Black Journalists and Commentators Rip Limbaugh's "Nigga" Claims

Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

Rush Limbaugh's claim that it's acceptable for him to say "nigga" -- with the "a" at the end -- because some African-Americans have used that derivation of the racial slur drew strong criticism from several black journalists and commentators who called him "harsh" and a "bully."

"I just think this is not good," said Juan Williams, a regular Fox News commentator. "Obviously I think this whole level of conversation is pretty base and divisive. It's so harsh."

Gregory Lee Jr., president of the National Association of Black Journalists, said Limbaugh should know better.

"We don't use any other offensive words on the air, why is this okay?" said Lee, who is also South Florida Sun-Sentinel executive sports editor. "As a professional broadcaster, he should have a deeper understanding of why. He knows why, but he knows this will help pump money into his empire by saying things of this sort."

At issue is a comment Limbaugh made on his syndicated radio show July 16th, in which he reacted to a CNN interview with Rachel Jenteal, a friend of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin and witness in the murder trial of George Zimmerman. Jenteal had testified at the trial about her phone conversation with Martin the night he was shot and killed by Zimmerman.

In the CNN interview, Jenteal was asked if there was anything she wished she had said at the trial, she answered that she wished she had said, "nigga" in her court testimony.

After he played an audio clip of the CNN interview Limbaugh stated:

This was between 9 and 10 pm last night on CNN, who is in a quest to become the, again, most respected news organization in the country, perhaps even in the world. So, "nigga," with an "a" on the end, well I think I can now. Isn't that the point? 'Cause it's not racist. That's the point. I could be talking about a male, a Chinese male, a guy at the Laundromat. I could be talking about a man. That's what she said it means. 

Jenteal herself weighed in on Limbaugh's views today on Huffington Post Live, saying she thought his comments sounded racist.

Chicago Tribune editorial writer and syndicated columnist Clarence Page said Limbaugh used the word simply to provoke a reaction.

"This is just Rush playing his usual classroom bully role, trying to be provocative for the case of being provocative," Page said. "He is feeding the lame brains out there who just want to get mad at somebody."

Page added, "Racial etiquette is like any other etiquette, there is a proper time and proper people to use certain language with and other times there is not. The N-word is like any other obscenity, you use one kind of language around a bunch of sailors smoking and drinking, you don't use it in church. What makes it provocative is that there is hardly a word in the English language that is more provocative than the N-word."

Eric Deggans, media writer for the Tampa Bay Times and a frequent CNN commentator, said Limbaugh's claim is nothing new.

"It's an old conservative argument, black people use the N-word so we can use the N-word, I think that is nonsense," Deggans said. "Why do you even feel the need to want to use the word? There's plenty of black people who disapprove of the use of the N-word in any shape or form. Some conservatives say, 'well, black people don't say anything when black people use the N word,' and that is totally wrong."

Deggans later noted, "The thing to me about Limbaugh is that he has gone from being somebody who has highlighted the hypocrisies of liberals in a funny way to becoming a punitive person, a person who is a scold, who gets on the radio and this whole thing about the N-word, there is nothing funny about it or entertaining about it, it is just awfulness and harshness."

Roland Martin, the former CNN commentator and veteran media voice, agreed.

"I have always made it clear that I do not believe that the N-word should be used," Martin said in a phone interview. "It is a word, a hateful word that has been used against black folks for a long time." He said that debating it makes no sense: "When was the last time you saw Jews in this country having a debate, 'hmmm should we use the K-word?' or Hispanics debating, 'should we use the W-word?"

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