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The N-word is dead
July 10, 2007 1:34 PM   Subscribe

The N-word: 1786 - 2007.
posted by desjardins (82 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Well what they want to do is make it socially unacceptable for blacks to use the word like in rap music or whatever, the same way that it generally socially unacceptable in most situations. They want to remove any positive connotations. That seems reasonable to me.
posted by delmoi at 1:38 PM on July 10, 2007


.

no wait undo OH SH--
posted by boo_radley at 1:41 PM on July 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Is "niggardly" still on the table?
posted by basicchannel at 1:44 PM on July 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Death to the Introverts!
(not dadist)

of course it's a good thing.
posted by nervousfritz at 1:44 PM on July 10, 2007


Tell me I'm not the only one who thinks the "funeral" for the n-word seems kind of ridiculous. I see much more promise in working towards a culture of respect for all people rather than making a big deal of saying "No more using this word!" It's just a word, and it only has as much power as we give it. Call me crazy, but I think having a big "funeral" for a word is just giving it more attention. To quote Star Trek:

Abraham Lincoln: "Oh, forgive me, my dear. I know in my time some used that term as a description of property."
Uhura: "But why should I object to that term, sir? In our century, we've learned not to fear words."

... I wanna go live in THAT century.
posted by Zephyrial at 1:45 PM on July 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


... I wanna go live in THAT century.

Cool, but you don't.
posted by OmieWise at 1:49 PM on July 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


I think it's had a quicker resurrections than Jesus, if my commute through the city today was any indication.
posted by spicynuts at 1:52 PM on July 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


So any subsequent sightings of 'the N-word' in the wild should be treated as the undead?

*cocks shotgun*

It's zombie-word apocalypse time.
posted by quin at 1:54 PM on July 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


Yeah, but I'd much rather work towards a Star Trek-like attitude on these words than an attitude of fear and (eventually, possibly) censorship.
posted by Zephyrial at 1:54 PM on July 10, 2007


I'm sorry, this is stupid. Of all the things to get angry about and they chose this? The N-word isn't holding people of color back. What about the fact that unemployment rate for African-Americans is more than double than that of whites? Or that African-Americans are over represented in poverty rates? Or shit let's talk about how for many African-Americans health care is non-existent. I'd rather talk about that, instead of some word that once used to mean something bad but has now been appropriated to mean something entirely different.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 1:55 PM on July 10, 2007


Well what they want to do is make it socially unacceptable for blacks to use the word like in rap music or whatever, the same way that it generally socially unacceptable in most situations. They want to remove any positive connotations. That seems reasonable to me.

Yeah, but none of that is going to happen by holding a fake funeral service. If you want a word to go out of fashion, take a generation who hasn't adopted it yet, and convince them that it's just plain stupid to use that word. It's too late to change the speaking habits of grown folks.
posted by 23skidoo at 2:03 PM on July 10, 2007


Thank god I use a language whose changes are based on the intentional acts of small committees. Man, I hate to think what a nightmare it would be if words could have their meanings altered by the unorganized masses. Heavens!
posted by Greg Nog at 2:03 PM on July 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


It won't be long before they renege.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:03 PM on July 10, 2007 [6 favorites]


As a white male american, I don't know how much my take really matters. But it's always seemed to me that if a bully calls you a word and you react, he's going to keep calling you that word. If you shrug it off, he/she moves on. I don't understand why you would want to keep giving that word (or any word) power. Of course I'm not part of the race that got kidnapped and enslaved, so...
posted by dig_duggler at 2:04 PM on July 10, 2007


you know, I can appreciate wanting to get rid of the word as a "term of endearment", but phrases like this are a large part of what detracts from movements like this:

This is more importantly about burying the attitude and behaviors that cause you to act like or be called that word.

Riiiiight. Because they're asking for it. It's not that it's a culturally ingrained term or anything. It's that they're acting like one or causing themselves to be called one. You got it.
posted by shmegegge at 2:04 PM on July 10, 2007


South Park seems relevant here...

Token: Jesse Jackson is not the Emperor of Black people! (walks away)
Stan: He told my dad he was...

