It was recently brought to my attention that earlier this month, New York City’s Council unanimously approved a resolution prohibiting the use of the “n-word” in New York. Not binding, this measure merely calls on residents to voluntarily stop using the slur. With no plan in place to enforce this ban, some would conclude that this resolution is pointless. However, I feel that this purely symbolic move is a reflection of the growing unease that people feel about this racial slur, and their growing unwillingness to accept the derogatory epithet as part of everyday conversation. I concur.
Now, one might suggest that the use of this word, particularly among African-Americans, is habitual and culturally affixed. Or, that reclaiming the slur and giving it a new meaning takes away the pinch. It has even been argued that the frequent and casual use of the word by members of the so-called hip-hop generation, among themselves and especially in their music, is responsible for popularizing the slur that is supposedly now used as a term of endearment and self-empowerment. To all of that I reply—bullshit!
The bottom line is, as African-Americans, we should not forget the origin of this painful epithet and its ugly history, intertwined with slavery and encompassing the humiliation of blacks. As intelligent people, we should challenge ourselves to restrict the money-making music industry from further exploiting this epithet, in homage to our history and to those that came before us.
And as for the recent remark made on the Oprah Winfrey Show by an Oscar-winning African-American male actor, who said he would not stop using the word because he felt there was nothing inappropriate about blacks using it within their own circle, I reply: if the use of this slur remained isolated within the African-American community, then there would be no need to address this issue, stupid.
You’re saying that Michael Richards (from Seinfeld) spewing the word repeatedly at a comedy club in Los Angeles—that was wrong. But when millions of records by rap artist 50 Cent are sold to our impressionable children using the n-word—it’s okay? I don’t think so! It is a derogatory term loaded with offensiveness no matter who uses it. It’s time that we stop publicly degrading ourselves by eliminating this slur from our music, our vocabulary, and more importantly, from our consciousness.