You can Change the Spelling but not the Pain

This was derived solely from hate and anger, and you just can’t recreate it.Leroy G. Comrie Jr., New York City Councilman

The derivative here is “nigger” and all of its variations- “nigga”, “niggaz” and “niggra.” With this statement, Comrie launched a resolution to ban the use of the n-word. The city council signed the ban, but I didn’t know if I could co-sign.

My reservation is: Should we let politicians get in the business of banning words? True enough, the ban would not be police enforced but more of a personal pledge to stamp out the racial epithet. But is it the government’s business to regulate personal conversation. My journalistic voice says, Hell no! I’m a First Amendment writer.

But, are we already there? We constantly censor ourselves to appear more PC and less racist. We have even created a patois to disguise the offensive language. We don’t stop using the words; we just find slicker ways to draw blood.

It’s the lingo of the “letter words.” Oh, you know, the words we can’t say but allude to with just a letter and a word. “This MF cut me off in traffic.” “Tracy in accounting is such a B.” “Did you hear Isaiah Washington called T.K. Knight the ‘f-word?'”Are we any less guilty of a racial or sexual slur if we only call you the first letter of the slur? My guess is no. Whether you call me an n-word or a nigger, to you, I’m still a nigger. I say “f-word,” you say “faggot” He says “n-word.. She says, “nigger.” “F-word” “Faggot” “N-word” “Nigger” “Let’s call the whole thing off!”

While I’m positive that none of this is acceptable, a recent commercial brought me to the other side of the debate. During a visit to a department store, the mother finds the prices are too high. She turns to her daughter and says “Let’s go to Burlington’s.” Sirens and alarms blare and red lights flash. Women who overheard the comment gasp and say, “She just said the B-word!”

What if there was an alarm that went off every time we heard the n-word? I can’t help but imagine the number of conversations that would be interrupted. The number of songs that would be remixed with sirens. The number of houses that would be lit by flashing red lights. But most importantly, I imagine that the majority of these conversations, songs, and homes would be black owned.

It seems the consensus on the pro-“nigger” side is that the n-word is acceptable because when we use it, it’s a term of endearment. Black- on- black use is ok. Not only is it ok, but according to hip-hop artist, Mos Def, it’s something “beautiful.” It seems blacks have the power to magically change the racial slur into a term of endearment. It happens when the -er becomes an -a, and makes the word a synonym for “homey,” “partner”, or “friend.

Perhaps this magical power is hit or miss. The first time I was called a nigga–it was black-on-black use. I remember that it didn’t feel magical or beautiful. It was hurled at me right after I hit a classmate upside the head with a kickball. Inadvertently, of course. We were friends. But after she called me a “nigga,” we both walked away in pain.

Where is the magic when a woman I know uses nigga to describe “trifling men?” Where is the beauty when a college student uses it to describe an uneducated black person? Or when a banker uses it to describe poor people?

So you get the picture. There is no consensus around the word. There’s disagreement about how it’s pronounced and whether it applies to women. The only consensus I found with the n-word is this: We can use the word, just don’t let someone white say it. Then it’s a fighting word.

Who cares if someone white says it if it does the same damage no matter who says it.. I’ve heard it from white lips in the very same context that I’ve heard it from black lips. The consensus is we are all black and we were all “niggers.” Men and women alike, educated and uneducated, rich and poor, in jail or not. For no rhyme or reason.

By banning the word from white use and exalting it in black use, we are only telling whites, “No thank you! I can disrespect myself all by myself.”

So if you truly think you’re using it as a term of endearment, continue using it. But spare no one. Call your grandparents your “niggaz.” Greet your mother with a loving “What’s up, my “nigga”? The right is “respectfully” ours, and I “respectfully” decline!