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We Should Never Ban The Word “Nigger”

August 16, 2010
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Last week conservative radio talk show host Dr. Laura Schlesinger found herself in hot water for repeatedly using the N-word on air while giving ostensible relationship advice to a Black caller.

The Black woman, married to a White man, was struggling to deal with racist comments made regularly by her husband’s White friends.  Dr. Laura wound up arguing the use of the N-word is okay because quote- “Black people use it,” end quote.  She also suggested the word can be used as a joke and the caller shouldn’t be so hypersensitive about it.

In response, Hawaii State Democratic Representative John Mizuno intends to introduce a symbolic resolution banning the N-word.

The resolution wouldn’t be law, but he hopes it would send a message that the word is hateful and offensive. Mizuno argues the N-word shouldn’t even be listed in the dictionary or acknowledged at all in society.

To that, I say, pump your breaks.

The N-word should not be banned.

Yes, the word is loaded.  But there is no word in the English language, no matter how offensive, that we should just decide to forget and never use again. Refusing to acknowledge the word or stripping it from the dictionary would undermine our collective responsibility to our history as a country.

Nevertheless, there are very few words that make people as uncomfortable as the N-word.  It’s really not the word itself but what people associate with it- slavery, racial hatred, lynchings and even White privilege.  It’s normal human behavior to try and separate ourselves from the things that make us uncomfortable- but just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

I’ve said for a long time that any word is appropriate when used in the proper context.  What, you ask, is the proper context for the N-word?

Let’s take for example Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a book so controversial and “offensive”, it’s banned by school districts here and across the country.

I’ve heard all the excuses and rationales for why we should hate the book, including accusations the author was an unapologetic racist who hated Black people, which isn’t true, by the way.

Folks say the book relied unnecessarily on racial stereotypes and glorified a Southern antebellum society well out of date at the time it was published. For most, the book’s biggest crime is that it uses the N-word.  Often.  Some have even argued reading the book is a traumatizing and degrading experience for Black students.

In banning Huck Finn because of the N-word, we lose, not just an opportunity to discuss and understand the social construct of racism in American society, but we deny ourselves and our kids the essential opportunity to study one of the best, or at least one of the most controversial works of American literature we’ve ever had.

When taught appropriately, Huck Finn is a platform to discuss and better understand the fallible concept of racial, intellectual superiority.  It cuts to the original intention of the mere idea of the forced identity known as the nigger, and the equally false concept of White superiority.

In Huck and Jim, we’re reminded that at our core, beyond societal norms and unjust laws, we possess humanity and compassion towards each other; that there is a moral compass trying to guide us to be better towards each other.

It is a crime we refuse reading the book and experiencing this ultimate, teachable moment- because of a single word- the N-word.

That is not the answer people.

Furthermore, deciding the word shouldn’t exist anymore just means we’d have to come up with another word.  Why?  Because as a Black person, I can tell you unequivocally I’ve been treated like a nigger more than I’ve ever been called a nigger.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. August 17, 2010 12:01 am

    Kudos to this. I HATE when people say we ought to ban the word. To me, it strips people of learning and of accepting responsibility. It breeds laziness. Plus, the whole adage of “well, Black people use it, so it shouldn’t matter” is the dumbest logic I’ve ever heard. Keep it alive, and in turn, discussions like these can take place, and folks will, at the very least, gain alternate insights. What they choose to do with it is up to them…

  2. August 17, 2010 7:49 am

    Banning Words and Books are stupid. That is all.

    Somehow you managed to take a very simple concept and make it eloquent and persuasive. Thank you for that.

  3. Melissa permalink
    August 17, 2010 9:31 am

    Wow. Loved that you incorporated Huck Finn into this. I remember that we did read it in 7th grade, but the teacher took the (3) black students aside first. Ugh! It’s a word. It exists. It has existed for a long time. They didn’t take the Jewish kids aside when we studied the Holocaust. And yes, Huck Finn is an excellent way to start a dialogue on the very things people seem to think it’s espousing. Loved that book, by the way.
    Also loved your last sentence. ” Because as a Black person, I can tell you unequivocally I’ve been treated like a nigger more than I’ve ever been called a nigger.” So true.

