As is the case when any celeb makes a public fumble, the Internet went wild. After several people questioned Gwyneth's use of the derogatory term, she skipped an apology and offered an explanation: “Hold up. It’s the title of the song!” she tweeted, showing she just didn’t get it and possibly making things worse for herself.
Russell Simmons rushed to her defense on Global Grind: “I have to throw my hand up and stand up for Gwyneth. I know her intentions were not to be offensive ... she was just proud of her friend, Jay-Z.”
On The View, Whoopi Goldberg wasn’t buying it. She argued that by adding “for real” to the tweet that Gwyneth was calling Kanye and Jay-Z the N-word, not just saying the title of the song. “She was basically saying I’m here on stage with these n----as in Paris,” Whoopi explained.
The whole thing is a big mess, and for more reasons that are blatantly obvious. And while I appreciate and respect both Uncle Russell’s and Whoopi’s take on the matter, they’re both wrong — sort of. I truly don’t think Gwyneth meant to offend anyone, but I also don’t think being proud of a friend, which I do believe she is, is a valid defense on this one. She also wasn’t necessarily calling Jay-Z and Kanye “niggas” outside of the context which they refer to themselves on the song.
“N****s in Paris” is by far the most popular song from their CD, the one that “gets the people going.” And the idea of Jay-Z and Kanye performing in Paris was a Moment — capital M — one that many Black Americans crossed the Atlantic to witness. Paris has always represented the height of glamour, sophistication and prestige. For Jay and Kanye to perform a series of sold-out concerts there was a “who thought hip-hop could take it this far?” occurrence. At the show where Gwyneth tweeted the 140 characters booed around the ‘Net, ‘Ye and Jay had performed the song 11 times, eight more than they did in Jay’s hometown venue of Madison Square Garden. Her tweet was more like saying, “They’re actually performing “N****s in Paris! This is huge!” It’s a minor distinction, but one that matters.
Frankly, I can’t find it in me to get riled up about this one. Collectively Black folk seem to have decided that’s it’s okay if we use it, and not okay when anyone non-Black does. It’s a stupid rationale, and an ineffective one too, judging by the number of non-Black people who keep using it publicly. Clearly “do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work with children or non-Black people either. If you want to stop hearing non-Black folk drop n-bombs, as a community we must call a moratorium on insulting each other with them as well.
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria) in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk