Another Iteration of the “N-Word” Debate
October 15, 2010 4 Comments
I saw this story on CNN this morning. Debates regarding the use of the “N-Word” (Nigger) are not unusual. There was the well-known debate between public intellectuals Michael Eric Dyson and Cornel West, and there are the often had debates and arguments in barbershops and at family reunions across the country. The debate typically centers around a few questions:
1) Should the N-Word be used? Those who answer “yes” to this first question typically use what I’ll call the “re-appropriation approach.” This stance, at its best, acknowledges the tragic, painful, and deadly history related to the N-Word, but also maintains that black folk have successfully and powerfully re-appropriated the word giving it an endearing meaning. Taking what was meant for dehumanization and making it deeply humanizing so that referring to a friend as “my nigga,” it is argued, has a very different meaning than a racist calling a black person “nigger.”
Those who answer this first question “no” usually maintain the “moratorium approach.” This approach says that the n-word is so deeply marred by hatred and tragedy that preceded and followed its use that it ought to be laid to rest until at least until the structure and function of society reflects having actually learned from (I can hear the “we have a black president!” retorts already:)).
2) Second question: (closely related to the first) why (or why not) is this issue important (or not)? Do we use it endearingly to subvert and remember? Do we not use it to forget and move on? Somewhere in between?
3) Thirdly, who is allowed to use the word? Should it now be limited to black people?
We could certainly add a host of other questions to this list, but I wonder what you all think?