Free Speech

Prof. John McWhorter (Columbia) on "People Getting Fired for Referring to the N-Word—Activism or Performance Art?"

Today's item in Prof. McWhorter's substack newsletter, "It Bears Mentioning." (I just subscribed, for $60 for the year, though you can also subscribe for $5/month.)

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You can read the item here; I believe it's accessible to non-subscribers. I've long loved Prof. McWhorter's lectures and podcasts on language, and his written work is similarly thoughtful and readable. Here are his concluding paragraphs (for those who don't know his work, he uses "Elect" to refer to adherents to what he sees as the quasi-religion of "anti-racism"):

Many ask why black people give whites the power to harm us so easily with this word. I for one have never and never will see it as a badge of strength to announce to white America that uttering a sequence of sounds will send me into therapy. I'd be embarrassed if it did, and that is what I call Black Power.

But I know I am missing the point. This performative transformation of the N-word into a taboo term affords a kind of power: black Elects get a way of getting back at whites by destroying their careers; white Elects spectating get to show they aren't racists by cheering on the witch-hunting. To these people all of this feels healthy, active, restoring, noble.

But the problem is that while it may feel that way to them, to the rest of us – among whom are legions of thoroughly reasonable, intelligent, concerned, and sensitive persons of all races  – this new take on the N-word looks paranoid, fake, and mean.

What kind of antiracism is that?

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NEXT: Rutgers Law Students Calling for a "Policy" on Students and Faculty Quoting Slurs from Court Cases

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  1. Some people will argue that referring to that vile racist slur, even by euphemism, should be punishable by forfeiture of all property and death: the Emperor Sulla’s punishment by proscription.
    Better yet, put everyone worth over $2 million or with annual income over $500K per year on a proscription list and divide up all the seized wealth to African Americans. That would be one way to correct this country’s sins.

    1. What’s the point of lying about this?…using “some people [say]” as an excuse to promote the lie de jure. I get that Trump was successful at appealing to the idiot wing of the Republican party with this type of rhetoric. But shouldn’t you aim higher?

      Anyway; since the Volokh Conspiracy is populated by enough people with (a) integrity and (b) brains; lies like yours will at least be pointed out.

      1. Imbecile.

        1. And certainly this reply exudes intelligence.

    2. I just want to know taboo to who? Certainly not the people claiming its offensive. Just look into the music and common street talk if not well know youtube performers.

      a word is not taboo when used in greeting among like. claiming offense while using the words or associating with others who use the word while hiding behind their minority status is just as wrong and should be called out

      1. Context, how does it work?

  2. Certainly true, but nobody likes a truth-teller these days.

  3. “Elect” to refer to adherents to what he sees as the quasi-religion of “anti-racism”):

    Professor Volokh, your quotation marks leave me in doubt. Is, “quasi-religion,” your choice of a term to describe anti-racism, or is it McWhorter’s?

    1. “Professor Volokh, your quotation marks leave me in doubt. Is, “quasi-religion,” your choice of a term to describe anti-racism, or is it McWhorter’s?”

      No one is using “quasi-religion” to describe anti-racism, they are using it to describe “anti-racism.”

      1. TwelveInchPianist: McWhorter has often described “anti-racism” as a religion, see, e.g., here. I said he sees it as a “quasi-religion” because my sense is that he thinks it’s much like a religion, though not literally a religion.

        1. He certainly believes it has many of the attributes of a real religion, and he spends much of his time in a twitter war with one of its high priests, Ibram Kendi. I have great admiration for John’s work, but he’s also a colleague and occasional conference pal.

        2. Certainly correct. I was distinguishing anti-racism from “anti-racism”.

        3. Any comment about the plagiarism of the catechism by the American lawyer for its core doctrines? It not plagiarized them, but got them wrong. It misread the catechism and the works of St. Thomas. The supernatural powers attributed to God even by the Medieval church, the lawyer d-word attributes to man. You know how slow the Catholic Church is. They gave up on Scholasticism in the 19th Century. The lawyer d-word still subscribes to it.

          Naturally, the lawyer also adopted the robust model of the Inquisition that built the wealth of the church. That ended when French patriots guillotined 10000 church officials. The lawyer then brought us the entire toolkit of the Inquisition 2.0 to grow its wealth to our secular nation.

