by Dr. Boyce Watkins, KultureKritic.com
Someone recently gave me a call about the incident in which actress Gwyneth Paltrow used the term “Ni**as in Paris” to describe her time hanging out with Beyonce, Jay-Z, Spike Lee and a bunch of other random people in their clique. When I heard about Gwyneth’s unfortunate use of words on Twitter, I thought to myself, “I wonder if she would have said the same thing if she’d been hanging out with Tom Hanks and Angelina Jolie? Aren’t they her ni**as too?”
The answer to the question above (which I believe is a resounding “no”) makes it clear that Gwyneth chose those words specifically to reference the brown-skinned people around her. Mind you, two of them (Jay-Z and Kanye) had just made a song calling themselves “Ni**as in Paris,” but the other people in the picture didn’t write the song. I’m not sure if they’d want to be referred to as “Gwyneth’s Ni**as,” but since she is a wealthy, famous white woman, they’d probably let her refer to them as her pet monkeys.
We should all be concerned with those who travel the world and bastardize the black experience with buffoonish behavior, taking big paychecks from non-black people who love for us to entertain them with minstrel shows. This isn’t much different from the big lipped, black faced, buck-dancing caricatures that were exploited 100 years ago. Kanye and Jay-Z take an inaccurate version of life in the hood, and export it to audiences around the world, who pay them to act the way they think “real” black people are supposed behave.
To some extent, their careers can be compared to the Asian funny man in the film, “The Hangover.” The character, played by Ken Jeong, fits every goofy Asian stereotype known to man. The role has been so successful that Jeong, who went to The University of North Carolina School of Medicine, gave up his medical career to be a full-time Asian buffoon. I’m sure the Asian community is so proud and would love to see their children grow up to be just like Jeong (yes, I was being sarcastic).
By seeing ourselves portrayed as walking stereotypes and bombarding our kids with images of black men with 100 pound necklaces, head-to-toe tattoos, and mouths full of metal, we are persuading black kids to do as Jeong did and pass up opportunities to have respectable lives so they can help white people enjoy their fresh-cooked negro stereotypes. The same white guy would not let your black butt date his daughter is telling you that you are his “ni**ga,” and how cool it is to hear you rap about the “ni**a” you shot last week.
Perhaps black people need to reconsider what it means to heavily market the word ni**a to the world. Gwyneth Paltrow is not the one to blame here, for she is simply following Jay-Z and Kanye’s lead. She is no different from the marketing firm that puts out an ad that is heavily racist, who thinks that it’s OK to do so because the black guy in the office said that the ad was not offensive. At worst, Paltrow might need to educate herself on the fact that not every black person is comfortable with the use of the word “ni**ga” and that there are millions of black people who consider Jay-Z to be an enemy of progress.
As far as Jay-Z and Kanye go, I find it interesting that we’ve gotten to the point where it’s OK to do nearly anything that degrades yourself, as long as someone pays you enough money to do it. Kanye’s mother, the late Donde West, was a well-educated woman who likely ensured that Kanye knew that he wasn’t born to be the white man’s ni**a. I’m sure that the poor woman is rolling over in her grave as she watches her child voluntarily turn himself into everything she raised him not to be.
Gwyneth should apologize for her words, there’s no question about that. But the apology is owed to black people who are offended by a white woman using the N-word to define other black people around her. As for the self-proclaimed ni**as in the room with Paltrow, I can’t speak for them. As they remain high from the drug of capitalism, I’m sure that they will sell every ounce of dignity they have left before their careers are done…..after all, that’s what ni**gas love to do.