Friday, February 24, 2006

Wayans Turning "Nigga" Into A Trademark?

Wired News reports that comedian/actor Damon Wayans has been trying for 14 months to trademark the word "nigga." According to the article, Wayans, who starred in Spike Lee's racial satire Bamboozled, applied to the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office to use the term on 14 types of clothing as well as "movies, TV, and the Internet". He has had his application rejected twice with the most recent rejection coming back on December 22, 2005. The application was rejected on the grounds that it violated a law that prohibits trademarks that are "immoral or scandalous."

My first question is this...why did Wayans think this was a good idea? While "nigga" has gained a lot of exposure through its prevalence in hip-hop music and various forms of African-American comedy, it's far from innocuous. It is still a word whose mere mention by the wrong person in the wrong place can cause trouble. It's not a word you can say on the radio (ask Kanye West) and broadcast TV generally shies away from using it in any way apart from a racial slur (like how a kid called Chris one in an episode of Everybody Hates Chris).

Then, if the word makes its way to clothing, who would sell it? While there might be some boutiques that might be willing to sell it (including the store Wayans wants to use the trademarked N-word on), a lot of mainstream stores wouldn't. Stores like Macys would not only risk the wrath of groups such as the Urban League and the NAACP, they would get tons of negative publicity just for selling blatantly offensive clothing. If it's news when Abercrombie & Fitch sells something even remotely offensive, imagine the controversy if a major retailer sold "Nigga" clothing.

I wonder if Wayans feels he's doing a service by attempting to trademark that word. After all, by using it on damn near everything, the word's impact might lessen. Maybe he wants to do his part and continue to transform the word into something positive. Plus, it might be better if Wayans, a black person, makes money off the word as opposed to some racist white people.

Nah.

Ultimately, I think Wayans's futile attempt to trademark such a volatile word is sad. The comedian who made millions laugh as Homey The Clown and other characters on In Living Color and most recently starred in the ABC sitcom My Wife And Kids is reduced to trying to make money off the N-word. Worse yet, Wayans's idea isn't even original. According to the Wired News article, an entrepreneur named Keon Rhodan (who is also black) has been selling clothing with "Nigga" on it on his own for six years.

Damon Wayans's character in Bamboozled was a man who got caught up in the success of the modern-day minstrel show he created. If Wayans's clothing line (and other endeavors involving the disputed trademark) ever end up happening, he'll be a lot closer to becoming that character.

2 comments:

  1. This is pure conjecture on my part, but I think that the reason that he is doing this isn't to make money off of the use of the word, but to keep people from using the word. There's already a clothing company called "rilniga"(real nigga) clothing; We say everyday in everday speech, we use it in moviews and in music, hell a South African brother even called Oprah one. If the word were trademarked by Damon Wayans then, he could threaten to sue any one who uses the word with obtaining a license. Literally hundreds of thousands of people will be faced with the possibility of litigation for using the word. Let that get out and I bet you we'd stop saying nigga: Nothing is a better motivation for doing something than the threat of having your pockets hurt.

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  2. My bad, that's supposed to be "without obtaining a license."

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