During a recent taping of VH1’s “Martha and Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party” starring Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg, Snoop Dogg lost his temper during a discussion of rapper Lil Yachty’s new album, and Stewart followed up with a cringe-worthy question.
The show failed to get permission to display the album art for Lil Yachty’s latest album “Teenage Emotions,” and Snoop Dogg reacted with a rant, referring to the album cover as “this n***** shit.”
In response, Stewart turned to Lil Yachty, leaned over and asked, “Yachty, does it upset you when Snoop says ‘n***** shit?’”
This awkward moment, which will never air because it was edited out, demonstrated a cultural clash that brought to light the evergreen question: is this word ever acceptable? Does it belong to certain groups and not to others? Or should the word itself be obliterated from every vocabulary?
Reverends Irene Monroe and Emmett G. Price III joined Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on Boston Public Radio to discuss. The following conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
IRENE: You can’t conjugate the n-word ... they always say it’s the ending of the word, whether it’s ‘-ah’ ‘-er’ or ‘-a’ — and you can’t conjugate the word. It doesn’t make any sense, because even slaveholders used ‘-a’ and ‘-ah’ and then ‘-a,’ at one time, was used among African-Americans to distinguish themselves in terms of class. They don’t have history here, but the point is, it’s not a word you can conjugate, because it is so embedded in racist language.
EMMETT: Let’s go over this, because I think you conjugate verbs — he used it like a noun. Lil Yachty is this 19-year-old teen sensation who has become kind of the rags-to-riches piece, and he’s really big now, and Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg have this cooking show, Martha and Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party on VH1, and they brought in Lil Yachty to kind of really talk about his new album, but the show didn’t get the release to actually show the image of the album, so Snoop Dogg got pissed, and he said, ‘y’all didn’t get his stuff?’ right? And so Martha Stewart says, 'well, how do you feel about your n-s?' So she misunderstood his stuff, versus ‘that-stuff.’
IRENE: This is absurdity. First of all, language is a public enterprise. No particular ethnic group owns the lexicon or any word. My point is, I don’t even understand why people get upset about the n-word when we keep it in use. We can’t distinguish whether it is a racial slur or a term of endearment.
JIM: When you say “we keep it in use” you mean black people keep it in use?
EMMETT: Tupac taught us in the 1990’s that the n-word can be re-framed to be “Never Ignorant Getting Goals Accomplished,” and — I don’t subscribe to that — but a lot of rappers re-frame that in that sense as a word of affirmation.
IRENE: That’s fine, and I understand the whole idea that we take words and we try to turn them and make them positive, I mean I think we’ve done that in the LGBT community with the term “queer” — absolutely, and the B-word, when we’re referring to women. But the point about it is, you don’t own a word. We’re the only ethnic group that will use a term that has been used against us and keep it in circulation. I just want to say this — the 2003 Merriam-Webster dictionary definitely said that this was a slur word, not to be used as a noun to refer to African-Americans … then in 2008, the NAACP did a mock funeral of putting that word down. I actually thought we would have stopped using that word in the ‘70s.
EMMETT: Irene! How many rappers use Merriam-Webster or Funk & Wagnalls as a source? And how many rappers look at the NAACP? People are trying to figure out what in the world the NAACP is doing today! They can’t even keep a director!
IRENE: The hypocrisy here is that after — and Jesse Jackson was certainly part of the mock funeral — and then he, in 2008, used the word to refer to Barack Obama. So that shows how it —
MARGERY: Do you think it should be funeralized as well?
EMMETT: No! No, no, no.
IRENE: Nobody should use it!
EMMETT: I’m not down with censorship. Martha Stewart didn’t understand what she said, and that’s what makes it newsworthy. That she used this term without context.
IRENE: I don’t care if she did understand it.
EMMETT: She shouldn’t have used it.
IRENE: Even in context, it’s problematic. It’s embedded in racist language.
Irene Monroe is a syndicated religion columnist. Emmett G. Price III is a professor and founding executive director of the Institute for the Study of the Black Christian Experience at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. To hear their interview in its entirety, click on the audio player above.