This seems like a similar situation. It's very presumptuous for the NAACP to "officially" bury a word that's still in common usage, and it risks alienating the organization among the very people they are supposed to represent.

What's really fascinating to me, though, is that this publicity stunt is directed mostly inward. The NAACP is airing the black community's own dirty laundry rather than seeking reforms in others. I think this is very bold of them and shows that they're trying to achieve progress on all fronts.
posted by Riki tiki at 2:05 PM on July 10, 2007


PostIronyIsNotaMyth: The N-word isn't holding people of color back. What about the fact that unemployment rate for African-Americans is more than double than that of whites?

I... um... uh... . . .

Should I explain?
posted by LordSludge at 2:06 PM on July 10, 2007


As a white male american, I don't know how much my take really matters. But it's always seemed to me that if a bully calls you a word and you react, he's going to keep calling you that word. If you shrug it off, he/she moves on.

Yeah, just walk it off!
posted by delmoi at 2:08 PM on July 10, 2007


Oh, sheeze. I clicked the hyphen while at work and suddenly the whole office could see the n-word blaring across my screen. YES, THANK YOU, KPEARSON FACULTY DICTIONARY, I KNOW HOW TO PRONOUNCE IT NOW KTHXBAI.
posted by katillathehun at 2:09 PM on July 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


To quote Star Trek:

Abraham Lincoln: "Oh, forgive me, my dear. I know in my time some used that term as a description of property."
Uhura: "But why should I object to that term, sir? In our century, we've learned not to fear words."

... I wanna go live in THAT century.


To quote Abraham Lincoln:

"I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races - that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race."

---

Anyway, to get back on the subject. I'm not sure the mock funeral will have any sort of lasting effect. If anything the word shouldn't be 'buried', so people growing up and learning its 'new' meaning also know its hateful, racist past.
posted by defenestration at 2:11 PM on July 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


katilla, sorry about that. I didn't know if I should label it NSFW because it's not porn or anything; yet probably some sort of warning should be up there. I'll e-mail the mods.
posted by desjardins at 2:13 PM on July 10, 2007


The Michael Richards incident mentioned in the Chicago Tribune article. It's ugly viewing. It's appeared before on MeFi but was new to me. Jesus.
posted by nthdegx at 2:14 PM on July 10, 2007


N-word, please.
posted by ColdChef at 2:16 PM on July 10, 2007


Nephite?
posted by Burhanistan at 2:23 PM on July 10, 2007


I thought SNL brought forward a viable replacement a while back.

Kramer what?
Kramer please!

posted by Dillenger69 at 2:28 PM on July 10, 2007


desjardins, no sweat: I think it's pretty clear from the context of the post that people might come across the word in the links.
posted by cortex at 2:29 PM on July 10, 2007


Riki tiki : This seems like a similar situation. It's very presumptuous for the NAACP to "officially" bury a word that's still in common usage, and it risks alienating the organization among the very people they are supposed to represent.

I'm sure the phrase 'Colored People' was in common usage once as well, and yet that got buried. Or at least, marginalized enough that no one would be surprised if someone took offense at it's use. (And it's the 'CP' in NAACP, so I don't think they are too concerned with alienating their base. If they were they probably would have changed their name a long time ago.)

Personally I wish them the best with their futile efforts. I understand their motivation and would love to see it work, but the word is just too integrated into our culture. I think the best they can hope for is a time when some goofy white kid from the suburbs is singing about being a 'Straight up Nigga' and is completely clueless as to why this could be offensive.

A time when the word has passed through racism and is just a verbal artifact which most people don't even think about. Kind of like how many people today don't realize that to 'gyp someone' is actually a disparagement against gypsies. It's just not used that way anymore.
posted by quin at 2:34 PM on July 10, 2007


Ninja?
posted by straight at 2:37 PM on July 10, 2007


Mixed feelings here. Yes, it seems small compared with the big picture but words are powerful. When I first heard a black woman use it in 1986 to describe her friend I was horrified. Instantly, I understood what she was doing, using the denigrating word to describe oneself or peers as a means of diminishing its poison. It may have helped for a while to take ownership of the word but it made me cringe any time I heard it.

