The black digerati had their panties in a tweet on Monday when Gwyneth Paltrow — ever the antithesis of all that is negro — tweeted a pic of herself on stage in Paris with Kanye and Jay-Z along with the caption: “Ni**as in paris for real.” Naturally, minutes later the headline “Gwyneth Paltrow Tweets the N-Word” then spread like wildfire on the interwebs. Paltrow was in Paris attending Jay and Kanye’s “Watch the Throne” tour — so she got the Paris part right. Less clear to Paltrow was the fact that we don’t now, nor have we ever needed her to cleverly kick song titles with the N-word back to us. Yes, it is the title of a Jay and Kanye hit song (Paltrow responded to the criticism in a follow up tweet: “Hold up, it’s the title of the song!”), but, um, we knew that homegirl.
Tough to say whether it would be more or less offensive if Paltrow had tweeted a picture of just the fellas rather than the one with herself in it, too. The implication of the latter being that she is also a ni**a — the very notion of which makes me want to stick my head in the oven. But this isn’t really about the use of the N-word, much as I abhor it, and in a way I never imagined I would until I had a son.
This to me is more about our deep ambivalence toward mainstream cultural integration. Lots of us writers and cultural critics, myself included, take issue regularly and often with the whiteness of Hollywood, of mainstream media and celebrity. Not without reason. I pretty much always think to myself when I see all-white TV shows like HBO’s Girls: Dear Lena Dunham, do you not have ONE black friend who has had enough of an impact on your life so that you might write a black character into your show that isn’t a homeless person? Evidently not.
Movies, TV, web publications, Vanity Fair magazine covers, any magazine covers, fashion models both on the runway and in print — all arrestingly white. I would like to see that change. I need to see that to change. But the visceral response that I and other Black folks have when we see a white celebrity like Gwyneth Paltrow throwing down with her Black homies or going on about her BFF Beyonce (not to mention the slew of white celebrity women who have adopted Black children of late, or Charlize Theron trying to be down with Viola Davis, is a clear indication that we are conflicted about representations of ourselves being included in that white world.
The conflict, in my opinion, is deeply rooted in a lack of agency and ownership over our own vast influence on mainstream culture. As much as I hate the n-word, I do believe that it’s Jay and Kanye’s prerogative to use it — yes, because they are Black. Jay can work it out with Bey when Blue Ivy hears it for the first time in a derogatory way. But Gwyneth Kate Paltrow, you do not get to use that word in any context, ever. However authentic your friendships are with the Black folks in your life, these friendships do not provide you with the same perks as your American Express Black card. They do not buy you access to whatever hip aspect of Black culture appeals to you. And if your friendships are in fact authentic, you should know that.