Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A Word by Any Other Name....

Bigots use it, rappers flip it, and like an infectious disease, the word "nigger" has spread all over the land.

Debate over whether it should be used or not is sure to rise to pitched levels when Johnson Publications announces in its February issues that it will no longer print the word in the pages of Ebony and Jet magazines.

Doesn't matter whether you sing it in rap lyrics or use it as a term of endearment, you don't have to click any further than here or here to understand that modern-day usuage will never erase the horrific, painful history of the word.

21 Comments:

Blogger jordon said...

i largely agree with you, that most people have no business using this vile word. but what about dave chapelle, whose skit about a blind black man who thinks he's a white supremacist is one of the most trenchantly funny eviscerations of the absurdity of racism i've seen in some time? can we let him be the exception to the rule?

my point is, it's not if you use it, but how you use it. the problem is that too many people use it to pernicious, and unfunny, ends. chapelle's not one of them, at least in that skit. so maybe the rule should be, "when in doubt, don't use it."

6:00 AM  
Blogger clee said...

I agree, the use of the n-word should be discontinued. The young people that use it don't "really" understand the original use of the word and how it affected people. I, too, am old enough to have felt the sting of the word used in its original context.

Trying to say that it can be used as a term of endearment when greeting someone is still giving permission for anyone to use it. If someone other than a black person approaches you and uses the word, what makes it wrong from them to say it when they're also using it as a greeting?

For those young people that feel it is okay to use the word, they should sit down and watch the 12 hours of Roots to see how this word affected people. Or, perhaps speak to a grandparent or elderly person who can really explain the meaning of that word.

6:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fine. Great. Let's ban the N-world. We also need to ban other offensive words or labels then. Two that come to mind are "white boy", "cracker" (which is what the audience members referred to Michael Richards as). Where, by the way, is their apology to him?
2 wrongs do not make a right.

5:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading your article on Philly.com, which is how I found your blog. However, I had a problem with something you said in that article:

You instructed your children: "If anybody assaulted you with that word, all bets were off."

- You're teaching your children that its OK to use violence when someone uses this word against them. How can this be the 'right' thing to do?' Using violence as retaliation against the n-word simply keeps the word alive as a hateful word and reinforces its negative aspects. It teaches the white kid that the word hurts and that if he/she wanted to hurt her again, they could simply say it over and over (which might make her very angry and get her into trouble - something you don't want). If your daughter would've ignored the word instead, the white kid might learn that it doesn't bother her in that way and perhaps not use it against her, or use it less often. A little reverse psychology. The less damaging the word becomes, the less it will be used in a hateful way.

10:06 PM  
Blogger Conaky said...

Annette, this comes in a timely fashion for me as I begin to teach "The Secret Life of Bees" and "To Kill a Mockingbird" both of which use the "N" word. As a new teacher, I have decided that when we get to the word in the book we will not be saying it. Likewise when other choice words are written I use substitutes like "heck", "gosh-darn-it" and "shoot". My students find this weird, but my goal is to show that those words do not have to be used. I don't talk like that and I won't just to be true to the author. When they read, if they are comfortable saying "sh**" they are allowed to do so, but as an African-American teacher with a mostly Caucasian student body, I do not want the word used in my classroom. Thanks for this article.

11:05 PM  
Anonymous Larry Abrams said...

I, too, am an English teacher now guiding my sophomores through To Kill a Mockingbird. I teach in a predominantly African-American school, and challenge my students to not say the word aloud, either in conversation or in the literature. As in Huck Finn, I have the kids replace the N - word with "Negro" when reading aloud. Sometimes I just skip the word, and let the pause speak for itself.

Thank you for making me aware of "banthenword.org" This augments what I've always done before we read the chapter in TKAM that features the lynch mob, rabidly wanting to drag Tom from prison, only to by disarmed by Scout as she innocently questions Mr. Cunningham. Most compelling was the slide on the web site that speculates that most lynching victims probably heard the N word as they died hellish deaths.

Too many of our young people don't have the slightest notion of the word's wicked history. That's why it's prattled back and forth.

I invite you to visit my school in Lindenwold to either elaborate about your column, talk about yourself and your career, or answer random questions put out by the students. Contact me at rochester89@lycos.com if you are interested. - Larry Abrams

7:33 AM  
Blogger Mocha said...

I read that issue and loved the last 40 or so pages of it because it was devoted to such powerful images surrounding that word. It made me think, however, when I read about some celebrity (I really just can't remember who said it. Was it Oprah's girlfriend? I dunno.) who is reconsidering not using it because it's so offensive and I thought, "What? You're a grown woman and you're STILL using that word?" I really thought only the under-20 set was doing it. Color me shocked.

p.s. Miss you! Do tell about going to that school and speaking. What a great opportunity for you.

10:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The word has no power. The power comes from the meaning of the word. I am not insulted when one of my friends uses the word because I understand the meaning behind it. Conversely, if someone called me "sir" but meant "ni66er" I'd be offended.

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