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  1. #1
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    Default TaNehisi Coates defends use of the n-word (NYTimes)

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/24/op...f=opinion&_r=0

    In Defense of a Loaded Word

    By TA-NEHISI COATES

    MY father’s name is William Paul Coates. I, like my six brothers and sisters, have always addressed him as Dad. Strangers often call him Mr. Coates. His friends call him Paul. If a stranger or one of my father’s friends called him Dad, my father might have a conversation. When I was a child, relatives of my paternal grandmother would call my father Billy. Were I to ever call my father Billy, we would probably have a different conversation.

    I have never called my father Billy. I understand, like most people, that words take on meaning within a context. It might be true that you refer to your spouse as Baby. But were I to take this as license to do the same, you would most likely protest. Right names depend on right relationships, a fact so basic to human speech that without it, human language might well collapse. But as with so much of what we take as human, we seem to be in need of an African-American exception.

    Three weeks ago the Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito, who is white, was reported to have addressed his fellow Dolphin as a “half-******.” About a week later, after being ejected from a game, the Los Angeles Clippers forward Matt Barnes, who is black, tweeted that he was “done standing up for these niggas” after being ejected for defending his teammate. This came after the Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper, who is white, angrily called a black security guard a “******” in July.

    What followed was a fairly regular ritual debate over who gets to say “******” and who does not. On his popular show “Pardon the Interruption,” Tony Kornheiser called on the commissioners of the National Football League, the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball to ban their players from publicly using the word. The ESPN host Skip Bayless went further, calling “******” “the most despicable word in the English language — verbal evil” and wishing that it could “die the death it deserves.”

    Mr. Bayless and Mr. Kornheiser are white, but many African-Americans have reached the same conclusion. On Thursday, the Fritz Pollard Alliance Foundation, a group promoting diversity in coaching and in the front offices of the N.F.L., called on players to stop using “the worst and most derogatory word ever spoken in our country” in the locker rooms. In 2007 the N.A.A.C.P. organized a “funeral” in Detroit for the word “******.” “Good riddance. Die, n-word,” said Kwame Kilpatrick, then the mayor. “We don’t want to see you around here no more.”
    But “******” endures — in our most popular music, in our most provocative films and on the lips of more black people (like me) than would like to admit it. Black critics, not unjustly, note the specific trauma that accompanies the word. For some the mere mention of “******“ conjures up memories of lynchings and bombings. But there’s more here — a deep fear of what our use of the word “******” communicates to white people. “If you call yourself the n-word,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, “you can’t get mad when someone treats you like that.”

    This is the politics of respectability — an attempt to raise black people to a superhuman standard. In this case it means exempting black people from a basic rule of communication — that words take on meaning from context and relationship. But as in all cases of respectability politics, what we are really saying to black people is, “Be less human.” This is not a fight over civil rights; it’s an attempt to raise a double standard. It is no different from charging “ladies” with being ornamental and prim while allowing for the great wisdom of boys being boys. To prevent enabling oppression, we demand that black people be twice as good. To prevent verifying stereotypes, we pledge to never eat a slice a watermelon in front of white people.

    But white racism needs no verification from black people. And a scientific poll of right-thinking humans will always conclude that watermelon is awesome. That is because its taste and texture appeal to certain attributes that humans tend to find pleasurable. Humans also tend to find community to be pleasurable, and within the boundaries of community relationships, words — often ironic and self-deprecating — are always spoken that take on other meanings when uttered by others.

    A few summers ago one of my best friends invited me up to what he affectionately called his “white-trash cabin” in the Adirondacks. This was not how I described the outing to my family. Two of my Jewish acquaintances once joked that I’d “make a good Jew.” My retort was not, “Yeah, I certainly am good with money.” Gay men sometimes laughingly refer to one another as “faggots.” My wife and her friends sometimes, when having a good time, will refer to one another with the word “*****.” I am certain that should I decide to join in, I would invite the same hard conversation that would greet me, should I ever call my father Billy.

    A separate and unequal standard for black people is always wrong. And the desire to ban the word “******” is not anti-racism, it is finishing school. When Matt Barnes used the word “niggas” he was being inappropriate. When Richie Incognito and Riley Cooper used “******,” they were being violent and offensive. That we have trouble distinguishing the two evidences our discomfort with the great chasm between black and white America. If you could choose one word to represent the centuries of bondage, the decades of terrorism, the long days of mass rape, the totality of white violence that birthed the black race in America, it would be “******.”

    But though we were born in violence, we did not die there. That such a seemingly hateful word should return as a marker of nationhood and community confounds our very notions of power. “******” is different because it is attached to one of the most vibrant cultures in the Western world. And yet the culture is inextricably linked to the violence that birthed us. “******” is the border, the signpost that reminds us that the old crimes don’t disappear. It tells white people that, for all their guns and all their gold, there will always be places they can never go.

    Ta-Nehisi Coates is a senior editor at The Atlantic and the author of the memoir “The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood.”