Being the object of denigration can be profoundly damaging. A symbolic funeral now can be a reminder there are better ways, better words, to describe oneself and others.

Besides, the N word for me is Narcissist.
posted by nickyskye at 2:37 PM on July 10, 2007


An intersting read: Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy's book 'Nigger - The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word.' An NPR interview on the book.
posted by ericb at 2:39 PM on July 10, 2007


A symbolic funeral now can be a reminder there are better ways, better words, to describe oneself and others.

This, I agree with.
posted by defenestration at 2:39 PM on July 10, 2007


niggawha?????
posted by Stynxno at 2:42 PM on July 10, 2007


Thank god I use a language whose changes are based on the intentional acts of small committees. Man, I hate to think what a nightmare it would be if words could have their meanings altered by the unorganized masses. Heavens!

That language is French. But you are posting in English from Brooklyn. I'm going to have to backtrack on my predictions about wonders ceasing. . . .
posted by grobstein at 2:46 PM on July 10, 2007


I've always wanted to have a band called "The Renegers." I don't have the guts.

(But still considering "The Lady Di's")
posted by thebrokedown at 2:49 PM on July 10, 2007


if only we could all love each other...we could if it were not for the fucking Jews
posted by Postroad at 2:56 PM on July 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


As a white male american, I don't know how much my take really matters. But it's always seemed to me that if a bully calls you a word and you react, he's going to keep calling you that word. If you shrug it off, he/she moves on.

Yeah, just walk it off!


Or rub some dirt on it... I'm just saying..
posted by dig_duggler at 2:58 PM on July 10, 2007


thebrokedown : I've always wanted to have a band called "The Renegers." I don't have the guts.

We are both going to Hell. You for thinking that up, and me for stealing it from you.

posted by quin at 3:02 PM on July 10, 2007


Quin! We're not using the Zed-word!
posted by slimepuppy at 3:09 PM on July 10, 2007


I bet all of this attention is resulting in more people using or at least mentioning the word in the past few days.
posted by inconsequentialist at 3:11 PM on July 10, 2007


Btw, what's the proper euphaism for 'fag'? We can't go calling it the f-word.
posted by delmoi at 3:20 PM on July 10, 2007


quin: you raise a good point, but I suspect the movement to eliminate "colored" was reflective of a fairly popular objection. It wasn't being used as affectionate slang, as far as I'm aware. Moreover, it was a linguistic sacrifice aimed mostly at white people, since "colored" was a common part of white vocabulary.

In contrast, very few white people still use the N word and the ones who do almost certainly won't be affected by this "funeral" in the slightest, so it's an exclusively black effort and the black people who use it likely disagree that it has racist connotations and needs to be squelched in their context.
posted by Riki tiki at 3:23 PM on July 10, 2007


Nee? Or Ni? Haven't you heard, they prefer the S word now.
posted by friarjohn at 3:25 PM on July 10, 2007


The N-word was also buried last week in Texas.

...must have more than one corpse
posted by Robert Angelo at 3:37 PM on July 10, 2007


Ninja?

Yeah, and the funeral was held by the National Association for the Advancement of Covert People, if I'm not mistaken.
posted by noahpoah at 3:47 PM on July 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Ninja?

A fairly entertaining musical comedian named Chinaman riffs on this with the phrase 'Ninja please!'

Fair enough, Riki tiki. I just think that however well intentioned these efforts are, they are doomed simply because the word is simply too entrenched into the culture.

I honestly hope I'm proved wrong.
posted by quin at 4:07 PM on July 10, 2007


I'd rather talk about that, instead of some word that once used to mean something bad but has now been appropriated to mean something entirely different.

I don't know about "once used to"; by my ears I'm rather certain the majority of people still use this word as its defined in the OED, and the majority of its use is derogatory.
posted by eustatic at 4:09 PM on July 10, 2007


(Kindly read this entire post before reaching any conclusions, please?)

I'm white. I love hip-hop. I can only sing along when I'm at home, or in the car.

My girlfriend loaned me the Randall Kennedy book ericb referenced above. I can't risk talking about the book in public, however helpful it might be, because what might happen if someone overhears? They're not likely to believe that I'm telling the truth about the topic or what I intended by mentioning it.