  4. “People Getting Fired for Referring to the N-Word—Activism or Performance Art?”

    Why does it have to be one or the other? Why can’t it be activism and performance art?

  5. Just another Marxist ideological game, denounce the others for whatever reason you can, punish them for their thoughts, take power, grind the peasants into the ground, where the Democrats use black people just for that purpose….power.

    Like Connecticut State Supreme court outlawed the N word, it is not protected speech in the nutmeg state. The court mention it 36 times in the opinion.

    https://thefamilycourtcircus.com/2020/08/27/connecticut-speech-police/

    1. Power and great enrichment by rent seeking.

  6. “he uses “Elect” to refer to adherents to what he sees as the quasi-religion of “anti-racism””

    Wow, well of *course* he has a newsletter you can subscribe to! McWhorter has gone full Uncle John*, making his way telling white patrons what they want to hear. Somewhere Sowell or Williams is saying ‘get off my turf!’

    * Please, no performance art virtue signaling from the Un-Elect, which refers to what I see as the adherents of the quasi-religion of ‘anti-anti-racism’

    1. As is often the case, non-conforming Black intellectuals are the recipients of more racial slurs from ‘progressives’ than they ever receive from white supremacists. I could list several other of my friends, but why bother.

      1. Again, why the performance art virtue signaling? Ah, so easy to trigger the Un-Elected of the ‘quasi-religion’ of anti-anti-racism…

      2. “More,” no, surely.

        The “Uncle Tom” slurs are obnoxious, but the concern-troll racists who object to them should be ignored.

        1. ‘Cause of the feelz, they are bad for you?

        2. The people criticizing the “Uncle Tom” slurs are not concern trolls. They are calling out racism as such, not simply saying it looks bad for Democrats to say racist things.

          But thanks for identifying yourself as someone who thinks we should ignore racist slurs when Democrats say them.

          1. The people ardently defending the N-word while calling out Uncle Tom language, yeah, that’s trolling.

            1. Nobody called John McWhorter a nigger, Queen. You’re the only one who came close.

              1. He just defended it, with you applauding.

                1. Who defended what? You’re reduced to gibberish.

      3. ” As is often the case, non-conforming Black intellectuals are the recipients of more racial slurs from ‘progressives’ than they ever receive from white supremacists. ”

        Delusional, defensive, disaffected right-wing bigots are among my favorite culture war casualties.

    2. “full Uncle John”

      More open racism from the left. Just disgusting.

      1. Come hear Uncle John’s Band
        Playing to the tide
        Come with me or go alone
        He’s come to take his children home

        1. Honky, please.

          1. Sure.

      2. Why the performance art virtue signaling 12? One doesn’t want to upset you re your tenets of your religion of anti-anti-anti-racism or whatever…

    3. Another imbecile.

    4. So McWhorter is “Uncle John.” If he were white, he’d be a racist. Either way, you get to dodge actually debating ideas. It’s a neat little parlor trick, but it’s not intellectually honest.

      1. I cracked a Grateful Dead joke upthread, but to be clear, calling one of the nation’s most brilliant Black linguists an “Uncle Tom” is offensive, anti-intellectual, and frankly racist.

        1. Enough with the performance art virtue signaling Dilan! I mean, by Uncle John’s own clearly brilliant and totally not hackish-red-meat-serving-to-move newsletters comments here you’re engaging in this performance art over words for dubious reasons relating to your adherence to a wacky quasi-religion, so please respect the brilliant linguist Uncle John by taking his words to heart. It’s sad to see such racism in you denigrating his ideas just to signal.

          1. I am not signaling anything. I think making a racialized attack against a brilliant thinker is really bad on the merits.

            1. Sorry I don’t have a sarcasm font!

              1. Or, to more clearly explain: A brilliant thinker who in this case is arguing that getting worked up over racialized attacks (much clearer and worse ones, btw) is just evidence of performance art virtue signaling in the name of a quasi-religion of ‘anti-racism.’

                1. Mentioning the n-word isn’t a racialized attack.

                  Using it is, as is gratuitously mentioning it, but he is against both those things.

                  1. “Mentioning the n-word isn’t a racialized attack.”

