Thursday, January 11, 2007

The N Is For Nigger







OK , either I am just getting too lazy to write, or some of these Inky columnist have been playing "Jedi Mind Games" with me. Because seriously, I have really been feeling some of their articles lately. Like the one below from a sister that really struck a nerve with me. Partly because I am still trying to find myself with this issue, and partly because she just flat out made some damn good points. I don't agree with everything she said, but I certainly think her piece was well thought out and well written. So here goes:

"N-word: Don't play with fire
By Annette John-Hall
Inquirer Columnist~
This country has become obsessed with the word nigger.
Everywhere I go, I hear it. Out of the mouths of blacks and whites alike. From garden-variety bigots and platinum-selling rappers. Kids on the playground. Loose-lipped politicians. Washed-up comedians. It's been heatedly debated and used as a punch line. Spewed in profanity and tossed around in love.
As the word continues to wreak havoc on our cultural consciousness, more and more African Americans are calling for its total banishment because of its enduring legacy as a racist epithet. A couple of months ago, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Congresswoman Maxine Waters urged people to stop using it, along with comedian Paul Mooney, who had once sprinkled the word liberally through his act.
Now Jet and Ebony, the venerable magazines for African Americans, have picked up the mantle. In the February issue of Ebony, editorial director Bryan Monroe, introducing a package of articles titled "Enough! Why Blacks - and Whites - Should Never Use the 'N-word' Again," writes that the word will no longer appear in his publications, except in unavoidable instances that will be subject to his approval.
(The Inquirer's policy prohibits the use of the word unless it has a "compelling journalistic purpose." Even then, it must be signed off by a top editor.)
I called my friend Bryan, who is also president of the National Association of Black Journalists, and asked him, "Why now?" After all, the controversy over the word is not new.
"It has been something we had talked about for the past few months," he said. Though it was rare for the magazine to print the word, he felt it was important that the biggest publications targeting African Americans take the lead on "such a crucial issue."
Plus, Monroe said, "When the Michael Richards incident happened [
www.youtube.com], it created all the more urgency."
Truth is, I took the word out of my vocabulary long ago. See, I'm old enough to have felt the sting of it as a racist pejorative, not as a greeting or a term of endearment, as so many younger African Americans use it today.
Even before my kids started school, my husband and I explained the word to them. We instructed them as our parents instructed us: If anybody assaulted you with that word, all bets were off.
That's why my middle-school daughter retaliated recently with a shove to the head of a white kid, who called her the name on the school bus - with malice, of course. The most troubling part of the incident, apart from my daughter's loss of innocence, is that some of the other white kids couldn't understand why she was so offended.
I do know intention means everything. Look no further than comic Michael Richards' vitriolic attack of a black heckler. It took him three seconds to go from lashing out with the n-word to making lynching references. Interestingly, the punditry afterward was focused on the n-word, not Richards' pleasure in reminding us that "50 years ago we'd have you upside down with a [expletive] fork up your [expletive]."
Such is the enduring power - and offense - of the word.
"If a white person calls me the n-word, supposedly out of some hip-hop kinship, I can't dissociate that from being called that by white kids in the suburbs of Boston when I was a child," asks Imani Perry, a 30-something professor of law at Rutgers-Camden and author of Prophets of the Hood: Politics and Poetics in Hip Hop. "It's not about rules, it is about history. We have a history of white people using the word and backing it up with violence and mistreatment."
While some young folks are trying to flip a historically horrific pejorative into an embraceable form of cultural expression, it doesn't erase its history.
Which is what the Web site
www.abolishthenword.com shows in its powerful challenge to visitors to make a personal commitment to rid themselves of the word. Its graphic and searing introduction breaks down the history of the n-word, spliced with a horrific series of photographs of black men being lynched with Strange Fruit, Billie Holiday's mournful protest dirge, in the background.
Blacks who are still debating the use of the word and whites who don't understand why they can't use it, should have a look at the site and ask themselves not just Why would you use the n-word today? but How could you ever use the n-word again?"


