a supposedly post- racial society, one would think that
the n-word was buried and long gone with its troubled eras
of race relations in this country.
as American novelist, William Faulkner, wrote in his 1951
for a Nun, �The past is never dead.
It�s not even past.�
we all try to move from America�s ugly racial
past, there are still rock solid vestiges of it.
the entrance of a secluded 1072-acre property in the West
Texas town of Paint Creek is a rock painted in block letters with the word �Niggerhead.�
decades, Rick Perry�s hunting camp hosted fellow lawmakers,
friends and supporters.
in a declining bid for the GOP presidency, former front-runner
Gov. Rick Perry and his father once leased a Texas
hunting camp known by a racist term.
Perry ran for re-election as governor in 2010, no one knew
of the rock. And as one observer of the rock glibly told
�Real Clear Politics,� �Honestly, it wouldn�t have hurt
him in a Texas primary.�
Perry, however, doesn�t decline into oblivion in this GOP
bid, he�ll face off with President Obama and will also have
a lot of explaining to do to African American voters - Republicans
Perry recover from this?
can talk show host Barbara Walters?
discussing the offensive racial moniker of Perry�s property
Walters used the n-word, sparking a debate with her co-host
saying when you say the word, I don�t like it,� said Shepherd,
who said she has used it among African-American family and
friends. �When white people say it, it brings up feelings
am troubled, however, in this recent kerfuffle concerning
the n-word how many of us African Americans, in particular,
go back and forth on its politically correct use.
do a walk down memory lane:
December 2006, we blamed Michael Richards, who played the
lovable and goofy character Kramer on the TV sit-com �Seinfeld�
for using the n-word. The racist rant was heard nationwide
and shocked not only his fans and audience that night at
the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood but it also shocked
Americans back to an ugly era in U.S. history.
July 2008, we heard the Rev. Jessie Jackson used the n-word,
referring to Obama. And Jackson using the word not only
reminded us of its history but also of how the n-word can
slip so approvingly from the mouth of a man who was part
of a cadre of African Americans leaders burying the n-word
once and for all in mock funeral at the 98th annual NAACP�s
convention in Detroit in 2007.
in 2009, Dr. Laura Schlessinger ended her radio show, a
week after she broadcast a five-minute-long
rant in which she used the N-word 11 times.
January of this year, the kerfuffle concerning the n-word
focused on Samuel Langhorne Clemens�, known fondly to us
as Mark Twain, New South Books edition of the 1885 controversial
classic �Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.�
a combined effort to rekindle interest in this Twain classic
and to tamp down the flame and fury the use of the n-word
engenders both from society and readers alike, who come
across the epithet 219 times in the book, Mark Twain Scholar,
Alan Gribben, an English professor at Auburn University
in Alabama, proposed the idea that the n-word be replaced
with the word �slave.�
2003, the NAACP convinced Merriam-Webster lexicographers
to change the definition of the n-word in the dictionary
to no longer mean African Americans but instead to be defined
as a racial slur. And, while the battle to change the n-word
in the American lexicon was a long and arduous one, our
culture�s neo-revisionist use of the n-word makes it even
harder to purge the sting of the word from the American
notion that it is acceptable for African Americans to refer
to each other using the n-word while considering it racist
for others outside the race, unquestionably sets up a double
standard. Also, the notion that one ethnic group has property
rights to the term is a reductio ad absurdum argument,
since language is a public enterprise.
n-word is firmly embedded in the lexicon of racist language
that was and still is used to disparage African Americans.
However, today the meaning of the n-word is all in how one
spells it. By dropping the �er� ending and replacing it
with either an �a� or �ah� ending, the term morphs into
one of endearment. But many slaveholders pronounced the
n-word with the �a� ending, and in the 1920s, many African
Americans used the �a� ending as a pejorative term to denote
class differences among themselves.
many of us keep the n-word alive. It also allows Americans
to become unconscious and numb in the use and abuse of the
power and currency this racial epithet still has, thwarting
the daily struggle at which many of us Americans work hard
in trying to ameliorate race relations.
Editorial Board member, the Rev. Irene Monroe, is a religion
columnist, theologian, and public speaker. She is the Coordinator of
the African-American Roundtable of the Center for Lesbian and
Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry (CLGS) at the Pacific
School of Religion. A native of Brooklyn, Rev. Monroe is a
graduate from Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary
at Columbia University, and served as a pastor at an African-American
church before coming to Harvard Divinity School for her
doctorate as a Ford Fellow. She was recently named to MSNBC�s
list of 10 Black Women You Should Know. Reverend Monroe is the author
of Let Your Light Shine Like a Rainbow Always: Meditations on Bible
Prayers for Not�So�Everyday Moments. As an African-American
feminist theologian, she speaks for a sector of society
that is frequently invisible. Her website
to contact the Rev. Monroe.