                    Not usually, but then again it can hurt as much if you kick me by accident as if you did so on purpose.

                    “Using it is, as is gratuitously mentioning it, but he is against both those things.”

                    Is he?

                    “This performative transformation of the N-word into a taboo term affords a kind of power: black Elects get a way of getting back at whites by destroying their careers; white Elects spectating get to show they aren’t racists by cheering on the witch-hunting. “

                    1. There’s probably 15 years of Mcwhorter commentary on this issue. I assure you, he is against use or gratuitous mention.

                      As for your first point, part of the problem here is the outrage is fake. As Johnnie Cochran said 25 years ago, Black people hear the word all the time and have no problem processing it. That is still true. You can’t understand any of these cancel culture issues without understanding that a lot of people lie about being injured because they have a power trip.

                    2. I’ve long read him, which is why I’m disappointed.

                      “lack people hear the word all the time and have no problem processing it.”

                      And now Dilan mind reads black people, including the ones adamantly saying they are offended.

                    3. And now Dilan mind reads black people, including the ones adamantly saying they are offended.

                      As Behar will be happy to explain to you rant to you about, our legal system operates under the assumption that people can “mind read.” Judges and juries are routinely called upon to assess mental states based on the available evidence.

                    4. In addition to what David said, which is correct, we have the fact that all sorts of people have processed all sorts of insults, slights, microaggressions, attacks on their identity, etc., etc., for decades and we know that they do not react by being hurt and unable to function.

                      This is not an issue of me telling you about the psyches of Black people. Heck, WHITE people drive many of these controversies and feign offense at the mention of the word and complain about it. And we know from the protest culture on campuses that it isn’t just this word- people are constantly looking for reasons to lie and say that words hurt them.

                      It is anti-intellectual to close your eyes and pretend that bad faith doesn’t happen or that anyone who ever claims an injury is actually injured.

                2. You could have made that argument (“A brilliant thinker who in this case is arguing that getting worked up over racialized attacks (much clearer and worse ones, btw) is just evidence of performance art virtue signaling in the name of a quasi-religion of ‘anti-racism.’”) without using a racial slur against him.
                  But you are such a racist you can’t help yourself.

                  1. “But you are such a racist you can’t help yourself.”

                    Look at this performance artist! Quite the devotee to virtue signaling is he.

                    1. No virtue signaling at all – just calling you out. You are a racist, as evidenced by your choice of words – own it.

                    2. white Elects spectating get to show they aren’t racists by cheering on the witch-hunting.

  7. I judged the Byzantines unfairly. I always thought the disputes between iconoclasts and iconophiles were absurd. But at least it’s possible one of them was right, and picking the right side really did curry God’s favor. Here, even if you “win,” the only prize is indulging black fragility. Which would be one thing if that would be the end of it, but something tells me there will then just be another demand, and the aggrieved will just chase themselves to infinity to find things to be upset about. I don’t know, maybe white people should consider emulating this and demand that non-whites stop using a word chosen at random– “cracker” might be a good choice, but to really hammer home the absurdity how about “kitchen?” We’ll very carefully explain they couldn’t POSSIBLY understand the pain and demand the professional destruction of anybody who utters the K word.

    1. “Here, even if you “win,” the only prize is indulging black fragility.”

      The idea of, you know, just being decent to black people is I guess not even imaginable for some so this false dilemma gets played out. Trying not to use a word that was used to oppress the crap out of people and to insult people today by invoking that isn’t indulging the fragility of the people who suffer(ed) under that term, it’s being decent to them. This is not hard in most other contexts.

      1. “…just being decent to black people…”

        Like “full uncle john?” You’re like a left wing Archie Bunker.

        1. Goodness 12 inch really is a zealot in his religion of anti-racism, his performance art virtue signaling on this can’t be stopped, it can’t even be contained! I wish he could respect the ideas of the brilliant black linguist here but it appears taking a black scholar’s scholarly words isn’t an option for him. Sad.

      2. Rape is a heinous crime, and one that disproportionately affects women. Many women who have been victimized by it, or even people who had loved ones victimized by it, are doubtless disquieted by references to it. But we don’t quote cases or documents as saying “r**e” or refer to “the r-crime.”

