Bill Maher, the n-word and how he betrayed black intellectuals

Armstrong Williams NNPA Newswire Columnist | 6/16/2017, 6 a.m.
NNPA Columnist Armstrong Williams talks about the use of the n-word and the recent Bill Maher controversy.
Armstrong Williams says the “n-word” has no place in public discourse, much less in the enlightened sphere of intellectual debate. This photo of comedian Bill Maher was taken during the ceremony, when he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in September 2010. Angela George/Creative Commons

— When considering the implications of Bill Maher’s latest antics, it is important to level set. Maher has, over the years, become the trusted media host for black left-wing intellectuals. His roster of guests includes a Who’s Who of the black intelligentsia; luminaries from old stalwart Cornel West to MSNBC host Joy Reid and others have been regular guests over the years. So, given this history it would seem surprising that Maher would so readily toss his friends under the bus by his casual on-air use of the n-word.

Armstrong Williams, NNPA Newswire Columnist

Courtesy Photo/NNPA

Armstrong Williams, NNPA Newswire Columnist

But if one really considers Bill Maher and his history, a more complicated story emerges. Maher is a liberal prognosticator who exhibits a pretense of tolerance and open-mindedness—thereby giving him comedic license to offend.

Maher’s latest missive— responding to Senator Ben Sasses’ exhortation to engage in grass roots ‘field’ political organizing in Nebraska with the dismissive remark, ‘Senator, I’m a house n*er,’—is not surprising. But the remark was so out of context that it could not have been anything other than a strategically timed joke— one that unfortunately missed the mark.

Read in the context of Maher’s irreverent stance on many issues— it seems that the use of the n-word was meant to remind black liberal intellectuals that they are the wholly-owned property of the liberal elite. It was an open admission of something conservatives have noted all along—black intellectuals do not have an actual ownership stake of the liberal establishment, but in fact serve at the pleasure and whim of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.

Whether Maher, a 61 year-old white guy who has been employed by HBO for the past 14 years, actually considers himself a ‘house negro’ is not what’s significant here. He, in fact, may identify his job with that of a well-kept slave on the media plantation.

That Maher chose to use the n-word on his ‘scripted’ talk show (deceptively named ‘Real Time’) was undoubtedly a calculated act. This was probably not the first time Maher has used the ‘n-word’ in the presence of African Americans— he probably believes that since he allows many of them to come on to his show and debate, and that he sticks up for them against the various conservative ‘straw boogeymen’ whom he constructs for dramatic effect, he therefore has earned license to use the term. Maher didn’t ask any Black person for such license of course, yet he assumed it, in the storied tradition of liberal arrogance and privilege of which he is a proud descendant.

It goes without saying that the n-word is a vulgar, disgusting term, with a history fraught with pain. As someone who grew up in the deep South at a time when many parents and relatives were openly and customarily called the ‘n-word’ by whites, I know first-hand how hurtful it is. The word is an obscene smear created for the specific purpose of putting black people in their place— relegating them to second-class citizenship, and alerting the intended victim that he is less than human. I have personally never used the term (nor any form of obscenity), and regard it as one of the most abhorrent terms in the English language. I don’t like it when black entertainers use it, and I certainly don’t like it when whites use it either—no matter what their so-called liberal bona fides. I believe the word has no place in public discourse, much less in the enlightened sphere of intellectual debate.