Semantics of the word Negro
February 17, 2016 10:35 PM   Subscribe

I'm a 33 year old white man. I have always been uncomfortable with the word negro, for a bunch of reasons. So my question is: can I sing along with Beyonce's Formation?

I don't use the n word, even karaokeing a Weezy song (also I am not so lame as to karaoke a Weezy song). It's a respect thing, and I cringe whenever whites fuck that up.

So, dear black Mefites (especially Americans): what is up with this awesome reclamation? And am I even lamer for also singing "Texas Bamaaaaaa" in fake auto-tone voice?

Thanks for being gracious.
posted by special agent conrad uno to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Though not directly on point, this MeFi thread might be helpful.
posted by modernnomad at 10:57 PM on February 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm down with any 33 year old singing along with Beyoncé.

Get it on.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:05 PM on February 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you have to ask, the answer is no.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:20 AM on February 18, 2016 [20 favorites]

As an official and registered black American male I'm gonna go with no, you can't say it ever.

Sing along if like, just don't say the word. You'll be fine.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:08 AM on February 18, 2016 [28 favorites]

Beyoncé is intentionally using controversial terms to describe herself and her parents. "Bama" was a slur kids used to hurt each other where I grew up and may have been used against her in that way. "Creole" and "negro" are controversial in different ways. My take is she's embracing her personal "n words"... so it's not quite right to sing along to if you're anyone but Beyoncé, but especially if you are not black and from the South.

It's so catchy and joyous though, kinda hard not to start singing. Maybe just hum that part if you're not alone?
posted by zennie at 4:55 AM on February 18, 2016

i have seen many women who are black on twitter be very clear that they aren't handing out passes for this song. if you were standing next to a black person you had never met, would you sing it loud and sing it proud? i'm guessing not - so you probably shouldn't sing it in your car either. i just sorta drop certain parts of the song when i'm singing along.
posted by nadawi at 6:35 AM on February 18, 2016 [16 favorites]

What nadawi said. There's even a gif meme. Skip the word.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:57 AM on February 18, 2016

Eh, my thing (with any song that contains lyrics that sound like slurs coming out my mouth as a white person) is I just don't do it, even in private. I mean, you are obviously not hurting anyone if you sing something alone in your car, buuut I just a) don't like saying stuff like that and b) don't want to get in the habit. I would hate to singing along in a public place and drop a word like that, and since I do karaoke a lot...I sing along with stuff in public places pretty regularly.

(To be clear, I wouldn't dream of doing Formation at karaoke under any circumstance, but if a black person were singing it, it I'd sing along)
posted by SoftRain at 7:58 AM on February 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

A long time ago I read a quote from Stella McCartney (who's vegan) who said she won't use even fake fur in her clothes designs because she doesn't want to "encourage the aesthetic". I'm not sure if she held to it but that stuck with me and I apply it in a lot of situations, and I'd apply it in this one. Beyoncé can sing what she likes, but as a white person I have to be conscious that too many people use certain words in a deliberately hateful way. So even if I know in my heart that I'm coming from a place of enjoying or respecting an artist's work I still won't join in on those parts because I don't want to encourage the "aesthetic" of white people using those words.
posted by billiebee at 8:09 AM on February 18, 2016 [24 favorites]

Keep in mind, discussions about appropriateness don't always come from consensus. I wonder how many people advising "don't even say the word in private listening sessions" would also advise "you should only read the Twain books that have been revised away from racially loaded language." There will always be several angles to this discussion, so maybe take that as the best possible answer from a fairly anonymous group of internet-enabled peers.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:52 AM on February 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

There will always be several angles to this discussion, so maybe take that as the best possible answer from a fairly anonymous group of internet-enabled peers.

There will always be several angles, but that doesn't mean there isn't a better answer.

You are 'allowed to say it', but if I overheard someone who wasn't black sing it, I would judge them very strongly for taking an artist's personal and political interpretation of words that are loaded, historically racist and derogatory, and justifying saying those words because of the trivial pleasure of 'singing along'.
posted by suedehead at 9:05 AM on February 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

You've seen the SNL skit, right?

"It's almost like this song is not for us!"

This song isn't for you (or me). Sing along in your own car, but not in public. It's a great song. Enjoy the hell out of it, but don't appropriate it.
posted by MsMolly at 9:23 AM on February 18, 2016 [9 favorites]

I would feel uncomfortable if you did that in front of me (I'm black/mixed race). I'd actually think you were going out of your way to make a statement. I should also point out that even as a bi-racial person, I will not sing those sorts of words. If I did that in front of a black person (someone who is perceived as 'fully black'), they would look at me the same as they would look at you and would probably insult me for it but that's a whole different area of racism.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 10:42 AM on February 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm a non-American black in my 30s who spent a considerable amount of time in America (early adulthood) and am active in anti-racist and anti-colonial activism. My advice is yes you can sing along, no, don't say Negro.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 12:17 PM on February 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I marked a few of these as "best answer", but then I unmarked them, so as just to listen without choosing. Thanks, everyone!
posted by special agent conrad uno at 3:59 PM on February 18, 2016

Negro is not the N-word. Otherwise the UNCF would have changed long ago and white people would never be able to mention it - even the acronym. White people wouldn't be able to go to the Negro League Baseball Museum. White people wouldn't be able to recite Dr. M. L. King Jr. speeches. Granted it isn't popularly used but it doesn't have the same connotations as the N-word.

As far as "appropriation" goes, if you are an American, there is no such thing as appropriation of American music. African-American film, music, literature is all mine to be proud of, and should be for every American.
posted by JJ86 at 5:33 AM on February 19, 2016

I've caught myself absently singing it at home a couple of times, but I definitely wouldn't go there in public. "Negro" is one of those words that's OK in a very particular context (mostly historical), and is best avoided by white people most of the time. I think it's best to hum that bit.

I think that with "Formation" especially, it's OK for us white people to enjoy it and groove on it, but we have to be really mindful that we're on the fringes of a black space, and be respectful of that.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 5:48 PM on February 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

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