        Six million Jews were killed by the Nazis (and tens of millions of others were killed by them as well). Doubtless references to Nazis and Hitler were especially painful to their victims, particular in the years following World War II, when the wounds were especially fresh. (Not that the wounds from murder of your whole family, for instance, ever quite heal.) But people weren’t told that they must talk about “H**ler” or the “N**is” or “the N-party” instead of “Hitler” and “Nazis.” Nor were university history classes required to fuzz out swastikas (sorry, “sw****kas”) from historical World War II photographs.

        It’s true that slurs aren’t exactly the same as the other examples. (I’m offering analogy here, not identity.) They are insults, not the names of heinous crimes or multi-million-murderers, or the names or symbols of parties that were largely devoted to oppression, slavery, slaughter, and genocide. But if your standard is “oppress[ing] the crap out of people,” rape, Hitler, and Nazis rather beat “nigger” or even Jim Crow. In any event, they are the same ballpark; they are certainly at least as capable of bringing up disturbing and violent associations or memories.

        Being decent to people doesn’t require expurgating references to historical or legal records. Indeed, I don’t think it’s even advanced by that.

        1. But if your standard is “oppress[ing] the crap out of people,” rape, Hitler, and Nazis rather beat “nigger” or even Jim Crow.

          A train wreck among the analogies . . . miraculously delivers a list of oppressions ranked by severity.

          The conflation of rape with Nazism is mind-boggling. How to even think about it? Rape is a pervasively practiced form of extreme violence, which besets human experience in every culture and every era. Everywhere, rape is criminal conduct—except among cultures where it has been made customary. One of the latter, of course, was the pre-Civil War slave culture of the American South.

          The conflation of Nazism with slavery, Jim Crow, and post-Jim Crow American anti-black racism is likewise unsettling. They are not comparable. Each history is unique.

          Nazism is unique for its intensity, its historical brevity, and for the comprehensiveness of its repudiation. Perhaps the historical characteristics by which Nazism most distinguishes itself from other extremely violent upheavals in human history are the thoroughness of Nazism’s defeat, and the near-universal rejection of Nazism which has become a world-wide norm.

          Except for the intensity, Black history in America reverses almost all of that. Black history has been oppression prolonged, for centuries. Even this nation’s most-cataclysmic war never really defeated the national will to oppress blacks. To this day—despite opposition—black oppression remains widespread, customary throughout the nation, and valorized by law and public policy.

          The Supreme Court practiced black oppression with Shelby County v. Holder. Red state politicians across the nation are mobilized and acting to practice legalized oppression of blacks as voters, and to thwart by law the policies blacks favor. The just-concluded Trump administration was more than openly racist—it owed much of its political support to an avowedly racist base it refused to repudiate. To this minute, the Republican Party marches in lock-step submission to that base’s demands.

          As a matter of policy, discussion, and practice, wisdom requires distinctions between brutal eras done and gone, and those with which our nation continues to struggle. Professor Volokh, I urge you to keep that in mind whenever you take up the fraught topics of race, and the history of black experience in America. Those subjects do not seem to have furnished a ready match for your style of commentary, and perhaps not for your personal experience either.

          1. Crap. Italics meant for just the first two lines, and for Shelby County v. Holder. I’ll do it over.

            1. But if your standard is “oppress[ing] the crap out of people,” rape, Hitler, and Nazis rather beat “nigger” or even Jim Crow.

              A train wreck among the analogies . . . miraculously delivers a list of oppressions ranked by severity.

              The conflation of rape with Nazism is mind-boggling. How to even think about it? Rape is a pervasively practiced form of extreme violence, which besets human experience in every culture and every era. Everywhere, rape is criminal conduct—except among cultures where it has been made customary. One of the latter, of course, was the pre-Civil War slave culture of the American South.

              The conflation of Nazism with slavery, Jim Crow, and post-Jim Crow American anti-black racism is likewise unsettling. They are not comparable. Each history is unique.

              Nazism is unique for its intensity, its historical brevity, and for the comprehensiveness of its repudiation. Perhaps the historical characteristics by which Nazism most distinguishes itself from other extremely violent upheavals in human history are the thoroughness of Nazism’s defeat, and the near-universal rejection of Nazism which has become a world-wide norm.

