Riley Cooper, Open Racism, and Why Context Is Everything

I said I was taking a writing break. However, this Riley Cooper incident has really peeled back some degrees of racism and responsibility that I care to address.

Let me start off by saying Riley Cooper’s apology is pure bullsh*t. Thanks to technology, it’s easy for bigots to be caught doing things they’d rather keep hidden. Not only did he say a racial slur, he used it in a threatening context. So as people with some common sense, let’s call a spade a spade. He’s not sorry he said it or even embarrassed that he said it. He apologizes for being caught on camera. And therein lies my problem with Riley Cooper and people like him.

I won’t rehash the historical context behind the word, but the bottom line is words are an extension of people’s intentions. They communicate thoughts and ideas. And they’re not always favorable or nice. But the offenders don’t get to dictate when the offended can be that. For example, people are always up in arms when an athlete uses the word “f*ggot” or “gay”; be it on the field, in a tweet, or in their private time that happens to get recorded. It’s a big enough deal that the NBA made a PSA about homophobic language and harped on it being a form of bullying. But as recent as 20-25 years ago, it was socially acceptable in the realm of sports. Guys used the words frequently to get inside opponent’s heads. I’m sure fathers and coaches used it to get that motivation and meanness out of male children. Why? Because nothing makes a man more angry than being emasculated by another man. Yet, the words have evolved into slurs that are used to alienate and intimidate a select group of people.

I’ll throw in another recent example. Hip hop artist J. Cole  used the word “retarded” as a adjective with autistic in a freestyle. Parents of autistic children and the cause’s main spokesperson, Holly Robinson-Peete, verbalize their hurt and disappointment in J. Cole. He, in turn, penned a heartfelt letter acknowledging his compassion for those fighting autism and his error.

So, let me get this straight – it’s okay for the LGBT community to raise hell every time a public figure uses a slur that offends them. It’s encouraged for parents of autistic children to rally together pressuring an apology out of a rapper. But black people should just get over it, “because they use the word too”?



It doesn’t matter that you’re a racist who can tuck your racism in. Deflecting to an excuse (and not even a good 1) as justification to use slurs is not only cowardice and disingenuous, it’s dishonest. For me, there’s nothing more than infuriating and insulting than a racist who refuses to acknowledge that he/she is a racist.

I mean I get it. We have a black President who has a beautiful black wife and children. So in 2013, it’s just not a “good look” to be racist. But what white people don’t understand is it does a great disservice to get indignant or act aloof upon confrontation about using offensive language. It’s obvious that nigger and nigga are not the same thing. In no context are they ever interchangeable. Therefore, every time I hear about a white person (often a white male) openly using nigga and deferring to hip hop as justification, my 1st question is why do white people want to say nigga so badly? That’s a question that has never been legitimately answered.

The other thing that’s striking about Riley Cooper and his contextual usage of the word is he’s surrounded by the very people he offended. This is not a situation that can be pacified with an apology or sensitivity classes. Him using the N word is vastly different than say a CEO in a corner office using it. The Eagles locker room will never be the same as long as Cooper is in it. Forgiveness is easy and people give it so freely. But an incident so egregious as Cooper’s isn’t easily forgotten, no matter how the league and Eagles players try to downplay it. His own teammate, LeSean McCoy, commented yesterday to CSNPhilly:

“He’s still a teammate. I’m still going to block for him. I’m still gonna show great effort. Just on a friendship level, and as a person, I can’t really respect somebody like that.

Will we ever be able to come to the acceptance that white people can’t use the word and black people use it in its proper context? I doubt it. The point we can all agree on is words have power; some more than others. You can’t expect to use slurs in the manner in which they were originally intended and avoid the responsibility that comes with the respective consequences.


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