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View Full Version : Very interesting Christopher Hitchens collumn about the N word.


Cthulhu
08-19-2007, 06:09 PM
Yeah, I know it's pretty old, but I just found it today.

http://www.slate.com/id/2154854/

Eschew the Taboo
The pernicious effects of banning words.
By Christopher Hitchens
Posted Monday, Dec. 4, 2006, at 1:16 PM ET

One effect of the witless racist tirade mounted by Michael Richards has been a call, made by Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rep. Maxine Waters and endorsed by black comedian Paul Mooney, for a moratorium on the use of the word nigger by those in the entertainment industry. If successful, this might, I suppose, put an end to the pathetic complaint made by some white people that it's unfair that blacks can use the word while they cannot. In fact, no question of "double standards" arises here. If white people call black people niggers, they are doing their very best to hurt and insult them, as well as to remind them that their ancestors used to be property. If black people use the word, they are either uttering an obscenity or trying to detoxify a word and rob it of its power to wound them. Not quite the same thing.

There is a third category here, which is the use of the word in what I can only call an objective way. Thus, professor Randall Kennedy not long ago became the second black American to publish a book called Nigger. (The first was Dick Gregory, who told his mother that henceforth whenever she heard the word, she could think of it as a promotion of her son's best seller.) Kennedy's milder justification, with which I agreed, was that he was writing a history of the word's power and pathology, and it did not need a mealy-mouthed title.

However, in mentioning Kennedy's book in its treatment of the Richards affair, the article in the Washington Post's "Style" section did not give its title at all, referring to it instead as "a controversial book about the word" and to the word itself as "the N-word." Indeed, the Post has a policy of not printing the word at all, as do many other media outlets.


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I found this out myself recently, when I went on Hardball With Chris Matthews. It was just after John Kerry had (I thought unintentionally) given the impression that young people joining the armed forces were stupid. Chris asked me where liberals got the idea that conservatives were dumb. I said that it all went back to John Stuart Mill referring to the Tories as "the stupid party." After a while, the Tories themselves began to use this expression to describe themselves. I added that the word Tory was originally an insult—it means something like brigand in Gaelic—and it had also been adopted, by those at whom it was directed, as a badge of pride. In this respect, I went on to say, it anticipated other such appropriations—impressionist, suffragette—by which the target group inverted the taunt thrown at it and, by a kind of verbal jujitsu, turned it back on its originators. In more recent times, I finished with what I thought was a flourish, the words nigger and queer (and I may have added faggot) had undergone some of the same transmutation.

Very suddenly, we went to a break, and the studio filled with unsmiling people who detached my microphone and announced that the segment was extremely over. My protests were futile. Should I have remembered to cover myself and say "the N-word" instead? It would have seemed somehow inauthentic. Did MSNBC think that anything I had uttered was inflected with the smallest tinge of bigotry? Presumably not. So, what we now have is a taboo, which is something quite different from an agreement on etiquette.

The next day, I was teaching a class on Mark Twain at the New School in New York, explaining why it was that there had always been attempts to ban Huckleberry Finn. In the old days, this was because of its rough manners and alleged lack of refinement and moral uplift. But now, as I went on to say, it is because of the name of the character for whom Huck is willing to risk going to hell. Excuse me, but I did not refer to this character as "N-word Jim." I have more respect for my graduate students than that. I suppose I could have just called him "Jim," but that would somehow have been untrue to the spirit and shade of Samuel Clemens. And I would have thought of myself as a coward.

I did, once, decide to be a coward anyway. It was while giving a speech in Washington, to a very international audience, about the British theft of the Elgin marbles from the Parthenon. I described the attitude of the current British authorities as "niggardly." Nobody said anything, but I privately resolved—having felt the word hanging in the air a bit—to say "parsimonious" from then on. That's up to me, though.

