It’s time to bring an end to the N-word

by Erik Sena

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For centuries, no word has carried as much baggage or been the object of as much d controversy as the infamous N-word. Historically, it derives from the word negro, which was used by Spanish and Portuguese traders to identify African slaves during the late 15th century. Since that time, everyone the word has been used more widely and in different contexts, whether to oppress and alienate the black race, or as a term of endearment among friends.

Today, it can be heard in all forms of mass media. Because of its perpetuation through these outlets, the word is more prevalent now than it has been ever before. Despite its context, the word should no longer be spread so casually or used at all. Its terrible origins are enough to warrant its removal from the English language. [quote]Any word that’s been used to degrade or dehumanize any group of people is one that’s best forgotten.[/quote]

To get a clearer view of this issue, I enlisted the help of Afro-American History professor Dr. Anta Merritt. According to Meritt, the word is one that “limits the sense of self for black people, particularly young people.” Despite its popularity among black youth, many are unaware of the words cultural identity.

“Some are using it in a very cavalier way … thoughtlessly, in other words,” he said.

If people want to use the word, Merritt urges them to use it in an analytical manner to identify a certain group of people within society. According to him, people who use the N-word to identify themselves either cannot mobilize upward in the socioeconomic ladder or refuse to. Despite being of various ethnic backgrounds, these people regard themselves as N-words not because of their skin color, but because of their despondent conditions within poverty-ridden urban slums. Therefore, there’s a critical way to use the word rather than as purely motivated by racial indifference.

Despite the interpretation of the original meaning, the word remains the same. The pain and sorrow associated with the word are still felt by the ancestors of slaves who toiled away on plantations almost five centuries ago. Some may argue that there’s a need to reclaim the word and use it to empower African-American history. However, Merritt isn’t so convinced. “

When I think of being empowered, I think of being lifted up spiritually, psychologically, politically, economically,” he said. “Now one can argue that, yeah, there’s a handful of rappers who use it that are being economically empowered. They’re maybe making hundreds of thousands of dollars; the music industry is making billions of dollars off of them. So where is the economic empowerment? I need some proof here.”

Another popular argument is the clear distinction between the words “nigger” and “nigga”—one bearing a strictly negative, racist connotation and one being a colloquial term of endearment. According to Merritt, no matter how it’s said, “(It) isn’t new. The spelling’s new, but the pronunciation has maybe become more urbanized.”

Author and Arizona State University English professor Neal A. Lester also agrees that despite its contemporary interpretation, it’s extremely difficult to perceive it in a positive light.

“The word is inextricably linked with violence and brutality on black psyches and derogatory aspersions cast on black bodies,” Lester said. “No degree of appropriating can rid it of that blood-soaked history.”

So, what can be done about the word? Regardless of skin color or ethnic makeup, it’d be best for everyone if people could just leave the word behind. That’s quite a tall task, but it can definitely be done. Other ethnic slurs have become obsolete, so why can’t the same happen to the N-word?

Ethnic slurs such as jap, dago and zipperhead have been expunged almost completely from modern day vocabulary. That’s not to say that they were forgotten, rather they faded away from our language with time.

That same principle could be applied to the N-word The late black comedian Richard Pryor was famous for using the word incessantly to try and desensitize his audience. He hoped that by using it nonstop, it’d lose its meaning and people would stop using it. But it has been more than 30 years since his  performances and people still use it to this day.

Rather than trying to get used to the word by saying it as much as possible, people should do the exact opposite and stop using the word entirely. The best we could do is hope that the N-word—like other ethic slurs—will run its course and be virtually erased from the English language. But what else can be done?

Instead of saying the N-word, we should use other words in place of it. “Dude”, a popular staple of Californian vernacular is a suitable replacemen. “Chap,” although somewhat outdated, can be appropriate in certain situations. Gender-exclusivity aside, “friend” is a universally applicable term, even if it isn’t the best substitute. Ultimately, we can always find other words to convey the same meaning.

[quote]The N-word is evidence of out atrocious past. [/quote]According to Merritt, the word is “a thorn in the psychological side of many people.”

Is the N-word really something that you’d want your children and grandchildren to hear or even say themselves? I think not. Rather than dwelling on the past, let’s move forward and leave the troubled events behind us. With Black History Month upon us, let’s not forget the painstaking efforts of such prominent figures as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Frederick Douglass. It’s 2014—we should be promoting tolerance and the beauty of diversity, not bigotry and racial insensitivity.

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