For all of my life, I have been attending predominantly white, Jewish day schools. My older brother and I were usually the only black people on campus, so evidently we had to deal with a lot of uncomfortable, often racist issues. Though I have never been targeted at school for being black or anything like that, the issue of “the N-word” was a common situation that I had to deal with. The, history and use of “the N-word”, as well as who is able to use it and who isn’t, has always been a questionable topic for me. I therefore have chosen to use the song, “The Kramer”, by the rapper Wale, for my cultural object.
“The Kramer” is a rap written by Olubowale Victor Akintimehin, more commonly known as Wale. The song is from Wale’s mix tape, The Mixtape About Nothing, which includes themes and topics from his favorite show, Seinfeld. This song was prompted by an event where Michael Richards, the actor who plays Cosmo Kramer in Seinfeld, spewed racial slurs against some black members in the audience at his Comedy Club show. “The Kramer” includes a clip of Michael Richards’s racist rant, calling them “niggers” and saying that “50 years ago we would have had you upside down with a fork up your ass”, as well Wale’s own commentary and ideas regarding the word. Another clip of Richards’s apology is played at the end of the song. Wale is self-described as being “sensitive”, so it is evident that he chose to write a rap about such a topic. Not only is Seinfeld one of his favorite shows, but also Wale is an African American rapper who is affected by the word in some way or another.
I was drawn to this song mainly because of Wale’s response to the Michael Richards event. Wale raps about the process in which white people become accustomed to saying the word, as well as the notion of internalized racism. He also elaborates on how the word itself isn’t so bad, but what needs to change is how black people act and view themselves as whole. I particularly liked how he explains that black people took a derogatory word that whites created to dehumanize slaves and made it into a cultural term for the black community, while somewhat taking away that negative stigma. However, today white people are trying to take that away from black people when they use the word.
I heard this song for the first time during my sophomore year of high school. It was pretty relevant to me because I was the only black person in my entire high school, besides my older brother who would be graduating that year. I would constantly hear various students saying “nigga” in casual conversation of while reciting lyrics. I always felt uncomfortable but I couldn’t really ever bring myself to say anything. This is why I really related to the part of the song where Wale talks about the process in which white people grow comfortable saying “nigga/nigger” around anyone, as well as the allegory of the black kid growing up around a majority of white people.
The mix tape that “The Kramer” is featured on, The Mixtape About Nothing, was released on May 30th, 2008. There is not really much significance behind this date, however it is important that topics like the use of the N-word and racial insults are still relevant in society today. The N-word was essentially first used in times of slavery, around the 1800s as a derogatory term for black people.
In this African American Studies course, we have learned that slavery can be characterized by its dehumanization of black slaves. White people and slave owners alike did almost everything they could to dehumanize African Americans so as to make racial slavery seem okay and reasonable. For example, whites believed that Africans were a subhuman category of beings that were built for slave labor and could withstand almost anything. Whites did not want to see black people as equal to them; they did not want to be equated to black slaves. By calling slaves and even free black people “niggers”, white people were able to instill a sense of “separate” or “other” in regard to African Americans, solely based off of the color of their skin. The result of this word is internalized racism, and today some people unfortunately still see African Americans as “niggers”. Today, the word is still very strong and carries a lot of history with it.
Wale references Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech in the song. He essentially says that King’s dream is a nightmare to white people everywhere, because they are not able to stand seeing black people amount to anything more than second-class citizens or slaves. When white people use the N-word, they are relating back to how it was used in times of slavery. Wale compares this to how women call each other “bitches”, but when a man says it, it is automatically harsh and offensive. This is because men are in power compared to women. Unfortunately, today white people are “in power” and are the majority. By using the N-word, they are automatically demeaning, belittling, and marginalizing black people because of their own historical usage of the word.
It is clear that the N-word is as relevant today, in the contemporary or post Civil Rights era, as it was when it was first used. Although African Americans have come a long way since slavery, there are still some setbacks. “The Kramer” is very relevant today, and it was relevant back in 2008 when it was released. I believe that it will always be a significant song with an important message because racism and discrimination are still huge aspects of society today. The song includes Michael Richards’s apology, however no one really took him that seriously. Once a person’s racist thoughts overflow into a public racist outburst, they clearly are a racist person. There are people like Michael Richards everywhere, and Wale references this in his song when he says that everyone, white and black, has a little bit of Kramer inside of them. While Martin Luther King’s dream can be threatening to some, it hasn’t fully come true yet because people are still judging and treating others based on their skin color and not on the content of their character.
