Madge, girl what am I gon' do with you? If you haven't heard, Madonna has stirred up controversy after posting the above pic of her son Rocco boxing and typing "No one messes with Dirty Soap! Mama said knock you out#disnigga." After being (deservedly) criticized, she released a statement apologizing (also posted above) for using the word and saying she is not a racist.
Do I believe Madonna is a racist? No. Aside from her adopting two African children (and getting unfairly vilified in the process) and her oldest offspring being the result of a relationship with an undeniably Hispanic man (i.e. he can't "pass"), she has employed/worked with and continues to employ/work with black backup singers, dancers, producers, video directors, songwriters and musicians. My point? Madonna is and has long been in a position where she could insulate herself in an all-white world, if that's she truly wanted to do. The woman is clearly not racist. Of course, you could argue it has all been for show, but aside from this latest flap, there has been no documented history of racially insensitive remarks or charges of racism by former collaborators/employees, a la Paula Deen.
Secondly, she used 'nigga' not nigger (hey, since we're talking about race and instances of racism, why use the "N" word?). This is an important distinction in my opinion, particularly because the word was used in a pop cultural context. Let me explain: I have been called both a nigger and nigga by white people in my lifetime. The former occurred courtesy of a drunken rant by girl whose boyfriend had been beaten up by a black guy at a club, and who decided to direct her rage at all the black men in attendance; the latter when I was 15 and in P.E., when a random classmate exchanged dap with me and quipped "thanks my nigga" before scurrying off.
And honestly, hearing 'nigga' come from a white guy's lips was more disorienting. As much as 'nigger' could sting, at least I knew where I stood with the person who uttered it--they thought I was less than human, and I knew they were a bigoted asshole.
But with nigga it was different. Though I didn't hang out with the guy in question (or anyone in P.E. for that matter), he had no problem hanging around the other black guys in our class--he definitely fell in the wigga category. He'd likely heard the word uttered hundreds of times, both by those around him and in countless rap songs. And if we're being real, the exchange between me and the white classmate was no different than the ones between me and my own group of friends at that time. I'd be lying if I said I have never said 'nigga' before, or won't at some point in the future, despite a conscious effort to cut back on my usage. I'm not of the view we should (or can) ban 'nigga.' But at the same time, I don't believe uttering it as if we have Tourette syndrome is doing us any favors. But I digress.
All of this is to say that while my white classmate may not have thought of me as inferior or subhuman (wonder how his opinion might have changed if he'd known about my sexuality?), his actions were stupid and thoughtless. He presumed since I was black (and young--I doubt he'd say that to someone my parents/grandparents' age) that I said 'nigga,' and therefore it gave him the right to use it. In my case he was right, but being we barely knew each other, it doesn't change the fact he was presumptuous and offensive.
And that is how I view Madonna using 'nigga.' Though she may not be racist, using #disnigga as an Instagram hashtag was INCREDIBLY stupid, insensitive and galling, especially coming from a woman so shrewd, intelligent and progressive in her work. How could she post this and not think twice about how it would offend people? Kissing a black saint in "Like A Prayer" or creating a book of erotic fantasies are one thing. They were provocative works that may have pissed folks off, but had a clear intention to open minds. This Instagram mess was an error in judgment at best, a terrible attempt to be hip and edgy at worst.
To sum up: Madge girl, stop tryin' be down with the kids, lay off social media for a bit (or forever) and save the controversy for the important topics--LGBT rights, artistic expression, sexuality, gender, religion--as you've down so brilliantly for the last three decades. 'Cause this ain't cute. I want to get my life to your upcoming Grammy appearance, not have to read you for filth. M'kay?