Janet Van Ham / HBO
"That's our word, and you can't have it back."
Bill Maher used his first episode following last week’s controversial use of the n—- word on “Real Time” to apologize and be lectured by guests Symone Sanders, Ice Cube and Michael Eric Dyson on why the word’s usage by him is still unacceptable today.
“I did a bad thing,” Maher said to sociology professor Dyson. “For black folks, that word, I don’t care who you are, has caused pain. I’m not here to do that.”
Maher was under fire all week after he used the word in an interview with Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska. Although Maher immediately released a statement apologizing for his actions, the internet started pulling up receipts displaying his comfortable affinity with the word. Some called for him to be fired from HBO.
Ice Cube did not hold back in a follow-up roundtable, pushing Maher to explore why he felt so comfortable with the word. Ice Cube called it a “teachable moment”:
“I still think you need to get to the root of the psyche because I think there’s a lot of guys out there who cross the line because they’re a little too familiar, or they think they’re too familiar. Or, guys that, you know, might have a black girlfriend or two that made them Kool-Aid every now and then, and then they think they can cross the line. And they can’t. . . That’s our word, and you can’t have it back.”
Ice Cube added: “. . . It’s not cool because when I hear my homie say it, it don’t feel like venom. When I hear a white person say it, it feel like that knife stabbing you even if they don’t mean to.”
But perhaps the most poignant thoughts came in the form of a brief comment from Sanders, the former press secretary for Bernie Sanders. She responded from the perspective of the many black women who were raped and abused for being the very thing Maher joked about:
“As a white person in America, you would’ve been the master, the slave owner . . . It was mostly black women who were enslaved in the house, who were raped, who were beaten daily, day in and day out,” Sanders said. “They endured physical and mental abuse. For a lot of people in America, that was like slap in the face to the black community, particularly to black women.”
As for Maher, he seemed to take his deserved flagellation in stride — sometimes bucking when his guest held his feet to the fire.
We hope it really was a teachable moment that he will always remember.
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