N-Word Debate Back in Spotlight After Jesse Jackson's Remarks

This is a rush transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," July 18, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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E.D. HILL, GUEST HOST: In the "Unresolved Problem" segment tonight: As many of you know, Jesse Jackson was caught on a hot mic saying some disparaging things about Barack Obama. "The Factor" broke that story. Now, Bill Clinton has weighed in.


BILL CLINTON: He was big enough to quickly apologize. And you know, if all of us lived on live mics, then 100 percent of us in this room would be embarrassed from time to time.


HILL: Well, this week it was revealed that more tape, which "The Factor" did not air, had Jackson using the n-word, and that set off a heated debate on "The View."


SHERRI SHEPHERD, "VIEW" CO-HOST: It's something that means something way different to me than it does to you. I grew up with my family using it. For me, I can use it as a term of endearment.


SHEPHERD: I don't want to hear it come out of your mouth.

WHOOPI GOLDBERG, "VIEW" CO-HOST: You have to understand the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) word that's followed us around, and basically what we did is we took it out of the hands of the people who were using it and put it into our hands. And we use it the way we want to use it.

ELISABETH HASSELBECK, "VIEW" CO-HOST: This is upsetting to me, because...

WALTERS: OK, just take a breath and let someone else talk.

HASSELBECK: This is a conversation that is hard, and we're going to have it here. And we have it here well, because we love each other.


HASSELBECK: When we live in a world where pop culture then uses that term, and we're trying to get to a place where we feel like we're in the same place, and we feel like we're in the same world. How are we supposed to then move forward if we keep using terms that bring back that pain?


HILL: Well, joining us from Washington, Democratic strategist Jehmu Green. And here in the studio, FOX News analyst, Professor Marc Lamont Hill.

Watch the debate of the use of the n-word.

Marc, let me start with you because I found it was interesting, one of the statements that was made on "The View." And that is, look, it means different things to you if you are an African-American, or if you're white, or if you're anything else. And you know one person said I can use it as a term of endearment. So is it a bad word or not?

DR. MARC LAMONT HILL, TEMPLE UNIV. PROFESSOR: Well, I think we need to get beyond questions of good or bad and move to conversations about simple to complex. I think the n-word has a rich and complex history. It is certainly a term of hate, is a term used against black people throughout their time here in America. But there are moments where people take language and reshape it and reuse it in ways that are sometimes redemptive.

HILL: But it continues to be used by some people as a word of hate. So why wouldn't you want to get rid of it all together?

M. HILL: Right. And there are legitimate arguments for getting rid of the word. However, if people do choose to use the word, we don't want to fall into an argument where we say well, if white people can't use it, then no one can. Or if everyone — if it's not a universal term, then it doesn't have specific value and meaning. I think language is always complex and shifts from context to context.

HILL: Jehmu, do you agree with that?

JEHMU GREENE, WOMENCOUNTPAC.COM: Well, I definitely think there should not be a code of right and wrong for black people and a separate code of right and wrong for white people. And I think it's absolutely a shame that anyone would go on television and cheerlead the use of this word.

There are so many other beautiful and positive parts of the black culture that are misunderstood, that need to have a light shined on them. And these women are sitting there trying to justify and make excuses and cheerlead the use of this word. It's just not right.

I think that, you know, at this point, it's either lead, follow, or get out of the way. And we need people who are on television talking about the positive aspects of black culture that people misunderstand and not trying to actually bring words in and make excuses for them.

The fact that Elisabeth Hasselbeck, the fact that this woman feels more strongly and passionately about African-Americans using words that are uplifting and positive than Whoopi Goldberg and Sherri Shepard, that's just not right.

HILL: But she knows that if she were to use the word she would get trashed.

M. HILL: Oh, absolutely. And rightfully so. I mean, I think part of the point here is not so much that Whoopi and Sherri Shepard were cheerleading the word itself, but simply saying when black people are using this word, they're not always being pathological. They're not always hurling, you know, these mean epitaphs at each other.

