I'm Offended, Gwyneth Paltrow


UPDATE: I thought the intro to this piece ("shocked and appalled") along with the point about not catching feelings would make it clear that the "I'm Offended" headline is sarcastic. It obviously didn't. So to be clear, I am not offended by the tweet. Carry on.

I'm shocked and appalled

Gwyneth Paltrow has a close relationship with Beyonce and Jay-Z, so it made sense that she's been hitting The Throne's European tours. During their recent performance in "Paris," however a tweet from Gwyneth set off a firestorm of backlash, prompting The-Dream to come forward and defend Gwyneth.You see, because she's besties with Jay and Beyoncé, Paltrow has the kind of pull that allowed her to watch alongside B from the stage while Jay and Kanye West were performing hit single "N---as In Paris." Singer/songwriter The-Dream apparently snapped and tweeted a picture of Gwyn grooving onstage, with a caption that read, "Ni**as in Paris for real @mrteriusnash (the dream) tyty, beehigh."

I don't really have access to the feelings people catch when something like this happens. As always, I think individual biography is important. My first encounters with the word "nigger" were all from black people. In fact, my entire understanding of white people saying "nigger" is basically theoretical. I didn't really know any white people as a child. 

But I'll take this opportunity to repeat my basic line on this—the white people I know now would no more affectionately call me "nigger," than I would affectionately call someone's wife "honey." I don't really buy that there are a large number of white people who are confused about how and how not to use the word. As always I think there are a good number of humans who deceive themselves in order to turn a wrong into right. But the argument isn't really that complicated.  Black communities are human communities bearing all the markers--specifically in this case, in-jokes and a sense of irony. 

We use language to (among many things) clarify and illuminate relationships. My grandmother used to call my father "Billy." I am not my father's mother, and have thus declined such privileges. When black people use the word "nigger" they are invoking an experience that white people aren't really a part of. 

Again, this is fairly ordinary with humans. I have no desire to address my white friends as rednecks or poor white trash no matter how many times they use it. Nor do I need to call Barney Frank a queer because someone with an experience wholly different than mine finds claiming the term empowering. My wife and her female friends will throw around the word bitch. I make it a policy to not join in.  I have two Jewish friends who once joked that I would "make a good Jew." I have not taken that as license to refer to myself as such. It's their joke—a funny one, no less. But it isn't mine. Nor does it need to be.

With all of that said, I think we tend to hyperventilate a bit much when this sort of thing happens. Faux pas—and in this case a kind of "faux" faux pas—happen. And sometimes it's just nothing. Rap lyrics are an actual thing. I don't really like the idea of white people covering their mouths doing a hip-hop show. There's something very un-hip-hop about that. But, like Chris Rock says, it's gotta be in the song.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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