sadly, use of the "n" word is common in many black communities. African American comedians and rap artists have helped perpetuate this pathology. Black people need to let that antiquated, racist term die. It is time for all people to stop using that despicable word.