Yashar Ali writes about society and politics at The Current Conscience. With insightful articles such as “A Message To Women From A Man: You Are Not “Crazy,” he regularly provides well-written, sane deconstructions of gender politics from an insightful male perspective that generates quality dialogue. But Ali’s Jezebel piece, “The N-Words for Women: Need and Needy,” fell into a trap that is too commonplace in journalism for my taste — that of minimizing the black experience for a catchy headline and inadvertently dismissing our concerns in the process.
“The N-Words for Women,” explains how women are taught not to express our needs, and how men are taught to be wary of needy women to an unfair and limiting extent. The piece is smart, comprehensive, and sheds new light on our mindless everyday behavior. Ali does not at all attempt to draw a literal parallel between the words need/needy and the actual n-word, nor does he suggest that racism in America is as oppressive as sexism. I am at least thankful for that.
Seeing the n-word referenced in an article does not ruffle my feathers much; frankly, I find the term “n-word” just as desperate and ridiculous as I find the word “nigger” offensive and outdated. Still, the title of this article made me cringe a little, a reflex that kicks in every time I see anyone allude to painful parts of the black experience for a snappy analogy or provocative headline. My real frustration is that “the n-word for women,” from the perspective of a black woman…is the actual n-word. Here, in one of many racially tone-deaf moments in gender politics discourse, black women have been casually presumed to not exist.
Do I think Ali maliciously excluded black women from the important conversation that he presents in this article? Definitely not. However, it’s frustrating to watch the “all women are white, all blacks are men,” adage be subtly reinforced in 2011, and it’s tiring to repeatedly put aside that frustration to participate in conversations that do in fact apply to black women. I can only encourage Ali and other writers to consider the implications of appropriating words and symbols that fail to consider the black perspective and in doing so create unnecessary barriers.