Cornell William Brooks is president and CEO of the NAACP. He issued the following about remarks made at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on April 30 in Washington, D.C.
On The Nightly Show and in many other programs, Larry Wilmore is a thoughtful and courageous comedian who consistently makes us laugh by confronting the ugly contradictions we see in our government, media, and society.
I assume that Mr. Wilmore was sincere in humorously criticizing, commending and mocking the president during the dinner. Context, like race, matters. The n-word has a long history of hate. It doesn’t matter whether the people listening are wearing tuxedos and gowns, the racist ugliness of it cannot be forgotten. Many in the audience clearly believed he had crossed a line in his final remarks.
In this election year, we have consistently reminded candidates that the words they choose have meaning and consequence. Even a seemingly “friendly” form of the n-word ending in “ga” rather than “ger” insults many in our nation even when meant to compliment our president.
While it may be common to use the n-word as a racial obscenity for effect with a crowd in a night club or among acquaintances in a locker room or a rhyme in a song, the n-word, as racist profanity, should not be in the same sentence or the same room as the President of the United States.
The fact that President Barack Obama is the first African-American to hold the highest office in this country should not be a license for undue racial familiarity or racialized disrespect.
For many years now, the NAACP has maintained that the n-word does nothing to foster real and meaningful conversations our country needs to have about race, class, segregation and tolerance in our nation and we are, once again, sadly disappointed by its perpetuation in our national dialogue. With a vocabulary of America’s aspirations, the NAACP strives for a day when the n-word refers to a ‘nation’ indivisible by race, class, color, creed or slurs.
Founded Feb. 12. 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest, largest and most widely recognized grassroots–based civil rights organization. Its more than half-million members and supporters throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.