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!