N is for the N-word

“Regardless of the user, the N-word is still doing the exact job it was intended to do in the 1700s. Hell, it’s doing a better job.”

I don’t like it: the N-word. I know I mentioned this topic about four years ago, but it’s still true. No, it isn’t that I want it banned from historical literature, but it still makes me quite uncomfortable.

I hear some white folks complain, “I hear black people say it. Why can’t I?” It’s as though they feel they are being discriminated against or somehow deprived. There’s a great cartoon that takes that argument apart. I was also taken by this article about hipster racism: “ideas, speech, and action meant to denigrate another’s person race or ethnicity under the guise of being urbane, witty (meaning ‘ironic’ nowadays), educated, liberal, and/or trendy;” I call BS on that “post-racial” so-called humor.

At the same time, the word is STILL being used as the bigoted term it is, such as this shining example, or this one. (I won’t even mention Rush Limbaugh.)

For the record, I don’t use slurs of various white groups, even though I’ve heard people of certain ethnicities self-describe with slurs.

Now, I also don’t like the N-word coming from black people, either. Jaquandor linked to this article by sports columnist Jason Whitlock from a couple months ago, and it really spoke to me:

“The people at the top of the rap music food chain … know the dishonesty and the illogic that fuels the popular sentiment within commercial rap music industry that states the embrace of the N-word is harmless because young people have redefined it and erased its dehumanizing power…

“You don’t change something built to destroy you into something that uplifts you. It’s the equivalent of thinking the slop/food fed to slaves can be transformed into raw fruits and vegetables…

“As long as we keep cooking and serving up the N-word to each other, we’re going to remain mentally comfortable hunting and executing each other like animals and throwing on baseball caps supporting the killers.

“Regardless of the user, the N-word is still doing the exact job it was intended to do in the 1700s. Hell, it’s doing a better job.” That also addresses WHY don’t I like the N-word.

Even more poignantly, recent inductee into the pro football Hall of Fame Cris Carter commented about a current white football player who had used the term: “He does not know how many people in my race [for which] that was the last word they heard before they died.”

No, I don’t like the N-word, and NONE of the rationales for its current use are at all persuasive.


ABC Wednesday – Round 13

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

31 thoughts on “N is for the N-word”

  1. How do you ban a word in America? The plain fact is that if you tell someone to not say something, then they will want to say it.

    And BTW, way back in the 1970s anybody could use the N Word if it was used in a self-conscious ironic manner. A big example, John Lennon’s “Woman Is The N—— Of The World.” Somehow in the 1980s we moved from that to an outright ban that can get you arrested. How exactly did that happen? Someone needs to study that and chronicle that process, maybe then we can see where all this is going.

  2. And I didn’t support a ban, although there are those who would redact it from literature/. Yes in the late ’60s and early ’70s, it was used by Randy Newman, Sly & the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, but to make a point, noty this lazy current usage.

  3. That word, as offensive as it is, unfortunately is part of our heritage and I don’t support redacting it from literature either. It serves as a reminder of an era we don’t want to return to, and could just as easily be used to educate rather than destroy. I also have issues with other racially derogatory terms like “cracker.”

  4. I’m thinking that sexually ambiguous drug addict and draft dodger Rush Limbaugh may be partly responsible. Starting in the late 1980s when that smirking boy was a media star, he loudly declared “It’s okay to be racist.” All the white racists who up until then had been ashamedly sulking in the closet suddenly felt they were given permission to declare their racism and use the N Word.

    As a working class white guy I was hyper-aware of this development. Over and over again these dittoheads would walk up to me and say something stupidly racist which usually included the N Word. I would automatically frown, which revealed that I was not a fellow dittohead, and before I could say anything the dittohead would stick his or her face close to mine in a threatening manner and declare, with a snarly face, “What’s the matter, am I not being politically correct?” After that they would declare that I was a “Liberal,” as if that was an insult. Over the course of several years this may have happened to me a hundred times. I kid you not. This is why I detest dittoheads and their imitators the teabaggers.

    Is Limbaugh largely responsible for effectively ghettoizing the N Word? Or is that too simplistic an explanation?

  5. A NEEDED reminder. For better or for worse, I wasn’t sure what the “N-word” was until reading down a bit. Truth is no group wants to hear racial slurs about them nor should they EVER be made. And if we would just remember that it might help everyone. The world would be a much better place if we saw different looking, differently cultured people as just people!

  6. Because that word is used in some literature, including literature that, if not for the use of that word, I could have used to teach my fourth graders, my students missed out on some great stories. It’s so easy to slide into language that sounds “cool,” but I felt these kids were too young to understand the ramifications of the use of this word and might have started to use it. I’ve never understood the racism in the USA although I know its history. We here in Canada are just starting to recognize it here because of Trudeau’s multiculturalism legacy. There’s no melting pot here because immigrants stick to their own kind in their own “neighbourhoods” and don’t even bother to learn the language. In some areas, native Canadians can’t even read the signs on stores anymore and are in the minority. All races can be racist against another race and use derogatory words towards others. I’m ashamed to say that even my poor departed mother was a racist and used slurs towards others. *sigh*

  7. Please remember, a word is just a sound coming out of our mouths. It’s not the word, it’s the meanings that we attach to it that are important. What interests me here is how the attached meanings have changed (evolved?) for this particular sound in the course of my own lifetime. So when all the old Baby Boomers are dead and the Millenials are in their fifties and sixties, what will the N Word mean for them? And if it becomes less offensive because of shifting meanings, what equally horrible offensive slur will replace it?

  8. Well, I don’t think it’s changed as much as other words. I see these Confederate flag-waving folk using it, and they aren’t boomers.

