promised our readers a very interesting issue. Here is Part 1, because
the N-word author asked for it!
you have finished reading what the N-Word author wrote, we invite
you to read the N-Word Part 2 in which Harvard
colleague, Dr. Martin Kilson says an apology is not warranted and
N-Word Part 3 in which
calls for the repudiation of the N-Word author.
following is every word written to
by the N-Word author:
Readers of The Black Commentator:
the editors of The Black Commentator to respond to articles they have
recently published about me and my work. They have granted me space
to reply and assured me that they would print my response without
editorial intervention. I would like to thank them for this opportunity.
I was condemned by Professor Martin Kilson of Harvard University who
berated me for writing Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome
Word. He stated that my book, particularly its title, evidenced "a
cold indifference to typical sensibilities of African-American citizens,
such as their deep dislike for public expression in American media
. . . of the epithet nigger." In my book, I spend a considerable
amount of space detailing how, over time, many black Americans have
indeed expressed abhorrence to the use of "nigger" in all
circumstances. For example, I quote Langston Hughes who wrote in 1940:
my book I proceed to argue, however, that a serious effort to erase
nigger altogether would have bad consequences that would supercede
the good that might be achieved. First, erasing nigger entirely would
obscure from view significant parts of the history of racism. People
should know, for example, that until recently major politicians openly
and without embarrassment or apology referred contemptuously to blacks
as niggers on the floor of the United States Senate and House of Representatives.
Obliterating nigger from books, movies, plays, and similar productions
would entail losing access to such knowledge.
seeking to eradicate nigger would entail destroying, bowdlerizing,
or otherwise removing from view many important anti-racist documents.
Is that prospect far-fetched? Unfortunately, it is not. The NAACP's
magazine, The Crisis, was removed from the list of publications approved
for use in the public schools of the District of Columbia because
the magazine was said to make "a practice of using the opprobrious
term 'N' in its published stories of Negro life." School officials
remained unmoved when it was pointed out that The Crisis was a crusading
to the D.C. authorities, Roy Wilkins remarked that he and his colleagues
at The Crisis believed the function of education "to be the inculcation
of the truth and the discovery of truth by the widest reading and
the freest discussion." He added: "we fail to distinguish
between the use of the word 'nigger' and the highly suggestive 'N'
which you use." Similar acts of censorship have ensnared other
works of anti-racist literature including Dick Gregory's Nigger: An
Autobiography, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, and Mark Twain's
seeking to eradicate nigger would entail attempting to muzzle people
who use the work not as a racist insult but as a term of endearment
or gesture of solidarity. Many black folk are using the term in just
this way - as anyone knows who listens to rap, black comedians, or
ordinary folk on the streets. One does not have to agree with this
usage. One should recognize its reality, however, and understand the
ideas and sentiments prompting it, all of which I do in my book and
all of which Professor Kilson ignores.
Kilson blames me and my book for racist uses of nigger in certain
incidents that occurred recently at Harvard Law School, where I teach.
He asserts that "clearly" these events were set in motion
by my book. Nowhere does he establish that, in fact, there was some
causal connection between my book and the incidents to which he alludes.
A connection was plausible, even likely. But there is no evidence
that he points to that "clearly" establishes causation.
But let us suppose that, in fact, my book did prompt the misbehavior.
Is a writer obligated to avoid a subject because some reader might
misuse the writer's work? I think not. The alternative approach would
permit bigots too much sway. I am sure that some racists will make
mischief with my book. I cannot prevent that. I can only hope that
the good that comes from the public education I attempt to impart
will supercede the instances of misuse that are almost certain to
Kilson accuses me of failing to become involved in addressing the
incidents at Harvard. He says that the basis of this charge was the
absence of any mention of my involvement in press reports. He ought
not to have drawn and asserted such highly negative inferences about
my conduct based merely on the absence of press reports. As should
be obvious, the press does not report everything that happens. Moreover,
he could easily have called me to find out what I did. It so happens
that the students involved were my students. I was their section leader.
And as their section leader, I called a meeting to discuss what had
transpired. I would have been happy to relay this information to Professor
Kilson. Perhaps he would still have found fault with me. But at least
he could have done so on the basis of accurate information as opposed
to a supposition that turned out to be incorrect.
publishing Professor Kilson's diatribe, Mr. Glen Ford, the Co-Publisher
of The Black Commentator, proceeded to continue with the denunciation
by printing a commentary entitled "Randall Kennedy: The Strange
Career of a Troublesome Fool." In his piece, Mr. Ford describes
me as "a specialist in telling white people exactly what he thinks
they want to hear." In doing so, he echoed Professor Kilson's
remark that the "core purpose" of my book was "to assist
White Americans in feeling comfortable with using the epithet 'nigger'."
Neither Professor Kilson nor Mr. Ford offer substantiation for their
claims, though one might think that a considerable amount of substantiation
would be called for given the damaging nature of the charges they
level. They do not say that I am mistaken, or even grossly mistaken.
They go much further than that. They say that my motives are bad,
that I am essentially an evil person. Hence, Mr. Ford writes that
my career "appears to be based on playing the role of surrogate
to white racists who fear to mouth the dreaded N-word but love reading
about it from the perspective of a Black man who hates African Americans
even more than they do." It isn't enough for him to attribute
without evidence a bad motivation to the effort behind the writing
of my book; without evidence or explanation he extends the attack
to my career as a whole.
Professor Kilson and Mr. Ford accuse me of what Professor Kilson terms
"money grubbing." If by this he means to charge me with
wanting to draw attention to my book and make money off of my intellectual
labor, then he is correct and I plead guilty. But making money was
not and is not the only incentive that drives me as a writer. Vanity
and a commitment to public education are also important animating
forces. In all candor, though, money matters with me - as is probably
the case with most writers who publish books with commercial enterprises.
I reject the proposition that any presence of pecuniary ambition necessarily
dooms the integrity of intellectual work.
Mr. Ford states that the press release he issued announcing Professor
Kilson's condemnation of me "got lots of attention, including
coverage among the only media that Kennedy respects: the big white
press. Kennedy clearly does not consider himself answerable in any
respect to other Black people, but he does answer the phone when the
Boston Globe calls." Unfortunately, unlike the reporter from
the Boston Globe, Mr. Ford did not call. And, as I noted at the outset,
this letter did not arise from a call or invitation from The Black
Commentator. It arose from my own initiative because, contrary to
what Mr. Ford suggests, I do care about my reputation in all spheres
of society. Contrary to what Mr. Ford suggests, I have written for
black-owned publications and spoken frequently in predominantly black
forums. During my book tour for Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome
Word, I spoke at The Shrine of the Black Madonna Bookstore in Detroit,
the EsoWon Bookstore in Los Angeles, Howard University, and was a
participant in interviews, debates and panel discussions on scores
of radio stations and programs which aim their broadcasts primarily
to black audiences - for example, the Tom Pope Show (Washington, D.C.),
the Daily Drum (Wash. D.C), Inside Detroit with Mildred Gaddis (Detroit),
On with Leon (Baltimore, Md.), Say It Loud (Boston, MA) etc etc etc.
treatment I have been given by Professor Kilson and The Black Commentator
is mistreatment. It should give rise to apologies.
you for your consideration.
now invite you to read the N-Word Part 2 in
which Harvard colleague, Dr. Martin Kilson says an apology is not
warranted and N-Word Part 3 in which
calls for the repudiation of the N-Word author.