My first wife was Jewish. In conversation, my manager Barbara, who is black, said to me, "Well, if it's too expensive, Jew 'em down!" I replied that if anyone ought to understand why it's not cool to use slurs of that kind, it should be someone who knows the hurt of "N-", and was sent to HR afterward. When I repeated the gist of the conversation, I was told, "No Jews work here, so it's not an issue."

"Niggardly" cannot be said, as basicchannel mentioned above. It sounds too much like something it's not.

You don't often hear anyone upbraided for saying, "I got Gypped." Almost no one cares if they offend the Roma. I don't even think most people know what the word means. Not sure if that's a good or a bad thing, to be honest. I know what it means, and I hate it, but I'm just one person.


The intent of words does matter. But is the intent judged by the speaker, or the hearer? I'm sick to death of racism, sexism, discrimination of all kinds. It seems like a no-brainer to me that it's dumb to hate a person based on their race, creed, color, or faith. Conduct is the only thing that matters, imho. But how the hell do we stop negative behaviors of we can't even talk about the words and ideas that underpin them? We've handcuffed ourselves with fear. I wish I knew what the hell to do about it, but it doesn't seem to me that anyone can agree on where to even begin.
posted by SaintCynr at 4:10 PM on July 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think the best they can hope for is a time when some goofy white kid from the suburbs is singing about being a 'Straight up Nigga' and is completely clueless as to why this could be offensive. [quin]

Aren't we at that point? I mean, I think most white kids know enough not to casually use the word around black people they don't know, but I think it's fairly common to use it in a manner that's not intended to be racist.
posted by desjardins at 4:32 PM on July 10, 2007


Dude, "Chinaman" is not the preferred nomenclature. "Asian-American," please.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:44 PM on July 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


As a white male american, I don't know how much my take really matters. But it's always seemed to me that if a bully calls you a word and you react, he's going to keep calling you that word. If you shrug it off, he/she moves on. I don't understand why you would want to keep giving that word (or any word) power.

Your take does matter. It reflects an attitude that defines a relationship.
posted by Shakeer at 5:23 PM on July 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


"To bury the n-word, we gotta bury the pimps and the hos and the hustlers. Let's bury all the nonsense that comes with this."

I sure hope that he meant that symbolically. Otherwise, wee bit creepy.
posted by Remy at 5:30 PM on July 10, 2007


If the N-bomb is outlawed, then only outlaws will have N-bombs.
posted by Citizen Premier at 5:31 PM on July 10, 2007


Ah, nice try but folks on both sides of this fence will refuse to give it up. Why? Because for their very different reasons, the word is just to powerful and useful.

I'm hopeful though, just give it a few more years to really kick the bucket.
posted by snsranch at 5:34 PM on July 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


What about all the poor nerds?
posted by Burhanistan at 5:48 PM on July 10, 2007


I like the ad at the bottom of this page: Cosmo Kramer says the N-word. Fans stunned.

Kramer said the n-word?! When did this happen?

Also, Metafilter: What about all the poor nerds?
posted by the other side at 6:53 PM on July 10, 2007


Has this thread been super-moderated, or is there just a natural absence of nastiness? If the latter, then good on you guys. Mighty white of you!
posted by mds35 at 7:44 PM on July 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Has this thread been super-moderated, or is there just a natural absence of nastiness?

No moderation. By the sheer magic of this gesture of burying a word, everyone has forgotten the word in question. It's really such an enlightened move on their part. Like when I tell you not to think about a pink elephant, by God that is the furthest thing from your mind. Magic.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:42 PM on July 10, 2007


Maybe black men should call each other "Mary" or "Nellie" instead. It worked so well for queers in the '70s.
posted by davy at 9:17 PM on July 10, 2007


delmoi writes 'Btw, what's the proper euphaism for "fag"? We can't go calling it the f-word.'

Faygeleh.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:23 PM on July 10, 2007


"if only we could all love each other...we could if it were not for the fucking Jews"

Hey Postroad, I hope you're being "ironic" and I'm taking it wrong because I'm too damn tired to search out your history here to see how you might mean what on the face of it is Nazi bullshit. But yes, I am having a near-kneejerk anti-anti-semitic reaction here.

