That “N”asty Word

That “N”asty Word

~musings over a title~

by Garlia Cornelia Jones

Let me be very clear, that I do not use “The N-word” in my every day language.  When I was around six or seven years old, I thought I was giving my little brother a nuggie, but it came out as “nigger”.  My brother quickly ran into the kitchen to tell my mother, who gave me a mini-lecture on how I should never use “that word” and probably threw in something about slavery, as she was known to do in those days.

Dr. Cornel West describes The “N”Word on his Spoken word CD “Sketches of American Culture”.

“[…] We need a renaissance of self-resepct, a renewal of self-regard, and the term itself has been associated with such abuse.  It associates black people with being inferior, sub-human and subordiante… we ought not to use the term at all… I can think of other terms of endearment… brother, sister… homegirl homeboy… can we really use that term when we think of our mamas, our daddys… Black meant human, not sub-human… we ought to give it up and turn it loose […]”  (West)

So why use such a word?  After listening to this track on West’s album, one might decide that the “n”word should disappear or that I should feel ashamed of myself – right?

I was naive to think that people would look beyond the word and see the periods after each letter: Never Ignorant Gettin’ Goals Accomplished (Tupac Shakur)

There are a few reactions I have received:

1) White people feel comfortable saying it and might take some ownership over it because after all, it is an acronym…right?

2) Shock from some in the Black Community who want this word buried.

3) Laughter and applause for thinking outside the box and not letting the history bring us down.

4) A blank stare and a faint smile before changing the subject.

Do I feel as if I am re-defining this word or bringing to light a definition that has not been used, especially in regards to something like dating?  Randall Kennedy points out at the end of his book, “nigger… The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word”, that the future of the N-word will include innovators of the word.

[…] there is much to be gained by allowing people of all backgrounds to yank nigger away from white supremacists, to subvert its ugliest denotation, and to convert the N-word from a negative into a positive appellation.  This process is already well under way, led in the main by African American innovators who are taming, civilizing, and transmuting “the filthiest, dirtiest, nastiest word in the English language. (Kennedy, 176)

Can I consider my use of an acronym to spell out a word that has degraded Blacks for centuries to be resurrected because of the positive twist it spells out?  The situation is ironic, which might have been what Tupac was after.  How does it look that I with my wall of degrees am giving a play of mine this title? I have lived with it for so long that I have become desensitized to the word, which is surprising since I grew up in a household where the “N-word” was not something we threw around.  It might slip out of one of my parents’ mouths when they were talking about something that happened during the day.  “Niggers” were on the streets of Detroit – and not in our 22-room home.

I have been offered many suggestions to change the name and have seriously considered them, if only for sponsors, but is that what I got an MFA for… so that a sponsor would dictate the title of my play because the “N-word” was politically incorrect, especially when we have a Black President.  Everyone must be careful… particularly when only weeks ago, Dr. Laura’s use of the word resulted in her resignation from radio, because she lost her “1st amendment rights” as she put it, when really, she lost her sponsors, appalled by her use of the word.  Does it matter that she is white and I am not… maybe it’s worse.  I should know better – shouldn’t I?

to be continued…

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About blackboardplays

Familiar with the collectives for poets and other Black writers that had been created over the years and slightly envious of that sense of community, I became curious about a similar place for playwrights. I wanted to see Black playwrights, actors and directors excited over each others work and supporting each other. I was longing for a “home” as a Black playwright and wanted to see other Black artists in that home, not to be exclusive, but because there was a void. I was also eager to find other Black playwrights who shared a passion for the craft of storytelling. The stories of the Black community are diverse and are often hidden behind the blockbuster stereotyped versions. The non-artistic Black community, not involved in the writing of these stories, is yearning to see themselves in our stories and it is apart of my life’s work to ensure that happens. the cell is any artists’ dream: a new space that supports you as you grow, committed to new work and the art. This allows the writer to focus on the craft - to focus on their story. Nancy Manocherian and Kira Simring welcomed this idea with open arms and instantly became apart of what we later called “Blackboard Reading Series”. Every reading will conclude a twenty minute talk-back with the audience. Dialogue with the community is essential to what we want to do with the series. As we grow, there may be more readings a month, play festivals and of course productions. We want to nurture and develop new black playwrights for this generation! Thank You! Garlia Cornelia Jones Founder, Blackboard Reading Series
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6 Responses to That “N”asty Word

  1. Kelly says:

    I think it makes some uncomfortable, those who are mortified because of what they were brought up to admonish “Nigger”, and those who use it as a noun, find it just another word, like door, or car. I’m guilty of using it when nothing else fits and I don’t use it to relate to color, and I guess like some, the word has lost its power with me, just like shit, one of my favorite cusses (as my mother would call it). The “N” word, just like any word, only has power when used to invoke or revoke said power. Just like some get offended if Doctor isn’t used in front of their surname. Appalled I might say that you didn’t acknowledge their hard work or said profession. Does that mean that the “N” word does the same for those have worked hard to shed the image they imagine that word carries? Why is it good for some and not for others. I guess thats where individuality and dare I say freedom of expression comes into play. When you stop allowing words or titles to carry such magnitude, does it really matter what title you give it? A rose by any other name…just rambling thoughts

  2. Yasmin says:

    Words have power and varied meaning based on context and intention. Richard Pryor (my favorite comedian) once recorded an album “That Nigger’s Crazy” which is an all time classic. His spin on the N word was hysterical… I mean out of the box funny. His impressions of the colorful characters he met on his life journey, and when the word rolled off his tongue you could feel the love. Chris Rock addresses N’s from a different pespective; he loves Black people but Hates Niggers… his Niggers are less loveable than Richard’s , they talk about taking care of their children and Chris replies “Nigger you’re supposed to!” My point is words are empowered by our intention. As for me, Nigger is a derogatory tag, however I appreciate poetic license.