  4. The Spook Who Sat By The Door permalink
    August 17, 2010 1:06 pm

    Here we go again…

    Banning the N-word (or any word), apart from being practically impossible, smacks of an attempt to impose Orwellian Newspeak on society. Of course, historical documents (fictional or not) present a challenge; do we rewrite history to remove the word from Huck Finn or documents of record? Doesn’t that amount to a white-washing of history?

    Personally, I can’t and won’t use the word in casual conversation because I find it so offensive. I would prefer that it had not become part of the common vernacular, and that is weren’t tossed around as casually as it is. At the same time, I can appreciate the motivations for trying to reclaim the word (e.g. Dan Savage & faggot). Unfortunately, I don’t think most kids using the N-word are doing so with any political or ironic intent.

    If black people can say it and white people can’t, then who owns it? Maybe that means it has been reclaimed…?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reclaimed_word

    Two of my favorite songs on the subject (both from 1991):

    Ice Cube – Straight Up Nigga

    Public Enemy – I Don’t Wanna Be Called Yo Nigga

  5. Matt permalink
    December 5, 2010 5:01 am

    I agree, the word should not be banned but considering its past, caution should be applied when using it, all in all, good article.

  6. fuax permalink
    December 12, 2010 9:38 pm

    Really… They should ban the n-word. You judged the word when you decided to use it’s reference instead. The word IS a throwback to slavery and is only slowing the union of blacks and whites. The word sparks evil, simply put, it is a double edged sword. Black say it as a term of endearment, but a white guy says it and you have the beginnings of a hate crime. If it is a legal word then both parties should be able to use it freely and at will without fear of repercussion, one group should not be favored over another, it is the founding principles of our nation. Furthermore, you can’t move forward very well if all you do is look backwards all the time.

  7. commonsense permalink
    January 2, 2011 8:13 pm

    Whites don’t want us using the word because the word has power. They turned nigger into something negative. The word comes from the term Naga. Naga was a powerful serpent god. And if you constantly say the word nigger or nigga, it becomes a mantra releasing the kundalini energy. You have areas in Africa, China and Japan named after this serpent/god. You must remember durng slavery, they called our ancestors other names too. (Coons, Jungle bunnies, Darkies). There is a documentary by Eugene Adams called Africans in Asia that gives you a history on the Nagas. So use the word to raise your kundalini and don’t liten to the NAACP, they didn’t do their homework.

  8. Jason Carpp permalink
    January 6, 2011 7:28 am

    While I don’t like the word “nigger”, and have never, and would never use the word to describe anyone, I must say that I object to the idea of changing anything in the book The Adventures of Huck Finn, nor should the book be banned from bookshelves. Not everyone who uses the word “negro”, or even the word “nigger” is racist or hates black people. People can disagree with what I’m saying, but I’m not going to change my beliefs. Thank you.

  9. John permalink
    April 20, 2012 10:55 am

    I agree no word or books should be ban. words should be used responsibly and thats it. Someone up there said that whites dont want black people using the word nigger. I dissagree. I have no problem with blacks or whites using the word because like in those songs that use it.. are they really refering to the history behind it or are they just using a word that fits into the song better or that goes better with all of the strong language they use? That is how alot of people from the younger generation today use it. Its just a word and sometimes (not always) it is even used to be offensive but not because of its history, because its considered offensive. Ive heard white people call black people that, black people calling white people that, black people calling black people that, and white people calling white people that and none of them were reffering to the history behind it. Just like when my friend calls another friend a F**k head.. They dont really mean anything about sexual intercourse with their head.. the word nigger CAN still be used as being racist i know that. but if its racist.. its deliberate or obvious.. its not something that should have to be tiptoed around. You can tell when someone means it that way usually. Not all words are used today in the way that they litterally mean. In the case of huck fin its a learning experience and yes an opertunity to think through and discuss it. But in todays society i hear it all the time from everybody without anybody giving it a second thought. some people just need to learn that not all racist or offensive words should always be taken that way. Today context needs to be taken into account.

  10. June 5, 2012 5:15 am

    …….That would should never, never be used at anytime…It should be
    erased from all hearts, minds and souls………H

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