As for "niggardly," I'd take the position "look it up" and get over it, except that English has a perfectly good, less obscure and even shorter synonym: STINGY. All those English-as-a-first-language Mefites who absolutely have to look 'stingy' up please raise your virtual hands.

(And by the way, I wanted my drag name to be Vanessa, but what caught on was when some fool called me Sunshine. Go figure.)
posted by davy at 9:41 PM on July 10, 2007


It annoys me that we feel the need to call it "the n-word". In this sort of metalinguistic context, why is it that people are so afraid to say the word "nigger"? (I belong to a minority community that does the same sort of abbreviation with its 'dirty word'. Annoys the hell out of me.)

I mean, come on, we have a bunch of very well-educated adults on national TV cringing at even the mention of the word - not at its use in an objectionable (or even controversial) manner, but at its use in a discussion of the word itself!
posted by spaceman_spiff at 10:31 PM on July 10, 2007


spaceman_spiff,

Agreed. That people use the phrase "n-word" is just silly. We never make a similar substitution for any other racial slur. Then again, it's a big step up from "n-bomb".
posted by BigSky at 4:32 AM on July 11, 2007


I have been so socialized not to use the actual word that it's difficult to type even in this sort of discussion.

Ironically, I was socialized by whites, not blacks. I don't remember ever having a discussion one way or the other with a black person about the n-word. I suppose at some level, I have a greater fear of whites thinking I'm racist, because the social cost of that to me would be greater (since most of my friends/colleagues are white). Therefore even if every black person I knew was cool with me using the word, I still wouldn't, because the whites I know would be aghast.
posted by desjardins at 5:11 AM on July 11, 2007


I'd have to concur with Geoffrey Pullum's take, not only on the word, but the use of specific words in language and proposed bans on certain words.

The Freedom of Speech is a great tool for evaluating another's character. Let us not dull that tool by building walls around words.
posted by Colloquial Collision at 6:44 AM on July 11, 2007


The best use of nigger I ever heard was a white woman, who's best friend was black, using the term to description some poor white trash. When I questioned her on the use, she said "white, black, yellow, whatever, don't matter. You can still be a nigger."

Also, I'm amused by an association that uses "colored people" in its name has a problem with nigger.

Nigger, Negro, Colored, Afro-American, African-American are names that have applied here in the US, Frankly, I'm partial to Negro these days, just 'cause it sounds exotic. Or baring that, simply "The Sexy Ones"

African-American bothers the shit outta me, 'cause it's racist in assuming all black peope MUST come from Africa (I'm a mixture of mostly Haitian and French, with a bit of English thrown in) and it conjures images of Africa as one big homogeneous country/state which it sure as hell isn't.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:12 AM on July 11, 2007


"white, black, yellow, whatever, don't matter. You can still be a nigger."

A term that I'm partial to for the denoted group above is "no account". This was a frequently used label in the South a generation or so ago. Unfortunately, unless it is said by a speaker of the dialect and preferably an elder one, it tends to lack impact.
posted by BigSky at 7:57 AM on July 11, 2007


I'm whiter than rice, and it makes me sad that the NAACP's mock burial is so clearly futile.

Where I grew up (where the yearly KKK march is still on the front of the paper every year), I heard people say that word, and a lot of other similarly ugly ones, and mean them, with all the hatred that that implies. It wasn't uncommon.

In my high school of 1000 students, 8 were black, and as you can imagine, they kept to themselves. I was involved in an incident in my freshman year that caused them to think that I was a racist. The day it happened I remember walking past their table in the cafeteria and seeing the way they looked at me, like no one had ever looked at me before, sad and furious in amounts I couldn't fathom. Even though I hadn't done anything I felt unforgettably awful.

I think people like Quentin Tarantino and Don Imus, who are willing to brazenly use that word in mixed company, represent an unusually vocal minority. I hear racism with some frequency now, ten years later, even though I've moved to a less rural area; muslims are as frequently the target as blacks these days. But there is a gushing, overdone politeness that mysteriously takes people over when someone black or recognizably muslim is around. From what I've seen, in everyday life it's fundamentally cowardly.