True confessions? As recently as a few months ago I found myself using the N word as a term of endearment with some friends of mine. No one noticed, and no one checked me. In fact, as I recall, some of my buddies used it too, and no one checked them. Now I consciously do not use the word for all the reasons articulated in this sisters post, but I still struggle with the some issues pertaining to whether it's right for black leaders to call for an out and out ban of the word. After all, I laugh just as hard as every one else when Katt Williams or some other black comedian uses it in a routine that I find funny. And as a fan of hip hop, I can honestly say that some of the tunes would not be as artistically rich without it. (That "N word) So I am feeling folks like my man Max, over at Free Slave, when he says he struggles with using the word as well, and I can only imagine how many more of us are out there.

So help me folks, I need an education on this one. Miss Annette John-Hall certainly dropped some knowledge on me, and I appreciate it. I am still not totally on board, but I am pretty damn close.
Oh, before I go, I would like to leave you with a little poem:
"Ten little nigger boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were Nine.
Nine little nigger boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were Eight.
Eight little nigger boys travelling in Devon;
One said he’d stay there and then there were Seven.
Seven little nigger boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in halves and then there were Six.
Six little nigger boys playing with a hive;
A bumble bee stung one and then there were Five.
Five little nigger boys going in for law;
One got into chancery and then there were Four.
Four little nigger boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were Three.
Three little nigger boys walking in the zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were Two.
Two little nigger boys sitting in the sun;
One got frizzled up and then there was One.
One little nigger boy left all alone;
He went and hanged himself and then there were None… "
So if we banned the word, does that mean some folks wouldn't say this little poem anymore?
Mmmmmmm.

23 comments:

asabagna said...

FN,

It is so hard for me to understand the issue/debate with the use of the n-word among Black/people of African heritage. I really don't get it. I must lack some higher level of intelligence or enlightenment. For me it's simple, so I MUST be simple-minded, for I see nothing positive about the n-word. The Bible states that "life and death is in the power of the tongue" and the n-word signifies and promotes death. Literal, intellectual, emotional and spiritual death. Not only in our history, but even today. Yeah I know some of "us" use or have used it as a term of endearment among their "peeps", (I am also guilty of this "sin" in the past) but once you know better, DO BETTER! I read a story recently where students at a Black college were calling each other "coon" as a term of endearment. COON!!!! Please show me the positivity and enlightenment in that? I just don't see it.... or maybe I refuse to see it. Please enlighten me. Sincerely.

I can only speak for myself, but I look at the poem at the end of your post and I see nothing positive or uplifting about it. Not for the characters it portrays or for the person who would even say this poem.... Black or white! It is clearly about the eradication of those of "us" of African descent. So everytime we use the n-word, we are indeed repeating the essence of that poem, giving it breath, giving it life, contributing to it's storyline. So the question for me isn't "if we banned the word, does that mean some folks wouldn't say this little poem anymore?" The question for me is why should I care about whether those "folks" will still say the poem or not!? Why should I give them a second or even an initial thought!? We need to stop empowering "folks" like those with our attention! In reality it just gives them legitimacy!

Max has stated that to me, both privately and through his blog that he has stopped using the n-word. I told him that I was proud of his EFFORT, more so than not "uttering that word". I am proud of any effort to change a bad habit, especially a self-destructive one, whether it's smoking or perpetuating self-hate.

As a people we shouldn't have to contemplate, call for or impose a "ban on the n-word. For me there is no ambivalence. No issue. No debate.

JUST STOP USING THAT WORD!

