Who’s Keeping the N Word Alive?
Updated: Jan 21
About a week ago, my oldest son came home and said, “Mom! A kid called me the N
word – and he’s black!” Through gritted teeth, I tried to explain why some black
people call other black people the N word. It made no sense to him and it makes no
sense to me.
There are two movie scenes that I still vividly remember from childhood. One was
the scene of the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz. I can’t tell you how much
sleep I lost because of those stupid monkeys. The other was not so ridiculous and it
still effects me today: it is the scene from the original 1977 Roots miniseries when
Kunta Kinte’s master brutally beat him until he finally submitted and gasped, “My
name is Toby.”
Forcing slaves to abandon their African names and take on new Anglo names was
part of the subjugation. If I name you I own you; all African identity had to be
forsaken and left behind. Not only that, but I can call you any vile thing I’d like.
A little while later in the movie, Toby’s master beat him again so severely that he
knocked him out, spat on him and called him the N word with utter contempt. This
word conjures centuries of pain. It represents a period of time when white people
ruled so supremely, that they could call anybody anything they wanted with
impunity. The N word is a word of domination, disrespect and derision. It
communicates, “You’re not a person. You’re a dog.”
This word needs to die. And yet today, two types of people keep it alive: shameless
racists and some hip hop artists. We expect nothing less from the racist. But the
black hip hop artist… really? Why?
Similar is the phenomenon of female artists liberally calling other women bitches
and hoes. Do they not realize the blood, sweat and tears of the women before them
who stared into the scornful eyes of an unashamed sexist culture and demanded to
be treated as equal human beings?
So many black people endured trauma and violence fighting for their right to name
themselves, and despite the discouraging events that still occur, we’re making
tremendous progress -- but this word sets us back every time.
When it comes to the hip hop artists, it has to be about the money and that is
unacceptable. Those who rap these words and those who buy these albums should
look around and see the company with whom they keep. They are linking arms
racists and misogynists and they should be ashamed.