Mady Dobson, An African History major at McGill, writes a response to“The N Word.”
When I read the editorial on the “N word,” aka “Nigger,” I was surprised by the angle taken by the author. It claims that the use of this term is wrong, because of its historical context. The author also fails to turn the lens on herself, to analyze her own interpretations.
She is misinterpreting the problem, because she is failing to acknowledge, or respect, the cultural and historical process that has transformed this word into a tool for expression. Have black rights disappeared? Are the works of Mandela, Parks and King useless? No! The movement has made progress, and has maintained most of its gains.
One of my strongest objections is to how the article belittles other groups’ problems and tries to make black people look more oppressed. The article claims that homosexuals, Jewish people and Muslim people “certainly don’t allow the public to stereotype them and make a word as popular as the “N” word.” This is simply not true. If you watch South Park, you have probably heard them popularizing terms that discriminate against Jewish people and gay people, as well. Gay men are often called “fags” in public or behind their backs. When was the last time you heard someone use the term “nigger” in the same way? Popularization is occurring within the black community. Outside of it, the term seems to be considered racist, inappropriate and downright offensive.
There are also historical examples of the positive effect that “flipping” a word (taking it from the negative to the positive) can have on group identity and expression. The Queer community has taken back a formerly discriminatory name to represent its independence. Kardinal Offishall brings up a good point when he states that gangsters have flipped capitalism – it began as their oppressor, abducting their black ancestors into slavery, and now, many black people have climbed up the pyramid to stuff their pockets. Offishall also claims that they are doing the same thing for the term “nigger.” Slavery created an idea that black people were subservient, but their role in society, and the role of their label, has evolved.
The author says that they have historically fought for their rights – does this not include the right to identification? The term “nigger” has become a representation of their autonomy, in language and action.
Rather than allowing language to bog down our thinking, we should look at the actual problems plaguing the black community and every other exploited group. There are real social issues that create inequality: manipulated education, discrimination and abuse by the ruling classes, drug and alcohol abuse, crime and violence, to name a few. They affect not only black people, but also everyone except the elite and the rich. Instead of whining about rappers’ choice of language, a better way to act is to advocate for social change and an equal world for everyone. Only by building a community and helping each other can we really act as “brothers” and “sisters.”