  3. Right- and my intention with the word spins it into something positive. But I am not Richard Pryor… for people who do not know me, they might think I’ve gone crazy sending emails with “that word” in it! “Who do I think I am!?”

    😦
    Garlia

  4. Cisco says:

    Although I am technically not black(I am Puerto Rican) I would like to respond, if that is ok. I don’t know what to make of this word. I do believe it is an ugly word but when used for different reasons, like in the bedroom it can be sexy, or if you are telling a joke it may give it that um. The truth is that there is an ugly slanderous word created for all races. The “N” word just has alot of ugliness associated with it because it has such an ugly history associated with it.

    I understand the conflict with having white people use it because I myself being a gay man have some issue with straight people using the word faggot. These are just words and we should try and learn not to give it much power, though I understand this is hard. I recently read a book where it was explaining that certain things in our cultures or experience have a direct connection to our identities and by letting them go, we let go of our identities, something of which is very important to each of us.

    I myself never use the word and find it most rude and ignorant for anyone to use it, not because of it being associated to black people, but just because its ugly. I would feel the same way if I was hearing honky, or spic, or faggot as I stated earlier. One last thing that I thought of is that if we can laugh at ourselves and something it can help us to get over it. I am not quite convinced that creating a more positive out of this negative word will be helpful. We should just not use it or be selective if we do.

    Garlia, I have met you and you are a sweet sweet gentle woman. I feel you and understand your use of the word. I do think that if you are going to use, you should just use it as is. People are going to feel about it as they wish! Much love to u!

  5. Cisco says:

    Although I am technically not black(I am Puerto Rican) I would like to respond, if that is ok. I don’t know what to make of this word. I do believe it is an ugly word but when used for different reasons, like in the bedroom it can be sexy, or if you are telling a joke it may give it that um. The truth is that there is an ugly slanderous word created for all races. The “N” word just has alot of ugliness associated with it because it has such an ugly history associated with it.

    I understand the conflict with having white people use it because I myself being a gay man have some issue with straight people using the word faggot. These are just words and we should try and learn not to give it much power, though I understand this is hard. I recently read a book where it was explaining that certain things in our cultures or experience have a direct connection to our identities and by letting them go, we let go of our identities, something of which is very important to each of us.

    I myself never use the word and find it most rude and ignorant for anyone to use it, not because of it being associated to black people, but just because its ugly. I would feel the same way if I was hearing honky, or spic, or faggot as I stated earlier. One last thing that I thought of is that if we can laugh at ourselves and something it can help us to get over it. I am not quite convinced that creating a more positive out of this negative word will be helpful. We should just not use it or be selective if we do.

    Garlia, I have met you and you are a sweet sweet gentle woman. I feel you and understand your use of the word. I do think that if you are going to use, you should just use it as is. People are going to feel about it as they wish! Much love to u! xoxo

  6. ALAN says:

    I JUST WANTED TO RESPOND TO THE YOUNG PUERTO RICAN BROTHER THAT LEFT THE COMMENT REFERRING TO THE N WORD: I THINK YOU ARE A CONSIDERATE SPIRIT AND YOU ARTICULATED WITH SUCH THOUGHTFULNESS AND GOOD SPRIT WHAT SO MANY FOLKS HAVE THE SAME FEELINGS TO EXPRESS! I THINK THAT BLACK PEOPLE, PARTICULARLY THOSE THAT ARE BLESSED ENOUGH TO HAVE AN EXPERIENCE OR EDUCATION TO “KNOW BETTER” WILL ULTIMATELY “DO BETTER”. THOSE THAT DON’T HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO HAVE AN EDUCATION, HAVE TO BE TAUGHT !!! IT IS THE EDUCATED BLACK FOLKS RESPONSIBILITY TO “TEACH” THE UNEDUCATED. IF YOU CONTINUE TO PERPETUATE THE UGLY, STUDIES SHOW THAT YOU ULTIMATELY LOSE THE ABILITY TO DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN WHAT WILL HELP TO ADVANCE YOUR POSITION OR TO GENOCIDE YOUR POSITION.

    THE WORSE THING THAT COULD HAPPEN TO BLACK PEOPLE IS THAT NO “CHANGE” TAKES PLACE AS A RESULT OF A “BLACK” PRESIDENT IN OFFICE. WHAT A SHAME IT WOULD BE IF OBAMA DIDN’T STIMULATE THE “CHANGE” IN BLACK PEOPLE TO MAKE THE LONG OVER DUE AND NECESSARY CHANGES FOR THE BLACK COMMUNITY AS A WHOLE. REMEMBER IT IS EACH AND EVERY BLACK EDUCATED PERSONS RESPONSIBILITY TO TEACH THOSE THAT “DON’T KNOW BETTER” TO “DO BETTER”

    ..PLS RESPOND, I LOOK FORWARD TO AND RESPECT ANY OPINIONS. –P.S. BY THE WAY I AM A JEWISH MALE AND I AM WORKING ON RESEARCH OF THIS VERY SUBJECT MATTER. THANK YOU.

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