That “N”asty Word
~musings over a title~
by Garlia Cornelia Jones
Let me be very clear, that I do not use “The N-word” in my every day language. When I was around six or seven years old, I thought I was giving my little brother a nuggie, but it came out as “nigger”. My brother quickly ran into the kitchen to tell my mother, who gave me a mini-lecture on how I should never use “that word” and probably threw in something about slavery, as she was known to do in those days.
Dr. Cornel West describes The “N”Word on his Spoken word CD “Sketches of American Culture”.
“[…] We need a renaissance of self-resepct, a renewal of self-regard, and the term itself has been associated with such abuse. It associates black people with being inferior, sub-human and subordiante… we ought not to use the term at all… I can think of other terms of endearment… brother, sister… homegirl homeboy… can we really use that term when we think of our mamas, our daddys… Black meant human, not sub-human… we ought to give it up and turn it loose […]” (West)
So why use such a word? After listening to this track on West’s album, one might decide that the “n”word should disappear or that I should feel ashamed of myself – right?
I was naive to think that people would look beyond the word and see the periods after each letter: Never Ignorant Gettin’ Goals Accomplished (Tupac Shakur)
There are a few reactions I have received:
1) White people feel comfortable saying it and might take some ownership over it because after all, it is an acronym…right?
2) Shock from some in the Black Community who want this word buried.
3) Laughter and applause for thinking outside the box and not letting the history bring us down.
4) A blank stare and a faint smile before changing the subject.
Do I feel as if I am re-defining this word or bringing to light a definition that has not been used, especially in regards to something like dating? Randall Kennedy points out at the end of his book, “nigger… The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word”, that the future of the N-word will include innovators of the word.
[…] there is much to be gained by allowing people of all backgrounds to yank nigger away from white supremacists, to subvert its ugliest denotation, and to convert the N-word from a negative into a positive appellation. This process is already well under way, led in the main by African American innovators who are taming, civilizing, and transmuting “the filthiest, dirtiest, nastiest word in the English language. (Kennedy, 176)
Can I consider my use of an acronym to spell out a word that has degraded Blacks for centuries to be resurrected because of the positive twist it spells out? The situation is ironic, which might have been what Tupac was after. How does it look that I with my wall of degrees am giving a play of mine this title? I have lived with it for so long that I have become desensitized to the word, which is surprising since I grew up in a household where the “N-word” was not something we threw around. It might slip out of one of my parents’ mouths when they were talking about something that happened during the day. “Niggers” were on the streets of Detroit – and not in our 22-room home.
I have been offered many suggestions to change the name and have seriously considered them, if only for sponsors, but is that what I got an MFA for… so that a sponsor would dictate the title of my play because the “N-word” was politically incorrect, especially when we have a Black President. Everyone must be careful… particularly when only weeks ago, Dr. Laura’s use of the word resulted in her resignation from radio, because she lost her “1st amendment rights” as she put it, when really, she lost her sponsors, appalled by her use of the word. Does it matter that she is white and I am not… maybe it’s worse. I should know better – shouldn’t I?
…to be continued…