The N Word

Regarding the five letters e,g,i,n,r which, when configured to form the word nigger … these clips (which some may find objectionable) come from a variety of sources.

  1. Statements about the word’s origins and etymology by leading linguists and historians, excerpted from the 2006 film, The N Word – Divided We Stand, written and directed by Todd Larkins..
  2. Commentary from Blazing Saddles (30th Anniversary Special Edition) in which the writers and director (Mel Brooks) discuss the intention of the film and its use of the word nigger.
  3. From “The Colbert Report,” Stephen Colbert’s interview with Jabari Asim, author of The N Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn’t, and Why
  4. From “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” an ‘investigative report’ by Jon Oliver and Larry Wilmore on the ordinance proposed by a New York City Councilman to ban the word.
  5. From Comedy Central’s “The Chocolate News,” a comedic report on negotiations to allow white people to use the word.
  6. From his 2008 HBO comedy special Chris Rock: Kill the Messenger, Chris Rock explains his position regarding when white people can use the word.
  7. From “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” analysis of the controversies involving how Laura Schlessinger and Sarah Palin handled issues related to the words nigger and retarded.
  8. From “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” senior black correspondent Larry Wilmore brilliantly comments on the misguided substitution of the word “slave” for “nigger” in a new edition of The Adventures of Huck Finn.

From my article “A Fence Sieve Language” (pdf):

Those who advocate eliminating or even banning certain words and phrases do not seem to grasp the symbolic nature of words. They misplace or misallocate their ire toward the word itself rather than on the underlying attitude, beliefs, and behaviors of the individuals who use the word. Although Jabari Asim tries to straddle a difficult line in proposing that some people can use the word nigger but others shouldn’t, I support his statement quoted previously: “It’s really hard to address the language of racism without somehow directly engaging in that language.” From a literary and historical context, you cannot teach Huckleberry Finn without using the language of the time and understanding the attitudes of the time. (Not to mention that you can’t re-write what the author wrote.) Neither can you arbitrarily dictate (or request, in the case of Councilman Comrie) that nigger be stricken and banned from music lyrics. If nigger, what next? [Read the article online]

Here is Princeton professor and author Melissa Harris-Lacewell on “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” reinforcing the distinction between words and behaviors (July 12, 2010). See transcript excerpt below video.

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HARRIS-LACEWELL: Maybe, but it could also be simply that we’ve done a really bad job in this country talking about what racism is. So many may feel that if they don’t use the “N” word or if they don’t actively keep a black person from getting a job or spit on a black person when they see them, then they’re not racist. And we haven’t done a very good job of talking about the fact that if you regularly support public policy which will have a disparate impact, creating greater inequality for people of color, that that is racially biased. And we haven’t talked about, for example, privilege, or we haven’t talked very well in the public about privilege. So that many white Americans feel like, well, I have a difficult circumstance; I’m losing my job; bad things are happening to me. So why should we be talking about race and racism? And we haven’t talking about, for example, how white privilege operates in the context of even, you know, an economic downturn. So it could be, in part, just sort of our fault in terms of a collective incapacity to talk about what racism really is.