Friday, December 01, 2006

May I Have An "N-Word" With You?

A number of black politicians, activists and entertainers are calling for the "n-word" to be retired forever from entertainment. I wish them luck; it's a noble effort, but one that won't be easily pulled off.

The question that immediately comes to my mind is, will existing works like Blazing Saddles, Roots, Richard Pryor's standup films, Quentin Tarantino films and myriad "blaxploitation" films, for starters, be grandfathered over? I hope so, because that's all good stuff in its own way.

As for future instances of the use of the "n-word," some will be tougher to discourage than others. An all-too-obvious example is rap music. Rappers commonly use the word in their rhymz, and don't take well to others trying to reign in their inspiration. Some artists even use it, or a variant of it, in their names. (Look up "NWA" if you don't already know what it means.)

The "n-word" obviously sprung from prejudice; I imagine the hayseed slave owners couldn't pronounce "negro," so they went with the closest thing they could muster. Many of them weren't big on the "booklearnin'" you see. Incidentally, feel free to correct me on any of this.

I don't know how the word got appropriated by and enmeshed into black culture, but I'm sure there have been many studies and theses to explain the phenomenon. It doesn't make sense, being as it's the word of the oppressor. It's kind of like adopting your abusive father's hurtful nickname for you ("Little Shithead," "Spawn Of The Postman," etc.), and giving it to others as well. Perhaps it's used in an ironic, mocking way?

Even if the "n-word" goes away, it seems prejudice will always be endemic to some forms of entertainment. What black standup comedian doesn't focus on his own "blackness" in his act? The same for Jewish comedians. The same for comedians of any non-WASP background. The same for obese comedians.

Typically, these attributes are the first thing the comic will point out about themselves. Then they'll go on to devote much of their act to related topics. This does not apply to all comics, of course, but those who don't focus on some issue that depends upon the prejudice or xenophobia of their audience are - forgive the expression - in the minority.

(For years I've thought that, if I ever did standup, I would start by explaining that since I am part-English and part-Irish, I like to plant bombs in my own car. Ba dum bum! A lot has changed in Northern Ireland, fortunately, making the joke now almost irrelevant.)

I think the "n-word" should be used sparingly in entertainment (as should quotes around controversial words, and parentheticals), and never in real life. But I am not one to limit the expression of others. I do think how you use a word and how you intend it to be taken matters. If you have a person saying it to demonstrate what prejudice is (as in Roots), wouldn't that be a legitimate use? Or maybe it's so hateful it does need to be banished? I don't know, but I just don't see that happening.

On a completely unrelated matter that doesn't warrant a solo posting, will Christians who were looking forward to seeing The Nativity Story at their local cinemas this weekend instead give the film an immaculate rejection now that the unmarried teen star has become pregnant? Who could support such immorality? For shame!

10 comments:

Hellpig said...

Actually Bogs I thought most slave owners were the ones who were educated ie:Thomas Jefferson

Slave owners were the wealthy among the community,the ones who could afford an education

As for banning a word,never happen.Although the Mulsims would love this because it would open the door to a "no insulting islam" ban.......LMAO,like my transition Bogs.

I'll let it go,for abit.

Pete Bogs said...

hell - yeah, that was tongue in cheek... you had to have money (and thereby probably education) to own slaves... this was just a nice opportunity to take a dig at "hayseeds" without "booklearnin'" because they deserve to be criticized... it'd be kind of like calling Rush Limbaugh fat - kind of juvenile, but satisfying in a way...

Hellpig said...

Kinda like Pelosi being ethical,lol

Well Bogs have a great weekend,I am having knee surgery at 10:30 so I gotta go and won't be on til monday or so,thanks to my scrip of Percocets.mmmmmm Percocets

Pete Bogs said...

hell - enjoy your psychotropic drugs! they make the pain all worth it... lol

Sanford B. Hines said...

I do not like many "N-Words".

Bird said...

my classes just finished off essays on this topic - of sorts - linguistic reclamation - can a word such as nigger be reclaimed - appropriated by the ingroup?

theories of linguistic reclamation informed their essays. many argued for the reclamation of nigger with the goal of what's called stigma exploitation - in which the ingroup (the group the word is used against) purposely uses the word to call into question the values and assumptions of the dominant group. black comics have been doing this for years with the use of nigger. exploiting the stigma also empowers the in group. they are in control.

the word has morhped into nigga-which many youngsters today say is a different word and doesn't hold the same negative connotation.hip hop has been partially repsonsible for this transformation - though hip hop has also used the word nigger as stigma exploitation. but i also think sometimes the use reflects internalized racism - though as a white person, it's pretty hard for me to assert such a claim. some of my students who are black have argued this point though quite eloquently.

regardless whether the word can be reclaimed, our society has pretty much had a tacit agreement for some time that blacks can use nigger but whites cannot - an "agreement" that makes a lot of sense.for myself, it's not a word i can use except in an intellectual, academic discussion such as this one - or the ones i've been having lately with my students (though many of them say that if you're white and your best friends are black, you can use the word - in the right context - without retribution. a generational difference, i think.)

btw, the root of the word is portegeuse (sp?)- niger - meaning simply - black. the word originally held no negative value, not even when used to describe people with black or dark-colored skin. it was simply a descriptor.

sorry to go on and on here bogs. i've been up to my neck in this stuff for a few weeks.

Pete Bogs said...

omg, did everyone see what bird wrote? she's a RACIST! time for a public apology and a monetary settlement, I think... but it won't save her career...

lol

I kid...

I have heard of the reclamation of words - in fact, my motto revolves around that concept... consternos have stolen "liberal" and demonized it; I want it back...

there are other examples of reclamation I am familiar with, as well... gays have successfully taken back "queer," which was as serious as "faggot" when I was growing up... now it's "legit" in society... I have also heard of feminists wanting to normalize words like "cunt" (perhaps bird is one such woman?) and others... and women always call themselves and each other "bitch;" some brag about it with bumper stickers and t-shirts... so, I do follow ya...

K9 said...

/bark bark bark

this truth always was always will be: resorting to "nigger" as a hostile dig is the hallmark of the lazy, uncreative and vulgar.

note i say hostile dig....which excludes all the examples of usage bogs' gives, and as bird notes in her reclaimation exercise. all these folks trying to make excuses for kramers freak out are not acknowledging context and intention.

hell, good luck with your knee surgery.

/grrr

Bird said...

richards, in this incident at least, is just an ass. however, i suspect my use of the term "ass" as a hostile dig is definately an indicator of laziness (which breeds a lack of creativity). i'm just a lazy white-assed bird-bitch, a creatively-bankrupt-cunt who can't come up with anything less mundane than "ass."

flap/flap/swoosh

Pete Bogs said...

k9 - context is indeed important to consider in any public comment... but do you think it's realistic to think that the word is going to go away?

bird - Richards was indeed an ass; I think that fits just fine...

to my original comments on Richards a couple days ago - I am not one of his defenders, but I do point out that what standup comedians do onstage can't necessarily be given the same weight as someone else making the comments... with a lot of comedians, it seems like anything goes - right or wrong...