What if someone called Barack Obama the N-word?

There was a lot of news today around conservative pundit Ann Coulter calling 2008 Democratic Presidential Candidate John Edwards a f–got.

Edwards released a statement in response, and was on the radio today talking about it.

This got me thinking:
What if someone called Barack Obama a n–ger?
Would more people be upset over the “N-word” more than the “F-word?”
Why would the reactions be different?

Sadly, I think the reaction would be larger over the n–ger (think Kramer reaction times 1000).

I say sadly because it always amazes me how much selective bigotry exists among people. Why is it alright to disrespect one group, but not alright to disrespect another? Why is it alright for me say something and alright for me to get mad about you saying it? Why do people who battle against discrimination discriminate?

For example, why were so many Black people actually happy to see Middle Eastern people discriminated against and racially profiled after 9/11? If anything, we should have been the most compassionate to them.

I’m not preaching; I used to have the same problem, and I’m dealing with that. We all need to deal with this within ourselves.

One Love. One II.



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About Garlin Gilchrist II

I am the City of Detroit's first ever Deputy Technology Director for Civic Community Engagement. My job is to open up the city's public data and information for the consumption and benefit of all Detroiters. I currently live in Detroit, my hometown, with my beautiful wife Ellen and our twins Garlin III and Emily Grace. I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora, and was formerly the National Campaign Director at MoveOn.org. I also co-hosted The #WinReport on "The Good Fight," a an award winning, nationally syndicated radio show that was one of Apple's Best of 2013. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. I spent two years creating and implementing a strategy for the Center to take it's 40 years of community organizing experience into the digital age. I speak before diverse audiences on effective & responsive government, empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation through emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet. Full bio here.

5 responses to “What if someone called Barack Obama the N-word?”

  1. Anonymous says :

    I think that so many people rally around the N word because of the openness that people have always displayed against discrimination. Being gay was something that people did not admit to or were willing to associate pro ideas regarding this isssue. That is why I think that one back lash is different from the other.

  2. Garlin II says :

    I think what you are saying is that it has been easier in the past to insult gay people because they may have purposefully hidden the fact that they were gay. As a result, the reaction to insulting a gay person is not all that huge.

    This could be true, but if it is then that’s messed up on two levels:

    1. That position blames the people the slurs are targeted at instead of those hurling the insults
    2. That doesn’t justify hypocritical people who claim to be champions of tolerance, fairness, and equality who would use this as an excuse.

  3. Ellen says :

    what i find perhaps to be more interesting is the lack of response people have to the use of the word n-gga, particularly amongst urban youth of all races. it seems the connection and historical implications between the word n-gga and n-gger has been lost. scary…ignorance and bigotry are a scary combination…

  4. Garlin II says :


    That is an interesting question that deserves it’s own separate post/discussion. To deal with that briefly here though, I wonder how the connection was broken in the first place. Was it really Black people taking ownership of the term (as some suggest), or was it something else? If it was Black folks taking ownership, why are non-Black youth using the term so loosely as you suggest?

    To bring us back to the this subject directly, would it be different for Obama to be called a n-gga than it would be for him to be called a n-gger? Along the same lines, would it be different if he was called the N-word by a Black person or a white person?

  5. Tony says :

    Hey Garlin,

    I don’t think that that is Ann Coulter calling Edwards the f-word would be the same as if she called Obama the n-word, mainly because Edwards isn’t homosexual while Obama is clearly black. She might as well have called Edwards the n-word.

    Plus, the response wasn’t as big as it could have been because Ann Coulter is known for being extremely offensive. She’s said worse stuff than that. On the flip side, Kramer’s blowup was such a big deal partly because it was so surprising and he didn’t have a public track record for offensive behavior.

    It isn’t like the whole thing was swept over the rug. Several sponsors on Ann Coulter’s website pulled their ads after she made the comments.

    In regards to the selective bigotry, I think you make a good point, people do tend to have their blinders on and only focus on what they feel directly relates to them. I haven’t personally heard of any black folks happy to see Middle Eastern folks being profiled and locked up. But it wouldn’t surprise me if I did given some of the animosity that occurs between some middle eastern and black communities. A lot of black folks feel profiled when they patron middle eastern stores and gas stations. Just on the local news a couple of days ago, 3 or 4 middle eastern dudes jumped this black dude who left their store and said he’d take is business elsewhere after they profiled him. The beating was on tape, you could see them running out of the store with bats and beating him. And this incident happened in a predominately black community.

    So I don’t necessarily agree with that point of view, but I can definitely see how it can happen.


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