Johns is the latest to use the n-word and then apologize. Because
John Schnatter known as Papa John blurted out the n-word during a
crisis communication training session over the phone- and not in the
face of an African American- he argues his use of the word doesn’t
constitute as a “slur.”
wasn't a slur. It was a social strategy and media planning and
training and I repeated something that somebody else said and said,
‘we’re not going to say that…”
John will no longer be the public face of the pizza franchise.
is some talk now that in this political climate the use of the n-word
needs to be reexamined. Perhaps we should.
who defend the n-word
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” African
Americans, “It’s also been used as a term of endearment
and a gesture of solidarity.”
2011 it was disclosed that at the entrance of former governor Rick
Perry’s hunting camp is a rock painted in block letters with
the word “Niggerhead.” When Perry ran for re-election in
2010 for the governorship, no one knew of the rock that sits on a
secluded 1072-acre property in the West Texas town of Paint Creek.
For decades Rick Perry’s hunting camp hosted fellow lawmakers,
friends, and supporters.
discussing the offensive racial moniker of Perry’s property,
talk show host Barbara Walters of the “View" used the
n-word, sparking a debate with her then-co-host Sherri Shepherd.
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 in
Black and White comedians never get the laughs they were going for
send-off at the 2016 White House correspondents’ dinner ended
with the n-word.
Wilmore, comedian, and then-host of Comedy Central’s “The
Nightly Show,” in his closing remarks thanked Obama for his
tenure as president, and the mark he made in the world said “…to
live in your time, Mr. President, when a black man can lead the
entire free world. Words alone do me no justice. So, Mr. President,
if I’m going to keep it 100: Yo, Barry, you did it, my n—-.
You did it.” And, at that moment you heard audible gasps and
saw visible grimaces of shock, pain, and embarrassment.
December 2006, Michael Richards, who played the lovable and goofy
character Kramer on the TV sit-com “Seinfeld” used the
n-word. The racist rant was an n-word tirade aimed at hecklers in the
audience that night at the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood. The
tirade was aired nationwide and shocked not only his fans, but it
also shook Americans back to an ugly era in U.S. history and derailed
when the word slips from the mouths of race-conscious allies such as
Bill Maher last year– the comedian and political commentator on
HBO talk show “Real Time with Bill Maher” – a lot
of shock and hurt was felt. Guest U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska
invited Maher to visit Nebraska and “work in the fields with
us.” Maher mockingly declined: “Work in the fields? …
I am a house nigger.”
trip up in using the n-word
2015, President Barack Obama used the word on the podcast “WTF
with Marc Maron” during an interview about America’s
racial history – creating shock waves. Legal analyst Sunny
Hostin said Obama’s use of the word was inappropriate because
of his office and the history of the word itself. New York Times
columnist Charles Blow countered Hostin’s assertion, saying
Obama used the word correctly: as a teaching moment.
the word is used appropriately as a teaching moment, was Dennis
Lehane – Boston native and best-selling novelist of “Gone
Baby Gone,” “Shutter Island” and “Mystic
River,” to name a few –wrong when he used the word at
Emerson College’s commencement last year? In talking about
Boston’s 1970s busing crisis, Lehane highlighted how 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 focused on
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, known as Mark Twain, in the NewSouth Books
edition of his 1885 classic, “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
In the original edition, the epithet is used 219 times. In an effort
to rekindle interest in the Twain classic while tamping down the
flame and fury the use of the word engenders, Alan Gribben –
editor of the edition and an English professor at Auburn University
in Alabama – replaced the word with “slave.”
in 1998, a national controversy ensued over the April headline in the
Boston Magazine profile of Henry Louis “Skip” Gates as
the recent “Head Negro In Charge” of the black
intellectual enterprise in this country. The appellation was intended
to be a compliment, but the controversy once again opened a dialogue
about the n-word.
title “Head Negro In Charge” where the “N”
doesn’t stand for “Negro,” but instead the other
N-word. And, in common parlance among African Americans, it’s
referred to by its initials “HNIC.” The appellation
derives from an abuse of power where a white slave owner chose a
field slave as his overseer to maintain his relations of racial and
labor exploitations. In keeping his fellow enslaved laborers in their
place, the overseer was held in place, too, because his survival was
dependent on executing the demands of his master. Today, the term in
black vernacular still conveys and maintains the same power
inequities where the white establishment chooses one African American
as a spokesperson and gatekeeper for other blacks.
there a double standard here?
after Maher dropped the word, many on Twitter chimed in to defend
him, saying he used a modified version, meaning it ended in an “a”
rather than an “r” – and that this morphs the term
into an endearment. I contend that you cannot conjugate the word,
because it is firmly embedded in the lexicon of racist language that
was and still is used to disparage African Americans. Many
slaveholders pronounced the word with the “a” ending, and
in the 1920s many African Americans used the “a” version
as a pejorative denoting class difference.
year, Martha Stewart dropped the N-bomb during a taping of “Martha
and Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party.” Stewart, still a
neophyte to hip-hop culture, asked during a filming with Lil Yachty
on the show, that was reported to be - both maternal and clueless -
and with no mal-intent, “Yachty, does it upset you when Snoop
says ‘nigga shit?’”
confusion, however, 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.
African-Americans, and not just the hip-hop generation, say that
reclaiming the n-word serves as an act of group agency and as a form
of resistance against the dominant culture’s use of it. In
other words, only they have a license to use it. However, the 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.
to end use of the n-word
fact that African Americans have appropriated the n-word does not
negate our long history of internalized self-hatred. Our culture’s
neo-revisionist use of the n-word makes it even harder to purge the
sting of the word from the American psyche.
is a representation of culture. Language reinscribes and perpetuates
ideas and assumptions about race, gender, and sexual orientation that
we consciously and unconsciously articulate in our everyday
conversations about ourselves and the rest of the world, and
consequently transmit generationally. My enslaved ancestors knew that
their liberation was not only rooted in their acts of social
protests, but also in their use of language, which is why they used
the liberation narrative of the Exodus story in the Old Testament as
their talking-book. The Exodus story was used to rebuke systemic
oppression, racist themes, and negative images of themselves.
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.
Many activists argue that Michaels Richards and others like him
should do volunteer work in a predominately African American
community anywhere in the county. However, others claim they would
find there too that many African Americans keep the n-word alive.
What would work for them and many in my community is a history
lesson, because reclaiming racist words like the n-word does not
eradicate its historical baggage and its existing fraught racial
relations among us.
it keeps the hate and hurt alive. John Schnatter a.ka. Papa Johns
just proved it.