Commentary: Suge Knight, TMZ and the N-Word, an Odd Trio

Suge Knight says he prefers the N-word, dislikes being called African-American while TMZ seeks to discover if others share that view.

There are two distinct prongs to the current controversy involving Suge Knight, the founder and chief executive of Black Kapital Records and co-founder and former chief executive of Death Row Records, over the N word.
Knight’s insistence that he would prefer being addressed by the N-word rather than being labeled African-American is certainly highly provocative. It raises eyebrows and, at the end of the day, makes one wonder whether he is indeed serious.
“I like [the N-word] better than ‘African-American.’ We not from Africa,” Knight said, exposing something of a blind eye to world history. “We’re Black. Even Africans don’t call each other Africans in Africa.”
Without delving into the merits of his troubling argument and its inherent flaws, there is something in his view that somehow doesn’t quite ring with authenticity.
Would this highly successful businessman truly feel at ease in a meeting with potential clients from, say, Germany, telling him: “We love the music of you n-----s” using the N-word? Would this father of six feel perfectly at ease at the prospect of one of his children being addressed with that word in school by a white administrator or by a prospective employer in a job interview? It just doesn’t ring true.
Knight’s position is certainly thought provoking, the kind of disclosure that will no doubt dominate discussions in barber shops, neighborhood basketball courts and the world of social media. As a practical matter, it’s just silly.
However, it once again catapults Knight into the news, never a bad thing for a businessman in the world of hip hop, where the inflammatory can often be rewarded with attention and social and financial dividends.
Then, there is the other prong to this story. TMZ, the celebrity and entertainment news service, has decided to conduct a poll to determine whether its readers prefer between the N-word to the term African-American.
It is an irresponsible undertaking for any news organization, even one that specializes in celebrity gossip. While the editors might consider it to be a titillating endeavor that will elicit a barrage of comments, many of them nasty. Such a poll has little real merit and much downside risk.
In the end, it’s a shame that both Knight and the TMZ folks who have taken the bait and run with it would not have found a nobler way to gain attention. It’s not a particularly good look on the part of either party.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Vivien Killilea/WireImage/Getty Images)

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