The writing staff of The Root is an eclectic mix of people of color from disparate backgrounds who hold myriad opinions so varied that discussion on any subject is liable to erupt into heated debate. We have spent hours arguing about whether okra is a vegetable or a delivery system for Satan’s backwashed phlegm. We are divided on the societal need for pumpkin spice. Some of the staff wrongly believe that “Bodak Yellow” is a good song. In fact, there is only one topic on which we can all agree:
N***** is stupid.
I’m not referring to the word “nigger” or even the colloquial spelling “nigga.” I’m talking about the asterisked, redacted version that even a third-grader knows means “nigger.” Anyone who uses the star-spangled censored version of the word might as well scream it at the top of their lungs. They’re not fooling anyone.
Peter Vescey said “nigger.”
During Monday night’s game between the New York Knicks and the Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James and Knicks center Enes Kanter got into one of the many face-to-face mini-scuffles that happen in almost every NBA game. Veteran sports reporter Peter Vecsey thought it prudent to explain the incident by using a quote from the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Niggas Bleed” in this tweet:
What the fuck is wrong with white people?
Look, I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain why white people can’t use the word, except to say that I know it’s hard for them to accept that something is off-limits when they live in a world where everything belongs to them. We have all heard every Caucasiansplanation of why it is racist that white people can’t say the word. Ta-Nehisi Coates explained it best last week:
I firmly believe that white people’s desire to use the word is buried deep in the empty hole where the soul is usually located, just waiting for the right time to manifest itself. And just as with the desire to burn a cross on a lawn or jump-start a race war, I do not believe that all white people want to say it. But I don’t even care what the percentage is because I know that enough white people hold that sentiment deep in their heart cavity that we are still having this conversation in the two-thousand-seventeenth year of our Lord.
Peter Vecsey is one of those white people.
Let’s be clear: The use of “white people” is totally appropriate here. It is the only explanation as to why a high school student would have the same question as 74-year-old Peter Vecsey. It is the only thing that connects a liberal elitist like Bill Maher to a Donald Trump-supporting Mississippian: whiteness and a desire to say “nigger.”
Vecsey is 74 years old and apparently is a fan of the Notorious B.I.G. He is also an old white man who seemingly longed to utter the word “nigger,” and a meaningless Monday-night game between two mediocre teams was his Caucasian Christmas.
No one thinks that Vecsey held a yearslong resentment against black people that festered inside him for seven-plus decades. I will even venture to say that Vecsey is not a racist. He probably doesn’t hold an iota of hate in that heart that will soon stop ticking.
Peter Vecsey is just white.
That’s what white people do. They habitually line-step. They rape. They pillage. They take. Everything. There is no confusion about the word “nigger.” It belongs to one group of people and only one group of people. It is not complicated. Just. Don’t. Say. It.
But white people cannot abide by that. They need a reason why they can’t have it, too. Their privilege does not manifest itself in the fact that they want to use the word. It is in the fact that they believe they are owed an explanation for why they can’t use it. That is the whitest part of the entire equation. As if “Because we said so” is not enough of a reason.
Peter Vecsey will probably apologize soon. He might delete the tweet and issue a mea culpa dripping with all of the appropriate white sincerity highlighted in the well-crafted retractions we have been inundated with lately. He will probably be suspended from his new job at NBA TV, and then he will retract his idiotic tweet, having fulfilled his internal, lifelong, unspoken nigger-spewing aspiration. America is nothing if not the land of second chances. Do not cry for Peter Vecsey because Peter Vecsey is white, and whiteness is a singular kind of power.
It is the same power and privilege that assumes a single black person would want to stand for the same flag that waved over the holocaust of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the genocide of lynching and every single injustice that ever existed for black people.
Slavery wasn’t that bad; get over it. Jim Crow was 40 years ago. He just said “nigger”; what’s wrong with that?
That kind of power is what deludes men like Peter Vecsey into thinking that they can take a word that doesn’t belong to them and fling it around all willy-nilly. It can make a man think that he can grab a woman by the pussy. It will make the words of an alleged pedophile outweigh the accusations of five women and 30 corroborating sources. They believe all pussies belong to them. All things. All the time.
It is also the power that will make people eventually forgive Peter Vecsey for saying “nigger” ... because they will. It made people call bragging about sexual assault “locker-room talk.” It has Alabamians deliberating on whether or not they will send an accused child molester to represent them in the Senate chambers.
Vecsey didn’t hurt a soul with his tweet. I doubt if anyone was genuinely offended. The reason people weren’t upset by what he said is that Americans—especially black people—have grown accustomed to it. What Vecsey did is neither new nor surprising. We have grown to expect it from white people.
And Peter Vecsey is white people.