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Race Matters: The N-Word

August 11, 2010


“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me!”

Over the next several weeks we are going to blog on the N-word. Yes, that’s right, the N-word. It keeps baring it’s ugly head. Yet,  it is more complicated than it appears on the surface.

This July in the media, Mel Gibson is heard on tape using the N-word to his former girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva (“You look like a f***ing pig in heat, and if you get raped by a pack of n***ers, it will be your fault”). The President  of the NAACP Los Angeles gave the following statement to (who originally released the tapes):


It is unfortunate that a man of his statue and admiration, who has made his millions off of women, African-Americans and Jews harbors such racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic feeling against people who have admired and respected him for decades. An apology is insufficient given his history of racism, sexism and anti-Semitism.

And still fresh in many of our minds is the “racist tirade” made by Michael Richards on November 20, 2006, who played the character of Kramer on the hit comedy Seinfeld. In response to the seemingly playful hecklings from an African American audience member, Richards shouted: “Fifty years ago we’d have you upside down with a f***ing fork up your ass.” Riled up, he continued, “You can talk, you can talk, you’re brave now motherf**ker. Throw his ass out. He’s a n***er! He’s a n***er! He’s a n***er! A n***er, look, there’s a n***er!” The nation was up in arms with this direct targeting at an individual, prompting an outcry to stop using the word across the board.

We can all agree that something is very wrong with these references to the N-word, especially with its link to a painful past for black people. But, people are using it, especially our youth across races and ethnicities, to signal comraderie. And if this impasse seems complicated enough, we have to be mindful about other references as well. We only have to look back to January of this year, when the highly respected Sen. Harry Reid apologized for “racial” remarks he made in a private conversation about then Senator Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign. He described a successful Obama as “light-skinned…with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” While not the N-word per se, Negro was viewed as outdated and necessarily racialized. But here too African Americans have also used this word for self-reference, evidenced in the name of one of the most successful black institutions, the United Negro College Fund (UNCF).

So, what’s going on here? Its complicated and we need to go slowly.

In this post we have brought the issue to the forefront recognizing the complexities in tackling the use of this one lexical item. In the next blog post on this issue, we want to get more of a handle on who is or isn’t using it and what this means for us as a nation.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Kyle permalink
    October 17, 2010 12:23 am

    This NAACP chapter president should read the caption below the jumpropers, I think. How does he know what Gibson’s feelings are? And, even if he’s right, why give racism a loudspeaker? Of course, if Gibson’s use of ‘nigger’ evokes a link to a painful past, I don’t mean to deny that reality. But as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, if we are to create a world in which we can live together, we will need “the courage to put an end to suffering by willingly suffering [our]selves rather than inflict suffering upon others.” There are indeed larger, more important fights than these fights over words.
    Words have no ugly heads. The ugly heads are ours.

  2. December 5, 2013 5:25 pm

    What is the N-Word? I believe it is ” NONSENSE WORD”, Am I right? Words, and for that matter “abusive words” can harm the soul but not the body. If someone utters abusive words against you, one may not feel it on the body but the inner man will not be at peace with the words and the one who made the utterance. One will be disturbed psychologically.
    well, that’s somebody’s opinion. Why am I saying this? I am saying this because of the tiny caption of the article ” sticks and stones may break my leg but words will never harm me”.
    From what angle is this caption coming from? I think it is because of the utterances made by some people about others that is why that caption, well, I may be wrong, but that is what I strongly feel. I think words can be very harmful not to the body , but to the soul and the mental faculty. Whoever utters abusive or unpleasant words, and for that matter the N-Word
    especially in public, will be seen and heard in a different context all together,iI. e. as coming from a different world and not the one against whom the utterance is made per se.
    Racists including Richards should note that racism does not contribute in any way to nation building but division. For Harry Reid, it was good he apologized for the racial remarks he made against the then Senator Obama . Who knows tomorrow? Why did the majority of Americans voted for Obama? Is he a white American? Though described as “light -skinned ……with no dialect,……….”
    Is he not making it today as a black American? What is the difference between his reign and that of previous ones? I will appeal to users of the N-Word to put a stop to racism and forge ahead for the good of America.

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