Can a Nigga Get a Job?

The Washington Post, New York Daily News and Newsday are among a group of publications that refused to run The Boondocks last week. The series spoofed “The Apprentice,” with Russell Simmons hosting a new reality show called “Can a Nigga Get a Job?” Universal Press Syndicate gave papers the option of running the strip with the hyper-offensive “igg” replaced by the much safer “***.” The LA Times ran the strip, but in a hysterical fit of correctness edited the knives out of a knife fight scene. No, I’m not making that up.

Never mind how damned stupid it is that you can’t use the term “nigga,” but you can blot out just enough letters so that we know what the word is. See, race issues in this country aren’t about subtle, yet malignant realities, they’re about whether you actually say the word out loud. If you don’t actually use the epithet, you’re not really racist, regardless of how often you pass over qualified candidates for promotion or refuse to admit people to your country club because they’re black.

See? Racism for Dummies.

Ahem. The charitable explanation is that a lot of these papers honestly wanted to avoid offending blacks, some of whom find any iteration of the “N word” hurtful (and hey, you can sure as hell understand that, I’d hope). There’s plenty of argument among blacks as to whether using the term (which many do) is empowering or demeaning, and I don’t think there’s much point in me jumping into that one.

The less-than-charitable explanation – and given that we’re talking about the actions of some pretty big-time corporate entities here, we should always consider the less-than-charitable angle – is that they didn’t want to do anything – anything – that might jeopardize a revenue stream. Public interest or financial interest? You be the judge on that one. For my part, I firmly believe that the fine papers who boycotted this strip would use “N***a,” and any other variation of the word they could think of, in 72-point blackface boldface above the fold on the front page every damned day if they thought it would jack their profits.

No, wait, I don’t believe that. Do I? No, I can’t possibly believe that. Hmmm. Maybe I do. There’s no way to be sure. I’ll tell you one thing, though – there are plenty of smart people who do believe it, and a lot of them are in those coveted younger demographics – the ones who don’t read papers, and whose refusal to do so is threatening the future of the industry.

Aaron McGruder, the guy who writes The Boondocks, is probably not too surprised at the reaction the strip has gotten, and with any luck this little flare-up will draw even greater attention to one of the smartest things in the newspaper these days.

My advice to newspaper editors is pretty simple – when you have something in your pages that’s intelligent and insightful, leave it the heck alone. If Aaron McGruder offends somebody, they probably need offending. The alternative is a continuation of the marketing-driven philosophy which avoids offending at all costs, and results in watered-down, lukewarm journalism-like product – iceberg lettuce for the brain.

Meanwhile, here’s the first of the offending strips.

Monday's strip

You can see the entire week here.

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