On ESPN radio this evening, Bob Valvano, responding to a listener email, had a nice little rejoinder to the trope that it’s not fair that Riley Cooper has gotten in so much trouble for using a racial slur when rappers use the same word (and other offensive language) all the time. Valvano pointed out that if another member of the Eagles, black or white, used the kind of offensive language that the email cataloged (and that Valvano was not able to read on air), he’d also be in hot water. In other words, this very common refrain about rappers and the N-word is simply not an apples to apples comparison.
There are, of course, particular racial sensitivities at play here. Cooper used a word with a long historical connection to violence and oppression against African Americans. There are issues of trust and context that make it only natural that (many) blacks would view differently a white person saying the word than an African American saying the word. And Cooper shares a locker room with lots of African American co-workers. This is not unique to that ethnic group, by the way. A non-Jew using an anti-Semitic slur is likely to be judged differently by many Jews than a Jewish person making the same utterance.
Beyond what I think are these quite obvious truths, it’s hard to stomach the lament that undergirds so many of these complaints – that American society somehow treats white people less fairly than it does black people. Please. It’s simply a preposterous proposition. But even if you think Blacks face no structural disadvantages today, you still need to quit whining, for reasons that Louis CK has nicely laid out.
Update (August 5): Jason Whitlock has a worthwhile column on Cooper. Especially admirable are his reflections on his own homophobia earlier in his life. And he’s right, of course, that we all carry around prejudices of one sort or another. Our challenge is to reflect on and scrutinize them. Whitlock explores this well.