Blessings.
Asa.

aulelia said...

i agree with asabagna - it is a self-destructive habit. it is a word that doesn't highlight the positive side of our race. we should leave it in the past when it was used to degrade us. i have stopped using it when i realised it didn't make me happy and confused me about race.

the meaning of certain words may change over time but i don't believe the 'N' word is one of them. Here is something i found out a few days ago. Bristol, my town in England, had flyers all around the city centre commerating the 200 year anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade with a poster of olaudah equiano. i can't imagine what it was like living in those times in europe or the USA when 'nigger' was probably as frequently used as 'hello'. maybe white people saw the word as part of the fabric of a black persons's identity but regardless, it was used to highlight and keep black people as 2nd class citizens - classism in its' concentrated form.

we have come so far, the only spanner in the works is that word.

Tasha said...

I agree with both comments above. The N-word really doesn't add anything positive to our vernacular. I wouldn't go so far as to abolish it from the dictionary, but let it be reserved for historical use or arcane references only.

Aulelia is correct about the n-word not changing meaning over time. Everytime the word is said, we may understand the intended meaning, but the underlying meaning may not be stated but implied.

field said...

You all make some good points,and I have heard the other side of the argument too-although not articulated as well-That by constantly using it-the N word-we take away its sting.

Not sure if I am buying into that. Because somehow I think that those who use it to try to degrade and belittle us,could care less about why we use it. And as long as the word is out there, they will drop it. At least when we are not around.

Prodigy-Maestro said...

I enjoy reading your blog. . .

I first must say, enough of this "ban the n-word" and "abolish the n-word" crap. You CAN'T abolish words. This is America, we don't abolish words. And also, how else do you educate people of the word if it's abolished? I feel that we should urge one another not to use the term, but abolishing a word conceptually is foolish to attempt.

As for the 'n-word' itself, I can't stand to hear because I think of painful memories upon hearing it, not brotherhood or unity or compassion. No matter it's spelling, I always think of great suffering, that makes me, at the end of the day, want to cry.

www.blacksalvage.blogspot.com

Maxjulian said...

The ban thing is wack, however, it is the commitment to a higher spiritual practice that ultimately appealed to me.

I had to do it cold turkey. I felt like Miles kickin' heroin at the family farm. Sweatin' and shakin', Asa peekin' in to make sure I clean/hadn't offed myself. Finally, I kicked. I ain't tryin' ta go back.

What has been interesting is that my outlook has subtly altered by not using that word. I feel cleaner or something. And I wouldn't have known it if I hadn't gone on the wagon.

Bottomline: I thought it was hip to say that shit, but in the end I'm not trying to be hip, I'm trying to be real.

And I think I can get by without saying that word, Ms. Lewinsky!

The Angry Independent said...

Ahhh...

I wish I had known you were on the fence on this one. I have made a few blog entries on this myself.

Why are you on the fence?

I don't necessarily agree with the concept of a "ban" as in forbidding.... And I don't think the call for the ban literally means banishment as such. Forbidding you from using it is not what they literally mean. What they are trying to do is get people thinking about the issue and stop using the word... They understand that it has to be an individual choice. They want to erase this poison from the Consciousness of the so called Black community as some term of endearment.

It is an embarrassment for our people, both domestically and internationally, for non-Blacks to see Black folks using this term. Have you heard Oprah tell the story about her experience with the N-word during a trip to Africa a few years ago? It was a little scary to me.... But it provided a glimpse of how people in other countries (even Africans) view African American culture. Often the image of Black rap culture is the only image or is the primary image that represents us to the world.

I personally can't stand the word, don't use the word, etc. And I don't listen to any music from artists who use the word. I don't listen to rap music at all anyway....so that cuts out about 90% of that problem.

This word has a significant historic context- A context that the current generation of young folks (those who use the word most often) has no conception of. Based on this historic context and based on the definition of the word, I don't see how it should be or could be used as a title representing love or respect.

I wonder what Emmett Till would have thought about the use of this word today if he had somehow survived his ordeal.

