Signs of the Times - How Do You Stand on The 'N' Word?
March 2004
Issues in Black and White: How Do You Stand on The 'N' Word?
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'Once each month, THE TRIBUNE will ask two writers, one white, the other African American, to respond to a question about contemporary life. This month's question:

What do you think about 'the N- word'?

RESPONSE IN BLACK: 'Nigger nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, and nigger.' Okay, we have gotten it out of the way. This word is probably considered to be the most offensive word in the English language. The mere mention of the word will cause meek individuals to become enraged and to respond violently to the offending individual. I cannot think of many other words that evoke such an emotional response.

I will never forget the first time that I was called a 'nigger.' I challenged a grown-up and tried to beat the stuffings out of Mary Sue DiAmici, my nemesis at the age of 12. Although it has been decades, I can still remember the incident like it was yesterday. I wonder where Mary Sue is today, probably a grandmother who doesn't even remember my name. I remember.

Once, when I was looking at Art Linkletter's show, 'Kids Say the Darndest Things,' he asked a little 5 year old black boy, what he didn't want to be. The child replied: a 'nigger' (this was in the days of live television) and, continuing, he said, 'because my momma said that a 'nigger' ain't worth s-.'

Chris Rock, the comedian does a whole routine on 'niggers' and how much he hates them. He says that 'niggers' want credit for the things they should do, like take care of their kids or not go to jail. Rock says, using more colorful language, 'you are supposed to take care of your kids and you shouldn't go jail. Niggers are the only people who give respect to people who have gone to jail, rather than those who go college.'

All of us know 'niggers.' They are those idiots that we see on the Jerry Springer show who proudly proclaim they are sleeping with their brother, had 50 sexual encounters before they were 16, or have an intimate relationship with a member of the animal kingdom. They come on television, bare their breast and other bodily parts to the world. They abuse themselves and others and engage in vile behaviors. Their sense of morality is skewed, and the idiots are proud of it.

Let's face it, 'nigger' has nothing to do with black people. Most of us are hard working, law abiding citizens, who are trying to raise our families and have a good life. A 'nigger' is someone with whom none us want to associate. He is ignorant, always looking for the easy way out, worthless, shiftless and a total reprobate. I thought that I could make this a funny essay, but there's nothing funny about 'niggers.' They are the scum and leeches of society who drain dignity from everyone else, who whine that life isn't fair, so it is their inalienable right to kill, rape and rob us because they have no concept of human decency or respect for anyone or anything.

I know niggers and they come in all colors: white, black, brown and yellow; and, you know, the little boy was right. A 'nigger ain't worth s-.'


Crude. Repulsive. Vile. Stains the mouth. Stains the soul. I never use the word; and I don't like to hear it. In fact, apart from rappers (more about them later), octogenarian segregationists, Aryan Nation Nean

derthals, and a particularly offensive , brother-in-law, I doubt I know of many folks who do use the word. Or, if they do, it's certainly not audible in my politically correct middle class world.

Now, there was the recent case of that unfortunate woman at the University of Virginia Hospital who expressed her belief that naming a team the

'Redskins' was as offensive to Native Americans as naming it the 'N s' would be to African Americans. In her mistaken gesture of solidarity with Native Americans, she raised the ire of every black person within earshot. Poor thing. She inadvertently stepped over the color line. She forgot that, when it comes to white people, regardless of the context or circumstances, the 'N ' word has only five letters: N-E-V E-R.

Not to make light of the offence. The word is embued with its history of horror and cruelty, much of it past living memory, but still recent enough to cause great pain. It's about skin color, but it's also about poverty, ignorance, and degradation. It evokes sordid, depraved acts whose consequences have damaged all of us, black and white alike. While the African American legacy is slavery, institutionalized terrorism, and gross inhumanity, white Americans - many of whose ancestors emigrated to this nation long after the ink was dry at Appomatox - find ourselves in a perpetually defensive posture, regardless of our personal histories or convictions. The power of the N word comes from the traveling com

panions of our shared history - black anger and white guilt.

Which brings me to rap lyrics - theatrical, energetic, and the ultimate expression of passiveaggressive race rage. Whenever I hear a rapper use the N word - and that's the only time I generally do hear it these days - I feel cudgeled. I understand the power that young African Americans must experience in usurping the word, shouting it from street corners, wearing it out until it is ragged and shopworn. But, from where I stand, it doesn't sound like freedom of expression. It sounds more like a cold-eyed assault on good intentions.

Nothing personal, of course. I just happen to be a white liberal. And like most white liberals, I go through life trying to be fair, living by the golden rule, and generally not calling people nasty names. That's why the persistence of the N word - cropping up like a rank weed in our well-tended ethical gardens - takes so many of us by surprise. It challenges good will, shaking us out of our torpor and reminding us that atonement and reconciliation for the wrongs of the past are being dangled just beyond our grasp. Oh, what vicious, delicious revenge!" (The Tribune, March 11, 2004)

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