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Sunday, June 4, 2017

The "N-word"

The irony of the events the events of this past week has stunned me. After writing my post on Kathy Griffin, Dan sent me a link to a Bill Maher rant that echoed my sentiments on the Griffin issue. The rant specifically dealt with the propensity to apologize for things that were never meant to do harm in the first place. And while I do recognize that each individual has the right to their own honest feelings, there is a part of me that is very focused on 'intent'. I can easily forgive almost anything if I can be convinced by sincere word or action that the offence was not intended.

That said, I feel compelled to point out the GLARING PROBLEMS surrounding the use of the dreaded "N-word". Words can be powerful weapons. The history of the N-word is ugly, violent, and persistent. If there ever was a single word worthy of banishment from the American lexicon, it would be this one. However, that is not what has happened. It is being used..........openly............a lot, and ironically by African Americans. (see link) The linked article gives a long history of the word and discusses how its use 'fits' (or doesn't) within Black Culture today.

The problem I have with this as a fairly unprejudiced 'White Male' is it calls into question whether it is the word itself or the intent of its usage that determines whether or not is is offensive. If it is the word itself that is unacceptable, then it should not be used......PERIOD. By ANYONE. Not in a song, video, movie, comedy routine, public conversation...........NOWHERE. And I'm OK with that! But, if it is not the word itself, then what exactly IS the source of offence? What makes using it so bad?

If the argument is one of intent, then accepting, "hey, I love you, man. You're my n-word," makes sense, and saying, "you worthless n-word, get out of here," remains offensive. But that would mean anyone saying these things would be either innocent or guilty......regardless of skin color, depending on which thing they said. But, as we have seen, that is not the case.

But if the criteria is NOT intent, but the color of the skin of the person saying it, do we not have an example of more racial prejudice in action? If Caucasians insisted that 'cracker' could not be uttered in any place at any time by anyone of color, but that whites could use it themselves......................what would be the reaction? Would that not be called RACISM? By that logic, one could argue that any African American who insists that the n-word can't be used by Whites at any time for any reason, but that Black people can, is a racist. Ironic, huh? I hate to say this, but the cure for racial prejudice is not more racial prejudice in reverse.

But it's not just the n-word. I had an uncomfortable moment at a party a couple of years ago with some of my friends who are homosexual, when we were joking about cigar smoking and I made a self-deprecating remark that I tended to only smoke "fag cigars". Now having spent a lot of time around homosexuals, I can vouch that term gets tossed about like nothing when describing something overly effeminate. And in trying to point out how my use of small, sweet cigars wrapped in flavored tobacco does not make me look as macho as the guy puffing the huge, stinky Cuban, I used the word 'fag' much as they do. I certainly did not say, "what are you fucking fags doing in my house? Get out now and take your abhorrent ways with you!" But it didn't matter. Somehow my remark got me a few disapproving looks......though no one made a big deal over it, mainly because I think they realized they'd have a pretty shaky and even laughable case in accusing me of being a homophobe. But the uncomfortable memory has stuck with me.

On the opposite end, there are women and the word "cunt". To their credit, women seem determined to rid the word from acceptable lexicon, BUT have not adopted using it among themselves (as far as I have been able to tell). For ME, that makes it much easier to accept that the word itself is the issue and that it just flat-out needs to be avoided. 

So this is my question to all those who unilaterally condemn a word, not for everyone, but for everyone but themselves: how am I supposed to take you seriously? 


  1. I'm not sure you're right about the acceptance of "the C-word" around women. In the last three months I have been around two different groups of women who used the euphemistic phrase "see you next Tuesday" to rip on another woman, leaving me to wonder whether they would have just used the word itself had I not been there. Another woman and work does use the word itself, and when I asked her about it she said she does so to "reclaim her power." My issue with that word is that while it seem to be more or less universally condemned, I've never been sure exactly what makes it worse than other vulgar words for anatomical parts.

    I think there may be other instances in which a word is acceptable if you are "part of the club" but not if you are not. There are certain ribald names I might call my wife with affection but would punch a man who called her that same name. I tend to think that when you give any name that kind of taboo status, you empower it, while disempowering it would be the better goal. But, not have had a particular word used for 300 years by those with power over my life and liberty, I'm not sure I'm in the best position to comment on what I would likely feel if I heard it used by someone of that same dominant group regardless of their intent.

    1. Thanks again for the thought-out reply, Dan. To address your points: as I wrote in "Geniclature", I think it's the tone, and ugly implications that have made 'cunt' so repugnant, but I'm disappointed to hear that in your experience it joins my other examples in the "bad word for you/OK for me" school of word usage. More hypocrisy.

      As for the private use of vulgar pet-names? I think there's a difference there, and I purposely avoided any criticism of ANY word usage in private. I would say if you made a hilarious YouTube video of you using those terms with your wife and someone recognized you and repeated the phrase to you in public, you'd be a bit out of line throwing a punch.

      And I appreciate that you agree that unilateral rejection of a word would be more effective than selected use by some but not others. Any use at all lessens the credibility of a word's condemnation.

      As for your last example, I know it's not the same magnitude, but while growing up, the use of "Pollack" ..........usually following the adjective, "dumb" .........was rampant and considered quite humorous and acceptable. Of course we Polish people were not as amused, and we expressed our feelings about the term, often citing examples of glaring Polish 'exceptions' like Copernicus and Chopin, but never demanded that "All in the Family" be taken off the air and Carroll O'Connor fired. We did correct people who thought "Pollack" was the correct term for a person of Polish descent, but I can't say I heard any Pole I knew assert "I can call myself a Pollack.....but you can't". (Footnote: how often do you hear 'dumb Pollack' anymore?)

    2. My point wasn't that certain words should be universally condemned, because that does give them a powerful taboo status. Better to make them a joke and water them down to nothing through universal adoption and poking fun at those who use them. That's why I don't think your All in the Family Example quite works. Norman Lear put those words in Archie Bunker's mouth in order to make him a caricature of that generation of racists. It wasn't meant to show that use of the word was OK, but that it was not. And, like most acts of social engineering, it kind of blew up when it turned out that instead of being shamed to seem like Archie, white conservatives thought he was just fine Your point seems to be closer to the current controversy over things like using the word Redskins for a football team, i.e. this idea that there is something offensive about "misappropriating" aspects of another culture.

    3. Well, I agree that no word should have to be prohibited, but if a word is THAT volatile that it can get people fired, then all I'm saying is the same rules need to apply in order for that restriction to not be racist or prejudicial itself. Anything else, whether one wishes to call it a self-empowerment, or the entitlement of the denigrated group, only calls into question the validity of the objection.

      (Before I gave up football, the Redskins were my team. Ironic, huh? However, I myself WAS one of those who wished they'd change it. I was surprised to hear that my desire to be respectful was moot for those being denigrated. More irony.)

  2. My favorite cunt:

    1. That was pretty funny. It reminds me of the old "Do You Take It Up the Ass?" song.