PewDiePie is one of the biggest Youtube stars in the world. In keeping up with the times, his name came across my radar a few times. Most recently, he’s received criticism for calling another player an “F***ing N-Word during a live video stream. There were two interesting things about this situation. First was how casually he dropped that word. He seemed a bit apologetic but he laughed throughout. The second was the hashtag, #PewDiePieDidNothingWrong. Perhaps not so much in this day and age but I was still a bit fascinated by how many people defended his use of the word. If you went to college or have been a college administrator, you’ve sat through a forum or town hall about the N-Word. They get heated, they are informational and some dumb things are often said as well. For me, it’s the day to day conversations and happenings that prove to be the most jarring or create the biggest lessons.
So here’s a story of something that happened to me last week…
A former student, Domingo came back to campus. He was an Afro-Latino brother who left his mark after only a year and semester at the institution. I happened to be walking through the student union when Domingo stopped me. We gave each other dap like old pals. My hopes of grooming him into the next great student leader were dashed when he left school for financial reasons but it was good to see him on campus. His friends were excited and it was like he never left, as person after person came over to say hello. We chatted about his hopes of working in fashion full time as well as potentially coming back to school. I immediately went into mentor role and started giving advice. As the conversation got deeper, a young white brother walks over and yells out “Yo Domingo! My nigga is that you?” Domingo looked at me and was immediately embarrassed. Before either of us could say anything else, the friend says, “Damn nigga where you been? niggas missed you.” The presence of the double N-Word from this guy threw me off a bit. I looked at Domingo this time, with the “aren’t you going to say something look.” He gave the student a dap and responded, “Yo Frank gimme a second, I’m talking to Jeff. To which Frank said, “my bad, a nigga was just excited.” That was it. Clearly, the elephant in the room wasn’t going to be addressed. I jump in and say, “Hey Frank, do you know the historical context of that word you just used a bunch of times?” He responds, “ohhhhhh, yo my bad Jeff. I’m wildin out right? I’m definitely wildin.” I said “I think we all need to have a conversation not only about that word but about context and culture as well. That word offends many people.” Domingo says “you’re right Jeff, my bad, we’ll talk about it.” I asked Domingo if he thought Frank was indeed wildin out and he responded, “yeah kinda.” As I was about to get into a conversation, they both say that they needed to go. They both look at me with an apology written all over their face. Frank and Domingo both shook my hand with Frank saying sorry one more time. I told him to swing by the office to catch up this week and he said, no doubt.
With PewDiePie’s incident, Piers Morgan discussing the use of the N-word, A white sorority going viral for singing the word during a Kanye song, and of course this current racial climate, there seems to be a resurgence in conversations about a term that’s been talked about for as long as I could remember and well before that. There will always be varying opinions on who has the right to say it and who is to blame for its use. Rappers will continue to say it and get criticized for saying it. The ever-popular “A” ending vs the “ER” ending discussion will happen over and over as well as black people saying that they are reclaiming it. I am convinced, we’ll never find a consensus answer to this complex conversation.
My two cents when dealing with my students of any race who openly and publicly use this word or any term that could be offensive is to never condemn but to question. When using the N-word publically in any context, I always ask them in particular, if they understand the historical context of that word or do they understand how that word could be offensive. Additionally, I also make the effort to be amongst the students, so every now and then they feel comfortable saying whatever they want. In turn, they also feel comfortable having a conversation with me about potentially, sexist, racist, homophobic or destructive terms. Getting to know your students will always make these conversations more seamless and less awkward.
This isn’t the first time I’ve had the conversation and it will certainly not be the last. Teachable moments do not have to be aggressive and or come with a punishment as many of you know. Keep pushing dialogue as much as you can. I’m not sure if Frank and Domingo walked away from me and dropped a few more N-words but at least I know that some questions and thoughts were in their head, even if it was for a few seconds.
HOW WOULD YOU HAVE HANDLED THIS SITUATION?
HAVE YOU EVER HAD A SIMILAR SITUATION IN TALKING TO STUDENTS OR PEERS?
HOW MANY OF US HAVE STAYED SILENT IN THE PRESENCE OF POTENTIALLY UNCOMFORTABLE DIALOGUE?
MrJeffDess is the Co Founder of Trill or Not Trill. He’s also a writer, professor, public speaker and emcee of Haitian descent. He is an author of 5 books of poetry, including his latest, Trill Motivation With over ten years of performing and student affairs experience under his belt MrJeffDess continues to strive towards helping students reach their highest potential. For booking information, contact MrJeffDess at TrillorNotTrill@gmail.com or www.mrjeffdessworks.com