Far left activist and one-time basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says he isn’t very upset over HBO comedian Bill Maher’s use of the N-word. In fact, he now thinks it’s a good thing.
In a Wednesday column at The Hollywood Reporter, the former basketball player explained why “n*gger” is such a loaded word and excoriated some for using it.
The word is fraught with meaning, the activist wrote:
The word evokes kidnapping, rape, mutilation, humiliation, forced poverty, and murder. Even now, it implies a physical threat. We are sensitive to its use—and have a right to be—because the effects of that word and all it represents remain a part of our daily lives.
But, employing a Comey-styled defense of Maher, Abdul-Jabbar insisted that “intent is important” when using the N-word. He ended up excusing Maher for his use of the bombshell word despite that he still considers it “inappropriate” that Maher used it for a quick joke.
On the one hand, the social activist praised HBO’s Maher for using the word “appropriately” in the past. “There are plenty of contexts in which a white person using the N-word would be appropriate and inoffensive,” he said.
Abdul-Jabbar specifically cited the time Maher told Larry King that Newt Gingrich once accused Obama of having a “Kenyan anti-colonial worldview.” Maher continued saying, “Kenyan, of course, was code for n*gger.”
This, Abdul-Jabbar said, was an inoffensive use of the N-word.
On the other hand, his use of the word for a quick joke last week was not appropriate.
“Was Maher insensitive? Absolutely. Inappropriate? Definitely. Smug in appropriating the word for cheap humor? Check,” Abdul-Jabbar said.
“Yet,” the basketball player concluded of Maher’s joke, “there was no malevolent intent.”
Abdul-Jabbar explained how he could let Maher off the hook even though the use of the word was “inappropriate”:
Maher is a worthy and incisive voice in political humor who made a mistake and apologized. Inadvertently, he caused the issue to be debated, raising awareness and hopefully sensitizing people. I just wish it was for an insight rather than an insult.
Of course, Bill Maher is reliably liberal too. You can bet that if a conservative ever used the word, no matter what the context, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would launch a strong attack regardless of the circumstances.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.