We promised our
readers a very interesting issue. Here is Part 1, because the N-word
author asked for it!
When 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.
is every word written to
by the N-Word author:
of The Black Commentator:
I contacted 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.
First 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:
In 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.
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 anti-racist
Responding 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
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.
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 occur.
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.
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.
Two final points
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.
Finally, 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.
I have been given by Professor Kilson and The Black Commentator is
mistreatment. It should give rise to apologies.
Thank you for
We 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.