It’s hard to imagine that when Eagles’ wide receiver Riley Cooper returned to camp on Tuesday, there was no awkwardness between him and the many Black teammates who hadn’t seen him since the infamous “I’ll fight every n*gger in here” outburst. However, there have been many reports attesting to the lack of anger from Cooper’s Philadelphia colleagues. WR Jason Avant told reporters “guys are definitely over it,” stating that the apology had been sufficient and as long at it was sincere and blah, blah, standard reaction to blatant racism.
Riley Cooper isn’t the prison industrial complex. He isn’t Stop and Frisk, he isn’t draconian drug laws, failed schools, food deserts or even George Zimmerman. However, unlike many of the other people of note who’ve been caught using offensive language, his spoke to a rather clear sense of racial animus. Cooper didn’t say “What up, n*gga?” or even “This n*gger got me confused.” No, his altercation with one Black security guard led to “I will fight every n*gger in here.”
N*gger is clearly of his mother tongue, folks. He knows this word and he knows it well. He didn’t even have the inflection you get when you say something that you know is crazy—he might as well have been hailing a cab or fussing at the dry cleaner who ruined his favorite shirt. Just gonna “fight every n*gger in here,” no biggie.
And yet, once again, all is forgiven! Who carez! Welcome back to the team. Are you ready for some football? OH YEAH!
It isn’t rap music keeping “n*gger” in White people’s mouths. For starters, they own the word and we’re just renting it. As much as we may debate “permission,” just know that the people who are actually waiting for your Black signoff on “n*gger” aren’t the ones you should worry about using it. The other ones are tossing it around liberally like fat-free salad dressing. It won’t harm ya, have some more.
I sometimes wonder if our 'instaforgiveness' comes from a place of just wanting to be loved and accepted by White folks. Our collective racial self-esteem is low at times, but must we give up the goods to anyone who doesn’t even ask nicely? Call us “n*ggers?” It’s cool, it’s not your fault, blame the Diplomats or Chief Keef or whomever. Matter fact, you wanna do our dance? We’d be honored, Miley. Twerk us into validation! Cook our food so we know it tastes good. Marry me, so I know I’m special. Dear Mr. White Man: can we please just be your friend?
The least cynical part of me wants to attribute this to misplaced efforts for ending racism. If we are good enough and you like us enough… can you stop the bad stuff? But I am more inclined to take it as the subconscious acceptance of “White is right,” and, thus, the best we can hope for is a co-sign.
Cultural appropriation, White privilege and supremacy are long conversations for many other days. But/so why does Riley Cooper matter? Well, because the (supposed) rapid forgiveness of his teammates is on the public stage, there’s a very clear message being sent to the world: it really doesn’t matter what you say or do to harm or offend Black people, because the consequences are minimal. Meanwhile, we keep turning the other cheek so fast, we get whiplash.
[Double entendre, don’t even ask me how.]
The pressure for us to be forgiving might also be a factor. A Black person with an opinion on the other side of “This White person is okay in my book” is an Angry Black Person and the views of Angry Black People are not to be taken seriously. They are wrought with emotion—emotion is a bad thing, so swallow it—they are mad about slavery or some other such nonsense. And, well, he apologized. That’s what you do when you say something awful that may betray something awful about who you are at your core (awful). And as long as you do that, you will be protected from any detractors, especially Black ones (a.k.a. “the real racists who do racist things, such as talking about race”).
There is an unknown person or group out there, allegedly Black, organizing a “Black People for Paula Deen” rally outside of a Good Morning America taping later this month. According to their website, “The Black community has forgiven Paula [and] it’s time for us all to open our hearts and give this good woman a second chance.” I never got my ballot in the mail to vote one way or another, but though I know that many people had a good hearty chuckle at this effort, there are also those out there who feel that they don’t have the agency to reject the apology of someone who just.got.caught. Like, right after. Accept now so that White folks will like you.
Think of Don Lemon’s now infamous “Pull up your pants, stop littering and White folks will respect you” speech a few weeks back. The narrative emerges yet again: if we are good, White people will stop treating us badly. Though calling out injustice and requiring those who commit it to actually do the work of righting their wrongs—as opposed to just saying “Sorry, you caught me!”—is very good in my book, it doesn’t bode well with the idea of the Respectable Negro who can order her steps properly to arrive at the Promised Land: White acceptance.
I’ll defer to Ntozake Shange:
“one thing I don’t need is any more apologies I got sorry greeting me at my front door you can keep yours I don’t know what to do with them they don’t open doors or bring the sun back they don’t make me happy or get a morning paper didn’t nobody stop using my tears to wash cars Because a sorry”
You can keep turning the other cheek if you wish, but do know that lack of accountability simply sets up the offender to strike you from a new angle. Let us reserve forgiveness (and our willingness to open our arms in embrace) to those who will work for it.
The Beautiful Struggler is the musing space of Jamilah Lemieux, News and Lifestyle Editor for EBONY.com. Follow her on Twitter @jamilahlemieux