              Except for the intensity, Black history in America reverses almost all of that. Black history has been oppression prolonged, for centuries. Even this nation’s most-cataclysmic war never really defeated the national will to oppress blacks. To this day—despite opposition—black oppression remains widespread, customary throughout the nation, and valorized by law and public policy.

              The Supreme Court practiced black oppression with Shelby County v. Holder. Red state politicians across the nation are mobilized and acting to practice legalized oppression of blacks as voters, and to thwart by law the policies blacks favor. The just-concluded Trump administration was more than openly racist—it owed much of its political support to an avowedly racist base it refused to repudiate. To this minute, the Republican Party marches in sickening, lock-step submission to that base’s demands.

              As a matter of policy, discussion, and practice, wisdom requires distinctions between brutal eras done and gone, and those with which our nation continues to struggle. It is actually abusive to treat black oppression in America as a merely academic subject, as if it were done with, as if it is a subject from the past, upon which scholarly reflection can now impose its seal of finality.

              Professor Volokh, I urge you to keep that in mind whenever you take up the fraught topics of race, and the history of black experience in America. Those subjects do not seem to have furnished a ready match for your style of commentary, and perhaps not for your personal experience either.

          2. I assure you that anti-semitism is not “done and gone.”

        2. Professor Volokh
          Let’s say you had a friend or relative who had just been through a messy, awful divorce ending a messy, awful, abusive relationship. That friend has weekly lunches with you and others, many who are family lawyers who practice in divorce. Usually, when you gather without the recently divorce friend you talk about extreme and unusual cases everyone has come across in this area. Often the group quotes parts of these cases highlighting incredible examples of messiness, abuse, etc.,.

          When this person is present and seems quite upset by such talk, wouldn’t you stop doing that? If someone else kept doing it would you excuse them because it’s part of a historical or legal record? Would you think the talk would upset the divorcee-friend any less because it was so?

          I don’t think anyone is talking about expunging the historical or legal record. What we are talking about is attempting to honestly and adequately cover that record when necessary while to the extent we can still do that also try to minimize the use (or mention for that matter) of things that cause harm to those that have faced harm we might not be familiar with. There’s two competing values here.

          1. Also, I don’t think the n-word is as much like difficult, trauma related topics such as rape or the Holocaust as much as it is like the term ‘bastard’ used to be, a part of an ubiquitous, systemic legal, political and cultural suggestion of inferiority of those against whom the epithet was hurled. The use of it reminded those born out of wedlock that according to popular opinion and the ‘system’ they were inherently inferior and suspect, I doubt that sting was much lessened by the fact that someone was ‘just’ quoting Blackstone about the law of bastardy. The out of wedlock born person would like that epithet and the system it accompanied, help birthed and calls forth, to go into the dustbin of history. Likewise the N-word and black persons.

            1. Queen Amalthea: 1. Of course I think that, when quoting a court case mentioning the word “bastard,” we should quote the word itself, rather than saying “ba-word” or some such — even if some students may come from a culture where out-of-wedlock children are still wrongly held in contempt.

              2. But more broadly, if your concern is that “the use of [the word] remind[s]” people of bad things (whether the word is “bastard” or “nigger”), things that should “go into the dustbin of history,” it seems to me that mentions of rape, the Holocaust, Nazis, Hitler, etc. would fit at least as much within that concern.

              1. 1. Why? What’s gained? What do you think is lost? It seems to me if you were really interested in a scholarly understanding of this issue you would seek out not McWhorters newsletters appealing to buzz-word heavy red meat for a political base on the third question but rather people, especially people impacted directly by the word, who talk about what is lost. Could out-of-wedlock folks from cultures where the slur and category of bastardy tell you something about the unique harmfulness of that word? Could the same be done for the N-word? Have you sought out intelligent versions of such arguments in order to challenge yourself? Have you posted them here in order to challenge your readers? McWhorter’s writings here are only going to make you feel more correct in a position you already hold. Likewise posting it makes the ‘base’ here feel the same. A desire to understand a hotly contested issue I think should lead to hunting out explanations from the side one doesn’t naturally fall on…Then, in any discussion of the controversy, an attempt to honestly describe the values at stake on both sides should be made, even if ultimately one’s analysis comes down on another.

