I want you to know that I don’t get offended very often. But I am certainly offended by your recent letter telling me you are now “boycotting” my columns because I recommended a CD by David Allan Coe. The column you are referring to, “Circuit Cuidad,” was, ironically, a spoof on minority boycotts. Plenty of people misunderstood the column—perhaps none as thoroughly as you.
In today’s column I want to take some time to address your silly assertion that David Allan Coe’s use of the n-word—in more than one of his songs—means that both a) Coe is a racist and b) I am a racist for recommending his music. The former assertion isn’t important to me apart from its relationship to the latter assertion.
Before I explain why I don’t condemn others for the use of the n-word, let me explain why I do not use that word myself. There have actually been three different reasons for my avoidance of the n-word over the course of my lifetime.
My first reason for avoiding the use of the n-word was that when I was a child my mother would have punished me for using the word. Before I was able to understand what the word meant, that was a good enough reason. When I finally moved out of the house at age 20, it ceased to be a sufficient justification.
Later on, I decided that the use of the n-word was wrong because it was simply racist. But that justification for avoiding the word also eventually fell by the wayside when I realized that racism could be expressed in a number of different ways without the use of the n-word. A couple of incidents relating to a high school friend of mine named James Bluford are illustrative.
James’ father was the first black astronaut to fly a mission into space for NASA. He flew his historic mission in 1983, the year James and I graduated from Clear Lake High School. Unfortunately, when it became known that James’ father would be the first black man in space some idiotic classmates started to make racially insensitive jokes. Some said that James’ dad would be the first “coon to the moon.” Others said mission control would shout “the jig is up!” shortly after liftoff.
But, interestingly, I only heard the n-word used once in James’ presence during the course of our five-year friendship. That was done accidentally by a mutual friend of ours. James laughed at him when he did it and our friend must have apologized 100 times that evening. But no one with an IQ above room temperature would argue that his use of the n-word approached the mean-spiritedness of those racially insensitive remarks about James’ father. Those remarks were made on purpose and always outside the presence of my friend James.