The Good Wife Works – Rappers bite, but is it right?

Elizabeth Ellis Square

I vow never to go back to a Spoken Word event again. The “n” word, H. Colbert wrote, “Is the most harmful word in the English language to describe African Americans.” Like a poke in the eye, the “f” word hurts. Perhaps that’s the point, like an exclamation point.

“If it didn’t annoy me, what was the point?” Pulitzer prize-winner Eugene Robinson said. “Clever?” he said. “Yes, but I don’t have to listen to it anymore” now that his son doesn’t.

“I don’t listen to rap or hip hop,” a young man told me, “but my roommate does. I was offended, but with repeated use, I got used to it. I still don’t like it.”

“Get this and get it straight: When you meet a black man on the street you are looking at dynamite,” C. C. Hernton wrote. The Spoken Word artist wants his hatred and his hurt felt. “Observe that the amount of rage the oppressed turns on his tormentor is a direct function of the depth of his grief.” (Source: Black Rage) “The fury of his attack [] is in direct proportion to the depth of his grief. Depression and grief are hatred turned on the self.”

Like honking your horn, swearwords provoke and demand attention. “What would happen if you didn’t use them?” I wanted to ask. In a pool hall or a bar, profanity exists. In the performance I was a guest, but I’m also a writer.

“To demand that a man accept your views of his experiences is to deny that man the validity of his own feelings, along with the meaning of his suffering,” Hernton wrote in “Dynamite Growing Out of Their Skulls” in Black Fire. To be obscene is to offend accepted standards of civility.

“To respect the law, in the context in which the American Negro finds himself, is simply to surrender his self respect,” Ernest Gaines wrote in A Lesson Before Dying. If rappers and hip hop artists accept the standards of decency, then lewd is objectionable. Ralph Ellison wrote, “We share a hatred for the alienation forced upon us, and we are bound by our common suffering more than by our pigmentation.”

One day on University Avenue, I heard a young man on his cell phone use sexually explicit language. I turned and looked at him. “Wha’?” he said. “This is public space,” I said. “That is a very private conversation.”

Amy Tan said, “Linguists tell us, ‘We are what we speak.’” Even the Rev. Martin Luther King said, “We can regulate behavior.”

A young American man once told me, “Prince’s lyrics, ‘Sho’ nuff do be cookin’ in my book,’ defy literal translation to my European friends.”

When I met my former husband, a Black man, I studied Clarence Major’s Juba to Jive about culturally specific language designed to keep Whites out. My husband used vernacular new to me: “got your back, booty call, bum rush, go thru’ changes, clownin’, dog me, for r-e-a-l, grinnin’, can you hang, get back on my feet, he said-she said, hear what I’m saying?, knock yourself out, nose wide open, out the box, packin’, play cuz, runnin’ your mouf, see what I’m sayin’, soup coolers, woof tickets.

When my kids came home from grade school and said, “We’re learning cursive today,” I said, “They’re teaching you to swear!?” Profanity is violent, abusive, vulgar, coarse and degrading.

“We,” Stanley Crouch wrote, “are the results of every human possibility that has touched us, no matter its point of origin.” I curse when I stub my toe because I’m angry at me.