Paul R. Lehman, Use of the ‘N’ word never acceptable in society even by entertainers

June 17, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Posted in American Racism, blacks, Disrespect, fairness, Media and Race, minority, Prejudice, whites | 2 Comments
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All words generally have connotations and denotations regardless of their context. If a word’s existence is based on its historical denotation, then that history becomes part of that word regardless of the context. For example, the word ‘history’ retains its basic denotation regardless of the context or connotations. However, if we look at the word ‘bitch’ and examine its denotation, we discover that it means a female dog. When the term is used in other contexts it could mean the act of whining excessively; a person who rides specifically in the middle of a front-seating only car meant for 2 passengers; a woman considered to be spiteful or overbearing; a lewd woman; a man considered to be weak or compatible and a host of other meanings (www.thefreedictionary.com). In the other uses or connotations of the word ‘bitch’ the denotation does not usually influence its use because the connotations generally attack or describe the character of a person. The denotation simply defines the word without making a social judgment.

The ‘N’ word like the word ‘history’ retains it basic denotation regardless of the context in which it is found. Recently, a discussion regarding the use of the ‘N’ word has again come to the fore, so we thought we would provide some comments regarding its usage. If we look at the history of the ‘N’ word we discover that its creation was usage was meant to denigrate people of African and African American heritage. The intended use of the ‘N’ word was to create a derogatory and socially unacceptable association to the people forced to accept it as an identity. The social value of anyone described as an ‘N’ was below that of excrement; hence, the common statement: “a ‘N’ ain’t worth shit.” Any use of the ‘N’ word carries with it that history regardless of the so-called context.

Any number of entertainers have used the ‘N’ word in their work and tried to rationalize its use as part of their 1st Amendment right to free speech. If one considers the right to free speech as permission to say whatever one wishes to say regardless of the implications, then the entertainers are correct. However, if the use of the word carries with it the denigration or insults to people forced to accept that term as an identity, then the use is certainly unacceptable as well as reprehensive. For someone to use the ‘N’ word as part of entertainment suggests a lack of historical knowledge or a disregard for the negative implications it carries. The word cannot be recreated simple because it is used in a different context—the elements of character associated with the ‘N’ word persist regardless of the context. For one to try and argue to the contrary underscores a lack of sound judgment in the face of plain logic. Spelling the ‘N’ word differently does not change its history—the negative implications remain.

Some people maintain the belief that because the ‘N’ word was/is used to identify them that they have the right to pass judgment on the use of the word. How stupid is that? What they fail to realize is that the word was forced on them in the first place, so whatever they try to do to the word is meaningless historically because they did not create or apply it initially. The fact that the ‘N’ word has been applied to African Americans and used by many African Americans within the African American community does not mean that the word has been accepted and approved by African Americans.  As a matter of fact, the African American community disapproves of the ‘N’ word’s use, and rejected it s association to their identity. So, why would anyone want to use the word today and even make excuses for its use? The answer lies in the payoff. Who profits from the use of the ‘N’ word?

Since the African American community has rejected the use of the ‘N’ word for all the negative concerns it creates, why would some African Americans continue to use the word if not for profit? One might consider the use for shock value or just plain ignorance of history and no sense of self worth. When did the African American community give their power to entertainers to decide who can use the ‘N’ word or not? If the word is reprehensive and pejorative to the African American community, why would it not be so, in general, to everyone? Also, why would anyone want to promote bigotry by using the ‘N’ word even as entertainment? The fact of the matter is that the word is unacceptable for use in society under any circumstances. Those who use the ‘N’ word know that it is unacceptable in its usual form, so they change its appearance through spelling or some other construction. Regardless of its appearance, its history is still present.

Many of the arguments offered by proponents of African Americans using the ‘N’ word, lack solid evidence of it losing its sting. Some have said that the word is part of the culture and that it is okay to use it among those in the community. How can that be true when the community has rejected it? Certainly the use of the ‘N’ word was common within the African American community from slavery up to and including some segments today. The early use came primarily from being forced to accept the word as a form of identity—it was a part of the slave culture. African and African Americans knew the word was derogatory, but were powerless to change it. Another use of the word came from ignorance experienced through slavery. However, even the African Americans who used the word before it was rejected by the national community realized the pejorative nature of the word, so they reserved it for people they wanted to insult.

So, the ‘N’ word is not acceptable under any circumstances with the exception of how it was used in literature of the past. The use of the ‘N’ word in literature marked a clear indication of the mindset of the individual and his or her society in the work. The use of it today marks a clear indication of bigotry, stupidity or arrogance. Those who persist in saying that the ‘N’ word is part of free speech and they have to right to say it, must remember one cannot have it both ways…either the word is unacceptable or it is not. Society has said that it is not.

If someone calls you a dawg, what does that say about your mother, brother, sister or you?

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2 Comments »

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  1. I agree the word is inappropriate and unacceptable, but it is also complicated. You correctly point out freedom of speech/artistic license exceptions that I agree are for the most part lame excuses for perpetuating if not glorifying the word. I saw a movie recently set in Thailand where the actors used the word much like it is used by some younger African Americans and music artist. The interesting thing is there were no African Americans in the movie. I have heard the word used in these passive formats for artistic and entertainment purposes. I have also heard the word used as it was originally intended, with hate and contempt. In every instance, and let me be clear, every instance, passive and hostile, I was offended.

    On the other side, I will be honest and say that when I was younger, in private conversations with friends the word was often batted around along with other grossly profane words. In that setting, I generally was not likely to be offended because we were kids goofing around. Obviously as we matured and grew intellectually the need to express ourselves using profanity waned and the use of the N word went away with it. While I totally agree with you, it is a complicated issue.

    • Jim,
      If you can go back to that time when you were young and in a group of peers where you used what you knew was socially unacceptable language, you will also realize that part of the reason that language was used was because it was not permitted in the home and other regular places. You all knew the nature of the language but felt safe and comfortable in your group so you used the language as a form of rebellion to authority. In any event, when the ‘N’ word was used in African American groups and homes the stigma was still present but not accepted as personally directed with negative intentions. A similar situation might be two brothers with the same parents calling each other bastards. They both know that the insult falls on deaf ears. Insert a neighbor both into the discussion and his use of the word is interpreted differently, because he is not part of the same family. Regardless of the context, the ‘N’ words retains its historical significance.


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