There was quite the dust up recently over Trump’s remarks about four Democratic congresswomen, a.k.a. ‘The Squad’. He was accused of Racism. Is this accurate? Hard to say since we can’t get into Trump’s head; nor would we want to. He told them to go back to the countries they came from. But on the surface, while his words were de Facto racist, since he targeted women of color, it’s hard to pin the term ‘racist’ on the words themselves. De Facto. Remember when behavior in the pre-1964 South was either de Facto or de Jure racist? De facto referred to social prohibitions that were not in statute while de Jure referred to laws on the books.
Anyway, as troubling was the clear 21st century version of ‘Love it or Leave it’. ‘Back to your country’ was pure Nativism, first seen here in the U.S. in the 1840s when there was a large influx of Irish immigrants, considered ‘sub-human’, violent and brutish. This is deeply disturbing. However not surprising. The divide in America has been growing wider since Joe Wilson, Congressman from South Carolina, shouted ‘you lie’ at Obama during his State of the Union message in 2009. He was referring to the Affordable Care Act.
But America, as I have stated on numerous occasions, has been divided since the founding. I wrote about this divide in ‘The National Marriage: Red and Blue‘. While the Constitution was ratified unanimously, the votes in some states were very close run things. In The Ur Legend, economic collapse causes the US to fracture along geographic lines, but geographies encompass populations of relatively homogeneous cultures. To some degree we see this in America today. People are moving. Sure, for reasons related to everything from taxes to weather; but also by the existing outlook on life and collective identity in those destinations.
In The Girl from Ipanema, the ‘N’ word is used when Kang confronts Mattie: “Nigger. Isn’t that what they call you in your precious Idaho?”. My question, as an author, becomes whether I should use that word if I’m white. Certainly I heard the word used, when I lived in New York, on the Lexington Avenue line to the Bronx. But not by Caucasians. And there is a tradition of Irish comics telling Irish jokes, Italian comics telling Italian jokes: well, you get the idea.
At a dinner I asked a black friend what he thought of the usage of the word in my book. He said he thought it valid if used in a proper literary context. SPOILER: Kang had reason to regret his words and actions.
In Kutusov’s Dream, soldiers from the Rocky Mountain Republic use the word ‘niggur’. This is for historical reasons. The term was used by trappers in the Rocky Mountain West in the 1830s and 1840s. It was used to refer to black, white, red or to themselves by the trappers. My hope is this is taken in the spirit in which it was meant. If not, apologies.
Finally I use the term ‘sand nigger’ on one occasion to refer to Al No-Side’s horde that confronts the forces of the West at Borodino. Since I’ve been referred to myself by this word, my paternal granddad being from Iraq, I guess I feel all right about using it, by the Lexington Avenue Rule.
The question still remains as to what is acceptable and what is not in literature. After reading William S Burrough’s Naked Lunch, I’m not sure there are any ‘out of bounds.’ But I’d like to know what you think.