Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Mulling N****r. Is This What It's Really All About?

Black and unapologetically lesbian blogger Jasmyne Cannick enters the fray on our loose use of the "N" word, arguing for a verbal & economic ban. We're not certain this is the point, though: is this issue really supposed to be a test in gauging the parameters of [free?] speech or should it really dig deeper into the bowels of racist thought and the White supremacist legacy? If we're not careful, a sudden call, prompted by this Michael Richards incident, for Black people to cease use of the "N" word can cause the reverse of what is intended here: while Richards is forgiven, Whites in general could be absolved of their participation in the continuing perpetuation of racism while we are focused on how much we use the word "n****r" rather than on what promulgates it in the first place. Sure, we can blame record labels signing hip-hop legends for promoting its rise in popularity, but almost 2/3 of that market is White while African Americans still have little control over the real money in that game: distribution. Perhaps if we did, we'd be in a position to argue for more responsible content - but, isn't the purpose of hip-hop to describe society's most ugly realities? What happens to the vast majority of hip-hop emcees who stay true to the cause, but make endless use of the word "nigga"? Is it the word that's harmful or is it the institutionalization of racism (both overt and subtle) that created the word? The discussion must stay focused on larger social, political and economic indicators. Cannick asserts:

Consider this, Black people went from referring to each other as “brothas and sistas” to nigga’s and bitch’s and sometimes worse. Until the majority of Blacks are willing to make a conscientious effort which requires a lifestyle change in regards to the N word, it will continue to be used not only by Blacks but by other races as well.

This is a good point - hard to argue with it. But lifestyle changes can't be forced and they can't happen overnight. Note how Rev. Jesse Jackson uses "nigga" with such cool bravado and familiarity when denouncing it during press appearances - Jesse: do you want us to use it or not [cause you make it sound so customary]? Broader and systematic promotion of greater civic participation, community involvement and mutual respect is the key towards gradual re-insertion of social empathy. Somewhere along the cultural line, the basic fundamentals above got dropped in some ditch, leading us to the brink of self-destruction. We doubt "n****r" is solely responsible for leading us to that point. A more interesting conversation is how too many African Americans seem oblivious to the dramatic ascendancy of Black Congressional Members to leadership positions and committee chairs on Capitol Hill. Why aren't we as enthusiastic about a development of this magnitude as many of use were when O.J. was acquitted? There are some obvious contradictions at work. In the meantime, actions are what ultimately speak louder than words.