Amidst all the uproar over President Obama's utterance of "the N-word" on Marc Maron's podcast, one extremely salient point seems to be getting lost: As Gayle King pointed out on last night's "Nightly Show," the president did not use the n-word; he said it. This is a more-than academic difference. It's the difference, for example, between my calling someone a kike and pointing out that the word "kike" is an anti-Jewish slur, used by Nazis, skinheads, and other troglodytes. Not only is my use of the word not meant to be offensive--it is not offensive. Period. It is a word offered to provide explanation, a word separated from its meaning, a signifier divorced from its signified.
Hearing the word--the k-word, the n-word--may certainly provide a jolt, but so would hearing a car backfire. And the president's use of the word in that context was exactly as offensive as a backfiring car would be. Which is to say, not at all.