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Anchor's 'jigaboo' comment proves America needs a history lesson

Crystal Lewis Brown

by

Causes & Culture

Crystal Lewis Brown is a parent of two boys, a wife and lifelong writer. She is also SheKnows' director of editorial operations. You can also follow her on twitter at @c_lewisbrown

Kristi Capel didn’t mean to offend anyone in her on-air flub, but that’s exactly the problem

I cringed when I saw the video of news anchor Krista Capel say she couldn't hear Lady Gaga's peformance over the "jigaboo music."

First, because she used the term — more than once — and then giggled awkwardly about it. She later released a statement saying she didn't know what it meant.

Yeah, OK, I raised an eyebrow at that until a younger colleague admitted she had to Google the term. My younger sister knew vaguely, somehow, that it was "bad" but didn't immediately know it was a racial slur. Somehow, knowing Capel didn't know what it meant didn't make me feel better about the situation. If anything, it made it worse.

Nearly every black person I know can identify the image that precedes this article: the showdown in the iconic dance scene in Spike Lee's musical drama School Daze. In the scene, the "jigaboos," the darker-complexioned girls with natural hair, went head-to-head with the "wannabees," those with straight or naturally curly hair and light complexions to match. For me and my friends, the message was clear, the lines were drawn. And although it took me years to understand the movie's underlying themes, I think I can safely say that in some cases — nay, in many cases — those lines still exist.

If you've ever seen a Spike Lee movie (and please, if you haven't, message me so I can give you some ideas where to start; you're missing out), you know my word count can't possibly explain the movie in its entirety. But I'll give you this: Dictionary.com makes clear that the word is an offensive one used to describe black people. And none of the slurs brought up as synonyms in Urban Dictionary's definition would make it past our commenting filters. Which is to say: It's bad (according to my brother, worse than the N-word). In the most simplistic of terms:

Jigaboos are the "black" blacks. The kind that are "causing trouble" by bringing up racism. The kind that make you lock your car door when they walk by. The kind you assume are soliciting when they knock on your door. Wannabees are those that people say "aren't that kind of black person." The kind that are described as "articulate." That fit in perfectly with their white friends and co-workers because they're not too black.

At its most simplistic, the movie is an exploration of colorism, of classism, but I digress — there is not enough space to get into that right now. For now, let's go back to the word in question.

How can we be mad at Capel when we continue to whitewash history by banning books that use these words? If our children grow up without The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Gone with the Wind and Uncle Tom's Cabin, how will they know? How can they imagine what it's like to be called anything besides their names?

How can we be mad that Capel didn't know the word was a racial slur when not one of the people in an informal poll on my Facebook page who said they'd seen School Daze was non-black or younger than 30? And those who remembered the scene pictured in the above image remembered having mixed emotions about it, one of them even expressing surprise that "jigaboo" was used so casually.

When we see this woman say this term, on national TV, use this racial slur in a way that — in my opinion — made clear she didn't know what it meant, it proves that as long as we stay ignorant, we'll never truly grow.

We have to stop pretending racism no longer exists. We have to stop not talking about it. We have to introduce our children to a diverse collection of music, of literature, of movies. Otherwise, 10 years from now, even those watching won't know that "jigaboo" was once a racial slur.

And I, for one, won't have my children grow up that way.

More on racism

Why you can't tell black boys to just "be good and stay out of trouble"
Today Trayvon Martin would have turned 20
Microaggressions hurt more than you realize

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