Not long afterward, a senior member of the Washington, D.C., government used the word niggardly in a budget memo and was forced to resign, even though Mayor Anthony Williams said publicly that he knew the term was both harmless and precise. At this point, we see the effect of taboo. It got even worse a short while later, when a local teacher praised her class for being so "discriminating" and provoked floods of tears and much anguish. Now, the word niggardly can pass out of the language and leave us not much poorer. But the meaning of the verb to discriminate is of some importance and seems to me to be worth fighting over. It is odd, when you think about it, that we accuse racists of "discrimination." This is the very thing of which they are by definition incapable: They think all members of certain groups are the same. (The late Richard Pryor dropped the word nigger after he went to Africa, saying that he didn't meet anyone on that continent who answered to the description. Doubtless true, but when the Hutu militias in Rwanda referred to all Tutsis as "cockroaches," you can be sure they intended something more than a "stereotype.") Hatred will always find a way, and will certainly always be able to outpace linguistic correctness.

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Cthulhu
08-19-2007, 09:00 PM
I find it amazing that this has no responses yet. Should I have used the actual word in the title?

IrOnMaN
08-20-2007, 01:23 PM
Hmmm..... I agree with him. It's like someone making jokes about their own mother. But when someone else says something about someone's mother, there's a problem with that. This analogy applies to blacks and whites regarding the use of the N word. We all know where the N word originate. Why was the word applied to blacks only during that time? I can't explain that. That's something I will ask God when I arive to heaven.

When blacks use it.............You know, this is stupid. Why are blacks STILL using the word after 100 of years of racism, discrimantion, slavery, etc. Are blacks the ones being ignorant here?

You have to understand that proverty, stereotypes, low education, fatherless households, etc, stereotypes will be reinforced. And who fault is it? Whites.

What was done to African-Americans made them way they are today. It's the basic principle of the universe. An action will create an equal to oppose a reaction.

The same thing applies with the use of the "N" word, nigga. Whites called blacks niggers because of their phenotype. I figured after whites called blacks niggers for hundreds of years, blacks started to believe that they were niggers because of how they were treated for 100's of years.

It's like when a man tells a woman she is ugly. Then another man says she's ugly. Then another and another. Then before you know it, most men will think she is ugly because of what other men say about her phenotype. As a result, her reaction will be "I am ugly" because of what people say about her. She accepts being ugly. The same thing happened with blacks. And I have reason to believe this is how the horrible word "nigga" originated.

Think about it.

Thanks.

Cthulhu
08-20-2007, 07:09 PM
Hmmm..... I agree with him. It's like someone making jokes about their own mother. But when someone else says something about someone's mother, there's a problem with that. This analogy applies to blacks and whites regarding the use of the N word. We all know where the N word originate. Why was the word applied to blacks only during that time? I can't explain that. That's something I will ask God when I arive to heaven.

When blacks use it.............You know, this is stupid. Why are blacks STILL using the word after 100 of years of racism, discrimantion, slavery, etc. Are blacks the ones being ignorant here?

You have to understand that proverty, stereotypes, low education, fatherless households, etc, stereotypes will be reinforced. And who fault is it? Whites.

What was done to African-Americans made them way they are today. It's the basic principle of the universe. An action will create an equal to oppose a reaction.

The same thing applies with the use of the "N" word, nigga. Whites called blacks niggers because of their phenotype. I figured after whites called blacks niggers for hundreds of years, blacks started to believe that they were niggers because of how they were treated for 100's of years.

It's like when a man tells a woman she is ugly. Then another man says she's ugly. Then another and another. Then before you know it, most men will think she is ugly because of what other men say about her phenotype. As a result, her reaction will be "I am ugly" because of what people say about her. She accepts being ugly. The same thing happened with blacks. And I have reason to believe this is how the horrible word "nigga" originated.

Think about it.

Thanks.

I think you sort of missed the point of the whole article. He was appalled that he cannot use the word when referring to it objectively, as when he was using at as example of a word that its targets took for themselves as a term of endearment.

Ideally, I should have been able to use the word in the title of this thread without offending anyone because I would have been referring to the word itself, but I didn't really want to set off any controversey.

I don't feel like getting into a discussion about the situation of African Americans, but I will say some of the statements you made seem to be scapegoating.

IrOnMaN
08-21-2007, 10:04 AM
I think you sort of missed the point of the whole article. He was appalled that he cannot use the word when referring to it objectively, as when he was using at as example of a word that its targets took for themselves as a term of endearment.

