this political climate hate speech is becoming common use. And there
has been an uptick of the use of the n-word, even from the mouths of
people one would not expect.
it came as no surprise to most people of color in Boston when last
month Orioles outfielder Adam Jones said Fenway fans hurled the
n-word at him, much of America, however, was shocked to learn the
’n-word” was sprayed on international basketball great
LeBron James’ L.A. home.
that no African American is immune from the epithet, irrespective of
their station in life, James stated the following:
matter how much money you’ve got, no matter how famous you are,
no matter how many people admire you, being a Black man in America is
when the word slips from the mouths of race conscious allies like
Bill Maher - comedian, political commentator of HBO political talk
show “Real Time with Bill Maher” - a lot of shock and
hurt are felt.
responding to his guest Senator Ben Saase of Nebraska’s
question,” Would you like to come work in the field with us?”
Maher mockingly replied. “Work in the fields? Senator, I am a
it’s often difficult to discern in some instances if the n-word
is being used as an epithet or a term of endearment.
the confusion illustrates what happens when an epithet like the
n-word, once hurled at African-Americans in this country and banned
from polite conversation, now has a broad-based cultural acceptance
in our society.
example, two renown African American academics embrace the use of the
many of Maher’s guests rescinded their appearances on the show
last week, Georgetown Professor Michael Eric Dyson pinch-hit for him.
emotional about this. I love Bill Maher. He’s a very dear
friend. But as I’ve made plain through the years, the n word
should be reserved for black use. Period,” Dyson wrote on
2002 Harvard Law Professor Randall Kennedy, who wrote "Nigger:
The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word," said that while the
word has been used to "terrorize and humiliate" black
Americans, "it's also been used as a term of endearment and a
gesture of solidarity."
the notion that it is acceptable for African Americans to use the
n-word with each other yet it is considered racist for others outside
the race to use it unquestionably sets up a double standard. And
because language is a public enterprise, the notion that one ethnic
group has property rights to the term is an absurdly narrow argument.
Moreover, the fact that African Americans have appropriated the
n-word does not negate our long history of internalized self-hatred.
after Maher dropped the word many on Twitter chimed in defending him
stating he used a modified n-word, meaning it ended in an “a”
rather than a “r.” Many today argue the meaning of the
n-word is all in how ones spell it. By dropping the “er’
ending and replacing it with either an “a” or ‘ah”
ending the term morphs into a term of endearment.
I contest you cannot conjugate the n-word because it is firmly
embedded in the lexicon of racist language that was and still is used
to disparage African Americans. Morever, many slaveholders pronounced
the n-word with the “a’ ending, and in the 1920’s
many African Americans use the “a’ ending as a pejorative
term to denote class difference among themselves.
there ever an appropriate context to use the word?
2015 news broke when President Obama used the n-word during the
podcast interview “WFT with Marc Maron” about America’s
racial history, sending shock waves. Legal analyst Sunny Hostin said
that Obama’s use of the word was inappropriate because of his
office, and given the history of the word itself. However, New York
Times columnist Charles Blow countered Hostin’s assertion,
pointing out that Obama used the word correctly: as a teaching
the word is used appropriately as a teaching moment was Dennis Lehane
-Boston native and best seller novelist of blockbuster hits like
“Gone Baby Gone,” “Shutter Island” and
“Mystic River,” to name a few -wrong when he used the
n-word at Emerson College commencement last month? In talking about
Boston’s 1970’s bussing crisis Lehane highlighted that
white opponents of school desegregation shouted, “niggers out”
at protests. Twitter blew up attacking Lehane and he apologized
failed teaching moment was in January 2011. The kerfuffle concerning
the n-word focused on Samuel Langhorne Clemens, known as Mark Twain,
in the NewSouth Bo.ks edition of his 1885 classic, “Adventures
of Huckleberry Finn.” In the original edition of the book, the
epithet is used 219 times. In 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, Alan Gribben — editor of the NewSouth
Edition, and an English professor at Auburn University in Alabama —
replaced the n-word with the word “slave.”
2003, the NAACP convinced Merriam-Webster Lexicographers to change
the definition of the word N-word in the dictionary to no longer mean
African Americans but instead a racial slur.
controversies seem to erupt regularly into public view over this
epithet no matter who uses it. For example, in July 2008, during a
tapping break of a “Fox & Friends” news show the
Rev. Jesse Jackson used the n-word to refer to Obama.
his displeasure with how Obama appeared to be condescending towards
African Americans, a vital voting block to Obama’s campaign,
Jackson stated that Obama was “talking down to black people
... telling niggers how to behave."
Jackson and a cadre of African-American leaders conducted a mock
funeral in 2007 for the n-word at the NAACP convention in Detroit,
and Jackson encouraged the entertainment industry to ban artists
who use the n-word in their songs highlights not only the fact that
the word slipped so approvingly from his mouth but it also
illustrates its lingering power.
my opinion, our use of the n-word speaks less about our rights to
free speech and more about how we as a people- both white and black
Americans- have become anesthetized to the damaging and destructive
use of epithets. Reclaiming racist words like the n-word neither
eradicate its historical baggage nor its existing racial relations
it keeps the hate and hurt alive.