In a three-way conversation between Tavis Smiley, Dr. Michael Dyson, and Dr. Cornel West on the justification of blacks using the n-word, the following ideas were exchanged during the discourse:
Tavis Smiley: “With all due respect to the power of your persuasive argument, your big mama and my big mama would stand here in front of you with all of your education and say you still ain’t got no business, under no circumstances whatsoever, ever uttering that word white folks put on us to demean us—period.”
Dr. Dyson: “There’s no question about that…but my pastor and others who would say [it]—referring to their congregation and their flocks who are highly learned, deeply erudite, profoundly scholarly, and who are able to understand both the folk and the vernacular tradition on one hand and the high learning foremost tradition on the other, [said] the word in an endearing fashion.”
It appears as though an attempt is being made to soften the use and encourage acceptance of the n-word because more affluent, educated, and outwardly intelligent African American audiences claim to understand and accept the word. Thus, since these intelligentsias have placed their blessing on using the word, referring to one another as the n-word should be an acceptable practice by all African Americans—regardless of socioeconomic status.
However, the basis of this argument stands on a couple of fallacies: Many other equally affluent, educated and intelligent African Americans despise the term, disallow themselves to be referred to as such, and have eradicated the idiom from their vocabulary. As well, during the conversation of these highly esteemed gentlemen, those arguing for the n-word failed to consider an extremely significant factor that greatly affects the soundness of their argument: common sense.
Given the past history of African Americans and the n-word, plain old common sense, which is defined as sound or practical judgment, suggests that it is not intuitively sensible for an African American to accept this word, drenched in ignorance, evil, immorality and corruption. Even with a high level of intelligence—the capacity for thought especially to a high degree, common sense must factor into the equation because it is the essential, instinctual element in developing one’s first thought about a subject.
Intelligence soon follows this initial thought, serves only as support to the common knowledge and should help individuals reason with why the n-word is unacceptable: The n-word was bestowed upon African Americas by slave masters, and represents every devious plot meant to destroy the black race; thus, is unacceptable. It is bewildering how individuals of such high levels of thought are blind to the insult that lies in the term. And even more perplexing is the fact that they argue in favor of using the term—and in an affectionate manner!
African Americans are so quick to shun other races for using the term, and demand total equality and respect. But how can one demand respect when they have no respect for themselves? One of the most prevalent drawbacks regarding the supposed desensitizing of the n-word among African Americans is that it is not a global or cross-cultural movement; the rest of human civilization recognizes the true purpose in and foundation of the word. The rest of the world indeed respects Black America for its musical, entertainment, and athletic abilities, but have absolutely no respect for our cerebral mindset.
This is due in part to the fact that African Americans continue to refer to themselves as a thing that was and is meant to dehumanize the race. Although many proponents of the n-word feel that their use and definition of the term differs from other races’ application and understanding, outside races only see the stigma attached to the term and, thus, perpetuate any thoughts of African Americans with that particular perception. Their thinking is such that if a person refers to themselves as a certain thing, they will embody that image and act as such. And because a “n**ger” was viewed as a sub-human, bestial and savage, other races neglect to respect and treat African American as equals, immediately become defensive toward African Americans, and continually ridicule the race—the true persona of the n-word.
Consider most recently Beijing, China, where attempts were made to ban blacks from Beijing bars in a pre-Olympic crackdown. In addition, Milo Bryant of the “Colorado Springs Gazette,” a black reporter, was all but ignored during press conferences by Chinese officials who refused to acknowledge his presence and would only solicit questions from white reporters.
Another put down of Blacks occurred in 2005 when Mexico had the audacity to print caricatures of Blacks on their postage stamps.
Countless incidences of condescending Blacks occur around the world—even in America. However, the most catastrophic and mind boggling of these incidences occurs right here in America by Black America. The Black community has proven to be very tolerable of anything destructive, degrading and demeaning from within. The poisonous lyrics of misogyny, crime, drugs; the glorification of ‘gangsta’ life and violence perpetuated by black rappers; and the use of the n-word are all self-destructive acts that contribute greatly to the demise and unfavorable image of the black community. The rest of the civilized world looks on in amazement, taking note, and heeding the messages sent about Black America from Black America—“straight out of the horse’s mouth.” No one takes the African American seriously. No wonder!