Ideally, I should have been able to use the word in the title of this thread without offending anyone because I would have been referring to the word itself, but I didn't really want to set off any controversey.

I don't feel like getting into a discussion about the situation of African Americans, but I will say some of the statements you made seem to be scapegoating.

How?

blackwisdom
08-21-2007, 10:39 AM
I love Dick Gregory's "Nigger." When I was reading it I use to make sure that people could see the title. I use to put it in my back pocket with the title showing and my shirt tucked behind it. I wanted to conversate about the word and him. I know a lot of people say that that's extreme but terrorizing a nation with the media is extreme. Anyway...
I will say some of the statements you made seem to be scapegoating.
You have to understand that proverty, stereotypes, low education, fatherless households, etc, stereotypes will be reinforced. And who fault is it? Whites.
Is that a lie? Do people who live in low income areas control their environment, public school curriculums, hospitals, housing, etc? The co-called law of statistics are against those demographics being able and willing to counter these obsticals. That statement isn't an absolute. It possesses variations and the possibilities for miracles. Every one has heard of and know what happens to the mouse in the maze right?

If I have my foot on your neck, it's easy for me to tell you to just move it. It depends on the will and strength of the individual that I'm stepping on whether he will stand up or not (plus my energy opposed to his is in the equation).

Everyone knows that there is a problem but we all mostly complain and blame.

In reply to the original post, I feel that people should be able to use nigger objectively. Just know your audience. A contradiction right?

Cthulhu
08-21-2007, 10:49 AM
I love Dick Gregory's "Nigger." When I was reading it I use to make sure that people could see the title. I use to put it in my back pocket with the title showing and my shirt tucked behind it. I wanted to conversate about the word and him. I know a lot of people say that that's extreme but terrorizing a nation with the media is extreme. Anyway...


Is that a lie? Do people who live in low income areas control their environment, public school curriculums, hospitals, housing, etc? The co-called law of statistics are against those demographics being able and willing to counter these obsticals. That statement isn't an absolute. It possesses variations and the possibilities for miracles. Every one has heard of and know what happens to the mouse in the maze right?

If I have my foot on your neck, it's easy for me to tell you to just move it. It depends on the will and strength of the individual that I'm stepping on whether he will stand up or not (plus my energy opposed to his is in the equation).

Everyone knows that there is a problem but we all mostly complain and blame.

In reply to the original post, I feel that people should be able to use nigger objectively. Just know your audience. A contradiction right?

I think it's misguided to place blame for black poverty on whites of this generation. I know slavery and racism were the reasons for black poverty to begin with, but most of the people in power today have no direct hand in what happened. I don't think politicians or society willfully try to snatch away opportunites from minority communities. I won't deny that racism still exists today. I know plenty of people who act as though all black people are potential criminals, though I try to tell them when blacks commit crimes it has all to do with poverty and not with their skin color. Remember, the ghetto also consists of whites and various other ethnic groups.

Dirk Daring
08-21-2007, 10:52 AM
blacks even called themselves niggaz years before the slave ship arrived to Africa yes it was used derogatory, jokingingy and commonly even in those times

just like it is an offense to call a jew a gentile man(gentleman)....Calling each other niggaz is only 1% of the problem with black but on the record there is those who are niggaz (ignorant, mentally dead or stupid) but nigga puts more effect to it just like calling a homo sexual a faggot instead of a homo sexual or gay you just gotta call it how you see it those term are used to make someone hear it.

Cthulhu
08-21-2007, 10:59 AM
blacks even called themselves niggaz years before the slave ship arrived to Africa yes it was used derogatory, jokingingy and commonly even in those times

just like it is an offense to call a jew a gentile man(gentleman)....Calling each other niggaz is only 1% of the problem with black but on the record there is those who are niggaz (ignorant, mentally dead or stupid) but nigga puts more effect to it just like calling a homo sexual a faggot instead of a homo sexual or gay you just gotta call it how you see it those term are used to make someone hear it.How would it be possible for blacks to each other "niggers" before European slavery when the word originates from the Spanish word negro?

