Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The "N" Word

This morning while working at my desk I had the radio on, and was listening to a discussion about a book soon to be published about Barack Obama.  The book is by Dinesh D'Souza, and is titled The Roots of Obama's Rage.  I cannot comment on the book, because I have not laid my hands on it yet.  I respect D'Souza, and it was an interesting discussion.  What caught my ear, and what I found blog-worthy this morning, is that at one point, after D'Souza uttered the word "nigger," the interviewer politely asked him not to say that word on his show. 

I want to emphasize that the interviewer is someone whose public discourse contains ideas with which I agree and ideas with which I do not agree.  I do not condemn him; nor would I commend him wholesale to the general public.  He has been polarizing, so I'd rather just leave him personally out of this.

Further, it is necessary to clarify the context of the controversial vocabulary in this conversation.  D'Souza was quoting President Obama, who in his book, Dreams From My Father, admits that he thinks of his grandfather, or that at least at one time he thought of him, as a "House nigger." 

I find this sort of censoring to be very odd.  I think that future generations will look upon the current place of the word "nigger" in early twenty first century American culture to be most bizarre.  It is a triumph of fear, paranoia, and a politically correct agenda, over simple intellectual honesty, academic freedom, and open linguistic discussion.  In fact, if we take a step back and think about it, we will begin to notice that it even comes across as oddly superstitious.  Can we be adults, and use real words, or must we sound like characters in a story who must avoid the name of Voldemort?

To be sure, I am not advocating for a resurgence of the term in ordinary street speech.  In fact, I'd love to see it disappear from that arena, which, by the way, ironically remains an accepted facet of America wherein the word still has free reign.  That is, while it is improper to refer to the word in a discussion about the word, or to quote it in an intellectually respectful discussion about the culture, it is completely acceptable for one thug on the street to use the word casually to refer to his fellow black man.  I know that some high profile Black Americans are opposed to that use as well, such as Oprah Winfrey.  Yet there is no real societal consequences at all.  In fact, one can become a millionaire by making hip hop music peppered with the word.

Nonsensical dogmas of modern America, such as the virtual nonuse of a word of the English language, are icons which I refuse to kiss.  In my own way, I aim to break them.


Anonymous said...

I have never used the "N" word, and
I would be offended if anyone used it, I do not care if the person might
be African-American. This word should be removed from the English

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Dear friend:

It might be that it should be removed from the language. Certainly you and I agree that in its connotative uses, it hardly has positive value, and in fact is often used in hateful ways by whites and others, and in self-hateful ways by blacks. I deplore all of this. Part of the point of my blog post, however, is that banning the word from utterance, even in an intellectual and respectful discussion where the word itself is the topic of discussion, is silly. Historians will look back on this and see how nonsensical it is.