The N-word revisited

William T. Robinson, Jr.

William T. Robinson, Jr.

There are very few words that have captured as much negative attention and controversy as the ‘n’ word. This is a word that can ignite an explosive and inflammatory ‘reaction,’ but when spelled differently ending in an ‘a’ be found endearing among some young African Americans. If the public took the time to learn the usage of the word in American history, it would be understood why this world is taboo and unacceptable. It should never be used in public with the exception of educating someone as to why it is insulting, degrading and disrespectful too all African Americans.

I am amazed at how some young African Americans (especially rappers) can justify using the word—not understanding they are voluntarily contributing to their negative perception by the public, including their White counterparts. Whether users of the word realize it or not, it is a degrading word putting down and relegating African Americans to an inferior and submissive position. The appalling hatred and malice directed with the usage of the word during a volatile and dehumanizing time for African Americans in our country’s history cannot be diluted or erased. The word literally referred to African Americans as dumb, ignorant, lazy and inferior. Trust me, there were no endearing connotations associated with the word when used by our White oppressors.

Some young African Americans feel that you can take away the power of the word by using it affectionately among each other and spelling it different by replacing the ‘er’ at the end with an ‘a’. You even find some African Americans who give their blessing to their close White friends occasionally using the word socially, among other friends. They do not understand the negative consequences, because their friends do not ‘own’ the word and cannot justify its use among people who they feel are cool. Regardless of how you look at it, promoting or legitimizing the use of the word among friends doesn’t negate the sting and severity of hate associated with the word. There is no way of cleaning up this word.

However we can work to eradicate or minimize its usage. We can let it be known the word is insulting, disrespectful, and unacceptable by all people, regardless of color. This should be a given with no exceptions. Wiping out its usage should be a united effort supported by all in the African American community. The NAACP condemned its usage and symbolically buried the word nationally in Detroit, Michigan on July 9, 2007.

Unfortunately, you find many Black rappers and comedians lacking Black consciousness and self-respect, blatantly using the word in their songs and dialogue helping to encourage its use among their young supporters. Many older Blacks who grew up in an era when that word was incessantly hurled at them find themselves impatient with a younger generation that seems to feel, for the most part, using the ‘n’ word is acceptable when talking about or addressing other Blacks. Apparently they cannot identify with the severe sting and venomous impact of the word because of their lack of knowledge and experience of a more volatile time in history for African Americans.

When prominent Black entertainers, athletes, actors, rappers, and comedians with high public visibility use the word, they are doing their race a great injustice—especially to our youth who may feel it is legitimate when they see other Blacks using the word so openly. In fact, it is the opinion of many Blacks that rappers have done the most damage in promoting the usage of the word through their rap songs. It is so prevalent, in fact, that you find many Whites consider it is a double standard when they are frowned upon for using the word for whatever reason.

If students were taught the real history of this country without it being diluted or made to look as if this country was innocent in any wrongdoing, then everyone would know why this word is not to be used if possible. For the purpose of educating people who may not know the ‘n’ word uncensored is nigger or nigga. Now that you know the word, there is no reason to use the word unless you intentionally want to insult, disrespect, or provoke unrest.

Exceptions in its use may be in documentaries or movies where historic significance is warranted. If you portrayed a movie during the time of slavery the ‘n’ word would be appropriate for authenticity’s sake, although it would make some people feel very uncomfortable. Regardless of how you feel, you cannot change history. African Americans during the early part of our history in this country were for the most part referred to by the ‘n’ word, just as today we are referred to as African Americans.

We must not allow vile, discriminatory demons from our past to be intentionally used or thrown in our face questioning or mocking our intelligence, creativity and productivity as a proud and persevering race. Ignorance in using the ‘n’ word is no longer acceptable.