  9. I don’t hear the N word from friends or family here in Canada.. I think perhaps there is not the history of racism behind it here that there is in the US, – however, I do hear offensive terms to describe people from other provinces in Canada, – not usually said in a derogatory and hateful manner, but still revealing a condescending attitude.

  10. Absolutely Roger, the racist idiots still use it, but in what appears to me a less casual but more aggressive manner, like they are defying authority or something like that. That’s much different than the casual usage I heard from the adults when I was a kid. Meanwhile, I’ve seen the word diversify, for example as an intimate greeting inside a clique of white kids. And of course the word is quite prominent in popular music (I just heard a car go by spilling the word, along with the F-Bomb) which is bound to encourage diversification of the meaning.

    I’m not advocating use of the word and I sure don’t use it, I’m just sayin’ you can’t legislate it away and it’s gonna keep getting used. So with that in mind, how do we go about neutralizing the power of the word? Assuming, of course, that we need to.

  11. It’s just a really rude word and its use is part of a really rude culture. B**** is also taken as ironically funny, too, and sexism and sexual violence are hardly over.

    I have to agree with Van Riper on this one: you can’t do a darn thing about it. It’s to get attention, so addressing it makes it worse.

    This is a generation that grew up on shock news. The warm, fuzzy stories about soup kitchens and donating to the poor are considered “soft” and “fluff,” but stories about twerking get clicks, so those get covered.

    If kindness gets no attention and crudeness and cruelty get a lot of attention, what do you suppose will thrive?

  12. NYE (and DVR) – the blog post did not aspire to be curative. It WAS meant as a declaration to people, some who I know personally, that YOU might think it’s a cool, post-racial term but that I do not. And I agree about the B word, which I do not use for humans.

  13. Roger- The N Word is not cool, and I have no idea what “post-racial” means. But I do say that outlawing the word can only have the opposite effect than intended, and outlawing it certainly will not make any of the meanings attached to it go away. That’s all.

  14. I never said to outlaw it. I said I DON”T LIKE IT, and DON’T try to convince ME it’s OK (which people have tried to do).

  15. Canada in the 1950s was far from perfect but if my brother and sister and I had ever used that word to refer to people, we would have had our mouths washed out with soap. My father believed in racial equality, good manners, and kindness. He also believed that if we stopped mentioning racial or cultural differences, the world would some day stop recognizing those differences. He was an optimist, true, because his prediction hasn’t come about yet, but who’s to say he was wrong? If we do stop mentioning differences, perhaps the lines will blur, and some day disappear, as Dad hoped. It just hasn’t happened yet.
    K

  16. I don’t like the N word either, nor any other insulting word. It shows only that the person who uses these words has no respect for himself and consequently for his fellow human beings either. Love your neighbour as your self… Love yourself as your neighbour…..

  17. I’m still reeling from the Red Lobster story. I wish the world had more people like Kay’s father instead of the people like this full of hate.

  18. I’m sorry to hear you’re around a-holes. You shouldn’t ever need to justify yourself if something makes you genuinely uncomfortable, particularly something as impolite and cruel as this.

  19. I recently read Chimananda’s Adichie’s book Americanah and it so resonated with your post. I’m totally with you on this. The word is offensive and racist.

  20. I am sad to see any word used to degrade others. As a child I was forbidden to call others such names as idiot or retard. It hit too close to home, and as my brother was severely autistic it was never tolerated by either of my parents. Thankfully, the N-word has never been a part of my vocabulary either.

  21. I never have seen this sign and I don’t know what the N-word means, I can only guess that it concerns racists, and to me these people are just stupid and ignorant, even if they had been to university !

  22. Don’t like the N word — never used it. Don’t like a lot of things I read on T shirts either. They are offensive to me but I have to see them and hear them like it or not. Where does their freedom of speech end and my right to be free from such offenses begin? I wonder if the people who scream O-M-G realize how offensive that is to me and to many others. But this discussion just mires us in the whole debate about freedom and rights and values. I just don’t see any solution to that debate without changing the whole nature of mankind.
    I’m with you, Roger.

  23. A little late (doing some blog-reading catching up) to this “party”, if that’s the right word. I have no idea how to make that word go away, other than to just…well, let linguistic natural selection work its magic, even though that can take decades or even centuries. I don’t know.

    By the way, I followed the link to the Daily Kos cartoon…and then I google’d the incident mentioned in the last panel…and there goes a little bit more of my faith in humanity. I remember years ago, when I was in restaurant manager, I attended a meeting with a district manager, a kind of informal “ask questions” type of meeting, and the question came up: “How do we handle of a racist white customer refuses to be served by a black server?” Our DM — who was usually on the side of “do what you need to do to make the customer happy” — drew a VERY sharp line here. He specifically said that in a situation like that, we were free to say, “This is your server, he/she is perfectly competent and good at his/her job, and you are free to make your decision whether to eat here accordingly.” HE would have told the white customer to bugger off. Unbelievable.

  24. Just two points: The N, B, F (as in gay) and C (as in woman) words are all ugly. They even sound ugly.

    Second, when the producers (mostly white) of rappers start encouraging the elevation of that art form to higher ground – social justice, respect for women and for each other – we may see some progress in our youth culture,

    As it stands, my mom said it best, when I was a kid: “Always remember, you’re a white girl from the suburbs with a good education. Never take it for granted, and never judge anyone else based upon what they don’t have. You are lucky in America, and you have to make sure others get their due.” She made me an activist. Thanks for this, Roger. Amy

  25. Amy – for the record, I HATE the C-word as much as the N-word. It’s almost always used with disdain toward women.

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