This stems from a number of things falling into place at one time:

1. Black media being non-existent.... BET- the Black Exploitation Television Network- has failed the black community. Without a positive media that Blacks can call their own....a media (like TVOne) that educates the people on their history, then Blacks have no way to build any context in their own minds about why it is not cool to use the term.
We know the mainstream media is not going to tell the Black story. So without a positive, uplifting, enlightening Black media, the story of our history really doesn't get told 11 months out of the year.... and you only get half the story in February.

2. The lack of good school systems for one thing.....but within these systems, good education about Black history is not provided like it should be. The less knowledge of self that these young folks have....the easier it is for them to denegrate their own kind, their own culture, etc.....and to bring down their own community.
A lot of folks believe that Black history & Black culture = MLK, and Rap music.....gangs, crime, violence, etc. It's just like women with low self esteem who allow abuse, don't care much for themselves, etc..... it's the same thing with the Black Community.... just on a much larger scale.

3. The thug culture becoming accepted as mainstream Black culture. Some of these so-called Black leaders are guilty of contributing to this madness because they have been embracing it instead of challenging it. And black singers, entertainers, rappers, have basically spread this stuff to the masses.

This is why I have eliminated most Black entertainment from my daily routine.... Black radio stations, Black singers/entertainers (mostly under the age of 30-35). That generation (for the most part) makes me cringe.

4. Lack of access to economic and educational opportunities.

5. The failure of parents to provide good guidance, to educate their children about their history and to explain why that kind of language should not be used. The lack of parenting in general....as Cosby has been saying.

All of these things combined has led to a mostly degenerate Black culture that accepts words like Nigger, and accepts the jail system as simply a right of passage...etc... it's all part of the same pot of nonsense that has led to the overall cultural downturn in the Black community over the last several years.

plez... said...

Field,

From now on, everytime you use the n-word, drop a $20 bill in an envelope and mail the envelope to me at the end of each week. I'm sure that after you've sent me $200 to $300, you'll abolish the n-word from your vocabulary! I'll provide you with my home address in a separate post... and understand, I am more than happy to provide this service if you have any other bad habits that you'd like to get rid of.

Abolish the N-word!

plez...

field said...

OK you all got me; and seriously, reading some of your posts I realize that there is hope for our race yet!

But I think some of you misunderstood what I was saying. I have pretty much stopped using the word (So no $ for you Plez) but I guess my issue with the whole ban the N word movement is that it's somehwat unrealistic, and we should not be calling for a ban on it or any other word.

After all, if a white person is going to write or use the word, I want to know who he or she is. Let them be free to use it and expose themselves, so that I can know what they REALLY think about me.
Trust me, calling for a ban on the word will only add fuel to the racists fire.

And I know Angry Ind. does not like hip hop, but I do. And I think if used in a totally artistic sense-say in a movie or in certain songs-it's OK to use the word. But only to make an artistic point.

So I guess I am there with you guys in terms of not using the word on a personal tip, but I am not with you when you call for an out and out ban of it.

Still, I enjoyed the education, and the dialogue.

Damn I love my peeps!

Liz said...

Field Negro, thank you for your honesty in admitting you struggle with this. We all have our struggles, with this word or with something else we shouldn't be saying. I ask you though, is the word really artistically necessary? If so, does artistic necessity outweigh the collective debt we owe to our ancestors? Immediately, I think of a time several years ago I was walking on a college campus with a friend of mine and had the misfortune of strolling by a group of young white boys who started saying the chorus to Jay-Z's "Jigga My N*%%a" right at the moment we started walking by them. What could we do? How could we possibly be offended when they could claim they were just reciting the lyrics of a song. It made me think about the dozens of parties packed full of black folks I'd been to where everyone would chant the chorus of that song out loud. It really made me think about how easily we are all misled by a catchy song hook and a rhythmic drum beat. At that moment on that college campus, I felt like I was witnessing pure evil. In the song, the n-word seemed so smooth, appealing, cool, hip and cosmopolitan, all the things our egos desire...and the record company executives laugh all the way to the bank over our basest desires. I could say that using the word is like a married man having a porn addiction. Those pictures sure look good to him, but his wife is crying in the corner. Likewise, the n-word sure may sound good in the song, but our collective conscious awaits the revelation that the emperor has no clothes.

field negro said...

