Shortly after the infamous “N” word-laced rant by “comedian” Michael Richards last year at the Laugh Factory, a Los Angeles comedy club, legendary comedy writer Paul Mooney declared it made him cease use of the word altogether.
He said Richards acted as his “Dr. Phil” and “cured” him of the use of the epithet. Mooney also said, “We’re gonna stop using the N-word. I’m gonna stop using it. I’m not gonna use it again, and I’m not gonna use the B-word. And we’re gonna put an end to the N-word. Just say no to the N-word. We want all human beings throughout the world to stop using the N-word.”
This is ironic since, in many ways, Mooney, in his days as a comedy writer for Richard Pryor (himself no slouch when it came to using the word as his famous comedy album, “That Nigger’s Crazy” makes clear), contributed greatly to popularizing the epithet in contemporary slang.
Nevertheless, Mooney was not the only person inspired to begin a campaign to eliminate use of the word by the Richards controversy.
Ricky Brown, organizer for the annual Juneteeth Celebration in Austin, has just launched a website to motivate others, young and old, to take a pledge promising to refrain from using the word unless in historical context.
At www.RPBconsultinginc.com, visitors can take the sacred oath to abstain from using the word, interface with Mr. Brown about African-Americans in the media today, such as presidential candidate Barack Obama, and find a list of classic novels by black authors that put the word into a historical context-books such as Up From Slavery, by Booker T. Washington.
“The site has been up for about two months now, and I have received very positive feedback,” said Brown, who names WVON radio personalities Cliff Kelley and Roland Martin as supporters of his idea. “This word has no place in social-speak in this country. Too many people died in marches and by lynching while being called that word. We must show respect for their sacrifice and not treat this word-and all the blood that was shed while it was being used-as if it is some term of endearment.”
Brown says that back in the 1960s and ’70s, the N-word was generally categorized as an expletive, or worse, as so many individuals immediately felt the impact it had on their personal racial struggle in America. However, as the ’70s progressed and popular comedians began using the word in their acts regarding race, the word became more culturally acceptable in describing friends, enemies, or individuals with “Black-like traits.”
“So Pryor begot [Eddie] Murphy and he begot [Chris] Rock and suddenly the feeling was that it was OK to use the word because, hey, successful black entertainers do,” said Brown. “Then this transferred over to the music, where suddenly rappers think it’s acceptable to use. We must completely re-shape our thinking to rid this word from our vernacular.”
The origin of the word “nigger” is subject to great debate among historical scholars. One theory of its etymology is that it came into English via French from the Spanish word “negro” which means “black.” There is also a possibility that it derived from the Latin “niger,” also meaning “black.”
Whatever the origin, it has penetrated the core of contemporary language in a way that will take potentially years to eradicate. However, Brown says it starts with learning to respect each other within the community and then appealing to the entertainment industry to rid the word from song lyrics, movie scripts, poetry anthologies (unless of historical importance) and stand-up routines.
“Our leaders need to stop being silent on this issue,” said Brown. “How can you say you want to help and unite the community when you say nothing about this universal disrespect of our ancestors’ sacrifices through the language. Dialog must begin now.”