The Past Is Never Dead with the N-Word

rick perry ranchIn a supposedly post-racial society one would think that the n-word was buried and long gone with it troubled eras of race relations in this country.

But as American novelist William Faulkner wrote in his 1951 novel Requiem for a Nun, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

As we all try to move from America’s ugly racial past, there are still rock solid vestiges of it.

At the entrance of a secluded 1072-acre property in the West Texas town of Paint Creek is a rock painted in block letters with the word “Niggerhead.”

For decades Rick Perry’s hunting camp hosted fellow lawmakers, friends and supporters.

Already in a declining bid for the GOP presidency, former front-runner Gov. Rick Perry and his father once leased a Texas hunting camp known by a racist term.

When Perry ran for re-election in 2010 for the governorship, no one knew of the rock. And as one observer of the rock glibly told “Real Clear Politics,” “Honestly, it wouldn’t have hurt him in a Texas primary.”

If Perry, however, doesn’t decline into oblivion in this GOP bid, he’ll face off with President Obama and will also have a lot of explaining to do to African American voters — Republicans and Democrats.

Can Perry recover from this?

And can talk show host Barbara Walters of the “View”?

In discussing the offensive racial moniker of Perry’s property, Walters used the n-word, sparking a debate with her co-host Sherri Shepherd.

“I’m saying when you say the word, I don’t like it,” said Shepherd, who said she has used it among African-American family and friends. “When white people say it, it brings up feelings in me.”

more from irene monroeI am troubled, however, in this recent kerfuffle concerning the n-word and how many of us African Americans, in particular, go back and forth on its politically correct use.

Let’s do a walk down memory lane:

In December 2006, we blamed Michael Richards, who played the lovable and goofy character Kramer on the TV sit-com “Seinfeld” for using the n-word. The racist rant was heard nationwide and shocked not only his fans and audience that night at the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood but it also shocked Americans back to an ugly era in U.S. history.

In July 2008, we heard the Rev. Jessie Jackson used the n-word referring to Obama. And Jackson using the word not only reminded us of its history but also how the n-word can slip so approvingly from the mouth of a man who was part of a cadre of African Americans leaders burying the n-word once and for all in mock funeral at the 98th annual NAACP’s convention in Detroit in 2007.

And in 2009, Dr. Laura Schlessinger ended her radio show, a week after she broadcast a five-minute-long rant in which she used the n-word 11 times.

In January of this year, the kerfuffle concerning the n-word focused on Samuel Langhorne Clemens, known fondly to us as Mark Twain, in his New South Books edition of the 1885 controversial classic Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

In a combined effort to rekindle interest in this Twain classic and to tamp down the flame and fury the use of the n-word engenders both from society and readers alike, who come across the epithet 219 times in the book, Mark Twain Scholar Alan Gribben, an English professor at Auburn University in Alabama, proposed the idea that the n-word be replaced with the word “slave.”

In 2003, the NAACP convinced Merriam-Webster lexicographers to change the definition of the n-word in the dictionary to no longer mean African Americans but instead to be defined as a racial slur. And, while the battle to change the n-word in the American lexicon was a long and arduous one, our culture’s neo-revisionist use of the n-word makes it even harder to purge the sting of the word from the American psyche.

The notion that it is acceptable for African Americans to refer to each other using the n-word while considering it racist for others outside the community unquestionably sets up a double standard. Also, the notion that one ethnic group has property rights to the term is a reductio ad absurdum argument, since language is a public enterprise.

The n-word is firmly embedded in the lexicon of racist language that was and still is used to disparage African Americans. However, today the meaning of the n-word is all in how one spells it. By dropping the “er” ending and replacing it with either an “a” or “ah” ending, the term morphs into one of endearment.

Rev. Irene MonroeBut, many slaveholders pronounced the n-word with the “a” ending, and in the 1920s, many African Americans used the “a” ending as a pejorative term to denote class differences among themselves.

