George Carlin, 1937-2008

Lettin’ ‘em have it.

To a great extent, George Carlin is being remembered today for his “Filthy Words” routine, from his album, Occupation: Foole. In 1973, my radio station, WBAI-NY / 99.5 FM, played the bit over the air, resulting in a complaint and, ultimately, in a landmark Supreme Court ruling on free speech and the First Amendment. (“Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” on the 1972 album, Class Clown, is a similar piece. Its live recitation on a Milwaukee stage got the comic arrested in that year.)

To me, however, Carlin is possibly most significant in that he was the only white comedian I ever heard use the word nigger in a joke who actually made me really, deeply laugh. (The piece appears in his 1990 “Euphemisms” sketch.)

This is less a testament to his hipness or coolness—he had none, from my perspective—or any acceptance I reserve for white people using that word. All I reserve for any white person, without exception—including Carlin—is the suspicion of racism.

Instead, I think my reaction has to do with Carlin’s propensity for surgical blade-level dissections of language and syntax; the intelligence to jumble, throw, and follow multiple targets weaving within his comic vortex; and the appropriate lubrication of words with the precise timing, aggressive physicality, vocal stylings, or whatever it is that makes saying something funny.

As well, when he told that joke, he was elucidating an understanding I have about this word, the so-called “N-word,” based on an my beliefs about racism.

Here’s the joke:

For instance, you take the word “nigger.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with the word “nigger” in and of itself. It’s the racist asshole who’s using it that you ought to be concerned about. We don’t mind when Richard Pryor or Eddie Murphy say it. Why? Because we know they’re not racist. They’re niggers! Context. Context. We don’t mind their context because we know they’re Black.

Part of my conception of racism holds that:

• Racism is a global system.

• Racism has a sole functional form: White supremacy.

• Race, racism, and white supremacy are the same phenomenon. That is, Race = Racism = White supremacy.

• White supremacy dominates all other forms of people relations in the known universe.

• All non-white people are, at all times during racism’s existence, victims of white supremacy (racism).

• The chief weapon of a racist (white supremacist) is deceit, and the chief tool of deceit are words.

Within this worldview, then, it is important to think about words, what people do with words, what words mean, but, most of all, to use one’s own words in a way that is effective against white supremacy; i.e., in a way that, directly or indirectly, eliminates racism, by revealing truth and producing justice and correctness.

I call this way of thinking and speaking counter-racism. To be more precise, I call the phenomena this type of thought, speech, and/or action is designed to produce counter-racism. (In truth, counter-racism has yet to exist, as counter-racism is, or will be, whatever ultimately eliminates racism [white supremacy]).

Under counter-racist logic, a nigger is any non-white person who, directly or indirectly, tolerates, submits to, and/or cooperates with, White Supremacy (Racism), in any form, in any areas of activity, including Economics, Education, Entertainment, Labor, Law, Politics, Religion, Sex, and/or War.

That’s it.

Ponder that for a second or so, then rapidly expand it. Within such a definition, there’s little room for the affectionate use of “nigga”; debates about “nigger vs. nigga”; the nonsensical, racist term “wigger”; etc.

All there is is a hard, unbreakable link between the word and the condition of non-white people under the global race system.

Carlin’s “joke” is the closest I’ve ever seen a white person get to this analysis, utilizing humor.

Perhaps he would have found it endearing that a Black person, using Carlin’s humor as a launching point, might lead to an examination of his own condition, and/or oppression, and a discussion about race.

Of course, I couldn’t care less.



#1 Secret Journey on 06.28.08 at 3:36 pm

That was on the money. I’ll be sharing it with my kids, because I want them to be as aware as they possibly can be so that that they can be prepared for what the dominant culture will surely throw at them when I am not around.

#2 jrhather on 01.11.09 at 1:53 pm

White people aren’t the only racist people on this planet.

“All I reserve for any white person, without exception—including Carlin—is the suspicion of racism.”

This, taken alone and out of context, is in and of itself racist. AGAINST white people. It’s the fallacy of generalization and stereotyping.

“• Racism has a sole functional form: White supremacy.”

Another fallacy. Racism is the prejudice that members of one race are intrinsically superior to members of other races, this doesn’t apply only to whites. This applies to all.

I think the problem with racism is the people that allow it to dominate their lives, people that use racism as an excuse for whatever negative condition they are experiencing and of course the malicious racist him/herself.

My $0.02.

#3 jimbo on 09.03.09 at 3:09 am

^ agreed.

Racism goes all around and its sole functional form is NOT White Supremacy.

Its sole functional form is self-preservation and greed. By creating an idea of another group being beneath you, you thus stabilize yourself and your offspring’s future to be at least better than the next mans.

A good example is in America, with African Slaves, and later on with Irish Immigrants.

But on another note….there is a lot of White Racism in the south, and a good amount of Black Racism in the north.

#4 Anon on 03.09.12 at 12:47 pm

You know, there are times when black Americans discriminate against black Africans. Or they are being racist against black people who are of a darker color. I have seen both of these examples at work. So, like someone said before me, racism is not only about White Supremacy.

#5 ThatGuyYouAren't on 12.10.12 at 5:18 am

Idiot. Racism is not about white supremacy. It’s something that permeates all cultures. You seem to be pretending that white people are the only people who are even capable of racism. Get your head out of the ground and wake up. Try looking up a group called the Black Panthers. They’re pretty much the Black version of the KKK.
Ever notice how, in the holocaust, most of the people killed were white? What about 9/11? Those were Asian men out to kill Americans. Quite a lot of people hold Americans (of all colors) in contempt. It would seem your notions about racism are crumbling.

Hell, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as racism until we started learning about the days of black-white segregation in school. The first 8 years of my life, I had never heard of the concept of racism.

Leave a Comment