HILL: You know — OK, I am, as most people have realized, one of the meanest moms in the world.


HILL: And whenever my kids use words, and they do not use that word, and I don't think they ever have. I would be shocked.

M. HILL: Yes.

HILL: But when they use words that are in my opinion demeaning, I get on them. Because to me, it means that they don't have a big enough vocabulary to figure out a better way to say it. Why can't we find a better way to describe African-Americans than for African-Americans to use that word?

M. HILL: Oh absolutely, and I'm all for using the language. I personally don't use the term. However, there is a history to this. People in oppressed communities often take words that we use against them and reshape and refashion them as a form of psychic relief and as a way to reimagine themselves.

The gay and lesbian community has done that. Many Jewish brothers and sisters use terms that are often used against them. Many black people do that. Many women use the b-word. And it's very different when a woman says that about another woman than if I were to do it, and that doesn't make it right or wrong.

All I'm saying is that it's a more complex argument to think these people are simply calling each other mean epitaphs. This is more complex.

HILL: And let's talk about another complex issue in this case, and that is that it was Jesse Jackson. And again, "The Factor" had this. We did not air the comment, but it was leaked out there. And that is that it comes from Jesse Jackson, and this is a person who publicly, you know, asked me what we should do? None of us should use. In fact, boycott the DVD sales of "Seinfeld" because Michael Richards, a white guy, used this word in a comedy rant. And that does seem to be a bit hypocritical, doesn't it, Jehmu?

GREENE: I think there is some hypocrisy there. And it really is about black leaders, black role models not standing by and being bystanders and saying that this type of language is acceptable in private, and this type of language is acceptable within the African-American community. But it is not acceptable within the white community. We need leadership that says it's not acceptable at all. Not making excuses about how words develop and language changes. All of that is fine. But at the end of the day, we are not helping the situation if we have black leaders who are justifying and making excuses for that type of language.

HILL: You know, when it gets down to the nitty-gritty here, I question, Marc, is there language that builds you up and language that brings you down? Or can that language that has been used to bring you down somehow magically be turned around?

M. HILL: Well, it's always a challenging sort of process when you try to sort of take a word that has been sort of hateful and transforming it into something else. I would argue it's not necessarily a worthwhile endeavor. We could use your energies in much more productive ways.

HILL: And I would agree with you on that.

M. HILL: No, no, no and I agree. That said, there are ways that language is reshaped. And I think, again, it's complex.

If you listen to certain rap songs, for example, not all rap music but certain rap music where the n-word is being used, they say "I'm going to kill that n or murder that n." That's not redemptive usage. That's dangerous, violent usage that is ugly. But it'll be just as ugly if you use a different word.

HILL: But usually in those rap songs, you know, you've got other words that are being used also. The b-word, you know, w-, h-word, depending how you want to spell it.

M. HILL: Right.

HILL: You know, you've got all that. And they just seem to be demeaning to everybody...

M. HILL: Absolutely.

HILL: ...whites, African-Americans, women, you know, you know name it.

M. HILL: Absolutely, but that's different than when a brother on the corner shows love for someone else and says "That is my n. I love my n." We may disagree whether or not they should use it, but clearly they're not using the same type of hate-filled speech that a white supremacist is using, or that a gangster rapper is. It's a very different type of thing.

HILL: Jehmu, I just don't get it. Is it just because, you know, I'm not African-American and I just can't understand why there are, you know, why some people believe there should be these different set of circumstances depending on your skin color?

GREENE: You know, no. I think that we all know what's right and wrong, and everyone has their own moral compass. And we have to come to a place, again, past all of these excuses, past all of how this word has been rechanged and reimagined and try to figure out how do we move as a community together? How do we move forward together? And that is how I think leaders need to stand up and say it's not acceptable. It's not acceptable as a term of endearment. It's not acceptable as a term of love on the street. It's not acceptable in a rap song. Don't say it.

HILL: An interesting discussion and none of us cried. Jehmu, Marc, thank you very much.

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