Here’s the text of Mr. Coates’ comments.
Words don’t have meaning without context. My wife refers to me as, “Honey.” That’s accepted and okay between us. If we were walking down the street together, and a strange woman referred to me as “Honey,” that wouldn’t be acceptable. The understanding is I have some sort of relationship with my wife; hopefully I have no relationship with this strange woman.
When I was young and I used to go see my family in Philadelphia, where my dad was from, they would all call him Billy. His name is William Paul Coates–no one in Baltimore called him Billy, and had I referred to my father as Billy, that probably would have been a problem. That’s because the relationship between myself and my dad is not the same as the relationship between my dad, and his mother, and his sisters who he grew up with. We understand that.
It’s the same thing with words within the African-American community, or within any community. My wife with her girlfriends will use the word, “bitch.” I do not join in. I’m not saying, “Hey I want to–” I don’t do that. And I perhaps more importantly, I don’t have a desire to do it. You understand?
A while ago, Dan Savage was gonna have this show that he was going to call, Hey Faggot. I’m not gonna yell “faggot” at Dan Savage. That’s not my relationship with the LGBT community, and I understand that, and I’m okay with that. I don’t have a desire to yell out the word, “faggot.” I just don’t have that.
The question one must ask–if that’s accepted and normal for groups of people, we understand it’s normal, actually, for groups to use words that are derogatory in an ironic fashion–why is there so much handwringing when black people do it?
Black people are basically, however you feel about it, they’re not outside the normal rules and laws for humanity. I had a good friend, and we used to have this cabin in upstate New York, which he referred to as, “the white trash cabin.” He was white. I would never refer to that cabin, I would never tell him, “I’m coming to your white trash cabin.” I just wouldn’t do that, and I think you understand why I wouldn’t do it. The question one must ask is: Why do so many white people have difficulty extending things that are basic laws of how human beings interact to black people? I think I know why.
When you’re white in this country, you’re taught that everything belongs to you. You think you have a right to everything. You have a right to go where you–you’re conditioned this way! It’s not because your hair is a texture or your skin is light, it’s the fact that the laws and the culture tell you this. You’ve got a right to go where you want to go, to do what you want to do, be however, and people just have to accommodate themselves to you.
So here comes this word, that you feel like you invented. And now someone’s going to tell you how to use a word that you invented–Why can’t I use it? Everyone else gets to use it, you know what, that’s racism, that I don’t get to use it! That’s racist against me! I have to inconvenience myself and hear this song and I can’t sing along? How come I can’t sing along?
And I think for white people, the experience of being a hip-hop fan and not being able to use the word ****** is actually very, very insightful. It will give you just a little peek into the world of what it means to be black. Because to be black is to walk through the world, and watch people doing things that you cannot do. That you can’t join in and do. And so I think there’s actually a lot to be learned from refraining.