Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Word That Is The Very Definition Of Unspeakable et al

The Word That Is The Very Definition Of Unspeakable - Washington Post

Black Owner of LA Club Welcomes N-Word - AP

The most recent publicized response of the Black community to the Michael Richards stand-up tirade is illustrative of continued allegiance to outdated, ineffective strategies to advancement. Back by popular demand is the current moral and legislative approach that challenges the word itself, rather than the disparities that feed it.

Telling Blacks or Whites that they should not use the word ‘nigger’, or any variation, is an infringement on the first amendment right of free speech. This follows because use of the word does not automatically create any legally actionable course – no matter how much some dislike the term.

Making the utterance of the word a 'thought crime' only insures that it stays around even longer than it otherwise might, if we were to concentrate on addressing the disparities at the base of societal disharmony. It is this disharmony that encourages Blacks to co-op the word, in part, taking away its sting, while that very sting is what Whites, and Blacks, use to editorialize their disapproving assessment of challenging behavioral norms.

In the end, rules will not stop usage of the term, either by Whites or Blacks. It exists, with all of its power, for a reason. Whether to editorialize disparity, disenfranchisement, tension, and conflict, or the resulting raw emotions of fear and hate, the word has a job. No amount of moralizing, or rules, or legislation, can terminate it - as it really is just a reflection.

James C. Collier


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Anonymous said...

I agree with you. If we'd stop giving the term so much attention and let it run it's course like so many other terms that have entered and and exited the common tongue, it might just fade into history.

Part of the problem is that you've got people saying that it's deplorable that Mitt Romney and Tony Snow weren't aware that "tar baby" could be used as a pejorative. I happen to think it's a good thing...Americans growing up completely unaware of the racial epithets used by generations past. That's progress.

I think I'd still be pretty shaken to be called a nigger to my face (it's been a long time), but (I hope) eventually it could lose it's meaning, and exit our language in silence.

Anonymous said...

Before responding to your comment I wanted to learn where the term “nigger” originated from. According to, and other sources concur “the Spanish word negro originates from the Latin word niger, meaning black. In English, negro or neger became negar and finally nigger, most likely under influence of French nègre (also derived from the Latin niger). In the United States, the word nigger was not always considered derogatory, but was used by some as merely denotative of black, as it was in other parts of the English-speaking world. In nineteenth-century literature, there are many uses of the word nigger with no intended negative connotation. Charles Dickens, and Joseph Conrad (who published The Nigger of the 'Narcissus' in 1897) used the word without racist intent. Mark Twain often put the word into the mouths of his Southern characters, white and black, but did not use the word when speaking in his own voice in his autobiographical Life on the Mississippi.”
However, it was the late 1800’s and early 1900’s that the word “nigger” began being used as a negative connotation by white people to describe black people. Thus, when you stated that you feel that the term needs to simply run its course, I was curious as to how long you think it’s going to “run” before it finally gets taken out of mainstream language? It has already been used as a negative term for over one hundred years and I feel that if something is not done about its discriminatory usage, then it will continue to be used as a negative term for hundreds of years to come. Of course, I do not have any answers as to how to limit or eliminate it’s usage except to always express disapproval when the word is used. Yet, I realize that my disapproval is not going to extinguish the word. However, as a soon to be high school teacher I can assure you that it will not be tolerated in my classroom.
I also understand that you feel that by constantly discussing the term “nigger” and its appropriateness we are just adding wood to the fire. However, I just don’t feel that by not acknowledging the term it will run its course and disappear. I am glad that Michael Richards has been reprimanded for his use of the term, especially since he is famous. I believe that it sends the message to the general public that we will not tolerate the use of this term by anyone.

James C. Collier said...

Angela, it is disparity of result that gives the word emphasis. Usage will subside when its reason for being goes away. Legislating, with or without moral defense, challenges this usage while leaving the cause untouched. However, as a teacher, I am heartened that your efforts, in part, will aide in the word's true retreat from our lexicon. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

i read this blog with some sadness. i do not understand why anyone needs to refer to themselves as black, white or whatever. Race? we are all part of the human race. my colour varies if i am tanned, so am i therefore less white??? i HATE anyone referring to race in reference to colour. i cannot even speak the word nigger without feeling ill. to me, that word defines hatred and ignorance. i moved from one english speaking country to another as a child. despite the fact i was the same majority "colour", was not of a minority religion,spoke the same language, and had a similar cultural background, i was still villifed, beaten up and otherwise abused. do i therefore have the right, on some small level, to empathise with those of "colour" because of something they also cannot change? the colour of your skin or where you are born is something a person cannot choose, yet humans feel the need to villify what cannot be changed. i hate that this situation exists in society. i will not allow my daughter to refer to someone by their description, colour etc. a gene is responsible for a persons skin colour - it does not define who you are. your actions do that. i do not refer to people as white or black or whatever, just by their name, because that is WHO they are. if i ever visit the US, and someone asks me my race (which for some reason seems to be a big thing there), eg on a form, i will answer human. that is who i am. my "colour" does not enter into it.