My Stand Against Racism and the N-Word

My Stand Against Racism and the N-Word
An annual event on the last Friday in April

Today, I'll join my youngest child's elementary school in Evanston for the annual Stand Against Racism sponsored by the YWCA. We'll walk to Ridge Avenue, a highway-like, four-lane strip running through our town, standing together with groups from throughout our community, raising awareness that racism still exists. If they pass out nametags during the event, I suppose I'll need three:

1) Mom

2) Community member

3) Member of the press (I write a weekly opinion column for Evanston's Patch.com)

I play each of those roles on a daily basis, and each one of them is touched by racism.

As a mother, I see teenage kids drawn to songs by talented musical groups dropping the N-word the way preschoolers flock to Goldfish crackers. As a community member, I see young men on the street and in stores, referring to each other as the N-word. And as a journalist, I'm forever intrigued by how this word ever made it way into mainstream culture.  I'm a white, middle-aged woman and the N-word makes me cringe and always will -- no matter who says it or when. I hear teens say, "Relax. Blacks are allowed to call each other that..."

I'm not buying it. To me, the N-word is as racist a term as there ever was.

Dictionary.com defines the word nigger like this:

The term nigger  is now probably the most offensive word in English. Its degree of offensiveness has increased markedly in recent years, although it has been used in a derogatory manner since at least the Revolutionary War. The senses labeled Extremely Disparaging and Offensive  represent meanings that are deeply insulting and are used when the speaker deliberately wishes to cause great offense. It is so profoundly offensive that a euphemism has developed for those occasions when the word itself must be discussed, as in court or in a newspaper editorial: “the n-word.” Despite this, the sense referring to a “black person” is sometimes used among African Americans in a neutral or familiar way. The sense referring to other victims of prejudice, especially when used descriptively, as to denounce that prejudice, is not normally considered disparaging—as in “The Irish are the niggers of Europe” from Roddy Doyle's The Commitments —but the other uses are considered contemptuous and hostile.

noun

1. Slang: Extremely Disparaging and Offensive.

a. a black person.

b. a member of any dark-skinned people.
2. Slang: Extremely Disparaging and Offensive. a person of any race or origin regarded as contemptible, inferior, ignorant, etc.
3. a victim of prejudice similar to that suffered by blacks; a person who is economically, politically, or socially disenfranchised.
Just for a moment, let's examine the word "bitch". When I was growing up, you never, EVER said it. These days, headlines like Kim Kardashian says she's honored to be Kanye West's 'Perfect Bitch' is apparently meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but does she ever call him her perfect nigger? Even jokingly?
On Escobar300's blog in February 2012, controversial hip hop artist NAS spoke about his work, saying:
"With all the bullsh– that’s going on in the world, racism is at its peak. I wanna do the sh– that’s not being done. I wanna be the artist who ain’t out. I wanna make the music I wanna hear.We’re taking power [away] from the word,” he added. “No disrespect to none of them who were part of the civil-rights movement, but some of my n—as in the streets don’t know who [civil-rights activist] Medgar Evers was. I love Medgar Evers, but some of the n—as in the streets don’t know Medgar Evers, they know who Nas is. And to my older people who don’t now who Nas is and who don’t know what a street disciple is, stay outta this mutha—-in’ conversation. We’ll talk to you when we’re ready. Right now, we’re on a whole new movement. We’re taking power [away] from that word.”
nas-nigger-shirt
(The artist NAS promotes his album, NIGGER, at the 2008 Grammys)
Listen hard and you'll hear women jokingly refer to each other as bitches, as in, "Come on, bitches, let's get out of here." Listen harder and you'll know they're bonding over the term by trumping its historically degrading reference to women. Is the N-word used in a similar fashion, allowing blacks to own the very word that held them down?
I don't like either word. Call me a prude. Call me old-fashioned. Call me overly sensitive. I can think of so many other terms of endearment, the most common of which are listed on Wikipedia:
  • Babe
  • Baby
  • Boo
  • Cutie(pie)
  • Darling
  • Dear
  • Dollface
  • Gorgeous
  • Handsome
  • Honey
  • Love
  • Pumpkin
  • Sugar
  • Sunshine
  • Sweetie
  • Sweetheart
I don't even use any of those terms, but if I ever need more options, I pray to God I never see bitch or nigger added to the list.
What do you think? Please tell me in the comments.
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    Christine Wolf

    So hey, how's it going? I cover life's ups and downs, but I'm really drawn to the tough, emotional stuff. My perspective covers 23 years of marriage and 17 years of parenting, and while I'm always willing to voice an opinion, it often contradicts my innate desire to please everyone at all times. Such is this crazy life, so I guess all I can do is just write about how I've (usually) kept my head above water. Thanks for dropping by. You know you totally rock, right?

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