Resurrection of the N-word, Part II

For those determined to abolish the word, ‘nigger,’ from the National Football League (NFL) and, indeed, the vocabularies of humankind, consider the satisfaction you’ve brought to the advocates of censorship and racial discrimination.  Sadly, your thinking is in concert with those who’ve banned books on matters in which they disagree, as well as those who’ve camouflaged or tried to dismiss the extraordinary works of people of color whose contributions were ignored by history. That’s not the path that we should follow.

If the NFL supports your proposal by adopting such a rule, why not petition the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to ban the word from documentaries or films, beginning with 12 Years a Slave, winner of this year’s Oscar for Best Picture?  Use of the N-word in context made 12 Years a memorable and powerful film.

It troubles me deeply to watch so many members of my profession ignore one of the pillars of our free society – freedom of speech.  And it is troubling, too, to feel the need to paraphrase this familiar reminder that has been echoed at various intervals since the beginning of time: Those who ignore the mistakes of history most surely will repeat them.  I liked the movie, 12 Years a Slave, because it neither sanitized nor distorted the realities of the relationships between blacks and whites during slavery.  It told me that Americans – especially white Americans – have spent too many years, indeed centuries, glossing over the damage caused by a depraved system of slavery.

As divisive as the N-word might be, it is an integral part of the American psyche and history.  For too long it has lingered in the minds of blacks and whites like an inoperable tumor. My treatment of the illness is simple. We should never stop examining and talking about the word’s impact on us as people and a nation. Most organizations already have rules that penalize people who use offensive or profane language.  The N-word seems to apply.  Print and broadcast media should use it judiciously and always in context. Universities and colleges should explore and debate it in the classroom.  Television and the movie industries should continue to produce authentic, quality-filled dramas similar to 12 Years a Slave.

Many people don’t want that to happen. Eric Hoffer, a white philosopher, who died in 1983, understood the message of the movie long before it was made.  He explained why some whites are still haunted by their relationship with blacks this way: “The most effective way to silence our guilty conscience is to convince ourselves and others that those we have sinned against are indeed, depraved creatures, deserving every punishment, even extermination.  We cannot pity those we have wronged, nor can we be indifferent toward them. We must hate or persecute them or leave the door open to self-contempt.”

See the movie and learn to accept – and not be shocked or embarrassed by – the realities of a damnable history of racial bias, anchored in brutality and epitomized in the hateful use of the N-word.

 

 

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