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Charlie Murphy on Racism, The ‘N-Word,’ and Political Correctness

Charlie Murphy, Eddie’s funny brother, has some interesting thoughts on racism and free speech in an interview with Esquire. The language is, naturally, not safe for work.

ES: Are there any subjects that shouldn’t be joked about?

CM: Nope.

ES: How about rape? Daniel Tosh had some problems when—

CM: Nope.

ES: Rape jokes are cool?

CM: In true comedy, there is no subject that should be off-limits. When you start making lines in the stand like that, you’re flirting with censorship. You can’t be like, “You can only do it this way.” Freedom of speech means freedom of speech, not “Say what you want, just don’t say nothing I don’t like.”

ES: How about when Michael Richards screamed the N-word during a stand-up set? Is that freedom of speech?

CM: Here are my feelings on that. There’s a phoniness that’s going on right now in America in regards to the so-called N-word. I don’t say “N-word”; I say nigger. There’s no such thing as the N-word. If you’re saying the N-word, you’re still thinking nigger. You might as well say it. Say nigger. That’s what you mean.

ES: I don’t think I can.

CM: Say it, man. That’s what you’re meaning to say.

ES: I seriously can’t. It’s like making me walk on hot coals.

CM: What Michael Richards did — was it offensive? Yeah, it was. But do I believe he should’ve been shut down from comedy for doing it? No. Because I’ve heard everybody do the same kind of jokes that Michael Richards did. Everybody talks about race. If you go to the comedy club and hang out, you’re gonna hear race jokes, man.

ES: After Obama got re-elected, Twitter was overrun with racist claptrap. Did you follow any of that?

CM: Yeah. It got pretty nasty.

ES: Were you shocked?

CM: Not at all. I’m shocked that Obama got re-elected. Hell, I’m shocked he got elected in the first place. But I think his re-election just proved that the racist voice is on the way out. Those people, that point of view — it’s dying out, man. The young people growing up right now — they’re not part of that bullshit. They don’t say shit like “I don’t like you ’cause you’re black. I don’t like you ’cause you’re white.”

ES: Well, some of them do. A few of those racist tweets came from teens.

CM: It doesn’t matter. They’re not the leaders of their generation. This is what people have to realize about racists. They’re not smart. The moment you demonstrate that you’re a bigot, I know you’re not very smart. You’re a robot. Bigotry is a taught behavior. You’re not born a bigot. You’re carrying on the tradition of whatever ignorant motherfuckers taught you that shit. You’re a fucking robot. It’s crazy to worry about what a fucking robot has to say. They’ll be gone soon enough.

ES: That’s actually the most reassuring thing I’ve heard yet about the racist response to Obama.

The rest of the interview, which isn’t political, is worth a read as well.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Geek, Esq. says:

    Well, duh.

    The trick is that they say stuff like “welfare” and “food stamps” and “dependency” and “want free stuff” when they mean “nigger.”

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 2

  2. Geek, Esq. says:

    Btw, ironically the site’s moderation system puts a hold on any comment with the N-word in it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. I found his stereotyping of robots rather biocentric; hopefully the younger generation will grow beyond his prejudice toward synthetic intelligences.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 26 Thumb down 0

  4. Davebo says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    A classic comment that almost no one will understand!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. Franklin says:

    The moment you demonstrate that you’re a bigot, I know you’re not very smart.

    Again, one of the reasons I support free speech. It lets me know who the idiots are.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 0

  6. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Charlie Murphy is a lot more informed and rational about race and politics than the lily-white, spaced out liberal professors I had at Berzerkeley. To the extent they’re still alive, however, I’m not sure the latter would be able even to grasp that irony.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  7. bookdragon says:

    It is reassuring.

    I also think it demonstrates generation change. For someone my age, that word will always be offensive – an indication of white supremist-level bigotry that should be rejected in the strongest possibly terms.

    To my kids, it’s a dumb word used by dumb people, but doesn’t seem much worse than any other racial/ethnic epithet. In fact, since their school had to make a real effort to counter discrimination against the small Muslim population in town, they would be more shocked to hear someone use one of the negative terms thrown at that faith.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  8. anjin-san says:

    That’s a very solid overview of the racial topography of America at the moment. I would like to hear more from this guy. Maybe even a guest post or two right here on OTB…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  9. rodney dill says:

    …sounds like a pretty reasoned individual from the excerpt.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  10. bill says:

    @Geek, Esq.: there’s more white people on welfare, etc. so how is that racist? or is that the “phoniness” that CM is talking about?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  11. Katharsis says:

    I also used to argue that the censorship of this word was misguided. Then I heard my king of comedy, George Carlin, talk about it. George was clear: white people can’t say it, it’s too easy for us and we don’t really know what its impact has on people. After that stopped using it.

