[Marxism] Earl Ofari Hutchinson: No Defense For The "N Word"
walterlx at earthlink.net
Tue Nov 21 12:16:07 MST 2006
Today's column by Hutchinson continues as part of the campaign he's
been on for many, many years. He speaks out both against the usual
anti-Black racism, but as well against various efforts by those in charge
to promote further divisiveness between Blacks and Latinos, too.
(Earl Ofari Hutchinson's a remarkable author/activist . He's lived here
in Los Angeles for many years, and written books and columns on the
Black struggle, always thoughtful. By now he's probably retired from
his old job with the State - sort of like I was able to finally get out of
my job and get into full-time writing and activism. Here's a discussion
he put out of the same subject many years ago, and still as relevant
today as it ever was.
ANOTHER TAKE FROM 1998:
And here are some more versions of the same:
Yes, he's had important things to write on Cuba, too:
No Defense For The "N Word"
By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Middle Passage Press
"Yo Nigger, What's up?" It wasn't the first time that I heard my son
greet one of his friends with that word. In the past, I ignored it. I
knew it was the way many young blacks talked to each other. The word,
nigger is part of their hip jargon. They aren't particularly troubled
by the odious significance of the word. This time I was. I asked him
why he used it. He shrugged and said that everybody uses it. "If
that's true," I asked, "then what if one of your white friends calls
you a nigger? Is that OK?" He was silent.
We both knew that it was not acceptable to blacks for a white person
to use the N word. When any white person, especially a celebrity or
public official, slips and uses the word or makes any other racist
reference, they'll hear about it from outraged blacks. Ask Cincinnati
Reds owner, Marge Schott, and sports personalities Al Campanis and
Jimmy the Greek
The double standard that my son and other young blacks apply to
whites, but reject for themselves, is now coming back to haunt them
Many young whites, like blacks, are casually tossing the word around.
Not long ago, a good friend found out how casual He and two young
whites were in an elevator. Suddenly, one of the whites jokingly
called his friend a nigger. It didn't matter to him that a black man
was standing there. Was it racism? Was it cultural insensitivity, or
just plain ignorance on his part? Did he realize that many blacks
find the word offensive?
Probably not, he dressed in the latest baggy style. In the cross-over
world of hip culture,, surely he's heard many blacks call other
blacks, nigger. He's no doubt heard black comedians and rappers,
sprinkle the word throughout their rap lyrics and comedy lines.
Rapper Easy E has virtually made a fetish out of the word. He put it
in the title of one song and then rode it to the top of the record
In recent issues of popular black magazines, Essence and Emerge,
black writers went through lengthy gyrations to justify using the
word. Their rationale boiled down to this, the more a black person
uses the word, the less offensive it becomes. They claim that they
are cleansing the word of its negative connotations so that racists
can no longer use it to hurt blacks. Comedian, turned activist, Dick
Gregory had the same idea some years ago when he titled his
autobiography, Nigger. Black writer, Robert DeCoy also tried to apply
the same racial shock therapy to whites when he titled his novel, The
Many blacks say they use the word endearingly or affectionately. They
say to each other, "You're my nigger if you don't get no bigger." Or,
"that nigger sure is something." Others, use it in anger or disdain,
"Nigger you sure got an attitude." Or, "A nigger ain't S... Still,
others are defiant. They say they don't care what a white person
calls them, words can't harm them. Comedian Paul Mooney, who's an
ardent defender of the word, subscribes to this school of thought.
Recently, I appeared with him and two other blacks on a radio call-in
show. The subject was hate words. When Mooney told a caller that he
didn't care what he called him, as long as he called him to go to
lunch. The other guests laughed. I didn't. They missed the point
Words are not value neutral. They express concepts and ideas. Often,
words reflect society's standards. If color-phobia is one, then a
word, as emotionally charged as nigger, can easily reinforce and
perpetuate stereotypes. The word nigger does precisely that. It is
the most hurtful and enduring symbol of black oppression
Just where did this word come from? Nigger derives from the Spanish
word negro or black Its original root is the Latin word, Niger.
Historian, Winthrop Jordan, in White Over Black traces the history of
Western attitudes toward blacks. He makes a compelling case that even
before the slave trade, Europeans considered anything black,
repugnant. The Oxford Dictionary defines black as, "soiled, dirty,
foul, malignant, sinister, horrible, wicked, a sip of danger and
repulsion. " White is defined as "purity, virtue and honor." In
Shakespeare's Othello, Emilia groans to Othello, "0, the more angel
she; And you the blacker devil!'
