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

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

Madonna managed to accomplish something this weekend that she’s been unable to do with her music for the last couple of years: She got people talking about her with the same gusto usually reserved for A-list celebrities. 

You know, like the kind she used to be.

Unfortunately for the once-ubiquitous Material Girl, this latest turn back in the spotlight was a harsh reminder that the old saying “all publicity is good publicity,” isn’t actually true—she faced a serious and well-deserved backlash for using the hashtag “#disnigga” in a photo caption on Instagram, referring to her son, Rocco.


While most elementary school children are taught that at the very least, the n-word is a blatantly offensive term when coming from the mouth of a white person, no matter the context, somehow Madonna, a grown woman, seems to have missed this memo. And her embarrassing tone-deafness in making such a misstep so publicly was only magnified by her pathetic attempt at an apology.

It was clear we were in for a bumpy ride when she opened with, “I am sorry if I offended anyone with my use of the n-word on Instagram.” 


Here’s the thing: If you’re only sorry “if” you offended anyone, then you’re saying that there’s a possibility plenty of other people are out there who weren’t offended and shouldn’t have been. That’s problem No. 1, but the apology went downhill from there.

She continued, “It was not meant as a racial slur. I am not a racist. There’s no way to defend the use of the word. It was all about intention. It was used as a term of endearment toward my son who is white. I appreciate that it’s a provocative word and I apologize if it gave people the wrong impression.”


Now, I’m sure there are those who will point to the fact that Madonna is also the mother of two black children as proof that she couldn’t have a racist bone in her body. But that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

On the contrary, I’d argue that it makes her initial misstep and the non-apology that followed all the more problematic. 


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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Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter

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