                2. Describing the Holocaust to a Jew or a massacre of Native Americans to a Native American can remind them of bad things that happened to people like them in the past. Using the term ‘bastard’ to a person from a time or place where that term was used to accompany and hold up and remind those it was hurled against that they were inherently inferior and suspect can remind the person ‘for most of history I was thought to be inferior and suspect.’ I think there’s a difference there.

                Consider the following.
                1. A teacher says ‘blacks were treated quite awfully during slavery. A not uncommon punishment for slaves was to be buried up to the neck and have another person defecate on their face.’ (this is true btw)
                2. A teacher says ‘the defendant talked about how the plaintiff was a lazy, no good nigger who wanted only to sleep with his white wife.’

                The first reminds of us an awful thing done to people in the group in the past. The second brings up and *re-posits* a negative stereotype/slur that is still relevant today.

          2. Your appeal to decency apparently failed to resonate with you, at least as far as “uncle John” is concerned.

            1. But if you buy McWhorter’s arguments here why is there anything wrong with Uncle John such that you feel the need to comment on a public blog to point that out? Isn’t what you are doing performance art virtue signaling? Are you assuming black fragility or trying to feel noble?

              1. McWhorter is arguing that use of racial slurs can, and should, be denounced without making them taboo as subjects of respectful discussion.

                Of course, his point went far over your head, and you used your misunderstanding as an excuse to express your racism.

              2. So evasive this morning? Why?

                My post merely adverts to your inconsistency. You made an appeal to decency anent avoiding certain language when in the presence of those who may have been scarred by certain experiences such language may evoke.

                I await why such an appeal to decency should not apply to Uncle John.

                How is calling you to account for your inconsistency virtue signaling?

                1. How is calling you to account for your inconsistency virtue signaling?

                  See McWhorter’s argument, supra.

                  1. Pointing out your inconsistency does not equal virtue signaling.

                    1. Why do you reject his ideas? He said it. Are you racist?

          3. Queen Amalthea: I think that, when we have lunch with a friend and a few others, we’re likely to open to many requests to limit the conversation. “I know we don’t really agree about these legal issues, and I find I just get frustrated when we argue about them; can we talk about something else instead?” “I appreciate that you think the problems of society stem from white privilege / immigration / capitalism / the Right / the Left, but that’s not how I see the world, and though I know you don’t intend it, I can’t help but take that personally because of who I am / who my spouse is / who my friends are; maybe we could just switch to talking about other topics?” “All this talk of criminal law just reminds me about how cruel people can be; how about your telling me what’s happening with your kids instead?”

            Often we’ll accommodate such requests when they relate to lunchtime conversation with friends — or perhaps stop having these lunches, or maybe see the friend in contexts where the conversation is likely to be different (e.g., in lunches without the other family lawyers). That’s precisely because these are small-group discussions where the conversation is usually aimed at having everyone have a pleasant time.

            But I take it that the very analogy you yourself gave wouldn’t apply to classroom discussions, right? If a student who had gone through a messy divorce asks that a professor not discuss unpleasant divorce cases in a law school class, I don’t think “decency” requires that the professor comply. Likewise, as I mentioned, if a student who had been raped — and, unfortunately, there doubtless are many such students in many classes — asks that the professor not mention rape, or say “r-crime” instead. And I think the same is so with regard to the professor or classmates quoting epithets from court documents.

            1. The word rape is not a slur or epithet. I think a scholar of law, words and language like yourself knows there’s some difference between a word, like lynching, that describes an awful thing that happened to a group, and an epithet/slur, for that group like the N-word.

              But even with rape…If you taught a class and you knew there was a student who had recently been the victim of an incredibly violent rape and your syllabus called for reading, verbatim, a case in which an incredibly violent rape was described, step by step, I’d bet you’d cringe a bit, especially if you saw her looking down, upset as you did.

              Why would you? What’s operating there? It seems to me a better scholarly understanding of the phenomena you’re interesting in requires you get at that, and especially that you get at the idea that if you are cringing, how are the people in the group *most impacted* feeling?

              Only then would a balancing of the interests discussion, however it came down, be complete.

