Black-ish is a show I have recently discovered and begun to enjoy quite a bit. It functions as both a commentary on the dynamics in a present day black family in America, as well as a regular sitcom playing for laughs (husband versus wife drama, precocious children, meet the in-laws comedy and so on). I don’t claim to know much about black culture, but I have somehow found myself always drawn to it. This probably explains my love for hip-hop (since when I was about 13), and all those years I spent wearing military cargo pants. One episode I remember vividly is THE Word, in which the show bravely tackles the (very loaded) question of “Who can use the N word?”.
I’m talking about this now because of something that happened closer home (or rather, at home). Back when the board exams were still something the future would bring, my brother’s all-boys-gang had come home, presumably to while away an entire day on the bed. I would go so far to say these boys are all somewhat similar, in the sense that they have all had a relatively affluent urban childhood, they watch American TV shows and listen to American music, they feel at ease conversing in English, they know more about what happens west of the Atlantic Ocean than what takes place along the Bay of Bengal. My mother decided that now they had all gathered at home, as part of her duties, she would need to give the boys a motivational talk of sorts. “You need to focus on your exams now, and then focus some more on all the hundred entrance exams you are going to be writing…” – you know what I mean. The talk seemed to be going well enough (if you ignored the two boys staring at their smartphones). And then one of them spoke up, “But Aunty, I’m SC, I don’t need to do as well as your son!” The way he said it was funny, I admit. Everyone laughed, my brother threw a pillow at him, and my mother exited the scene. Shortly afterwards, one of them started planning a sleepover, and the boy who spoke up earlier said he couldn’t make it. And someone told him, “Dei Dalit, don’t put scene, you are coming, that’s it.”
I heard this, it was said in jest, it was received in jest too (at least I think so). But I can’t help thinking now, is it acceptable? To use the word as a casual nickname of sorts, given its history. Does it point to ignorance, or have these kids truly moved past any negative connotations this word could have? Who can say it, who can’t?