A word as old as the slave trade has been in the news recently. Notorious N-bomb dropper Paul Mooney has sworn to never say it again, but Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Bernie Mac, DL Hughley et al have remained oddly mute on the subject.
On Sunday, Damon Wayans got fined $20 per n-word and was banned from the Laugh Factory for three months for repeated use of the word. News Radio disappointment Andy Dick just got some apparently much needed press by using the offensive slur.
Yesterday I read this interesting Slate.com article by Christopher Hitchens that tackled the negative effects of banning the “n-word.” It’s definitely worth a read for people who fall into the “the word should be banned” camp. It seems that we can go too far in our zeal to appear PC – the director of D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams’s constituent services office was forced to resign after using the word “niggardly” in a sentence, which is just absolutely ridiculous in my opinion. He didn’t use the word to call someone a name, or scream it over and over again as Michael Richards did.
Having said that, I find it amusing that the negative words that refer to selfishness are always a form of ethnic slur – being “niggardly” is being cheap or unwilling to share, if someone tries to financially screw you over, the words “jew” and “gyp” come into play. The recent controversy of the “n word” reminds me of that South Park episode where they say “shit” over 100 times, and it is revealed that the word itself is cursed, and that saying it too often will mean the destruction of society. For a while, I think comedians like Dave Chappelle had lampooned it so effectively that the word had been robbed of its power. Apparently not.
In the recent episode of Iconoclasts, Maya Angelou addressed the issue, and Dave remonstrated gently, but ultimately deferred to the older, wiser poet.
Like it or not, the word isn’t going anywhere. Just like racism. African-Americans have adopted it as a greeting of camraderie, and it’s in like 80% of all hip-hop songs released in the past decade. I realized recently, when listening to Jay-Z’s “Brush Your Shoulders Off,” it wouldn’t make a huge difference if the word was replaced with another. The song would still be a club-banger if Hova decided to never use it again. But that simply isn’t going to happen, not in America, and not in my country.
I got to thinking about the N word in Trinidadian culture after reading one of the most beautifully written, poignant blog posts I’ve ever read, written by my high-schoolmate, journalist and activist Attilah Springer. Seriously, you all should read it. Let her words sink in.
In the post she eloquently describes the difficulty of being a dark skinned woman in today’s cruel world: “I am that unacceptable shade of black. My hair that unrelaxed nappiness of defiance.Because of the way I look, I am always one step from becoming the vagrant girl in St. James. Always one step from the gutter. Always a target for men to spit their contempt and venom.” This came after a series of emotionally wrenching exchanges and events, one of which took place in a taxi. The driver spewed the same phrases I have heard my whole life, “Nigger feel like you doing them a favor.”
If your skin is of a certain shade but your hair remains coarse, Trinis call you a “red nigger.” If your behaviour is gauche, embarrassing, and crude, you’re called an “old nigger.” (here, I’ll use it in a sentence. “He was carrying on like one old nigger. A fus I was shame.”) The tiredness that occurrs after a heavy meal is called “niggeritis.” The word bubbles into Trinidadian conversation unbidden and too often, with nary a thought as to its history or effect. Here in America it’s being debated and written about, and people seek to have it banned. But it ain’t going nowhere.
So what are intelligent black people to do?
Whenever my friends or family members use it, I generally give them the people’s eyebrow and keep it moving. I have American friends who have used it affectionately with me, but I never respond in kind. (notably, none of these friends are black. Although some of them might wish they were). I could be that person who goes on a diatribe whenever they get offended, but often that person doesn’t get listened to. I prefer to lead by example.
I personally never use the word, unless quoting what someone else has said. Even then, the word feels foreign and wrong coming out of my mouth.
Attilah’s words made me cry, but her writing made me feel uplifted. Even though hatred exists, and the saying “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me” isn’t necessarily true, at least people are thinking and questioning the use of this ancient ethnic slur.
I already said that I am not a mutt, and it goes without saying that I am nobody’s nigger, nigga, or however you want to spell it. What I am, is young, gifted, and black. I think we’ve moved so far as a society from the Civil Rights movement and the freedoms our ancestors fought for, that we have lost sight of who we are and what we deserve to be called. So here. Listen, remember.
I’m interested in hearing your views on the “n word.” How does it make you feel when people say it? Does it bother you, or not? Do you use it yourself? Do you think it should be banned? I know we’ve come a long way, but damn – how much further do we all need to go?
On a totally unrelated note, I’m going on vacation, bellas – I’ll be out till Monday. I will try to do a post while soaking up the Californian hospitality, but it might not happen. If it doesn’t, have a wonderful weekend and I’ll be back in full force on Tuesday with new product reviews and a belated Afrobella of the Week!
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