              1. The word rape is not a slur or epithet. I think a scholar of law, words and language like yourself knows there’s some difference between a word, like lynching, that describes an awful thing that happened to a group, and an epithet/slur, for that group like the N-word.

                The aspect that demonstrates the artificiality of this whole issue is the assertion that actual harm is caused when a white person refers to the N-word but not when a black person does so, or even when a black person uses the word as a slur or epithet. Nobody has actually explained in a rational way why there should be harm in one case and not in another, and nobody actually believes that there is harm in either case. Given this, it seem profoundly wrong for people to lose their livelihoods over this.

                People also object to the notion of “black fragility” — that there is a lack of resilience among blacks so they must be treated like infants who might be unintentionally injured by something that no one else would find harmful. This is disempowering, as McWorter said:

                I for one have never and never will see it as a badge of strength to announce to white America that uttering a sequence of sounds will send me into therapy. I’d be embarrassed if it did, and that is what I call Black Power.

                Those interested in empowering the black community would naturally object to this, regardless of the allure of the power that can be wielded by using this issue as a bludgeon.

              2. Let me clarify one thing. There are people who become triggered when they hear the N-word referenced by a white person, but they are triggered by the audacity of the person in flouting the prohibition, not by reference itself.

              3. But even with rape…If you taught a class and you knew there was a student who had recently been the victim of an incredibly violent rape and your syllabus called for reading, verbatim, a case in which an incredibly violent rape was described, step by step, I’d bet you’d cringe a bit, especially if you saw her looking down, upset as you did.

                In this direction lies madness, though. Every once in awhile, you’ll have a student who had a family member who was murdered. No gruesome murder facts in that class? Or a student who has been beaten up by the police or know someone who was. No graphic police brutality cases? Or a student whose parents went through a bitter divorce. No divorce cases?

                At bottom, the question is whether you want the educational process to educate or whether it is more important that nobody ever be exposed to anything that might trigger (sometimes phony, performative) reaction.

                Sorry, Prof. Volokh’s right. I don’t say the n-word and I assume I would find ways not to say it in class (though I would have said it if I had been one of the lawyers in the OJ trial). But there’s no actual principle here other than “students can whine and exercise power over people who know more than they do and are supposed to be teaching them lessons”.

  8. “witch-hunting”

    Holy shit, he’s got all the buzz words to get that newsletter flying off the virtual shelves! He knows his audience I guess, it’s a shame that Professor Volokh has become such an easy mark among it.

    1. You must be RALK’s wife or lover or something.

      1. Look, if you can’t see how this writing eschews a scholarly tone (which McCwhorter is quite capable of) for one with the current red-meat right wing base buzz words I can’t help you out of your bubble.

  9. McWhorter, being a linguist, may have more interesting to say about racial slurs and their currency within various groups than most. But a sophisticated or perceptive commentator on systemic racism, he is not.

    There is, to be sure, an anti-racist orthodoxy, and it is regulated with these rules about language, micro-aggressions, and the like. But to refer to it lazily as a “religion” and its adherents as the “Elect” is to replace analysis with polemic; it grasps something essential about the comparison while whiffing on its significance. Because, yes, anti-racism is something like a religion; specifically speaking, it comprises a knowledge-power, and a lot of what we’re seeing now is both the construction of that power and the reactionary push against it. Like a religion, it uses these conventions and shibboleths and taboos to mark itself apart and give itself a new power.

    1. But to refer to it lazily as a “religion” and its adherents as the “Elect” is to replace analysis with polemic;

      My guess is that you haven’t read all seven serial excerpts of McWhorter’s book that are available on the website.

  10. Southern White Supremacists also claimed to be victims, and also claimed to be extremely fragile. The whole scalawag-and-carpetbagger thing was a tale of a once proud and noble people conquered, down-trodden, and spat upon. And of course they were extremely sensitive to and upset by any sign of black people acting like they thought they were equal.

    But they used the victimhood to justify their fragility. If you’re a victim, it’s all about you, you and your oppressers. Others don’t really exist. Everyone is one or the other. So you’re not hound by conventional morality in your behavior towards others. It’s your victimhood, the sense of pain and grief and hurting that you feel, that justifies the lynching of those unwilling to respect the order you impose.

