Did Jackie Mason use a racial slur against Obama?

The comedian says the word he used doesn't have negative overtones, but that's not how many people see it.

Published March 16, 2009 3:10PM (EDT)

Comedian Jackie Mason is back in hot water, again, for using a Yiddish word some people view as pejorative to describe a black man -- and this time he was taking about President Obama.

At a show in New York City last week, Mason called Obama a "shvartze," the gossip Web site TMZ reports. The term generally refers to a black person, but some people believe it has a negative connotation, akin to the n-word in English.

This isn't the first time Mason's been in trouble for using the word. After he'd already stepped down from Rudy Giuliani's 1989 mayoral campaign for other insensitive racial remarks he'd made, he attracted more controversy when it was disclosed that he'd referred to Giuliani's opponent, David Dinkins, as "a fancy shvartze with a mustache."

Mason, a conservative, told TMZ that, to him, the word is not pejorative, and he denied any suggestion he himself is a racist.

"I'm not going to defend myself. Chris Rock has told a lot more jokes about whites than I have against Blacks. What about the demeaning words Blacks say about Jews?" Mason said. "If it's a racist society, the white people are the ones being persecuted because they have to defend themselves... I'm more talented than Oprah Winfrey and look at how much she makes. I can't even make a living."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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