IrOnMaN
08-21-2007, 11:17 AM
I love Dick Gregory's "Nigger." When I was reading it I use to make sure that people could see the title. I use to put it in my back pocket with the title showing and my shirt tucked behind it. I wanted to conversate about the word and him. I know a lot of people say that that's extreme but terrorizing a nation with the media is extreme. Anyway...


Is that a lie? Do people who live in low income areas control their environment, public school curriculums, hospitals, housing, etc? The co-called law of statistics are against those demographics being able and willing to counter these obsticals. That statement isn't an absolute. It possesses variations and the possibilities for miracles. Every one has heard of and know what happens to the mouse in the maze right?

If I have my foot on your neck, it's easy for me to tell you to just move it. It depends on the will and strength of the individual that I'm stepping on whether he will stand up or not (plus my energy opposed to his is in the equation).

Everyone knows that there is a problem but we all mostly complain and blame.

In reply to the original post, I feel that people should be able to use nigger objectively. Just know your audience. A contradiction right?

You've got to be kidding me on this, right? You've lived in the ghetto, right? You've been through the worst, right? You've been told by your peers that you won't amount to anything, right? You've seen shit you couldn't bare, right? You've been around drug dealers, right? You've ran from cops, right? You've been around gangs, right? Well, I have. See, I'm one year away from completing my B.S. in Geology. I'm 20 years old, got my own apartment, got a job, doing undergraduate research in geology (received grants), and other things as well. I've been on my own since I was 18. But wasn't born in Detroit, I was born in Phila, PA, but raised in Cerro Gordo, NC (rural area, very very small town). When I came to Detroit, MI, I was like "Damn. The city looks like this. This is horrible!". I remember my first day a Detroit Public School, I have never seen so many blacks kids in my life. It was new to me. My family picked us (mother, sister, and I) for not being "ghetto" enough. I didn't speak ebnoics like everyone else did, I spoke proper english. I got picked on for that by my family and my peers. Then I realize that I don't want to be like these people because.....................they don't want to amount to anything in life (refering to the kids).

Anyway, no Blackwisdom. Some people that been through what we have been through can't mentally raise above what they are in. It's true. Calling each other the N word is just as bad as telling someone they can't make it out because either you're black or you're low income. Some people aren't mentally strong enough to overcome what they're in. I'm sorry, but it's true.

The same fuckers that picked on me when I was a kid are the same ones that didn't even finish fucking high school.}:| Are you serious?!?!? Thanks.

Dirk Daring
08-21-2007, 11:41 AM
Blacks were insulting each other based on whatever the reasons were even in or on common terms like slang.

Criticizing one another and even insulting one another was and is common in HUMAN HISTORY

nigga could be a problem but it is just like it is a problem with being called an idiot or asshole

Dirk Daring
08-21-2007, 11:44 AM
"African" and "American" is more of an insult than being called a Nigga just think about it.

IrOnMaN
08-21-2007, 12:15 PM
"African" and "American" is more of an insult than being called a Nigga just think about it.

Hmmm.......How?}:| And you can thank Jesse Jackson for that term because he was the one that created it.

Dirk Daring
08-21-2007, 12:26 PM
If Jesse Jackson is the one that made it legal to call us African-Americans than he is just as Fucked up as the White man is for calling us Niggas and using that to divide us from the rest of the world...... If that is that case than what they say is true Jesse is more a cancer to our growth and development than a cure..At least Don King is Honest about his doings.

IrOnMaN
08-21-2007, 12:47 PM
If Jesse Jackson is the one that made it legal to call us African-Americans than he is just as Fucked up as the White man is for calling us Niggas and using that to divide us from the rest of the world...... If that is that case than what they say is true Jesse is more a cancer to our growth and development than a cure..At least Don King is Honest about his doings.

How does the term "African-American" divide blacks from the rest of the world? They're Asian Americans, Iraqi Americans, etc. As Blackwisdom said, we really don't have an name origin, which is pretty f***** up for us.

Big Risk
08-21-2007, 01:08 PM
I think it's misguided to place blame for black poverty on whites of this generation. I know slavery and racism were the reasons for black poverty to begin with, but most of the people in power today have no direct hand in what happened. I don't think politicians or society willfully try to snatch away opportunites from minority communities..

if they dont help they are the BLAME.