The early European traders and explorers in Africa filled their
diaries and journals with weird tales about the supposed animalistic
and heathen practices of the Africans. To them, the black Africans
were alien people. It was only a short step from this to calling them
subhuman. This provided the slave trader the mental margin needed to
debase blacks and turn them into property. In Western language and
thought, the words, "Negro" and "slave soon became synonymous with
degradation, while the words, "Christian," "free," "English" and
"White meant the exact opposite.
The word "nigger" crept into the English language in the 17th
Century. In 1625, a Rhode Island law decreed, "there is a common
course practiced among English men to buy negers, to that end they
may have them for service or slaves forever." During slavery, blacks
were commodities to be bought, sold and traded for labor and profit.
Beyond that, their lives had little value. Supreme Court Justice,
Roger Taney, in the Dred Scott decision in 1859, was brutally frank
when he wrote, "blacks have no rights that a white man is bound to
In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain captured the total worthlessness of
black lives during slavery. Aunt Sally asked Huck why he was late
arriving home. Huck lied and told her that Ids boat had been delayed:
Huck: 'We blowed out a cylinder head."
Aunt Sally: "Good gracious! Anybody hurt?"
Huck: "No'm killed a nigger."
Aunt Sally: "It's lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt"
Emancipation did little to alter this thinking. For nearly a century,
"separate but equal" was enshrined in American law and custom, and
blacks were banished to the outer margins of American society. When
Dr. Martin Luther King led civil rights marches in Chicago in 1966,
many whites shouted at him: "I wish I were an Alabama trooper,
because then I could kill a nigger legally." King later remarked that
he had been called nigger so often by whites in Chicago that he felt
that his life meant nothing to them.
King's experience was hardly unique. A writer, passing a group of
white children playfully pelting some black children with rocks,
asked one, "Why are you throwing rocks at those children?" The
youngster innocently replied, 'Mister, they ain't children, they're
Before World War 1, America's major magazines and newspapers
continued to treat blacks as social outcasts. Historian Rayford Logan
surveyed early issues of Atlantic Monthly, Century Monthly, North
American Review, Harpers, the Chicago Tribune, New York Times, the
Boston Evening Transcript, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the
Indianapolis Journal. He noted that they routinely referred to blacks
as nigger," niggah," "coon," and "darky." In news articles, blacks
were depicted as buffoons or dangerous criminals. The NAACP and black
newspaper editors waged vocal campaigns against this racist
stereotyping. Black scholar, W.E.B. DuBois frequently took white
editors to task for refusing to spell "Negro" with an upper case "N."
DuBois called their policy a "conscious insult" to blacks. In that
era, being called a Negro was a matter of pride and self-identity.
There were more deadly consequences. According to the NAACP from 1880
to 1968,3,445 blacks were lynched or burned to death in America.
(This is the official figure, many suspect that the number is much
greater.) For many, their only crime was their color. The recent
escalation nationally in hate crimes is strong proof that racial
violence is hardly a thing of the past. The Los Angeles County Human
Relations Commission reported that in 1992 Los Angeles County
experienced a record number of hate crimes. And blacks were the major
targets. The N word was the favorite racist epithet that vandals
plastered on the walls of black homes and businesses.
The N word has also left psychological scars on past generations of
black children whom American society treated like racial
untouchables. Psychologist, Edward Weaver, asked one hundred
elementary school children, 'When did you first discover that you
were a Negro," some responded:
'When I ordered a hamburger at a cafe, the man told me that he didn't
"At a white neighbor's house, the other children drank from a dipper,
but when I asked for a drink, she said, "You're a nigger, and we
don't allow niggers to drink from that dipper."
'When I wanted to jump rope with some white girls at a park all of
them shouted, "we don't play with niggers."
One student was shocked and bewildered when a small child called her
a nigger. "I was proud until this happened," she said. One word, just
one word, rudely jolted her and the other children out of their
Novelist Richard Wright in his memorable essay, 'The Ethics of Jim
Crow,' remembers the time he accepted a ride from a "friendly" white
man. When the man offered him a drink of whiskey, Wright politely
said, "oh no." The man punched him hard in the face and said, "Nigger
ain't you learned to say, 'sir,' to a white rnan." The pain from the
blow would pass, but the pain from the N word would stay with him
Maybe that's why comedian Richard Pryor told a concert audience that
he would never use the word nigger again. The audience was stunned.
The irreverent Pryor had practically made a career out of using the
word in his routines. Pryor softly explained that the word was
profane and disrespectful. He was dropping it because he had too much
pride in blacks and himself. The audience applauded. Paul Mooney,
Easy E, and anyone else who thinks its hip to call someone a nigger,
go rent the tape of that concert.
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