Today, I was going through a bunch of new music. One of the cool benefits of being a DJ is that I get access to some of the industry music releases. Because I have been sick, I had a lot of downloads to plow through. This bunch includes quite a few songs with lyrics bleeped out. I tend to favor the unedited versions. Partly because that is what the artist intended to be played, but also because usually grown ups who are drinking and dancing are quite happy to hear expletives. Of course, I will play the clean versions for some functions. My daughter’s 14th birthday, a lunchtime farmers’ market – clean versions. A club, or the Pride Festival – original, explicit versions. You can likely list these words in your head. I want to focus on one particular word today.
As a white person, I am very aware that the N word is never, ever appropriate for me to utter. (In case you want to read more about this, here is a good article making this point.) I know this like I know that death and taxes are a certainty. I know this is true even if a black friend tells me that it is ok. When I was in college, a friend called me her N. She encouraged me to use it – said it was cool, really. I was flattered because I knew that her use of the word with me meant that she thought I was a good friend, that I was maybe a little less of an outsider. Regardless, though, I was (and am) still white. I never referred to my friend in this manner.
So, today, as I sort through new music and begin to build some playlists, I have a different question. Obviously, I will never, ever use the N word. I won’t sing it when songs include it. Won’t read it out loud in articles or scholarly pieces that use it. Some things just aren’t for us, white people. But how about when I am spinning? Can a white DJ play music that includes the N word?
I mean, obviously I can, but should I? I know that I can play the clean versions, certainly. But, is that offensive? That a white DJ feels the need to censor what the artist clearly felt was the right use of the word? Yes, I realize that some may think music is universal and it shouldn’t matter what race I am, but I think that is a bit naive in today’s America. I never leave my whiteness behind. That privilege clings to me and colors my actions, and the way I am perceived and received.
I am aware that there are a variety of answers to this question, but I would really like to hear what you think. It’s Butch to be be aware that some things will never be for you. Be Butch.