Can we ever 'bury' the n-word?
OPINION - While it is clear that for many the use of the n-word will never be justifiable, it is hard to believe that if its usage magically stopped...
Can the elimination of a single slur spur the kind of radical change in race relations blacks have fought so hard for throughout history? There is someone out there who strongly believes so.
Her name is Tammie Lang Campbell, founder and executive director of the Honey Brown Hope Foundation.
Campbell’s position about the n-word is clear: No one should be using it. Period. In an interview with the CBS affiliate KENS 5 in San Antonio, the Houston native explained, “We do a disservice to our fore-parents, to ourselves, to our mothers and fathers, to our children to use that word or to accept anyone using it.”
Her non-profit says its mission is to promote “cultural literacy, diversity appreciation, environmental awareness and multicultural literature among youth.” Much of the organization’s methodology to achieve that feat seems rooted in the censorship of literature deemed culturally insensitive and littered with racial slurs – especially one literary work in particular.
Campbell was a supporter of the revised version of the classic novel Huckleberry Finn, in which editors removed over 200 instances where the n-word was used. Said Campbell: “That word is harming my people. So that’s where you draw the line in terms of freedom of speech. You don’t have to teach our children about hate in order for them to learn about their past.”
While it is clear that for many, the use of the n-word will never be justifiable, it’s hard to believe that if its usage magically stopped, it would achieve some of the other listed goals of the Honey Brown Hope Foundation, like deterring racial violence and the group’s loftier aspiration to “liberate minds” and “reclaim the good name of blacks.”
Campbell isn’t the only person who shares the belief that eliminating the n-word from common usage would bring about dramatic change. Four years ago, the NAACP, along with then-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick held a public burial of the word. The ceremony came complete with two Percheron horses pulling a pine box adorned with a bouquet of fake black roses.
Kilpatrick, later told reporters: “Today we’re not just burying the n-word, we’re taking it out of our spirit. We gather burying all the things that go with the n-word. We have to bury the ‘pimps’ and the ‘hos’ that go with it.”
I guess the n-word is Buddhist and was subsequently reincarnated. The word’s ugliness lingers, as evidenced by its share of recent celebrity-centered controversies. Not to mention the court cases where judges have to rule who can and cannot use the word in the workplace.
Speaking of who can and cannot use the n-word, DJ Khaled, actor Alec Baldwin, and Tyler “The Creator” have all indirectly added additional notes to the longstanding question within the last week.
The Palestinian-American Khaled defended his use of the word by telling DJ Green Latern, “I grew up like that. [N—ga] is slang. It’s actually a positive word, the way I use it.” He then noted that he was once referred to as a “sand n*gga” as a child.
Baldwin caused a mini brouhaha on Twitter when he jumped to his daughter’s defense after she discussed her affinity for the Jay-Z and Kanye West track, “Ni**as In Paris.” Baldwin then tweeted the word himself, and later said anyone who thought his quoting the title was racist was a “disgrace to the human race.”
Then there’s Odd Future’s Tyler, The Creator whose recent prank in the form of an announcement declaring that they signed a rapper called “Young Ni**a.” I doubt Campbell is laughing at that, or at GQ’s recent feature on Rick Ross, which kicks off with the Ross quote, “Real Niggas Don’t Send Dick Flicks.”
Campbell’s 25-year-old daughter said in the same KENS-5 interview that rappers needed to go the way of _Huckleberry Finn’_s latest editors, emphatically opining, “the word still holds the same weight that it does.”
Apparently not. Whether or not using the n-word is right or wrong will always be a contentious issue, which calls into question the merits of moratoriums on the word and drives to have it stripped from American literature.
It’s already clear that its usage can’t be stopped in other areas like pop culture. It’s equally apparent that prejudice can come without the hurling of an epithet, as in the race-based bake sale on the campus of UC Berkeley.
Can you burn the n-word? Doesn’t seem like it and even if you could, won’t the matter of settling the politics of racism require far more than a push for political correctness?