    I thought about why it was even important for me to be able to use it. I realized it was about not being one of “them”: the ones who don’t know better. “They” shouldn’t use it, but I can because I don’t mean it like “they” do. I don’t feel that way anymore, like I said I don’t use it.

    Incidentally, I’m in a relationship with disparate levels of melanin involved ;) I have less melanin than she does. She is also very uncomfortable with the word and we both agree not to use it, even in jest. Is this right for everyone? I’m not sure, but I think it does depend heavily on who’s company you keep when you choose to use this word, or other ones like it.

    I say this: you can use these words as long as there is someone around who might take issue with its use and can frankly respond to you. If your uncomfortable with someone’s right to respond to you — that’s the thing about freedom of speech, everyone gets to have it — then you probably should keep it to yourself ;)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  12. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Geek, Esq.: The trick is that they say stuff like “welfare” and “food stamps” and “dependency” and “want free stuff” when they mean “n*gg*r.”

    This is where it starts getting stupid. It seems every time we turn around, there’s another “code word” or “dog whistle” for racism. It’s gotten to the point where you have to go through three or more links in the chain to get back to “the n word,” and at that point it’s just stupid.

    No, it’s not always stupid. A lot of the time it’s just a deliberate attempt to silence the person who made the “racist” statement.

    And one observation I picked up somewhere seems relevant here. It seems whenever we hear about those “racist dog whistles,” it’s from liberals. If it’s a secret code that racists use to acknowledge each other and all these liberals hear it so well, doesn’t that mean that they’re racists? And if I don’t hear it, doesn’t that prove I’m not a racist?

    Finally, some of the “racist” code words really, really piss me off. For example, I once read a novel where a black character was royally pissed about the racial connotations of fried chicken and watermelon — he happened to love them both, but because of the whole racial thing, he felt incredibly self-conscious about eating either in public. And as someone who shares those affections, I agreed — they’re both delicious, and I’ve had both in the same meal many a time.

    Note: I am not in the least afraid of using “the n-word” in a proper context, and here it would have been perfectly appropriate, in my opinion. However, thanks to Geek, I am forewarned that any use will probably trigger the moderation filters, so I avoided it. As far as I’m concerned, I did use the full, proper word, as I’m not afraid of it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  13. michael reynolds says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Dude, you fool no one. Maybe yourself, but no one else.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  14. swbarnes2 says:

    Yes, yes, all you white conservative non-professional comedians, you need to immediately start using racial epithets freely. It will be so hilarious.

    As far as I can tell, all of the front-pagers are white, and I don’t know that any of the frequent posters here identify themselves as something other than white, so of course, this is the best place in the internet to learn about the nuances of race relations.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  15. john personna says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    The whole point of a dog whistle is that it works on two levels. Non-racists see one attack, and might respond to it, and racists see another.

    My dad was a teacher in inner city LA. As I’ve mentioned he even told a neighbor that the N-word was not something he wanted used on our street. My dad also thought that giving a weekend furlough to Willie Horton was crazy.

    Was it a dog whistle? To some, obviously, but it also worked for people who thought that you stuffed people “serving a life sentence for murder, without the possibility of parole” in prison and left them there.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  16. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @michael reynolds: Bite me, cracker.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 6

  17. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @john personna: Your father sounds like a hell of a guy, the kind we need a lot more of.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @michael reynolds: Let me expand on that. Now I expect from you a very well-written swath of invective and accusations, backed up by absolutely nothing of any substance. As I’ve noted before, you’re both a very skilled writer and a vicious, self-confessed hate-monger, and I expect you to live down to that standard.

    But let me preempt you: I dislike black people for what they say and do. I like black people for what they say and do. The same holds true for whites, Asians, Hispanics, and every other subdivision of humanity you choose to impose. (Except, of course, those filthy Scandis.) In other words, my opinions are individualized and custom-crafted for each person; I don’t bother pre-judging them, as I’ve been wrong too many times in the past.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  19. john personna says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    I miss my pop. The cancer got him. Prostate exams, everyone.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  20. anjin-san says:

    Note: I am not in the least afraid of using “the n-word” in a proper context

    Cool. Why don’t you try it out on some black dudes? Get some video, and promise to share…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  21. Console says:

    People want the right to be able to say stuff without other people getting pissed. But that’s not the way free speech works. Free speech means I can get pissed and tell you that I don’t like what you said.