OK so now liz checks me on my artistic excuse as well. (Hey I am trying) I guess I am like that junkie who makes every excuse in the book to get high.

So liz you made a good point with your personal experience, and now I have to reconsider my position on even certain artists using the word as well.

I still don't think we can ban the word, but I guess it would help if WE stopped using it.Because if we put it out there, everyone else will grab it.

remorji said...

Field, I think black people have bigger problems than this word. True it hurts and stings to hear someone say it. But what really hurts is blacks killing blacks. HIV, Black men in prison...

konagod said...

I'm sorta in the Field camp on this one... and I love what remorji said.

Words in and of themselves are meaningless. It's how we perceive them, how we use them, and the intent behind them that makes things interesting.

I was not around in the 1950s but I suspect the usage of the word was about as close to 100% hateful as it could get.

These days, with rap and all, I'd like to think the hate usage is down under 10%. Certainly, huge numbers of people of any race will be offended by the term, however it's used, and most of that is a reflection of people's personal experiences, dealing with hate and prejudice while growing up, etc.

But I don't believe in banning the word, or any other words. That would just drive its usage underground again which serves no ones interests. Personally, I'd rather know who hates me via their speech than to not know because they keep it in the confines of their homes and in their cliques of hate.

The word had an edge. It cuts into the soul. It serves as a reminder of just how ugly our society was, and among some groups, remains. Some people wield it like a sword. Any word with that kind of power absolutely has some artistic merit.

Those of us who are so offended by it can choose to limit our exposure by refusing to listen to rap, or various black comedy acts. But the word probably isn't going to go away -- banned or not. So we have to determine for ourselves what is acceptable or not acceptable in terms of usage. And it's OK to voice your displeasure if you object to someone using the term in your presence.

My partner was highly offended by a co-worker using the expression "that's so gay." What made it most offensive was the fact that the guy was using it almost generically, without thought to the meaning behind it or from whence it originated. We don't even have a problem with the words queer and faggot if they are used in a way that does not convey either hate or ignorance.

For me personally, putting some thought into why I say something makes a world of difference than just spewing the N-word because it sounds cool, and because the rappers do it.

Anyway, that's my 2-cents worth from a cracker. :lol:

Peace,

Exodus Mentality said...

This is one of the few places where there actually appears to be reasoned discussion about the N-word. In that spirit, I will refrain from it's use out of respect for those who might take offense. For the record, I see no reason to focus even a fraction of the energy that is being focused on that word. I consider it an useless and potentially damaging distraction from the real work that needs to be done. Rather like treating a stomach ache while the patient dies from prostate cancer, or like putting a band-aid on a bullet wound. It also reeks of a simple and fundamental misunderstanding of what all this is really all about. Racism is so much bigger than a word.

Most reasonable people admit that intent is the key element to the use of that word or any other. As I wrote on my blog, Exodus Mentality(http://exodusmentality.blogspot.com/2006/11/response.html), "No one needs any particular word(s) to reinforce racism. Any word or no word at all will do. Every word that has ever been used to refer to non-white people has also been used to denigrate them. When those words aren't enough, they will invent or co-opt words that have other meanings. Has anyone ever called you a Black bastard? Bastard wasn't bad enough, they had to denigrate your racial heritage as well. It wouldn't matter if they called you a Nigger bastard, a African bastard, a Darky bastard, or a Spade bastard. They have an intrinsic antipathy towards your racial heritage."

I consider it disingenous to theorize that any use of the N-word serves to embolden racists. That's like saying U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would embolden terrorists. Or saying that women wearing revealing clothing emboldens a rapist. These are all "blame the victim" disinformation tactics, designed to confuse the central issue, the wrong being done.

