Political Correctness & The ‘N’ Word
City Councilman Leroy Comrie who is introducing legislation calling for a moratorium on the use of the “N” word in New York City pictured with Trib Publisher Mike Schenkler. Tribune Photo By Ira Cohen
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
A funny thing happened on the way to print this week . . .
We found ourselves involved in a debate on political correctness and just knew where it would end up. . . and that’s usually not good. We spend lots of time fighting the concept that the thought police should control us. All those politically correct mandates that dictate our words and behavior stifle thought and expression. And they beat the hell out of humor.
Our devotion to the first amendment includes a commitment to oppose conventions that box us in, limit our expression or put taboos on what we can share with our readers.
On the other hand, we recognize our responsibility to monitor taste, and to not be mean-spirited or offend unnecessarily.
The balance of those two is complex, but keeps us on the edge – provoking thought outside the envelope of convention, but within the bounds of civility. We try to travel on that road.
Occasionally we have strayed. Those missteps should never be motivated by anything but a desire to challenge and inform – never offend. But sadly, every time we print anything more provocative than mom, apple pie and the American flag, we seem to offend someone. Recently the American flag has not fared so well either.
And so as a prelude to our most recent adventure of staring political correctness in the face, allow us in advance to apologize if anyone is offended. Our offering this week is intended to entertain, to provoke thought and is offered as fair — and we believe appropriate — comment on a subject that is receiving lots of play in the news.
Please listen to my story.
MEET LEROY COMRIE
Leroy Comrie is a friend. He is the City Councilman from the 27th District centered in the St. Albans area of Southeast Queens. He is a big, black man known as a thoughtful consensus builder. Among other positions he is the Queens delegation chair. His wife Marcia started the PRESS of Southeast Queens with me almost seven years ago. She too is a friend. She has served as Press Associate Publisher and has written a weekly column in the Press missing only one, I believe, since the paper’s inception.
Marcia also happens to be just about the most politically correct person I know. Ask her, she’ll tell you I introduced her to ethnic humor, and challenged her to push the envelope. However, in spite of years working with me, she is still miss proper. I gotta keep working on it.
(As a quick aside, Marcia’s pursuit of an advanced degree and new professional position has made her question her availability to write for us weekly. As a columnist myself, I know not only the pressure of producing a quality column weekly, but how thankless the job can be. Those who are unhappy with what you pen yell loudly and frequently. Those that approve are most often silent. So if you see or email Marcia, tell her that you love her column and she should continue writing. She knows and understands the community and is an effective advocate for the right things.)
Marcia and Leroy have two delightful kids who I think about often – but don’t get to see often enough. Marcia and Leroy were guests at my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah four years ago.
Enough background, Leroy announced that he plans to introduce a resolution into the City Council calling for a symbolic moratorium on the “N” word. In honor of Black History Month – February — the resolution encourages New Yorkers of all races to refrain from the using the “N” word.
As I write this on Sunday, Leroy is with the Abolish The “N” Word Project (check their website: www.AbolishTheNWord.com) as they host a gathering of celebrities at the New York Laugh Factory to share personal stories of the first time they were called the “N” Word and how that experience would forever change their lives. The stories will be compiled for an educational DVD that will be used in schools and by organizations to help educate not only children, but all people who are unaware of the pain associated with the “N” Word.
MEET DOM NUNZIATO
Allow me to move on and tell my story.
For many years Dominick Nunziato has been drawing the cartoons for this and the QConfidential page. Dom is a Queens kid – a relative of the late Lucy Nunziato of the Queens Chamber of Commerce and a cousin of the Nunziato florist family which includes Eric Gioia. Dom also works on Wall Street in one of those non-creative type jobs.
I’ve known Dom for as many years as I’ve known the Comrie’s but our relationship is maintained via email. I get to see him, his wife DeAnne – a black woman from Jamaica – and his two adorable kids once a year at the Trib holiday party. But through our weekly exchange of emails, I consider myself close to Dom.
Dom is gifted and creative. He maintains his own Web site -- spoil-sports.com – has published a book of cartoons and is one of the edgiest and funniest guys I know.
Our cartoon procedure is simple. Dom usually drafts an idea and emails it to me. I usually accept it or tweak it slightly. Sometimes I tell him the subject matter; sometimes I throw him a concept. But the cartoons are Dom’s – his creativity, wit and pen get the credit.
So this week’s cartoon drafts arrive as usual – jpg email attachments.
One of them contains a cartoon draft and the note: “You’ll never run this one but it’s funny and (sadly) true.” I was in our Huntington, Long Island office. The email went to me and our editor, Brian Rafferty.
It was 5 p.m. Friday afternoon and the action was intense.
I emailed the concept to Marcia – remember she is Ms. Political correctness – copying Dom with the following note: “I’m forwarding it to his wife — who is a friend and my former Assoc Pub of the PRESS. I think it’s great — I wonder if she’s going to tell me to use it.”
Brian, without consulting with me, had a staff meeting to review the idea. Sadly, our one black reporter was gone for the weekend.
Marcia responds – not surprisingly: Hard to read, but I could swear the “N” is spelt out. That’s not kosher.”
Dom responds – not surprisingly: “My fingers are crossed.”
Brian emails me: “The staff and I have talked - we should run it.”
There are a batch of other exchanges where Dom tells me his wife says run it – but she’s politically incorrect. I discuss it with my Associate Publisher of our Long Island papers and get some positive feedback from him and others.
Basically, the cartoon is exactly what it is supposed to be – edgy, thought provoking and right on. However, it is politically incorrect.
Leroy Comrie was 100 percent right in what he was saying but had no chance of controlling the hip-hop culture that uses the “N” word in humor, music, the street and more.
The cartoon nailed it and my conclusion is printed at the bottom of this page.
Yes, we wish Leroy and his campaign well although legislating behavior seems a fantasy.
But if by some chance he succeeds, next he could introduce a resolution to end hate.
Good luck, Leroy.