The Kramer Lyrics
Shut up! 50 years ago, they’d have you upside down with a fucking fork up your ass! You can talk, you can talk, you can talk, you’re brave now, motherfucker! Throw his ass out He’s a nigger! He’s a nigger! He’s a nigger! A nigger, look, there’s a nigger!
The color of my skin, content of my character
Dream of a King’s been a nightmare for anyone
White with a badge or anyone
Slightly affected by the tide to this race that I’m running in
Pardon me, y’all, the racists I run against
The race war, when it’s us against all of them
They subconsciously low talk us
And probably all think as Kramer did still but won’t talk it
And first off, I ain’t trying to be conscious
Speaking heart with a conscious, talking to you
This dark content for those of dark complexion
Who’s x-ed off, Rip, who gon’ listen to us?
Who gon’ speak for us? Who gon’ plead for us?
Who gon’ be the Head N.I.C. for us?
Who gon’ defend us from crooked police on us?
I’m just an insecure N.I.G. er
Please listen to me, please listen to me
Please listen to me, N.I.G. er
Please listen to me, who gon’ listen to me?
Who gon’ listen to me, N.I.G. er
Listen to me, who gon’ listen to me?
Who gon’ listen to me, N.I.G. er
Who gon’ listen to me, who gon’ listen to me?
Who gon’ listen to me, N.I.G
And P say that I should stop saying nigga
But if I did, what would be the difference?
I’d still be a nigga, he’d still be a nigga in his feelings
I’d still be a nigga with no deal tryna get one
There’d still be niggas out killing
And still be white people still out to get us
And still be niggas saying whites tryna get us
And still be lazy and paranoid niggas
I’m paramount, nigga, I am, and you can’t be mad
Cuz I choose the word nigga, lemme air it out, nigga
Nigga ain’t bad, see, niggas just had
A clever idea to take something They said
Into something we have, something we flipped
Into something with swag, nigga, don’t be mad
Bitches ain’t shit, but women ain’t bitches
See, women are the queens, and bitches just bitches
And bitches say bitch like bitch is not offensive
When niggas say bitch, all of the sudden, they offended
And niggas say nigga to a nigga
A nigga write nigga in a lyric, expect the white boy to omit it
The white boy spit it like he spit it
Recite it to his friends who, by the way, ain’t niggas
And say nigga, nigga, nigga, my favorite rapper did it
And non-nigga friends got it with him
Incorporate this lyric to their everyday living
Until a black friend kinda hear it, just a tidbit
He thinks Aw, forget it, its so insignificant and little
The white boy sees this as a clearance, now its
Nigga, nigga, nigga, every single day
And that little nigga nigga, thinks its okay
And he’s the only nigga in this particular grade
And it begins to phase him more each day
The things they say went a little too far
He couldn’t tell the difference between an a or er
So they just keep going, saying nigga in his face
There’s nothing he can do, he let it get away
It came to the point he couldn’t look ’em in the face
The mirror made him hurl, his reflection disgraceful
Yeah, and make sure everything you say
Can’t be held against you in any kind of way
And any connotation is viewed many ways
Cuz under every nigga, there’s a little bit of Kramer
Self-hatred…I hate you…and myself
Uh, I lost my temper onstage, I was at, uh, a comedy club trying to, um, do my act and I got heckled and I, I, I took it badly and went into a, a rage…and uh, uh…said some pretty, uh…nasty things to some Afro-Americans, a lot of trash talk…for this to happen, for me to be in a comedy club and flip out and say this crap, you know, I’m…I’m deeply, deeply sorry
“”The Kramer” Lyrics.” WALE LYRICS. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2015. <http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/wale/thekramer.html>.
Middleton, Phil. “Nigger (the Word), a Brief History.” Nigger (the Word), a Brief History. N.p., 2001. Web. 18 Nov. 2015. <http://www.aaregistry.org/historic_events/view/nigger-word-brief-history>.
Dunaway, Wilma A. The African-American Family in Slavery and Emancipation. New York: Maison Des Sciences De L’homme/Cambridge UP, 2003. Print.
Kelley, Robin D. G., and Earl Lewis. To Make Our World Anew: A History of African Americans. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. Print.