    I understand where comedians and other artists are coming from, but freedom of thought and speech is a two way street.

    As far as the N-word goes… people usually always want to plead “context” (i.e. it isn’t the word that matters, it’s how it’s used). But the idea that the race of the user has no context in and of itself is absurdly naive.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  22. MarkedMan says:

    A random observation that only peripherally relates: as a middle aged white guy living in Shanghai, my jaw dropped involuntarily when I realized one of my managers prefaced a lot of his statements with “na ge, na ge, na ge” which, when delivered in his Shanghai-ese accent came out as a rapid fire triplet of the N-word. (It literally means “that one” but think of it as a like, like, like a placeholder.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @anjin-san: Let’s see… we could discuss “Blazing Saddles.” Or the work of NWA. Or, if I really feel edgy, why “the N-word” is so predominant in contemporary rap music.

    Of course you’d ignore my “proper context” caveat — even as you quoted it. I gave up a while ago deciding whether you were more stupid than dishonest, or more dishonest than stupid, and decided it was pretty much irrelevant.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  24. sam says:

    CM: Here are my feelings on that. There’s a phoniness that’s going on right now in America in regards to the so-called N-word. I don’t say “N-word”; I say nigger. There’s no such thing as the N-word. If you’re saying the N-word, you’re still thinking nigger. You might as well say it. Say nigger. That’s what you mean.

    Louis CK puts this as best as it can be put, I think.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  25. sam says:

    James, could you spring my comment from the moderation queue? Thanks.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. sam says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    It seems whenever we hear about those “racist dog whistles,” it’s from liberals. If it’s a secret code that racists use to acknowledge each other and all these liberals hear it so well, doesn’t that mean that they’re racists? And if I don’t hear it, doesn’t that prove I’m not a racist?

    No and no.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  27. Rob in CT says:

    Ok, Jenos. Keep pretending Lee Atwater didn’t exist, and didn’t lay out the dog whistle strategy. Keep pretending that “welfare queens” didn’t happen. Keep pretending that the same bullshit isn’t used today (e.g. “food stamp president”).

    I know people upon whom this shit works. I know people who were convinced that in ’08 that if Obama were elected, he’d “give all the money to the blacks.” Now, gosh, why would somebody think that? #1 they’re not very bright, obviously. But seriously, they were spoonfed that shit.

    If you are actually as noble and above all that as you think you are, great. Many are not, and they vote. You can’t fix stupid. You can call out smart people who are manipulating the stupid, which is the point of objecting to “dog whistles.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  28. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Rob in CT: Lee Atwater died in 1991. Stop molesting his corpse.

    But if you wanna really dig up old stories and try to make them relevant today, remember that Obama joined Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s church in 1992 and met William Ayers in 1995 — long after Atwater assumed room temperature.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5

  29. anjin-san says:

    @ Jenos Idanian #13

    Change your name to Cleavon Little if it makes you happy. We pretty much all know you are a big talker online, but no one here thinks you have the heart to try out your “context” nonsense with actual black people in the real world.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  30. Rob in CT says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Lots of people who are dead now did things in life that have effects on us today.

    When Atwater’s tactics are consigned to the dustbin of history, I’ll stop bringing him up.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  31. The Q says:

    You have to understand Jenos’ idea of proper context, it goes like this,
    “Obama is the first nigger president.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  32. grumpy realist says:

    My analysis is that I’m white; I don’t have the personal or historical experience to understand how offensive the term is. I will listen to what black people think about using the term. In general, they don’t like non-black people using it because of all the baggage attached. Conclusion: I don’t use it.

    (Although I do think some people are too quick to jump the gun at seeing racism where it itsn’t. “Niggardly” is a perfectly reasonable word with Norse origins. If I’m using it in a sentence meaning “stingy”, don’t interpret it as meaning anything else. And make sure to get your ears checked–the pronunciation is different.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  33. anjin-san says:

    @ Jenos Idanian #13

    Lee Atwater died in 1991. Stop molesting his corpse.

    This is coming from a guy who can’t go a full day without mentioning the Jim Crow Democrats of yesteryear?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  34. Jenos Idanian Who Has No Pony Tail says:

    @The Q: Don’t put your words in my mouth, asshole. If I wanted to say that, I would. That you go to it so quickly says far more about you than me.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  35. anjin-san says:

    Stay gold Ponyboy. Stay gold…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0