Hey, Madonna, Here’s Why Your N-Word Hashtag Wasn’t OK

Let’s not call her n-bomb a “term of endearment.”

Madonna attends the 12 Years a Slave premiere during the 51st New York Film Festival, on Oct. 8, 2013, in New York City.
Madonna attends the 12 Years a Slave premiere during the 51st New York Film Festival, on Oct. 8, 2013, in New York City. Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

While plenty of critics have long questioned the impact of having white parents raise black children, I have always believed that children are better off being raised in a loving home, regardless of a parent’s race, than in a home without love. But that doesn’t mean that there are no cultural gaps or learning curves that will exist for a parent raising a child of a different race. For instance, a mother whose famous face embodies more conventional European standards of beauty may need to work harder to help her black daughter understand that even though her skin and hair look different than her mommy’s—or most supermodels’—she’s still beautiful.

This is what is particularly disturbing about Madonna’s behavior. With a hashtag, she confirmed that she is a white mother of two black children who feels comfortable using one of the most offensive terms a white person can use toward a black person. And her apology further confirms that she feels comfortable using this term casually in front of her white child, which means she is raising her children to believe such banter is acceptable, inoffensive and comes with no historical baggage as long as it’s “all about intention” or “used as a term of endearment.” This alone doesn’t make Madonna a racist. But she has a serious blind spot when it comes to racial sensitivity, which is troubling for someone who is raising children of a different race.

For instance, it was widely reported that she was texting throughout a private screening of 12 Years a Slave, and when another attendee asked her to stop, she allegedly referred to that patron as an “enslaver.” Because, apparently, asking her not to distract others from watching an award-winning film about slavery is on par with being a proponent of one of America’s most horrific institutions.

Or, the way that she previously stereotyped black men in an interview with Spin magazine, when she said, “I have never been treated more disrespectfully as a woman than by the black men I’ve dated … I think black men have just been shit on for so long, that in a way, black women are willing to accept rage from a black man, because they see what’s happened to them.”

I guess it never crossed her mind that it wasn’t the race of men she was choosing to date that was the problem, but the men she chose to date. I mean, dating Dennis Rodman and expecting respect is like dating Charlie Sheen and expecting it.

Don’t blame Madonna alone, though. Anybody—including any black person—who wastes their energy trying to defend the use of the n-word as a “term of endearment” is also to blame. Frankly, if you really believe your ability to communicate would be significantly hampered by eradicating the n-word, you may want to pick up a dictionary and expand your vocabulary. If you choose not to, there is no law against you using that word as much as you like.

But there’s also no law preventing a misguided pop star from attempting to claim the word as a term of “endearment” for herself, and her black and white children, as well.

Keli Goff is The Roots special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.

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