Ran across a well written commentary by writer H. Lewis Smith on why no one should use the N-word in any context in the English language. While this commentary is addressed to African-American folks most specifically, its range should not be restricted to just that audience.
People of European heritage, that is who have light-colored skin and identify as ‘white’ (a racist construct itself), often express confusion about the use of the N-word. For some reason they seem to feel that if they hear someone of color use this term to refer to themselves or their peers, then they have a free license to use the word. Why of course, anyone would want to use such a disgusting word in any context is perplexing, but for want of understanding, many do.
Firstly, as Mr. Smith so eloquently lays out and anyone with any understanding of history should know, the N-word embodied the rationalization that allowed the mass brutalization of an entire people by another.
Those of European ancestry who live in America have reaped the fruits of the hard work of those who once were enslaved and often reap the fruits of systemic racism that still exists today. Statistics and even basic observation shows quite plainly that inequality exists today nearly as grossly as fifty or more years ago. Those statistics also show that such inequality, while most often economic also derives from social inequality put in place and held in place by old, yet firmly held beliefs, traditions and behaviors of those who have the power to make change where they can.
Recently a poll of ‘white’ folks showed that many have little empathy for or desire to understand the struggle of African-Americans for justice. Racist language and attitudes don’t touch people of non-African heritage yet surprisingly, many of these same people feel they have a right to pass judgment on when, how and to what degree African-American people should express outrage at their own oppression. The attitude of prejudice comes from ignorance, the ignorance remains in place due to a social construct that legitimizes one group’s experience while dismissing another’s, called privilege. In the context of the American social frame, it is known as “white privilege”.
This seems shocking, but its a symptom of the culture; a culture where the dominance of one group over another runs deep. It runs so deep that non-African people feel they have the right to arbitrate on and decide on the degree to which another group is oppressed. Privilege is exactly that — having the power to decide right and wrong and where responsibility lies and most importantly, who is allowed to suffer. What is the difference between this hypocrisy and that of the slave holder of old, who tightly holds the key to the shackles while laughing that his property enjoys their enslavement?
Like Mr. Smith, people take a minute to think agree that use of the N-word trivializes the suffering of those who came before us and built this country with no pay, no credit, not even a thanks. Use of the N-word excuses injustice and the dehumanization of racism, the N-word grants the lynch mob tacit approval, gives a nod to those who say that racism doesn’t exist and allows it to perpetuate. Use of the N-word by people of non-African descent, most importantly, practices the same oppression, the same brutalization by repeating and aping the very practice of those who held the slave system in place by their participation in it or obedience to it.
Mr. Smith says that all people of colored skin came from the same place. Let’s correct that: all humans came from the same place. Africa is in fact the genetic motherland of all of us. Science has shown that homo sapiens began in the rich lands of Africa and migrated over thousands of years to different locations as continental plates moved and shifted. Also, science has now shown that light colored hair shafts (blonde, red) and light colored skin, the hallmarks of people from regions with less sunlit days, were no doubt an evolutionary adaptation to survive. Light skin and light hair allowed the essential vitamin D to be absorbed into the body, the sun being the only source (until modern chemistry has made it possible as an additive) for this vitamin. While the development of other features such as nose shape in some folks seems still a debated topic, we should be long beyond any idea that human difference is more than skin deep.
Kwanzaa, the celebration of African unity and pride ended yesterday and in that evening Nelson Mandela passed away. This seems a fitting time for everyone to consider how their actions, even what seems the smallest, such as word choice can move us forward as a people or keep us all enslaved in ignorance and hate.
Column: “Undressing The N-Word”
By H. Lewis Smith
Nationwide (December 3, 2013) — Over the past year or so, many events have been occurring in the Black Community at the hand of the Black Community that continues to bring continual shame and degradation to the honorable memories, sacred struggle and sacrifice of African-American ascendants. Some may argue against it, but these acts continue to adversely affect the growth, development, and progression of the Black community, on a whole, to this very day. For instance, in November 2013, former NBA greats Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and ESPN commentator Michael Wilborn bowed down to and pledged their allegiance to a word that dehumanized, stigmatized and objectified their ancestors on national TV. That word is the n-word (n**ga).
It is this sort of pervasive 18th century slave mentality, blindness to such behaviors, and misuse of influential power – much-made possible by the blood and sacrifices of their own ancestors, that prompted writing the book Undressing of the N-word: Revealing the Naked Truth About Lies, Deceit and Mind Games. It is high time that Black America stop the antics, halt the selfish mentality of “I got mines”, and really use all resources they have to demand respect for the entire race within and without the community. Ignorance is no longer acceptable or the calling card to bring attention to Black America; rather, Black America must take the time to educate themselves, and in so doing, reality will be made clear.
The following are excerpts from one of the chapters in my soon-to-be released book entitled, Undressing The N-word: Revealing the Naked Truth About Lies, Deceit and Mind Games.
Forbiddingly, you learn today that your mother was brutally and unmercifully bludgeoned to death with a hammer. Now close your eyes and think about this for a moment: think about the heinousness in the act; see your mother screaming for her life and doing everything in her power to defend against and fight off her unrelenting attackers; think about all of the pain and anguish she endured as blow upon blow of the hammer welled down on her, before the final bit of life was unrightfully snatched with that last thud. Can you see it? Can you see the multiple plugs imprinted into whatever part of her body the hammer unforgivingly fell upon? Can you empathize with that dreadful moment in time?