Online it's a different matter, and it's as if being prevented from seeing the people you're talking to has emboldened a generation of kids that were irritated by political correctness. Whenever I hear someone using the word like it means nothing, it makes me want to grab them by the scruff of the neck and drag them down south, and say, "Look at this shit! Why do you want to connect yourself to these morons in any way?!?"
posted by zebra3 at 8:58 AM on July 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


Whenever I hear someone using the word like it means nothing, it makes me want to grab them by the scruff of the neck and drag them down south, and say, "Look at this shit! Why do you want to connect yourself to these morons in any way?!?"

Dear People with Race Guilt:

There are racists in your local area. There is no need to waste the gas to drive down here.

Cordially,

The South
posted by 23skidoo at 9:05 AM on July 11, 2007


A funeral for the niggar word will only give it more power. Don't like something? Ignore it. Being a racist or even being percieved as a racist is now one of the most horrible things a person can be accused of. Strange how an attitude can change over 40 or 50 plus years.
posted by hatchetjack at 9:31 AM on July 11, 2007


The best use of nigger I ever heard was a white woman, who's best friend was black, using the term to description some poor white trash. When I questioned her on the use, she said "white, black, yellow, whatever, don't matter. You can still be a nigger."

In college (early 80's), I remember someone using the N-word. When someone else called him on it, he said something to the effect of, "Oh, it's not a black thing. Anyone can be a n*****." Well, not the way he was using it. So, whenever I hear this "explanation", it bothers me.
(Full disclosure: I am a very white guy.)
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 9:37 AM on July 11, 2007


Brandon Blatcher : African-American bothers the shit outta me, 'cause it's racist in assuming all black peope MUST come from Africa

Purely anecdotal, but I worked with a black guy who really bristled at being called African-Amercian, mainly because he was aboriginal Australian.

He had some really great rants on the subject.
posted by quin at 9:49 AM on July 11, 2007


quin, did he mind being called an "abo"?

(Disclosure: I'm obviously predominantly honkey myself.)
posted by davy at 9:53 AM on July 11, 2007


I don't think so, but it was a long time ago. Generally he just preferred to be called Australian.
posted by quin at 10:11 AM on July 11, 2007


Speaking as a tundra bunny, I can only say that this mock funeral will increase the "edginess" of the word and it will continue to be used incessantly by people wanting to look tough and cool.

If tough and cool people keep getting laid, the word will not die.
posted by wah at 10:22 AM on July 11, 2007


Richard Pryor and Chevy Chase Racist Word Association Interview (transcript) from Saturday Night Live.
Chase: Nigger.
Pryor: Dead honky.
A term that I'm partial to for the denoted group above is 'no account'.

It's pronounced "no 'count," and works best if you wear seersucker. Pretty much only Hal Holbrook can get away with it these days.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:14 AM on July 11, 2007


tundra bunny

duly added to my vocab! I wonder if tundrabunny.com is taken.
posted by desjardins at 12:22 PM on July 11, 2007


Look, the NAACP (somewhat ironically) does not represent all black people, and that's part of the problem here. The National Association (that's what it goes by, now) has always been the most "mainstream" (i.e. acceptable to whites) of all the black civil rights groups, and that's because it incorporated the black elites (doctors, lawyers, ministers) in most communities. These folks have never been down with the hos and pimps crowd, to say the least. Cosby speaks for them: "Go back to school! Learn to speak English properly! Get a job!"

The organization was hemorrhaging members during most of the 90s. Probably mainly because their appeal and influence was greatest during the crucial years of the civil rights movement, and a lot of those people were retiring or dying off. But there was also a sense that they'd lost touch with the black community generally, which was (as I pointed out) little surprise to some.

You could say that "colored people" was anachronistic, and that was probably part of it, but I think it's more demographics. (There were black people who used, even preferred, "colored" as late as the 1990s. They were the type of people who would belong to the NAACP.)

Ultimately I think these people are smart enough to know that they can't cause the word to disappear overnight. They are, most certainly, speaking to those blacks who think it's acceptable. It's most certainly an ongoing example of a cultural divide within the black community.

