thedeadhaji made an interesting post here about his fear of word nigger. I like the perspective, and the ensuing discussion, but I found it to be a bit too … one-sided and gave an air of ignorance and snobbery that comes with the Internet.
N***er is undoubtedly one of the dirtiest, most despicable words in the English language. The only time I really ever encounter it is in print form: old prose, social commentary articles, or generic morons online.
I have been fortunate enough to have never witnessed the world being used in a direct, personal, derogatory manner against someone. I do think I’ve seen it be used in jest, in fraternal terms amongst young men and women of color, but even that kind of use always made me feel uneasy.
I had never actually mouthed this word myself in my life (I have all my wonderful childhood teachers to thank, who instilled some decency in me through those years) until sometime last year. I can still remember the occasion, since I debated in my mind for a good 30 seconds whether I should say the word or not. You see, I was quoting a tongue and cheek passage from “Breakfast of Champions” by Kurt Vonnegut that I found very powerful. But even when I was direct quoting a literary passage, I had to think hard about whether I wanted to go through with this. This was the word – the word I wasn’t supposed to say, ever.
In the end I went through with it, quoting the passage to my fellow Vonnegut-fan friend. As soon as the word left my mouth, I felt uneasy and sick to my stomach, which I guess must be a good thing. I honestly don’t think I can say this word again, even when quoting a book. It just feels terribly wrong even in this literary context when it’s transplanted to my own vocal chords.
He came to work for him when the agency was right on the edge of the Nigger part of town. A Nigger was a human being who was black. – Kurt Vonnegut, “Breakfast of Champions”
I made a response.
See the issue here is trying to separate what is the de-sensitizing of the word in modern society, and how you should appropriately respond to the word.
As I have said on this forum before a couple of times, the word nigger still stands apart from every single other word in the language as its existence was solely created to bring down the status of Black people.
No other word - pardon my language - Jew, faggot, fuck, or whatever else you can think of has this kind of negative history attached to it; there is always something more to the word, or it was twisted to mean something else and that stuck over time.
I dislike people using the word because people who do use it really don’t understand the gravity of the word. They seem to throw it about with excuses such as, “a word only has as much power as you give it.” Well, yes, that’s how words work, and I’m not saying that we should give the word this sacred power. In fact, you are seeing now that Black people are trying to “reclaim” this word as their own. It’s happening a lot in the last couple decades, and I like to see that.
But a couple decades doesn’t really erase the 400 even 500 plus years that the word has actually been used to put down Black people.
So that’s the gravity of that situation.
And my issue here is that all these people who say, “you’re pathetic for being held back by the word”, or “words only have so much power”, or “it’s the same as fuck, shit, or other swear words”, is that really a very small percentage of the people who say that actually think, or have thought, or have read, or have studied the history of Black people and how everything actually ended up being like this.
In other words, while they have respect for all that has happened with say, Martin Luther King Jr., that respect only extends so deep because society has forced these “February is Black History Month” events, or forced these “Rosa Parks is a hero” stories on people. Not to say that they’re not important, but I find it unbelievable that this has actually conveyed how immense Black history actually is. I guess martyrs are easy to get behind.
So the word is losing its power, and that is great. But we seem to so easily overlook, and few of us have even attempted to truly look into Black history. You shouldn’t grimace at the sound of the word and attack people who say it out of hand. You should try to understand yourself why you hate this word. Read up on Black history like you would for an English class. When someone says it in public, try to understand their view of the word and how they come about that view, but try to convey to them what this word means to Black history, and get them to think about it.
If they don’t, they don’t, and that’s a nice side of ignorance. But if they do, you can understand it too from their perspectives.
I’m against the idea of being afraid of a word, being scared of it being thrown about like that.
But I’m more against the idea of using a word without truly understanding where it came from.
I won’t use it myself because it simply sounds horrible, and I can’t think of any situation where I would want to say it. Mind you, nigger is a bit different than nigguh, but I really am opposed to either for the same reason.
Check out thedeadhaji’s (Hajime Kenneth Murakami) blog as well.