Dr. Dyson emphasized the linguistic creativeness of the younger generations’ use of the word, changing the suffix from “-er” to “-a”; however, changing the suffix does not transform the meaning of the term. (Pronouncing the word with an “-a” at the end is quite frankly nothing more than plain, old-fashion ghetto vernacular.) Where else in the world does a race of people take a word—that embodied mental genocide and perpetuated physical brutality upon their ancestors—and embrace it affectionately and endearingly? What other race of people devises justification after justification to continue to remain shackled, confined to a certain realm, and proudly flaunts the mark of oppression, degradation?
It is definitely the black community’s prerogative to demand respect, but good luck getting it collectively! In the end, African Americans are still referring to themselves as “n**ger”—or in more modern terms, “n**ga,” deafening others’ ears to Black America’s cry for respect.
In W.E.B. Du Bois’ all-time, modernly-relevant classic The Souls of Black Folks, Du Bois notes that “[t]he opposition to Negro education in the South was at first bitter, and showed itself in ashes, insult, and blood; for the South believed an educated Negro to be dangerous.” Then Dr. Carter G. Woodson came along in 1933 and said in The Mis-Education of the Negro: Control a man’s mind and you don’t have to worry about his actions.
Although one may be highly educated in the educational system, or mis-educated according to Dr. Woodson, one can still be a dependent or controlled thinker. Obtaining an education was once thought of as the key to release African Americans from mental enslavement. Education unquestionably serves as the essential building block in unlocking one’s mind, and teaching an individual the basic fundamentals of reading and writing, but independent thought allows one to break the chains of ignorance and enter a state of heightened mind power where common sense always resides at the right side of intelligence.
At the end of the conversation, it was duly noted that the n-word was used in jest, as was also the case between Tavis and the rapper Nas in a separate conversation on the same subject. But who’s being mocked? White slave masters for embedding in African Americans a self-destructive mentality rooted so deeply that it goes unnoticed even by African Americans who continue to carryout the plight? Or are African Americans mocking the memories, struggles and sacrifices of ascendants who knew the intent of the term and literally felt its purpose through heinous acts during the “domestication” process? Certainly, no amusement was experienced in the atrocities perpetrated upon them, all in the name of the n-word.
In 1904, black sharecroppers Luther Holbert and his wife were chained to a tree. An audience of 600 white spectators enjoyed fine treats such as deviled eggs, lemonade and whiskey in a festive atmosphere while Mr. and Mrs. Holbert underwent atrocious and purely evil acts: first their fingers were chopped off one by one, then their ears, followed by a severe beating that left Mr. Holbert with one eye dangling from its fractured socket; next, “spirals…of raw, quivering flesh” were extracted from both Holberts with a corkscrew before the couple was finally burned alive. As they drew on their last breaths, the last words they heard were the jeers of “n**ger, n**ger, n**ger.”
All of these activities perpetuated upon the Holberts were done in the name of the n-word. The most ironic part of the matter, though, is that at least one person who condones, tolerates, and embraces the n-word is a descendant of Mr. and Mrs.Holbert; thus, this proponent of the n-word agrees with the malevolent acts perpetuated upon his great, great grandma and grandpa. Is that person you? Is that person your friend, family member, or acquaintance?
Perhaps one can intelligently justify acceptance of the 300-year-old African-American Holocaust, the n-word, and the supposed progress of Black America beyond allowing the n-word to negatively affect them. But, just because one is highly educated and can precisely articulate his argument does not make him right or smart by any standard—he just knows how to talk well and conduct research.
Common sense, which does not discriminate based on educational attainments, tells African Americans that embracing the n-word affectionately and endearingly “just ain’t right and don’t make no kind of sense.” The n-word should continue to be looked upon as a disfigurement to the African-American’s psyche and buried as far below the surface as those who lived to experience the true meaning of “n*gger.”
H. Lewis Smith
H. Lewis Smith is the founder and president of UVCC, the United Voices for a Common Cause, Inc., and author of Bury that Sucka: A Scandalous Love Affair with the N-Word. Reprinted with the author’s permission from UVCC.