Wednesday 23 May 2007

A Guest Post by David Anthony- The 'N' Word

I think for most of us- for me anyway- we blog partly to exchange ideas and be provoked in to doing some thinking.

Which is why I think it's a good idea to surrender the chair sometimes and give someone else a turn. There are a lot of things to be said for it.

Now we've had some posts by dead guys here, tonight we have one from a living thinker, to be found at David Anthony Republic, linked below.

David has some thought provoking words to offer on taking away the power of words to wound.

This is David Anthony, on the 'N' word.

Much has changed in Western society since Martin Luther King, Jr. led 250,000 people up to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC and delivered his ‘I have a dream’ speech. Gone are the segregated buses that trawled through the streets of Atlanta, gone are the separated water fountains, and gone, by and large, are the social divisions maintained by oppressive white people to separate themselves from the black community. We now live in a world that recognises the iniquity and immorality of those manufactured social separations from an age past to history. But one festering relic of those dark days still remains … the N word.

The word that embodied all of the - self-proclaimed – superiority and hate of the white man over black still sifts low over the doldrums of modern society. In a world in which ethnic and social divisions are being eroded away, why does this word still exist and still contain so much hatred and cause for offence?

In my opinion, it is precisely because the word is stigmatised within the modern vernacular that it continues to exist within its own self-made cesspool. Like the last stocks of Smallpox maintained in securely-kept laboratories, so the N word is locked away from public usage and continues to linger.

By removing it from public discourse we are removing its ability to morph and change as all other words do. The way things are at the moment, only the hate-mongers in our society have access to the word, everyone else is terrified to even utter its sound. The hatred attached to the word is therefore heightened and those wishing to hate feel, somehow, vindicated in their distasteful beliefs.

Words are simply labels which access thoughts and emotions within our own minds. It is not the word itself that causes offence, it is the associations we all have of it in our collective unconscious. By storing away the word, we a denying its ability to change into something more positive. Also by storing it away, we are maintaining its hate-filled associations within our own minds.

Gay people learned long ago that the way to remove hatred and venom from a word was to claim it as their own and ridicule it. It's at a point now where the people hurling those abusive words at gay people are made to look ridiculous, rather than their desired intent. The same can be true for racists too; if we – as a society and as individuals – have the courage to open up the proverbial Pandora’s Box and allow the word freedom to claim back its rightful identity, we can allow it to grow into something positive.

I realise that some words are harder to claim back from the haters than others (and this is undoubtedly the hardest) but locking away anything, whether it be words or swastikas will not heal anything, it only serves to preserve the hate speech and paraphernalia of those wishing to continue hating.

Black people have, in a way, taken back ownership of the word, but not in a positive way. The word is now used by people such as 50cent in a derogatory manner, highlighting the sub-gang culture that has developed within America’s inner-cities. This is also offensive to other Black people who do not wish to be associated with this culture. Also, all other ethnic groups are still denied usage of the word and the stigma remains.

You may have noticed that I have avoided using the word in this article. This is because it is still such an emotive word and has enormous capacity to cause offence. I hope, that one day in the future, we are able to free the word from its hate-filled prison and allow it to grow as a flower… and not as a weed.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post BUT ( and here comes the doom) Richard Prior tried to do just that but it had a back lash he didn't anticipate and only caused more people to use him as an example why it was okay to call people such a filthy word.
Therefore , black people themselves ( as highlihted by your example) cannot fumigate this word themselves but nor can whites.
It is a word, as you said, that one almost has to have permission to use ( as in only the blacks) BUT they use it in either an apologetic and inferior way ( like Prior) or with the same degradation that 50 cent does.
Whites can never get beyond just them uttering it does to the word itself.
I have to admit I think this is the single word I hate most in all our language. I don't think we can ever de- stigmatize it.
I recall when Roise Parks died recently . I was in a chatroom and was talking of the role she had played in social change( the little people, who unlike Martin Luther King Jr. do not get the true recognition for their contribution that they deserve)and few if any knew who she was.
That's incredibly sad and a terrible injustice to her!More than anything Rosie Parks proved that ONE person can sometimes make a huge difference.
And I would like to add, she , a poor middle aged maid, did more to abolish segragation in that one cat then MLK was able to do.
Although, I much admire him.

Anonymous said...

It's a tricky one, Ms Uber, because it penetrates beyond the words themselves.
For example I remember Having an argument with a black friend once, where he maintained (contrary to the idea that is black people who keep going on about this) that it the terms 'White' bastard and 'black' bastard were both just as offensive.

But that's not true.

In any insult, what matters is;
a, What was implied by the insulter.
b. The power of that implication over the insulted.

In the case of the insult 'white' bastard a) can only mean 'You're different' and b) has no more power than 'shut up you ginget twat'

In the second instance a) means 'I believe you to be inferior because of your colour, whereas b) involves the knowledge by black people that this belief system long maintained a historical reality that they are still escaping from.

Problem is withy all of this, is while words maintain the power to hurt and have these connotations, it is never possiblt to truly escapes the concepts which gave them this power.

So no easy answers.

I don't see a simple solution as to how we can move on, but move on we must.

Especially with the renewed danger of Far right groups, not just here, but over much of Europe.

Anonymous said...

Thanks uber mouth and Crushed, interesting points both. Rosa Parks is just as much a heroine as MLK is a hero.

Maybe we should not be looking towards black people to solve the problem, maybe it is us as white people who have to be the first to break through that stigmatised barrier.

We are responsible for giving the word its meaning in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree wiht both of you( let's have a 3 some lol) BUT I especially liked the Brit's mention that white bastard or honky have no real offence attached to them for thye are deemed to be , or believe themselves to be, the superior colour anyway. So, it loses it's meaning like a poor person calling a toff derogatory names based on their superior education and finances.
Did either of you read " Black Like me"?Forget the author but what a great insight for a white to have a glimpse of what it must be like to be black.