The best use of nigger I ever heard was a white woman, who's best friend was black, using the term to description some poor white trash.

Sen. Byrd got in hot water for saying "white nigger" on TV. It's a very old usage, probably nearly a century old if not more. One could argue with some justification that it arose during the time when poor whites and poor newly-freed blacks intermixed and basically had a shared culture (of necessity, see Maslow etc.). According to some viewpoints, the KKK was formed in order to place a wedge between the two.
posted by dhartung at 12:23 PM on July 11, 2007


"White nigger" does go back farther than a century. In the 19th century the usage seems to have been more elastic, and of course much more common. One quote from recent fiction, Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, at Glanton's moment of doom he says something to the effect of, "Hack away you mean old red nigger.". That's not proof of anything, of course, but it is suggestive.

One of the more famous "I was captured by Indians!" narratives has an interesting example. Beyond it being set in Ohio I don't remember too many identifying details. It was very dramatically written, and right as the hero is being led to his almost certain, slow and painful demise, small children rush forward and get in his face to yammer "White nigger eat fire! White nigger eat fire!".

And no matter how much it might please liberal whites and more genteel blacks, no one but them is going to stop saying nigger. If anything it is more likely to come back into public discourse than to continue to fade from it. A few years ago a columnist, who was Black, ranted about a photo of a store in Africa someone had sent him. The store name? Nigger's. Part of his rant focused on some other Blacks' lack of outrage when he shared this anecdote. He asked a lady if she would ever buy something from a store with such a name. Her reply, "Depends if they had anything I liked.". I'm not so sure that a store with "Nigger" in the title would be condemned to failure in a first world country. Just spell the name right, maybe include an address, and you can say whatever you like about it.
posted by BigSky at 1:04 PM on July 11, 2007


Fred Sanford, Legal Eagle (Wikipedia):
"Hey, look here, why don't you arrest any white people?" When the policeman answers, "Well I do," Fred gestures to the court observers, who are all black, and asks, "Well where are they? Look at all the niggas in here!" Upon uttering this statement, the live studio audience went crazy with laughter and applause. Redd Foxx had to pause for the crowd to settle down before delivering the coup de grace: "There's enough niggas in here to make a Tarzan movie!"
posted by kirkaracha at 3:14 PM on July 11, 2007


kirkaracha: richard pryor also frequently used the word 'nigga' too. obviously, in a time it was not controversial in the black community (unless you were part of the militant, "pro-black" segment of the 70s). so i'm not getting your point here.

i thought usage of the n-word (as a substitute for "nigger") started online when websites would filter it out as profanity, and it slipped over into everyday usage, but i am probably wrong on this. it's just when i noticed it....

36-yo black/native woman here. yes. growing up in the 80s, i vividly remember being called nigger by white classmates and strangers. and it was not in a friendly, endearing way. and no it was not the south. and yes. it still stings to hear white folks (young and old) use it and defend its use by saying to get over it (because i'm giving it power) and/or the ol' argument that since black people use it (NOT all of us), why can't x, y and z use it too. nope. not cool. never will be to most of us. unfortunately to those making money in hip-hop or the "street" image, its part of the package that sells. the ones you see on tv, movies and videos, which for some strange reason, makes other folks believe this is black people, and how black people talk..... you know because you drove through north philly once, or that time got lost on pennsylvania ave in baltimore and thought you were in the middle of 'the wire'... sigh.

to me, the naacp is about as effective and meaningful to the black community.. as say.. jesse jackson, or sharpton. they had their day in the sun, but now its pretty much about face-time. this burial thingy, is preaching to their choir.


i see this conversation played out so many times and so many different ways on mefi and sometimes the comments just make me wanna vomit. i just had to insert my dime this time.

rant over.
posted by lunachic at 4:13 PM on July 11, 2007


The word was used on popular TV shows in the '70s. The entire thread's about the word and when it's been used, and those are my examples. It's been such a forbidden word for most of my adult life that I was surprised that it was used, seemingly casually, on TV.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:29 PM on July 11, 2007


kirkaracha: thanks for the clarification. i thought the thread was about something else. but yes, that richard pryor skit is a classic!
posted by lunachic at 9:12 PM on July 11, 2007


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