    And this order is based on a cult of victimhood, a cult that is indeed “quasi-religious” in character. White Southerners paved the way. Their cult even had religious paraphenalia like robes, hoods, and burning crosses.

    People today forget that White Southerners were the first fragile victims, the first victimhood cultists. They invented the path others follow.

    It’s a bit like the East German soldiers goose-stepping first to the Nazis, then to the Communists. The nominal ideology can change. The practice on the ground remains.

    1. “ It’s a bit like the East German soldiers goose-stepping first to the Nazis, then to the Communists. The nominal ideology can change. The practice on the ground remains.”

      Don’t hold centuries of racism, bigotry and authoritarian social control against the Democrats, they just can’t get past transforming the communities in which they have political control into monoclonal plantations of patronage politics with crippling lack of freedom. Optimism says that someday they might stop being Democrats, pessimism says they’ll be filthy progressives.

    2. +1000 ReaderY.

      I was going to address victimhood also.

      Of course, to have victimhood, you do have to have victims first.

      The question really is: when does being-victims stop and victimhood start.

  11. The blog posts and Comments are very informative over there. After a while, I may him $100, not $60. I sent the Reason Foundation $100 for the entertaining discussions here.

    1. I’m usually not big on video/audio but this clip from McWhorter is great.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGynKOSD58M&ab_channel=Disenthrall

  12. Man, I tell you…..at the end of the day….conservatives of all stripes just REALLY REALLY want to be able to use the word nigger.

    If I never utter that word for the rest of my life, I won’t feel the sense of loss that conservatives seem to be feeling. They can wrap it up in nice proseor smart sounding rhetoric….
    but at the end of the day the TL;DR version of every iteration of this argument is “Waaaaah!!!!! People should be able to use that word without being shunned….Why are people even getting upset about it?”

    1. Yes. Notice the hyperbolic language they use about it (‘witch hunts’). It’s one of the worst things that can happen to them…Bizarre.

      1. Wait, you are a fake troll too?

        You do realize that ChicagoTom just used the word, right? And the only uses that “conservatives” like John McWhorter are defending are uses even less offensive than his? Either you fell for a troll, or he’s as profoundly dumb as you are.

    2. Man, I tell you…..at the end of the day….conservatives of all stripes just REALLY REALLY want to be able to use the word nigger.

      No, I think that many, not just conservatives, REALLY REALLY object to people being falsely accused of racism and losing their livelihoods as a result of a failure to obey edicts that are not justifiable. They think that no rational person actually believes that harm is caused when a white person refers to the word but not when a black person refers to the word. The whole think is make-believe. The emperor is wearing no clothes and they object to societal strictures that forbid them from noting the fact.

    3. Um, wow. You just uttered a vile racial slur. You realize that you need to be fired and canceled now, right?

      Nobody say Jehovah.

      This has to be clever parody/trolling.

    4. Do you think the now-former general counsel of Human Rights Watch is a “conservative”? I guess it’s possible; I know nothing about her. But it seems improbable.

  13. That Professor Volokh believes it is necessary to quote slurs literally in academic discussions is clear. Does he believe it is equally necessary to let everyone on a campus, including visitors, use the same slurs however they see fit? If not, on what basis does EV propose to draw and enforce a distinction, to separate the proper academic uses from the others?

    Otherwise, on what principle could any employer bar employees from using such slurs to target each other? Professor Volokh, were is the limit? Is to be found in context? Is it a matter of privileging some speakers but not others? Is it an ironclad limit against enforcing any speech restrictions under any circumstance?

    You have shown yourself ready to demand academic protection for a speaker making academically embarrassing publications, using unacademic reasoning (or perhaps no reasoning). Can you square that with extending the same level of protection to everyone, in every circumstance?

  14. These discussions always remind me of ‘Blazing Saddles.’ The script required Slim Pickens, as Taggart, to use the word many many times, and in the worst way. He really wasn’t comfortable doing it, and didn’t want to say it, even acting as a 19th century racist. Richard Pryor, who co-wrote the script, assured Pickens that it was necessary and he and the black actors understood the context.

    Mel Brooks has been told many times that he couldn’t make that movie now. His response: What do you mean, I couldn’t make that movie THEN!

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