Forbidden words in Karaoke

A karaoke host’s mission every night is to establish a modern-day vibe of “Kumbayah”. Unfortunately, certain forbidden words in music add to the stress of the job. While we aim for inclusivity, certain words that exist in the English language have origins rooted in bigotry. This creates a slippery political situation every night, with the Karaoke host stuck in the middle.

The history of the “n-word” is a very polarizing one. As it is an utterance used to demean black Americans who had, not even that long ago, been kidnapped and sold as slaves to white plantation owners, I fully appreciate the gravity and significance of the history of the word.

Black people have coopted to take ownership of the word, in effect, taking it away from the bigots, and black artists have opted to intentionally inject it into modern music as an artistic protest in many cases. When included in music, it can be said to protest white co-optation and re-appropriation of black music, art, and culture, in effect taking those musical misappropriations back from white people in the same way they took back the word itself. It is a word that no “white” person would dare utter in public unless they had a death wish, and by including it in their music, they are excluding non-black people from singing the lyrics to their songs. In essence, the n-word, when included in music, has become a “no whites allowed” kind of statement, and I guess I’m okay with that… but I wish humans could just stop fighting each other entirely. Instead of building walls… build bridges.

I’m just a lowly Karaoke host. Karaoke is supposed to be an inclusive activity… and in many karaoke shows this isn’t really a problem .. But with the weekend shows attended by younger people, many of whom are mixed race, it becomes a difficult, politically-charged task to even try to identify who should be allowed to sing certain songs. And sometimes it is so difficult I just want to tell everyone, “sorry, we’re not singing Kanye West tonight… (and besides… he’s a no-talent ass-hat anyway)”.

But if I just “ban” certain songs… or entire genres of songs… I have a completely different problem… because now, I’m not being inclusive enough… I’m pushing out all the music that many people of the black race want to celebrate and share. I literally get accused of being racist when I tell someone that I don’t have a particular music video as filler, for example.

So what’s the compromise? Well… I guess I let anyone sing whatever they want, but if I hear an “n-bomb” come out of the mic I need to shut it down immediately regardless of race. Or maybe I only let black people sing rap songs? But “how black”? What if you’re mixed race. What if you’re a “light skinned” black person? Black-Latino? The other night a bouncer got into a fight with a singer because I guess he wasn’t “black enough” to sing a certain song…. At some point … it’s like … you need to show me your 23AndMe profile and prove to me your ancestry doesn’t cross through Ireland or something… it’s too much. Hosting Karaoke is a busy job on a weekend and it would be much simpler if we just sang Sweet Caroline, Mr Brightside, and Goodbye Earl on repeat all night.

Black people have the right to forbid white people from saying the n-word. I would never in a million years debate that. But in 2024, I feel like the word needs to disappear from music. The world political stage is full of conflict… it is full of factions upon factions of people who would rather kill each other than make peace… Ukraine and Russia, Palestinians and Jews, Republicans and Democrats, The Koreas, and at some point, all these factions need to find a way to stop hating each other. My plea, to black artists out there, is this:

As a black artist, you have the option and right to choose to include a divisive word in your song lyrics… but look at the world today? Do you want to be part of the division? Or do you want to be on the side of truth, reconciliation, and peace? Do you want your songs to be sang and enjoyed by all, or just a certain group of people? It’s your choice. I’ll respect your choice… but think about it.

I, personally, want to live in a peaceful world where nobody has to worry about a bomb falling on their head while they sleep, and karaoke hosts don’t have to worry about drunken idiots saying stupid shit into the microphone. Life is stressful enough.

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