In 2007 the NAACP buried the “N-word” in an elaborate public ceremony attended by thousands. The intent was to end all use of the derogatory word. But because that was useless symbolism, it should be exhumed and allowed to live a pathetic existence under the protection of the First Amendment.
When uttered by some, it is repugnant and meant to demean, an inflammatory form of assault. Too many people experience firsthand how derogatory, painful and demoralizing it is to hear the word rolling off the tongue of some vile, despicable person.
Every day, and in many ways, its ghost raises its ugly head, refusing to rest in peace.
Hosts on the TV program The View broached the subject in reference to the word “Niggerhead” that was once on a rock at the entrance of a Texas property leased by GOP presidential contender Rick Perry. Whoopi Goldberg noted that another presidential candidate, Herman Cain, described how insensitive it was “but Cain didn’t use the term ‘N-word,’ which I guess is what we’re supposed to be saying now.”
After Barbara Walters repeated the name of the property, Sherri Shepherd took Walters to task. “When I heard you say it, it was fine,” Shepherd told Goldberg. Turning to Walters, she remarked, “When I heard you say it, I didn’t like the way you said it… I don’t know if it’s a semantics thing, but there’s something that goes through my body… I use it with my friends, my family; I don’t say it like you.”
That admission is evidence of a double standard. Blacks, for example, routinely include the N-word in their vocabulary for both shock value and out of defiance. Vulgar, violent, dehumanizing racial themes — including the N-word — dominate hip-hop recordings. Yet you don’t hear blacks take up arms against the explosion of the cultural decadence in rap lyrics. Why is it only an issue when such garbage comes out of the mouth of a white person?
Young blacks also use the word as a sign of camaraderie. To the degree that they are trying to change a historically demeaning word and make it an endearing communication between peers, I applaud them. To this end it represents a triumph over the word’s power and hurt.
That’s not the case with colleges and universities that seem hell-bent on burying free speech.
Once thought to be bastions of free and open debate, institutions of higher learning are becoming fortresses of intolerance. Many have included “speech codes” in student codes of conduct. Bans on “derogatory references, discriminatory harassment” or “personally abusive epithets” are commonplace.
Our hypersensitivity to the N-word is misguided. It does not result in one black youngster saved from a premature date with violence and death, child abuse or neglect. No child will be better educated with its permanent interment, and no neighborhood will be spared distinct and undesirable patterns of family disintegration. Our disproportionate representation in jails and prisons, HIV, infant mortality and other health maladies have nothing to do with the names people call us.
It would seem that our efforts would be far more productive if concentrated on those self-destructive tendencies that impair our advancement. So it defies logic that we persist in tenaciously focusing on imagined slights and slurs whose absolute eradication would do nothing to improve our plight.
When all is said and done, well-intentioned efforts to be “politically correct” trample on First Amendment guarantees. The constitution we live under protects even those acts that direct prejudiced, bigoted, loathsome, despicable and offensive speech toward any ethnic group. A free society cannot stifle or censor speech simply because someone says it is not suitable to some social, political or ideological end.
Consider this: We could take the sting out of such terms by making them part of the lexicon and incorporating them into our speech. Rather than restrictions, honest, constructive dialogue and expression are the best way to address explosive issues. Whites may be liberated from a legacy of guilt. Blacks may be able to move forward.
Trying to throw a blanket of silence over the First Amendment only obstructs intellectual freedom and ensures the dastardly N-word remains alive and well just below the surface.