If history is to be the criteria for abolishing this or that, I vote we abolish America. The history of America should give every person of African descent constant nightmares. We should be mightily offended that America has been allowed to retain any respect in the world after it's legacy of violence towards the African diaspora. I am so much more offended by well intentioned white folks who suggest we pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps (after stealing our boots to begin with), than I have ever been about one of my acquaintances greeting me with a fondly delivered N-word.

It's also not fair to presume that the word is only being used by thugs, and intellectual midgets. Just because you believe in something doesn't mean that people who don't agree with you are ignorant. I happen to be an expremely intelligent and intellectual person even though I don't agree that the N-word is worthy of all this attention. I consider the comedy sketch where Chris Rock states "I love me some Black folks, but I can't stand them Niggers" to be pure genious. For all you supporters of the ultimately impossible task of abolishing the N-word, if it's necessary to denigrate the individuals who disagree with you, rather than focusing the positions they advocate, this is a sign of an inherent weakness in your arguement.

It is ultimately impossible to remove a word from the human lexicon. There will always be someone for whom that word will be their choice to communicate their point. All this effort on an impossible dream, and one that would bear no fruit even if it was achieved. We've got to start looking at our problems from a different perspective; and initiating a deeper inquiry. The cosmetic cure-alls have never worked. Perhaps we could focus less on the words used to communicate, and more on the message being sent and our response to that message.

Exodus Mentality said...

I am also an "extremely" poor typist, but a "genius" in my own right. :)

konagod said...

I am an extremely poor reader sometimes so I didn't even catch it. Very nice comment though.

field negro said...

EM and konagod, thank you for your contribution to this discussion. Posts like yours makes me proud of this whole blogging thing. EM, I found your points particularly compelling, but from a personal perspective, I think I will try to remove the word from MY vocabulary. However, as I stated before, I do not think it should be banned from our lexicon,if only because, IMHO, it has artistic relevance which cannot be ignored.

WhiteandProud said...

"nigger" is just a word. It has no special power. You negroes are always looking for something and someone to blame. I have a novel idea...take responsibility for your own actions and conditions. If you don't want to be treated like niggers, don't act like niggers.

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Swann The Don said...

I am DJ Swann, I. I am the leader of THE STOP USING THE N WORD ! movement. As I am sure you are aware, using the N word is a problem in our communities. Moreover, our youth are allowing people of other persuasions to use this epitaph in their regard. I implore you to assist me in my endeavor to eradicate this specific vernacular from our vocabulary. I have started a petition, Stop Using The N Word !, on www.Change.org , I created an album, Stop Using The N Word !, which is available on iTunes and Amazon.com and I made a cloud. In the cloud below you will find some solutions and information on how to access a ground breaking, youth friendly video.

Please, sign the petition, support the movement, share this information and make sure that everyone you know watches the video. Remember, each one teach one and it takes a village to raise a child.


Thank you,

DJ Swann, I

http://soundcloud.com/darren-jackson-swann/sets/stop-using-the-n-word

Swann The Don said...

I am DJ Swann, I. I am the leader of THE STOP USING THE N WORD ! movement. As I am sure you are aware, using the N word is a problem in our communities. Moreover, our youth are allowing people of other persuasions to use this epitaph in their regard. I implore you to assist me in my endeavor to eradicate this specific vernacular from our vocabulary. I have started a petition, Stop Using The N Word !, on www.Change.org , I created an album, Stop Using The N Word !, which is available on iTunes and Amazon.com and I made a cloud. In the cloud below you will find some solutions and information on how to access a ground breaking, youth friendly video.

Please, sign the petition, support the movement, share this information and make sure that everyone you know watches the video. Remember, each one teach one and it takes a village to raise a child.


Thank you,

DJ Swann, I

http://soundcloud.com/darren-jackson-swann/sets/stop-using-the-n-word