Years ago, when I looked at old pictures of dead black men hanging from trees and saw smoldering fires beneath their feet, it would be unbearable. After watching those lynching pictures year after year, I got over the impact that they had on me.
As the years passed, I watched on TV as black men and women were beaten with clubs, attacked by dogs, kicked on the ground, and dragged by their feet — and I didn’t get emotional. Because those black history documentaries were often shown on TV, I got past the hurtful scenes and I was able to concentrate on the message. The same thing could be possible with “the n-word.” The n-word in the United States could be ended by a combined approach that consists of understanding circumstances surrounding it, accepting the new usage of the word, and giving irrelevancy to it.
The n-word should be understood by the circumstances surrounding it. A wrong conclusion could be reached from overlooking all the circumstances. For instance, in the Paula Deen controversy, she was labeled a racist because she said “nigger” in a conversation with other people — a word not used in reference to Lisa T. Jackson, as stated in her lawsuit, but said in her presence by Deen and her brother about black people.
What did the n-word have to do with Jackson’s allegations of sexual harassment and emotional distress? Nothing! The media got hold of all the information in the lawsuit, but it focused on the n-word. The lawsuit was no longer Jackson vs. Deen. It was Deen vs. corporations, and it was Deen vs. black people.
Another instance for understanding the circumstances surrounding the n-word was reported by writer Latoya Peterson. In her blog for the website, Racialicious, Peterson wrote,” It is better to attack the racist intent behind the word. For example, with the Michael Richards controversy he was on stage openly screaming about lynching and sticking forks in people. And yet, when the controversy was reported, the only thing that was focused on was the n-word.”
The n-word should be accepted by its new usage. First, the new usage will not harm a youth’s perception of his history because that is the point: to change the meaning of the word because the history is so dreadful.
According to Harvard Law Professor Randall Kennedy, “‘Nigger’ as a harbinger of hatred, fear, contempt, and violence remains current, to be sure. But more than ever before, ‘nigger’ also signals other meanings and generates other reactions, depending on the circumstances.”
Second, using the n-word as a greeting and a term of endearment removed the malignant cancer of hate. For example, black youth said the word affectionately to each other — “Yo, nigger, what’s up?” — so that grandparents didn’t hear hate from the speaker, nor hate themselves for the bad memories it conjured up.
Another example: Teacher and social activist Roderick Spencer, in his website blog, remembered the first time his wife Alfre Woodard said the word to him. “The first time my wife called me her ‘nigger’ I felt a particular thrill. ‘You my niggah,’ she said. I remember the sensation like it was yesterday.”
By understanding the circumstances surrounding it and accepting the new usage, I was not worried or annoyed by the n-word. Such was the case when I watched the movie Django Unchained. It was said that Quentin Tarantino used the n-word in his slave narrative an unofficial count of 106 times. The n-word went right past me 105 times. The one time the n-word got my attention was when Samuel L. Jackson, portraying the despicable, manipulative character, Stephen, said, “Who’s this nigger up on that nag?” I got the message. I heard the jealousy in his question. Stephen’s status as head house slave was made inferior to Jamie Foxx’s character Django sitting on a horse, armed with a rifle. I imagined Stephen was thinking: white people didn’t give him a horse to ride, and yet if they did he had nowhere to go. Samuel L. Jackson made me hate his character, not because he said the n-word but because he believed no other black should be treated better than he. Jackson should have won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Stephen.
Some black people claim the problem exists with the n-word because white people use it. That claim was wrong. “There is nothing necessarily wrong with a white person saying ‘nigger,’ just as there is nothing necessarily wrong with a black person saying it,” Kennedy wrote in his book Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word. “What should matter is the context in which the word is spoken — the speaker’s aims, effects, alternatives. To condemn whites who use the n-word without regard to context is simply to make a fetish of ‘nigger.'”
Jennifer Lopez received a pass on using the n-word. Lopez, a Hollywood film actress and singer, used the n-word in a song. When controversy started about JLo using the n-word, rapper Ja Rule, who wrote the song, said he had no objections to a Latina using the word. Also blacks didn’t believe she used the n-word to degrade blacks because of her high-profile relationships with black entertainers.
I ended the n-word for me. I gather all the information I could about any racial situation before I call a person a racist. I accepted the new usage that took the sting out of the n-word and made it insignificant. I watched movies; read the books where the n-word is repeatedly used until I had no fear of the word.
I understood the word; I didn’t run from it.