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  3. #2
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    I thought this was a very nuanced article. I must confess I go back and forth on this issue. I grew up in house with a father who regularly used the n-word (as well as a lot of cuss words). I used it briefly as a teenager, as did most of my black peers. And I was probably under the influence of Richard Pryor as well (1970's). Stopped using it as I got older and for most of my adulthood. Hated the use of it in hip hop.

    My husband uses "nigga" occasionally, saying it has a different meaning than when white folks use it. I disagreed with him. Lately though I've come around to his way of thinking, and I've been known to sling it around the house when he and I are alone. It's fun. But would never use it around my kid or in mixed company with whites.

    I like the way Coates mentions the politics of respectability and how it comes into play.

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    I use the word n!gger to describe folks time and again...when it fits. I use the word n!gga as well, when I feel it fits. I don't feel a "right" to the word, I was taught it's a word that has the power YOU give it. I've called white and black folks n!gger. They were being lazy and ignorant and it fit how I felt about them. I've used the word n!gga(shit) to describe the shenanigans some of my family members have tried to pull. For me the word is it's true meaning and I use it as such. As an adult (when I knew better I did better imo) I have NEVER used n!gger/n!gga as something positive. It's a insult...much in the way @s$hole and jack@ss are used by some.

    I know the history of the word. I've taught my children that history as well.

    I also know what it means when 99% of non black folks use it against a black person. When used in that context it is meant to degrade and traumatize. To put a black person in the place the person saying it feels they should be able to put them. Some how less than and below the user of the word.

    For me it's simple (I know it's not for all and I'm alright with that) it's a word to truly describe someone...black white and other.
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    From your thread title I thought he was defending white people's right to use that word. I see what he's saying as someone who liberally uses the words b*tch and c*nt, I understand his point. Still, I won't use ni88er myself. Since I'm not a native English speaker, I pretty much chose the street vernacular that I add to my English vocabulary based on a complicated set of personal rules, one of which being whether or not I feel like a poseur using it. To me, ni88er or ni88a is too specific to AA urban culture for me to adopt if that makes sense. We don't use the French version of "ni88er" the way black folks in the US use it, to me, it remains a racist slur. I stick with using negro instead.


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    I am not now, never have been, will never be a fan. Never have, never will use it.

    But the article is interesting.
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    Co-signing SR...I don't use the word in any of its forms, I don't want it used around me, and in fact I have started challenging people who say "the n-word" by responding, "You mean N****R?"

    I do appreciate TNC's always-insightful take on the subject. Thanks for posting it, swing.
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    Really thought-provoking article. While I really like his style, and his use of relational contexts to highlight the symbolic and dynamic nature of words/language, I am not in agreement with the use of this word.

    I'll admit that I used the word during my teens and very early 20's, but I was an immature conformist then, and I'm not proud of a LOT of the stuff I did/said back then. With maturity and increased enlightenment/awareness came a respect for my history and ancestors that won't allow me to use that word in any context.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Soul Rebel View Post
    I am not now, never have been, will never be a fan. Never have, never will use it.

    But the article is interesting.
    Stopped using it when my daughter was born. Don't use it, won't use it. And tell I'll people, black or white, they're being offensive if they use it in front of me. I can't stop you from using it, but I want everyone within reach of my voice to know where I stand on this issue. The N-word is synonymous with dehumanization of black people in and out of Africa and just as it's not okay for white people to degrade us, it's not okay for us to degrade ourselves, or each other.
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    ^^I get what you're seeing, and for that reason I would never use the word outside of the context of me and my husband joking around. It's too offensive to too many people.

    But at the same time, I really like his point about words having different meanings in different contexts and how those nuances can shift over time. Murder is a terrible thing, yet we use the word "kill" all the time to denote things that don't mean actual killing. "You're killing me with that hat." "She killed that song." In the latter case, "killing" is used to describe a job well done. How's that for flipping meaning on its head? And just to further emphasize this point, I would argue that actual killing, as in murdering someone, has harmed many more people than the n-word ever did, or does. If you want to get historical about it. Yet no one protests these expanded, non-literal uses of the word "kill" the way we do the n-word.

    What makes the n-word so sacred that it too can't have different shades of meaning attached to it? Is it because racism is still so prevalent? Again, so is murder.

    When I use the word -- which isn't often -- I'm not degrading myself in anyway. I'm not ignorant; I know its history and its impact.

    I do think, however, the very public use of it by black folks has made racist white people way too comfortable with using it themselves, which is why I wouldn't say it in public. But that's an entirely different matter than making blanket statements such as "anyone using the n-word is ignorant, self-degrading etc."

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    Well, I don't use it in public or in private. It's a degrading word with a vile history and nothing anyone says about makes it any less disgusting. That word alone has been used to dehumanize our people for hundreds of years and for me it has no other meaning but to be derogatory. There's no sugarcoating it and no softening it - no matter how you use it, spell it or pronounce it, it's a word that I won't use.

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