Just Say No?
While Pryor might have wanted
to diminish the word’s ability to
enflame black people and rappers
took it on to redefine it, they did so
to free black people from bearing
the burden of the word’s white defi-
nition. So while two black people
can call each other the N-word and
mean it as recognition of a shared
historical burden that comes with
brown skin, when a white person
says it, the implication is negative.
Some people who are not black,
however, feel they can use it to
differentiate between responsible
black people and irresponsible black
people. The words Chapman used
in his conversation with his son are
telling of this dichotomy.
Chapman, during the conversa-
tion, says his dislike for his son’s
girlfriend is not because she’s black.
This indicates that he does not
consider himself racist because his
dislike for her, in his opinion, is
not based solely on her skin color.
However, Chapman then says, “It’s
because we use the word n*****
sometimes here. I’m not taking the
chance ever in life of losing every-
thing I’ve worked for, for 30 years,
because some f****** n***** heard
us say n***** and turned us into the
Chapman’s son did report-
edly give the National Enquirer the
munity. Also, white people do not often,” Malveaux says.
refer to themselves by the N-word, Burying the N-word is what the
nor do people of other races, so NAACP hopes will eventually occur
without such a galvanizing effort, following the symbolic funeral it
the traditional white definition of held at its July convention.
the word stands. “It was time to clarify the issue
Horowitz claims that the word is once and for all,” says Shelton.
not implicitly racist. A person must “We’ve been very much in opposi-
know the intent of its use before tion to words being used like this to
defining the use of the N-word as marginalize anyone … Whether it’s
racist or derogatory. an African-American person talking
t o or about another African-
American person or a white
person talking to or about
a nother African-American
person, it should not be
The attempt to diffuse
t he N-word’s meaning has
failed and could not have
s ucceeded because of its his-
t ory, says Shelton. “We tried
t o diffuse that by making
t he term more acceptable
… Indeed it became more Indeed it became more
prevalently used and is still
a s troubling as ever and
a ctually more confusing.
The history of utilization
U.S. Sen. Benjamin Tillman represented South o f the term is so broad and
Carolina from 1895 until his death compelling that this is a
“Racism is a universal phenom- term we must recognize for what
enon and you have to deal with it is and what it means and the
each case on an individual basis,” context in which it’s been ut ilized—
says Horowitz. to undermine the cohesion of the
Malveaux, along with the African-American community.”
NAACP and the city councils of Los Now the NAACP is talking to
recorded conversation. After that,
Chapman appeared on national
television to claim he was talking
about the girl’s character.
But can a white person call a
black person the N-word and not
mean they are soulless scum when
that is the traditional definition
white people gave the word? There
is no movement in the white community to redefine the word as
there has been in the black com-
Angeles and New York, however,
feels the N-word must be stricken
from the world’s vocabulary.
“When you still have nooses
being left places and Megan
Williams being kidnapped and
sexually molested in West Virginia
and being called the N-word, then
you have to say … we’re not at that
point yet … It’s disingenuous for
people to talk about race neutrality
when race rears its ugly head all too
rappers and record companies.
“If we can increase the sensitivity, we believe it will decrease
the market value,” says Shelton.
“Many people use the term because
they see it as a term that will sell
music—that hard edge. Moving
away from this term stops us from
alienating people. It’s a derogatory
term that describes human beings
as ‘less than’. The bottom line is no
one should use that term.”