When Barbara Walters used the N-word on "The View" yesterday to report on the controversial name of prez wannabe Rick Perry's hunting lodge's, N*****head, co-host Sherri Shepherd looked like she was going to burst a blood vessel. Even though the show's other head honcho, Whoopi Goldberg, had beat Babs to the punch in using the whole word instead of the politically correct, "N-word," the recent bride berated only Walters for saying the full racial slur aloud.
"When I heard you (Whoopi) say it, it was fine," Shepherd admitted. Turning to Walters, she charged, "You said it a different way. When I heard you (Barbara) say it, I didn't like the way you said it."
The confused former "Today Show" host tried to use logic with Shepherd to determine whether it was her pronunciation of the word or the mere fact she said it that irked the "30 Rock" actress, but her flustered friend could only attribute her annoyance to "a feeling" she had when white people uttered the word.
The difference, of course, is that Walters said the word as a professional journalist to report on a news event. She did not jokingly call Shepherd the N-word. Nor did she use the word derogatorily, as did Michael Richards (Cosmo Kramer on "Seinfeld"), who repeatedly called a heckler the N-word during a stand-up comedy performances and later apologized for his offense.
Whether Shepherd was heroic to take on her boss -- Walters is one of the show's executive producers -- or just being a hothead is debatable. But what if the former "20/20" host did a Hilly Holbrook from "The Help" and grimaced when Shepherd used the bathroom in her house. Could Walters get away with shrugging and saying it was "just a feeling?"
Wise old owl Whoopi put the best spin on the spat. "I don't care if Barbara says it because Barbara isn't calling (anyone the N-word)," she said, pointing out the word has lost its sting among younger black people because they refuse to define it with its historical meaning. "The teenagers don't have the same feelings about this word."
"They have taken the stink off of it," the "Long Walk Home" actress added. She applauded the next generation for co-opting the word for their own with the attitude, "We're going to take this word and we're going to mash it up and do what we want with it -- and it's not going to mean a damned thing if you call it to me."
That Walters did not call Shepherd the N-word in either an amiable or insulting way, but rather used the term as a reporter, makes her younger colleague come off as more racist than the white people she condemns for saying the loaded word. Instead of calling out the octogenarian icon in front of millions of TV viewers, she could have mentioned it later over coffee in a sincere effort to explain the deeper meaning the word had for her.
Then again, that mature and gracious way of handling the matter would not have shone the spotlight on Shepherd, whether the picture she presented was flattering or not.
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- Sherri Shepherd
- Barbara Walters
- Whoopi Goldberg