Woman Is the Nigger of the World
|"Woman Is the Nigger of the World"|
|Single by John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band|
|from the album Some Time in New York City|
|B-side||"Sisters, O Sisters" (Yoko Ono)|
|Released||24 April 1972|
|Recorded||November 1971–March 1972 at Record Plant East, New York City|
|John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band singles chronology|
|Some Time in New York City track listing|
"Woman Is the Nigger of the World" is a song written by John Lennon and Yoko Ono from their 1972 album Some Time in New York City. Released as a single in the United States, the song sparked controversy at the time due to its title and subject matter.
The phrase "woman is the nigger of the world" was coined by Yoko Ono in an interview with Nova magazine in 1969 and was quoted on the magazine's cover. Literary analysts note that the phrase owes much to Zora Neale Hurston's novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, in which the protagonist Janie Crawford's Grandmother says "De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see." The song describes women's subservience to men and misogyny across all cultures.
In a 1972 interview on The Dick Cavett Show, John Lennon stated that Irish revolutionary James Connolly was an inspiration for the song. Lennon cited Connolly's statement "the female worker is the slave of the slave" in explaining the pro-feminist inspiration behind the song.
Release and reception
Due to its use of an offensive racial epithet and what was perceived as an inappropriate comparison of women's rights to the oppression of African-Americans, most radio stations in the US declined to play the record. It was released in the US on 24 April 1972 and peaked at number 57 on the Billboard Hot 100, based primarily on sales, making it Lennon's lowest charting US single released in his lifetime. The song also charted at number 93 on the Cash Box Top 100.
Response to criticism
Through radio and television interviews, Lennon described his use of the term "nigger" as referring to any oppressed person. Apple Records placed an advertisement for the single in the 6 May issue of Billboard magazine featuring a recent statement, unrelated to the song, by prominent black Congressman Ron Dellums to demonstrate the broader use of the term. Lennon also referred to the Dellums quote during an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show, where he and Ono performed the song with the band Elephant's Memory. Because of the controversial title, ABC asked Cavett to apologise to the audience in advance for the song's content, otherwise the performance would not have been shown. Dick Cavett disliked giving the statement, stating in the 2010 documentary LENNONYC:
I had John and Yoko on, and the suits said: "We're gonna write a little insert just before the song for you to say." I said, "You are going to censor my guests after I get them on the show? This is ludicrous." So they wrote this thing, and I went in and taped it in order to retain the song. About 600 protests did come in. None of them about the song! All of them about, quote: "that mealy-mouthed statement you forced Dick to say before the show. Don't you believe we're grown up..." Oh, God. It was wonderful in that sense; it gave me hope for the republic.
Lennon also visited the offices of Ebony and Jet magazines with comedian/activist Dick Gregory and appeared in a cover story titled "Ex-Beatle Tells How Black Stars Changed His Life" in 26 October 1972 issue of Jet.
An edited version of the song was included on the 1975 compilation album Shaved Fish. The song was reissued as the B-side to "Stand by Me" on 4 April 1977. It was also included on Working Class Hero: The Definitive Lennon and the Gimme Some Truth box set.
In popular culture
An episode of the television series Better Things, written by Pamela Adlon and Louis C.K., named "Woman is the Something of the Something," features characters discussing John Lennon's saying "woman is the nigger of the world." The characters incorrectly exclaim that the phrase is a "direct quote" from Zora Neale Hurston, and do not mention Yoko Ono's origination of the phrase.
|U.S. Billboard Hot 100||57|
|U.S. Cash Box Top 100 ||93|
|Canadian RPM ||73|
Personnel on the single and Some Time in New York City recording are:
- John Lennon – vocals, guitar
- Stan Bronstein – tenor saxophone
- Gary Van Scyoc – bass
- Adam Ippolito – piano, organ
- Wayne "Tex" Gabriel – guitar
- Richard Frank Jr. – drums, percussion
- Jim Keltner – drums
- Chang, Jeff (2014). Who We Be: A Cultural History of Race in Post-Civil Rights America. New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 85. ISBN 0-312571-29-1.
- Hurston, Zora Neale (1986). Their Eyes Were Watching God. London: Virago Press. p. 19. ISBN 9780860685241.
- Rees, Nigel (2002). Mark My Words: Great Quotations and the Stories Behind Them. New York: Sterling Publishing. p. 418. ISBN 0-760735-32-8.
- Television interview, 11 May 1972. The Dick Cavett Show: John and Yoko collection [video recording] DVD, 2005. ISBN 0-7389-3357-0.
- Hilburn, Robert. "New Disc Controversy" Los Angeles Times 22 April 1972: B6
- Miles, Barry; Badman, Keith, eds. (2001). The Beatles Diary After the Break-Up: 1970–2001 (reprint ed.). London: Music Sales Group. ISBN 978-0-7119-8307-6.
- Duston, Anne. "Lennon, Ono 45 Controversial" Billboard 17 June 1972: 65
- Blaney, John (2005). John Lennon: Listen to This Book (illustrated ed.). [S.l.]: Paper Jukebox. p. 326. ISBN 978-0-9544528-1-0.
- Johnston, Laurie. "Women's Group to Observe Rights Day Here Today" New York Times 25 August 1972: 40
- 2010 documentary LennoNYC
- Blaney, John (2005). "1973 to 1975: The Lost Weekend Starts Here". John Lennon: Listen to This Book (illustrated ed.). [S.l.]: Paper Jukebox. p. 168. ISBN 978-0-9544528-1-0.
- Felsenthal, Julia (30 September 2016). "Pamela Adlon on Better Things's Most Meta Episode Yet". Vogue. Retrieved 1 October 2016.
- "Better Things Transcript: 01x04 - Woman is the Something of the Something". Forever Dreaming. 30 September 2016. Retrieved 1 October 2016.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 5 January 2015. Retrieved 5 January 2015.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
- Blaney, J. (2007). Lennon and McCartney: together alone : a critical discography of their solo work. Jawbone Press. pp. 60–62. ISBN 978-1-906002-02-2.