Cthulhu
08-21-2007, 03:49 PM
if they dont help they are the BLAME.

You can only blame so much, and then you have to step back and maybe realize that SOME of the responsibility rests on you.

IrOnMaN
08-24-2007, 10:09 AM
Hmmm....................}:|

blackwisdom
08-24-2007, 04:23 PM
I think it's misguided to place blame for black poverty on whites of this generation. I know slavery and racism were the reasons for black poverty to begin with, but most of the people in power today have no direct hand in what happened. I don't think politicians or society willfully try to snatch away opportunites from minority communities. I won't deny that racism still exists today. I know plenty of people who act as though all black people are potential criminals, though I try to tell them when blacks commit crimes it has all to do with poverty and not with their skin color. Remember, the ghetto also consists of whites and various other ethnic groups.People tend to lean towards things that resemble them and that make them comfortable right? Racism is so ingrained in this society that to the untrained eye, or unwanting to see it eye, it's invisible. Now onto answering to your post.

Who set up the ghettos? Who runs them today?
Who established the first prisons in the US? Who grows them faster than schools today?
Who makes the laws? Who's crimes cost tax payers more money? (rich folks' crimes)
Who sets the zones?

If you live the American Dream (nice house, car, job, money, etc) why would you want someone who you may see as less desirable (under-educated, under-employed, unenculturated to your norms, etc) coming close to you bringing your property value down, bringing their hood ass up in your grocery store, raping a T.I. song next to your precious daughter in the school cafeteria, putting Tupac pictures on their desk at work, etc?

A few groups of people control almost every aspect of our lives and most of us aren't even aware of it. They fund the schools, they make the economic boundaries, they control the media, and they create and enforce all of the laws that we are to live by.

Please don't tell me that you think that powerful people don't scratch each other's backs?

This generation could easily erase the lies in America's racist school history books, it could easily bridge the poverty gap just as easily as it widens it. The international banking industries could make things better for the people but they make it better for themselves. They'd rather grow the military industrial complex and the prison industrial complex then strive for peace. Gil Scott said, "The only thing that's wrong with peace is you can't make any money off it." They could flip the money from the prisons into the schools in order to decrease prison population. But they'd rather increase off-site work programs, take away education programs in prisons, and underfund the art programs in schools.

Ain't nothing change! This generation is as racist today as when they made genocide on the indigenous people of the Americas yesterday. I ain't trying to hear, "My ancestors did it so don't get mad at me." Fight for freedom and justice as hard and as passionate as me and I won't have a reason to be mad at you nor will I have anything to blame on you. I know white people who'd die for the cause before anybody else. I can only blame them for being part of the solution. What can I blame you for?

blackwisdom
08-24-2007, 04:34 PM
You've got to be kidding me on this, right? You've lived in the ghetto, right? You've been through the worst, right? You've been told by your peers that you won't amount to anything, right? You've seen shit you couldn't bare, right? You've been around drug dealers, right? You've ran from cops, right? You've been around gangs, right? Well, I have. See, I'm one year away from completing my B.S. in Geology. I'm 20 years old, got my own apartment, got a job, doing undergraduate research in geology (received grants), and other things as well. I've been on my own since I was 18. But wasn't born in Detroit, I was born in Phila, PA, but raised in Cerro Gordo, NC (rural area, very very small town). When I came to Detroit, MI, I was like "Damn. The city looks like this. This is horrible!". I remember my first day a Detroit Public School, I have never seen so many blacks kids in my life. It was new to me. My family picked us (mother, sister, and I) for not being "ghetto" enough. I didn't speak ebnoics like everyone else did, I spoke proper english. I got picked on for that by my family and my peers. Then I realize that I don't want to be like these people because.....................they don't want to amount to anything in life (refering to the kids).

Anyway, no Blackwisdom. Some people that been through what we have been through can't mentally raise above what they are in. It's true. Calling each other the N word is just as bad as telling someone they can't make it out because either you're black or you're low income. Some people aren't mentally strong enough to overcome what they're in. I'm sorry, but it's true.

