Let's stop using the word we don't really need

August 22, 2010 

This column is going to be very difficult for me, mainly because I'll be discussing a word I can't say in a family newspaper. How do I know this? I tried to use it in my last column, and it got deleted.

It's a racial slur, one that could get this publication in all sorts of trouble if spelled out in print.

Heck, it got Dr. Laura Schlessinger in hot water when she said it not once, not twice, but nearly a dozen times on her radio show.

It seems every time a white public figure gets caught saying the dreaded N-word, more attention is paid to the word than the ignorant, hateful rhetoric that surrounds it.

So I ask: Do we really need the N-word?

I have to admit, there have been times I've used it. (Hey, I used to live in the 'hood!) But it's a term I don't need in my life, especially if there are black people who are ready to go nuts if they're not the only ones using it, and there are white people who are ready to go nuts if they can't use it.

Schlessinger used it during an exchange with a black woman who called in and asked how to get her white husband's friends to stop saying racially insensitive remarks around her. Instead of telling the lady she should confront her spouse's boys and tell them to knock it off, respect her and her home or get to steppin', Schlessinger began ranting about how black people voted for Barack Obama just because he's black (huh?).

Off and ranting

When the caller mentioned "the word," Schlessinger went off. "Turn on HBO, listen to a black comic and all you hear is, '[expletive], [expletive], [expletive]," she said. "I don't get it. If anybody without enough melanin says it, it's a horrible thing. But when black people say it, it's affectionate."

After riffing some more on Obama and what makes the N-word offensive (yes, she dropped more N-bombs here too), she hung up on the caller. Then Schlessinger said if people are that hypersensitive, they shouldn't marry outside their race.

Soon after, Schlessinger apologized, saying she was trying to make "a philosophical point" and was wrong to use the slur. Calls for boycotts prompted her to recently announce she won't be continuing her radio show after the end of the year; she said she wants to have the freedom to say what she wants - no matter how ill-conceived, condescending or downright ignorant it may be, I guess.

People were ready to call Mel Gibson a racist (again!) when he was reported to have said the word during a recorded phone exchange with his ex-girlfriend, one of many exchanges she recorded for posterity. And then the phone calls were released, and those who listened immediately realized that his N-bomb was just one of many vile words and expressions he lobbed.

Let's take it back even further to that infamous meltdown Michael Richards had on the stage of an LA comedy club several years ago. He flipped his lid and called an audience member the N-word, but people seem to forget that before that he told the guy, "50 years ago, we'd have you upside down with a [expletive] fork up your [expletive]." Now, don't you think that's a tad more derogatory?

Lemons to lemonade

The N-word is an offensive slur, a disparaging term that has plagued African-American society since slavery. But it has also become a term some African-Americans have morphed into a term of endearment. When it comes to the N-word, black people took lemons and made lemonade - yet we don't want white people to drink that lemonade.

There are still white people, like Schlessinger, who don't understand why they can't use the word if black people use it all the time. (And to them I say: Why do you feel the need to use the word in the first place?)

It appears to have gotten to the point where some white people use the N-word as a sign of ironic, social rebellion. I find younger white kids use it often, mostly because they don't believe they're racist and, therefore, can use it as freely as their black counterparts. If you don't believe me, go over to YouTube, type in "white girls" and "n-word" in the search engine, and you'll find yourself immersed in videos of teenage girls and other young ladies taking liberties with the word.

A real head-scratcher

The fact that this word can still draw outrage and media attention baffles those who think there are more things in black culture to be angry about.

Over on black news and culture site TheLoop21.com, political blogger Keli Goff took the African-American community to task for still making this an issue, especially when there are so many important things black people should be focusing on.

"One thing that strikes me as so strange about this entire debate is that our community has so much that is actually worth fighting for," Goff wrote. "We still lag behind in all of the areas in which it actually matters: graduation rates, life expectancy, compensation and financial security. Why have some of us decided that keeping the N-word alive and well is a battle that deserves our time, attention and support? That seems to be a sad statement on our priorities."

Goff also added, "The N-word is not like air or water. We can live without it, so why not try?"

You know, that doesn't sound like a bad idea.

craig.lindsey@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4760

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