It’s cold in Oberlin today, where I just got back from a silent vigil/protest/rally. There were about 80 students there of mixed race, sex and orientation who were all concerned about a slur which appeared on the side of Dascomb Saturday night. I remember waking up sunny Sunday morning and walking past Dascomb and feeling my spirits fall. Imagine the two most vulgar words in a modern lexicon and put them together, hastily and messily spread across the side of a first-year dorm. Words do have power, and the slur written on the wall punched me in the gut.
It also reminded me of this interesting sketch comedy video by Derrick Comedy from a few years ago. In this video, the exact same slur is used to great comic effect—the people in the spelling bee can’t say the word and refuse to spell it. Now-TV-star Donald Glover gives the punchline.
It’s interesting that if you go to the YouTube page, the most recent comment (and I usually think YouTube comments are the lowest form of human communication) is “oberlin sucks.” While I don’t think Derrick Comedy or the writer of this sketch created this particular slur, it is the first thing I thought of when I saw the graffiti. I think it is likely that the person who did the graffiti was thinking of this video. Type in N—-rF—-t on Google, and all the hits on the first page link to the video.
This raises interesting questions. Does Derrick Comedy share some implicit blame for the dangerous graffiti on Dascomb? Derrick Comedy has a black member and often does social commentary through their comedy. I do believe that the person who defaced Dascomb did not mean the slur as a direct threat (although I see and appreciate how it makes people feel unsafe) but rather as an Ultimate Word Taboo. The worst thing you can write on the side of a building. If they got the taboo from this video, then this video is partially why that graffiti was branded on the side of Dascomb.
Personally, I don’t think Derrick is implicit in this controversy. They, for the most part, make socially conscious comedy. Plus, someone was bound to put those two words together eventually, and I don’t put it past the original graffitist to come up with the slur on her own. Regardless of the origin and reference, it’s clear that in one context the very same word can (almost) “push things forward,” on the internet, and in another context deeply affect and hurt communities in a small town.