The same fuckers that picked on me when I was a kid are the same ones that didn't even finish fucking high school.}:| Are you serious?!?!? Thanks.It's called being institutionalized. The culture of mostly all impoverished communities is at such a low state that some of the residents get sucked in the undertow and loose the fight to try to escape it.
That statement isn't an absolute.
Did you catch that from my first post?

IrOnMaN
08-25-2007, 12:14 PM
It's called being institutionalized. The culture of mostly all impoverished communities is at such a low state that some of the residents get sucked in the undertow and loose the fight to try to escape it.

Wow. I never really looked at it like that. Thanks. It sucks.

IrOnMaN
08-25-2007, 12:17 PM
Ain't nothing change! This generation is as racist today as when they made genocide on the indigenous people of the Americas yesterday. I ain't trying to hear, "My ancestors did it so don't get mad at me." Fight for freedom and justice as hard and as passionate as me and I won't have a reason to be mad at you nor will I have anything to blame on you. I know white people who'd die for the cause before anybody else. I can only blame them for being part of the solution. What can I blame you for?

I agree with you on this. Now, they're trying to ban Affirmative Action. It's already been ban here in Michigan. Plus, I think they'll ban this program nation wide. And for what?

blackwisdom
08-26-2007, 09:51 AM
I agree with you on this. Now, they're trying to ban Affirmative Action. It's already been ban here in Michigan. Plus, I think they'll ban this program nation wide. And for what?People want to hire who they want to hire. Imagine if you gave birth to a business. That's your baby! How would you feel it some beurocrat FORCES you to hire a certain type of people, just cause. Some people are fair and don't mind cause they're doing it anyway, but others aren't so much fine with it.

On the flip side of it imagine how you'd feel to be an Affirmative Action hire. People mean muggin you cause you got the job cause you black. "Huh, he beat out my cousin who's suppose to have that job all cause he's black!" How do you think s/he'll be treated? It's a double edged sword.

It's suppose to balance the playing field. More black's owning multi-million/billion dollar corporations will balance the scales more effectively in my imagination.

IrOnMaN
08-26-2007, 01:04 PM
People want to hire who they want to hire. Imagine if you gave birth to a business. That's your baby! How would you feel it some beurocrat FORCES you to hire a certain type of people, just cause. Some people are fair and don't mind cause they're doing it anyway, but others aren't so much fine with it.

On the flip side of it imagine how you'd feel to be an Affirmative Action hire. People mean muggin you cause you got the job cause you black. "Huh, he beat out my cousin who's suppose to have that job all cause he's black!" How do you think s/he'll be treated? It's a double edged sword.

It's suppose to balance the playing field. More black's owning multi-million/billion dollar corporations will balance the scales more effectively in my imagination.

Opps. I'm only refering to admissions to colleges and Universities, not jobs. I understand the whole job thing and what not. In my opinion and from what I see, Affimative Action helps young adults that want to go to college, but really don't have the knowledge to be admitted into the college they want to attend because they have been educated in urban schools. A certain Affimative Action programs (mainly for minorties and poor whites) helps bring them up to speed. As a result, the students do excellent in their classes and received the degrees. Because minorties grow up in urban areas, the education they receive doesn't compare to the education in the suburbs tha the whites receive. Is that fare??

blackwisdom
08-26-2007, 04:55 PM
Opps. I'm only refering to admissions to colleges and Universities, not jobs. I understand the whole job thing and what not. In my opinion and from what I see, Affimative Action helps young adults that want to go to college, but really don't have the knowledge to be admitted into the college they want to attend because they have been educated in urban schools. A certain Affimative Action programs (mainly for minorties and poor whites) helps bring them up to speed. As a result, the students do excellent in their classes and received the degrees. Because minorties grow up in urban areas, the education they receive doesn't compare to the education in the suburbs tha the whites receive. Is that fare??I'm not versed in the program. If it's to bring them up to speed and prepare them for college/university then I guess that's cool. I know some people say that that's what community college is for. :? I guess it sounds good?

From what I understand they need to put education programs in prisons if anywhere. Maybe it'll cut back the recidivism rate.