Anonymous said...

"Gay people learned long ago that the way to remove hatred and venom from a word was to claim it as their own and ridicule it. It's at a point now where the people hurling those abusive words at gay people are made to look ridiculous, rather than their desired intent."

Amazing, I disagree :)

Gay people 'claimed' words as their own, did that actually help? Not really, now there are simply other words that are used.

Someone else is posting on words today and as I said there, no matter what you do to 'words' it WILL.NOT.HELP ;) It isn't the words that do it, it is the people.

Remember the sticks and stones rhyme that children USED to repeat? It is perfectly apt now. Thicker skin will make the words lose their 'bite'.

Anonymous said...

Excellent. I agree with DA about words and their associations and also that words need to "morph" because language is living. But I can also see why he has not used the word in question in the post.

Anonymous said...

Lord Nazh said...
It isn't the words that do it, it is the people.

Isn't that what I implyed in the post? Words are only labels, they have no meaning in themselves. They are simply sounds which register associations in our minds.

Anonymous said...

Words are more than just labels. They are a label to a box in which we put a number of concepts.
Words conceptualise these. Thing is, we all keep slightly different assortments of concepts in our boxes.
The word Bombay, for example to me includes amogst it's concepts a reminder of the burning of Bombay Street in Belfast. That probably doesn't occur to any of the rest of you under the concept of Bombay.

A word carries a lot more than just it's primary meaning.

Labour originally meant work.
Parasite meant a beggar.
A factory was a trading post.

Anonymous said...

I've tried to look up the etymology of the 'N' word and as far as I can see it is nothing more than a contraction of the Spanish word for 'black person' - negro. The offensiveness of the 'N' word is purely derived from the manner in which it was spoken which was traditionally for it to be spat contemptuously. In itself the word has no particular connotation other than to broadly describe a person's race.

Do we baulk at using the word negro ? When was the last time you used it ? I notice that in modern parlance we now use cumbersome terms such as Afro-Caribean, Afro-American. Has the virtual abolition of the 'N' word sounded the death knell for 'negro'too ?

I find it difficult to say the 'N' word let alone type it. Something within me is programmed to reject it. So effective has been the subliminal propaganda that I can't remember how this programming occured - no one said to me directly "you must not use the 'N' word". So how did it happen ? This bothers me greatly. We have undergone some kind of mind censoring - Orwellian Ingsoc.

We now have only one taboo word in an age where taboo is regarded as anachronistic - this hands great privilege to a minority group and perpetuates their claim to victimhood behind which significant numbers of them hide in order to avoid justified scrutiny.

As a society of justice(purportedly) we have been brainwashed into believing that racialism is the worst offence and so crimes are elevated to a much higher degree of seriousness if there is a racialist content. I posit that racialism isn't the worst offence - that Jade Goody (racist) should recieve more widespread condemnation than Pete Townsend (paedophile) ought to set alarm bells ringing.

There is only one taboo and the white man will continue to be beaten with it mercilessly and in this thread self-flagelatingly. This taboo is the baby of left-wing lawyers and not black people who so often use the 'N' word against each other.

Anonymous said...

There are two strict taboos in modern English culture actually - the other is that you don't dis the Prophet Mohammed.

Our own culture and sensibilities don't need defending, so they tell us.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... I think this is probably the one thinking blog I read (the rest are for entertainment). I thought at first that the 'N' word was 'No' - then as I read, couldn't guess, til the last paragraph, when it hit me. Different cultures, I guess.... we hardly see blacks in my country, and no one would think of calling them anything but 'black'.

Anonymous said...

And here I thought we were talking about Nardos.

Anonymous said...

Are you talking about "black"?

Whoopi Goldberg said she was not an African American - she was an American. If you wanted to call her anything, call her black.

Seems the most sensible approach.

Anonymous said...

I use the term 'black' too, James.

As with homosexuality we change the use of one word 'gay' to avoid the use of another word designed specifically for purpose - now I hear children use 'gay' as a form of derogation. Black pertains to a shade of colour but now denotes race too - do you ever feel slightly awkward when you say the word 'black' in the presence of black people ? Negro was a perfectly safe word until someone got tetchy about it.

Is the attachment of 'black' to 'bastard' any worse than 'white' to 'bastard' ? I think I could predict the way our police would deal with that so I won't be testing the theory.

Anonymous said...

Trouble is, in this country people get upset if you call them 'black' people.

That is almost (but not quite) as bad as the 'n' word. Of course you can't call them 'colored' people either, that morph'd into a bad word.

Now it is 'african-american' even though they aren't from africa (while there ancestors may be, I don't recall talking to them) and 'people of color' which is somehow amazingly not the same as colored people.

David: I was not referring to you in the last part of my 'rant' :)

Thick skin people, develop it, groom it, wear it, live it.

Anonymous said...

I use the word black quite comfortably and I spend a fair bit of time with black people. I've not met any who object to the word. It's obviously different in the States, as Lord Nazh points out.

I don't agree with blaming ourselves for the sins of our forefathers, but on the other hand, we shouldn't blindly carry on in bahviour patterns which originate with their social attitudes that we now condemn.

We DO need to be aware of the context of our language.

I don't like the term African-American, because I actually think it implies that black americans are not quite American. It had relevance for the Marcus Garvey movement, but most black americans today aren't following his ideas, they have found better ways.

Eve is partly right about culture. Culture of course is what it is all about.
If I was American I would NEVER say what I say several times a day. 'Going out for a fag now.'

E-K, I have some sympathy for your points about our own cultural sensibilities being ignored. I feel that expecially as a Catholic, who's faith is considered fair game for total ridicule.