There are few social ills in the African American community that can’t be solved by listening to a little bit of old Public Enemy. There’s a great song on the Apocalypse 91 album called “I Don’t Wanna be Called Yo Nigga” The song is pretty simple actually, it’s just Flava Flav (the pre -“Flavor of Love” version) rapping about how he and most black people don’t want to be called “Nigga” by anybody, under any circumstances.
How can you say to me, “Yo my nigga!”
Cursin’ up a storm with your finger on a trigger
Feelin’ all the girls like a big gold digger
Take a small problem
Make a small problem bigger
You say, “Yo; I ain’t poor I got dough
You Don’t consider me your brother no more?”
Goddamn kilogram, how do you figure
I don’t want to be called yo nigga!
The point of the song is that no matter how common the term is amongst black people, and black culture it’s still stings and there are very, very few circumstances in which calling somebody “nigger,” or “nigga,” or “niggaz” is appropriate. Perhaps someone should have explained this to Robert Carmona, the head of the STRIVE work program. It might’ve saved him $30,000.
Rob Carmona, 61, is the founder and director of STRIVE an employment agency in East Harlem that focuses on helping convicted criminals find work and get back into the economy. Brandi Johnson, 38, was a STRIVE employee. Both are African American. It’s not hard to figure that the N-Word was going to come up eventually right?
Apparently on March 14 of 2012 Carmona went on a four-minute expletive and racial slur laden rant on Johnson about her workplace attire and professionalism.
However this wasn’t the first time that Carmona had gone off on Johnson at work, and because her previous complaints had been ignored she secretly recorded the entire conversation. After the tirade, she claims she ran to the bathroom and cried for 45 minutes. On the stand in her workplace discrimination case she testified: “I was offended. I was hurt. I felt degraded. I felt disrespected. I was embarrassed,” At this point this is still a simple discrimination suit, something that happens all of the time in America, just ask Paula Deen, or anybody who’s ever worked at Denny’s. But the reason ganered national attention is because Rob Carmona and his defense lawyers tried to argue that he was using the term “nigger” as a term of endearment, and since nigger has different meanings in different contexts that he in fact wasn’t really creating a hostile work environment for Brandi Johnson.
When asked to be more specific as to why he called her nigger eight times in the span of four minutes Carmona testified he was trying to tell Johnson that she was being “….too emotional, wrapped up in her[self], at least the negative aspects of human nature.” You know…. being a nigger. Of course the jury didn’t buy his ridiculous story either, and Carmona will pay Johnson $25,000 in punitive damages and STRIVE will pay another $5,000 on top of that.
To be honest with you, if every black person in America got paid $30,000 every time we’ve been called ”nigger,’ collectively or individually I think I’d stop complaining about reparations, but I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen. Already many press outlets are reporting this court ruling as some sort of major sea change in language, now that there is no longer this “double-standard” where black people can say “nigger” and white people can’t.
This is completely wrong of course and another example of the disingenuous double standard of race that we all still live under. The workplace is the workplace; you are not supposed to use foul language at any job, no matter what race you are, or who happens to be working there that day. If Carmona was a woman and had gone on a four-minute rant calling Brandi Johnson a “bitch” eight times and lost a discrimination suit, nobody would be calling this ruling a sea change in language or culture.
Why? Because anyone with a lick of common sense and professionalism knows that words like bitch, faggot and especially nigger, may be okay when you’re joking with your friends and family, but those words never have, and never will have a place in a workplace that isn’t a recording studio or on the set of the newest Showtime drama.
Only white Americans who obsess over “not” being able to use the n-word and black people who don’t know any better, would view this court ruling as anything significant. The rest of us know better.
Of course Robert Carmona knew this from day one and simply got caught for being a verbally abusive boss. He could have saved himself $30,000 if he’d just listened to Flava Flav, nobody wants to be called “Yo nigger”.
Dr. Jason Johnson is a professor of Political Science at Hiram College and an analyst for CNN, HLN and Al Jazeera English.
He can be found at @Drjasonjohnson on Twitter and at www.drjasonjohnson.com