WASHINGTON, July 13, 2013 — The recent controversy over TV chef Paula Deen has revived a dialogue over the “n-word” and its usage. The question has been asked: Why is it despicable for Deen or other white people to use a word that black people frivolously use to describe themselves?
Many in the hip-hop community, including mogul Jay-Z, have said that blacks have turned the word into a term of endearment, thus removing the power that racism gave it. Many concur with that statement. The truth is otherwise: There is a double standard in the black community. Black people continue to use the n-word because they lack the will to stop saying it.
Chris Rock once did a comedic bit on the distinctions between black people and n-words, saying that “n-words” believed things like raising one’s children and avoiding jail were high aspirations to be proud of. Rapper Tupac Shakur made the distinction between the n-word ending in “er” and the one ending in “a,” stating that both were black men with chains, but one chain was from slavery and the other was golden. Rap group NWA — whose initials stood for N-words With Attitude — stated on their album Efil4zaggin, backwards spelling for N-words 4 Life, that being a n-word is inescapable; regardless of wealth or education, a black man will always be seen as such.
The n-word, therefore, by implication refers to eternal low expectations, slavery and degradation. Even if one were to escape the Compton ghetto, become a surgeon, and move to wealthy suburbs, one would be no more than a wealthy and educated “n-word.”
That is not a term of endearment; that is a shameful indictment. The n-word has such negativity behind it that it is honestly impossible to see objectively see it positively. Moreover, perpetuating usage of the n-word allows other races to think that such behavior is acceptable. No Jewish person ever willfully called themselves the k-word. We shake our heads when women or gay people refer to themselves or friends as the b-word or the f-word, respectively.
What conclusion can be made, then, except that the black community’s acceptance of this degradation is from surrender, from a weary acceptance that the word is part of the culture, not unlike the sad embrace of the community of the pimp, the gangster, the hustler, the dope dealer, or the crooked preacher?
The black community’s usage of a word given to them kidnappers and slavemasters simply should not be. It should a relic parked next to the horse-and-buggy. Black people cannot excel as a people when they embrace their own humiliation — especially when the community is quick to grow angry when other races use the term, thus thoroughly shredding the “term of endearment” theory. This glaring double standard leads to silly community explanations as to why it is okay for blacks to use the word.
But obviously, if the n-word no longer has any power, why explode with rage when white people use it? Why wasn’t Paula Deen laughed off? Why was Spike Lee furious at Quentin Tarantino for using the word in Pulp Fiction or Django Unchained? Why were blacks angry at Oprah Winfrey for suggesting to rapper Ludacris that he stop using the word — while admiring Ludacris for “standing up to Oprah?” If the n-word had truly lost its power, then black people would no longer be incensed by its usage by anyone.
But they are nonetheless incensed, proving that the n-word has truly lost none of its power, nor can it ever shake its history of racism and degradation. Black people, in slavery, were conquered, renamed, forbidden to practice their own faiths, and beaten into submission — or to death — in order for slavery to take hold.
After being freed, the oppressive ruling classes continued to call black people the n-word to dehumanize them, to ensure that blacks would never be considered equal to whites. Thus, the n-word is the word of a conqueror, an oppressor, a word that signifies that black people are eternally lesser by nature. It is to the shame of the black community that they have adopted the epithet of their former subjugators, and it would be to the pride of the community to drop the term.
Ethnic slurs are not unique to people of African descent. However, only the n-word attacks a race merely because of their skin color. But there are examples of it being dropped. Richard Pryor famously renounced the word in his film “Live on Sunset Strip.” During his monologue discussing a trip to Africa, he said that a voice inside asked him — upon seeing millions of blacks — if he saw any n-words. When he replied no, the voice said, “that’s because there aren’t any.” He told the audience that he wept, and vowed never to use the word to describe another black person. Richard’s words were, “I’ve been wrong.”
So has the black community. The word cannot be okay for Chris Rock and not for Paula Deen. It is wrong for all people. The double standard must end. The n-word should be dropped forever by everyone — especially the black community.
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