Too many of us keep the n-word alive. It also allows Americans to become unconscious and numb in the use and abuse of the power and currency this racial epithet still wields, thwarting the daily struggle many of us Americans work hard at in trying to ameliorate race relations.

Rev. Irene Monroe

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Comments

  1. -Nate says

    Thank you Irene ;

    This is a sore point with me as I lived through the earlier years of U.S. history and this word’s refusal to go away troubles me because it hobbles otherwise good people in their efforts to get ahead .

    ” The notion that it is acceptable for African Americans to refer to each other using the n-word while considering it racist for others outside the community unquestionably sets up a double standard. Also, the notion that one ethnic group has property rights to the term is a reductio ad absurdum argument, since language is a public enterprise . ” – Just So ! if you use it , so can anyone else and you loose the right to complain .

    ” The n-word is firmly embedded in the lexicon of racist language that was and still is used to disparage African Americans. However, today the meaning of the n-word is all in how one spells it. By dropping the “er” ending and replacing it with either an “a” or “ah” ending, the term morphs into one of endearment . ” – I’m not sure where the white castle you live in is but rest assured , in any Ghetto in America , this is a total falsehood , it’s often the last word Black Folks hear before being shot to death by another Black for the basic crime of having been born Black .

    It’s time for Jessee Et Al to wake up and stop the double standards and publically ashame the Black idiots who insist in keeping this word and it’s derivatives alive & well , the youngsters hear it from him and the rest of the ” Black Leaders ” and figure it’s O.K. to perpetuate ” because I’m Black ” ~ the most ignorant and most often used excuse of all .

  2. Nanette says

    I would like to add to this discussion regarding the use of this word in Rap/Hip Hop music and culture. As an African American its embarrasing and degrading to our people. I’ve heard that the use of the word diffuses its power however, I believe it make racists feel that its ok to use it because we use it. The “so called” musicians in this culture need to read their history and know what their ancestors had to endure. In other words, STOP using that……word!

  3. says

    Recently I watched the movie “Giant” in the middle of the night. The scene in the coffee shop gave me a sense for how some of those people in Texas were thinking during the days of blatant racism.
    It also made me think of the attacks on the President by the Tea Party and Republicans. I can’t believe some of the stupid racial jokes that are going around the internet.
    I am forced to believe it because it is reality and now I am getting a clue as to how racial bigotry hides its head until it can come out in the safety of numbers. When the President is attacked for no reason I find myself thinking the unthinkable that racism is alive and well in the minds of the American Christian Right.
    And especially in Texas.

  4. says

    I liked the article, and yet sense there is more to this story.
    While I despise Perry for various reasons, I can’t say I agree or this proves that he is personally attached to this extremely offensive racial slur on real estate that he leased over time.
    And, in some deferential consideration of the way things are in Texas, it doesn’t surprise me that no one made a fuss about it for however long. Not to say it’s ok, but if it’d been New York or Calif., it would’ve probably been painted over much sooner.
    I would’ve liked to have seen some corroboration in this article of Perry’s alleged racial attitudes via other comments, actions, history, etc., more than just a painted rock on property that he may or may not have been near for who knows how long.

  5. in_awe says

    Since the article’s author fails to report the facts of the controversy surrounding the accusation of racism against Gov. Perry, I shall.

    The Washington Post investigated the story about a hunting camp that Rick Perry visited 10-12 times since 1984 that has a painted over rock that once held a derogatory word. The best the Post can do to tie this to Gov. Perry is someone’s recollection that as late as 1990 or 1991 – 20 years ago – the word might have been visible. This somehow tangible evidence of Perry’s racism.

    Contrast that with President Obama speaking from the stage surrounded by Black Panther activists in 2007. Or his association with a racist minster and church for twenty years. Or instructions to the DOJ to not pursue any discrimination claims if the victim is white. And so on. And so on. I would say our post-racial President is actively exhibiting signs of racism with no intent to hide them.

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