MHP   |  July 28, 2013

Tim Allen's thoughts on the 'n-word'? It's complicated

Melissa Harris-Perry, Michael Eric Dyson, Rep. Barbara Lee, Jonathan Rosa, and Elon James White discuss the latest voice to join the conversation on race and social change is actor and comedian Tim Allen. And while he isn't quite defending the use of the n-word, the panel discusses why his comments on it were still off-putting.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> well, presumably what we've been talking about here is the influence of celebrity in debate over social change . the latest voice to enter the conversation, comedian till allen, star of the sitcoms " home improvement " and "last man standing." in an interview with the " tampa bay times " he argues that white comedians should not shy away from using the n word and should be more direct in the tradition of comics like richard pryor and lenny bruce . he says the euphemism " n word " is actually worse than the actual word. allen tells the paper, "you want to take the power away from that word so that no one is offended by it. if i have no intent first, show no intent, if i clearly am not a racist, then how can n be bad coming out of my mouth?" and what i appreciate about what tim allen is saying here is that it is complicated. and given the kinds of uncomplicated things i've said, at least there's some thoughtfulness here, but i do just want to ask, elon?

>> i would like tim allen to shut up. here's why. first of all, i'm getting a little tired of white dudes telling me, one, what i can say or what they can say and then, two, about my neighborhood and my community. i'm getting a little tired of it across the board because they're talking directly about people like me, like who are from the hood, who grew one single parents and stuff like that. and then about the language thing. being a performer for years, i've heard people make this argument, oh, i can say whatever i want. anything can be funny. i do not deny that. anything p i'm not someone who tells people they can't tell jokes. but 99% of people aren't funny. and then on top of it even the people who think they're funny, half the time their material sucks. so you're sitting here, you want to make an argument that we should just say the word, we're going to say the word and we're going to take the power away from it so no one can be offended. guess what? i'm offended. and you can't -- oh, it's -- listen, you can hear how i'm saying it. guess what? you're just another pinpoint in the larger issue overall in america. you are now adding -- this thing about listen, man, i'm just trying to take the power away from it. shut up. you don't have the right to take the power away from it.

>> the other thing is if tim allen wants to carve out a space for himself in which he can use language however he wants, go for it and try it out and see how that works and see how it's received, right? if he thinks he's capable of doing that. but it reminds me, his commentary, this notion that you know what's in my heart. you know what i really believe, this idea that it's not entirely unlike rand paul's commentary, you know, i don't have a racist bone in my body, this sort of thing. so if you know what's really in my heart, then i can say whatever i want. which really undermines the idea that language shows us what's in your heart, right? that language is a way of revealing your heart in a sense.

>> and you don't necessarily have the power to -- the notion of taking power away linguistically, right? i just -- i try to be an ally of certain movements and i mess up. right? i've had folks in lgbt communities , i've had, you know, jewish friends come up to me and say that, no. that, not so much. i know that -- we know you're our ally, we know you're down with us, but demonstrate that you are down with us by not saying these things anymore. and for me the ally response is oh, okay, well, then i'm -- basically how i respond sometimes is to shut up.

>> he wants to move from ally to reassume the appropriate privilege of whiteness, which is to dictate the terms of the debate. look, y'all invented the n word . we didn't invented. we just co-opted it. we hijacked it. we did a carjacking on that word a few decades ago and now you're mad because we've made more sexy use of it. some denigration as well. and now you want back in. no, you can't have back in. i refuse to infantlize white people . he says it's confusing. it ain't confusing. here's a general rule of thumb to follow when using the n word for white people . never. when you do that, then you understand you can't do it. and finally what's interesting here is that using this kind of word as chris rock said, white people control the whole world but they feel if they can't use the n word somehow their power has been removed. no. grow up, allow us to determine what is in and out and as a result of that be our ally and challenge white people not to use it at home. you're already using it. you justhome, and you use it, but you just don't use it in public.

>> well, i don't buy his explanation. the ti cal analysis that he put out there, and come on. he should know better. he should know better and i agree with what everyone has said here sh, and this is something first of all very offensive to the african-american community and couple it with what is taking place in terms of the racial profiling and in terms of the income inequality and the poverty raids and the food stamp cuts and the medicaid is structural issues, and this is dangerous and volatile and you just don't do it.

>> and i know he uses the b-word around me, but i don't use it.

>> and he is at least trying it and we could book him, and they all said be quiet.

>> well sh, it is basically like a smaller version of america, itself. my heart says this, then i can't be racist, and that is nonsense.

>> and that is the actual thing on which the entire zimmerman was based. i thank my guests today. and you know this is going to keep going into the commercial break. you know what my daughter and i do during summer vacation. [ female announcer