Chester Hanks, Using the N-word is Not All Love
Chester Hanks aka Chet Haze, son of beloved actor Tom Hanks, says he can say whatever he wants. More specifically, Haze is referring to the N-word. In a recent video posted to his Instagram account, he says “can’t no one tell me what I can’t say” after trying to link his insensitive and ignorant defiance to Hip Hop as he defines it. The accompanying text clarifies what he means and goes on to justify his use by trying to say that it’s a term of endearment for him and even invoking the constitution.
If I say the word nigga I say it amongst people I love and who love me. If I say “fuck yall hatin ass niggaz” it’s because that’s really how I felt at the time. And I don’t accept society getting to decide what ANYBODY can or can’t say. That’s something we call FREE SPEECH. Now I understand the older generation who grew up in the Jim Crowe era might have strong feelings against this. And that’s understandable… But what I’m saying is this is 2015… And even tho we are still far from where we need to be and black people are still being literally KILLED by a RACIST and fucked up system… We have also reached a point where the word can no longer have a negative connotation if we so choose. And who is to say only black people can use it? The way I see it, it’s a word that unifies the culture of HIP-HOP across ALL RACES, which is actually kind of a beautiful thing. It’s a word that can be used out of camaraderie and love, not just exclusively for black people. What’s the point in putting all these built up “rules” about it. It’s time to let go. You can hate me or love me for it, but can’t nobody tell me what I can or can’t say. It’s got nothing to do with trying to be a thug. It’s about the culture of the music. And that’s all I have to say about that (no pun intended) lol. It’s all love. Some people will get it, some people won’t. Either way, Ima keep living my life however the fuck I want. ALL LOVE.— Chester Hanks aka Chet Haze
I don’t know Chet Haze, don’t follow him, nor have I listened to his music. But, I am Hip Hop, I grew up in the culture. I am an emcee and have performed and represented myself as such in front of diverse crowds in the US and overseas. I have written and spoken about the culture as well as supported it. I am also a black male from these United States and have lived in pretty much every major region in the continental US and Hawaii. I didn’t grow up using the word and neither my parents nor grandparents had it as a common part of their vocabulary. So Chet’s words, particularly invoking his participation in the culture of Hip Hop, interested me to say the least.
The post came to my attention through being shared on Facebook by a Hip Hop radio DJ. The poster mention that she didn’t get this wave of white folks who act like saying the N-word was some sort of release into a post-racial society while another commenter didn’t understand why they want to say it so badly whether it offends others or not.
I get it though. The issue is that Chet doesn’t. I get what he thinks he is saying but what he is actually saying is very different. He thinks this mentality makes him down with the cause and culture. He thinks that using the N-word among the people he cares about and that accept his use of the word around them brings him in closer to them – to the culture. For his close circle of friends he may right but in the big picture he is missing the mark completely. He thinks he is being progressive and future-thinking by saying things like “it’s 2015” and trying to get us to believe that he understands that we have a long way to go in terms of how black folks are treated. He even mentions Jim Crow and the current national realization that black folks are being killed by a “Racist and fucked up system.” He thinks he understands.
Here’s why he doesn’t.
Chester Marlon Hanks is a 24-year-old white male born in the United States of America. His father is an A-List Hollywood celebrity with a multi-decade entertainment career earning him a multitude of awards and nominations as well as a net worth north of an estimated $390 million dollars.
You see, Chet hit whatever is above the trifecta of privilege. He’s white, young, male, born in the U.S., from a very wealthy family, and the son of a beloved Hollywood celebrity with a legacy. He not only has regular white privilege but even the top tier of that privilege. Now let’s be clear, none of that diminishes whatever talent he may have but it does provide insight into why he feels he is entitled to say the N-word and tell folks who get offended to get over it.
That system Chet admonishes isn’t set to tell him “No” in any meaningful way. It tells him that he can do whatever he wants to do and it proves it to him in a constant reassuring way. The majority at the top look like him, shares a similar status to him, and is recognized as the ideal image to emulate. “No” doesn’t sting the same to him. Of course those with just regular run of the mill white privilege and heritage enjoy some of this – Chet’s is amplified.
None of this means that Chet can’t be a Hip Hop head or that he should apologize for the success of his father and the status that affords him. Of course not, but coming from such a world into one where there is something so frequently used and that he constantly hears but is told he can’t partake of, makes saying the N-word even more attractive to him. He doesn’t understand why. Yes, he heard about Jim Crow and probably uses the Black Lives matter hash tag, and was upset at some of the recent verdicts regarding injustice against black men and women. But why can’t he say it. I’m sure he’s got black friends that he cares about and he’s probably asked “Can I kick it?” to himself in the mirror. He’s down. The people around him let him know that he’s down. He is him.
He is also Hip Hop. The culture is very inviting and accepting of people from all walks of life, backgrounds, and statuses. It is a common thread that can bind diverse groups of people. I have bonded with Hip Hop heads around the world through the shared connection of the culture even if we didn’t speak the same language. DJ’s don’t have to speak verbally, they communicate through their hands. B-boys express through their moves. Emcees connect through their flow. The pidgin language of Hip Hop is technique and artistry.
I believe this is what Chet is trying to say but he is confusing the message he gets from his privileged world with the one of acceptance and unity that he gets from Hip Hop. Being recognized by a community doesn’t mean you can throw out respect. Nor does it free you up from caring about others. It should do the opposite actually. It should make you more aware of the plight of those you bond with – bring you a more intimate understanding.
The irony here is that the younger Hanks, doesn’t realize that what is saying can be construed as cultural entitlement as has been the case throughout history. He is saying that black folks can’t tell him to not offend them. Since it is 2015 he is dictating that black folks let go of the past because it no longer works for him. Basically telling black folks how to think, feel, and act according to how best it works for him and what he wants. He doesn’t accept people telling him otherwise. This sounds familiar.
This isn’t about whether or not you have a First Amendment exemption to saying the N-word. Yes you have Free Speech to say it but why do you want to when it offends and disrespects so many? Yes it’s 2015, but time moves slowly and the mentality that made that word the vile epitaph that it is today persists in the many forms; remember that system? For Chet Haze and Chester Hanks there never was a point where the N-word held a negative connotation for him so of course he’s able to get passed it. We have not all reached that point where the word doesn’t have meaning because many of the powers still utilize the core ideals of racism, bigotry, discrimination, Jim Crow, and the N-word in it’s glory days to perpetuate a system to its advantage.
Chet saying defiantly that he has the right to degrade and offend others and using the constitution as one of the justifications goes to show a lack of many things – a lack of respect for those brothers and sisters that he shares a community with is one. It shows a weakened self-esteem that needs validation that he is actually accepted as one of the pack – participation & respect for the culture, talent & artistry, and the love that you spread gives you a spot not the N-word. Saying that the N-word unifies Hip Hop betrays the believability of understanding Hip Hop culture that he is trying to project.
Chester Hanks is right about one thing though, some people will get it and some people won’t. Unfortunately, he doesn’t.
Telling him he’s wrong is love.