Thursday, March 25, 2010 Rewind - Has "The N-Word" Lost All Its Power?!?

[Editor's Note: In retrospect, this post was a little flippant, but I still feel the same. I don't think the word's lost all of its sting, but I think that moreso than any other time in history, the word only has as much power as we give it.]

Earlier this year, at the request of my wife, I made an "N-Word Free Zone". I suppose this was my version of the whole "shaving off your cornrows and growing up" thing ballers and entertainers are doing lately. Still, this didn't come with much deliberation, she simply said I should stop using it on the blog because you never know who's reading, and I agreed. I consider myself a skillful enough writer to not have to resort to using such gutter language to get my point across, and I haven't had a slip-up (out of context, that is) or lost a step since. Water under the bridge...

On the flipside, part of me wondered why it was even necessary. I think we can uniformly agree that the N-Word is most often used amongst Black folks to disparagingly describe the wayward actions of some other Black folks (ie: "Dem N-Words need to cut they damn grass, this is the suburbs!"). Sure, some folks claim to use it as a term of endearment (ie: "What up my N-Word! Let me borrow your lawnmower!") , but I haven't heard widespread usage in this manner since the Clinton Administration.[1]

The remaining usage is obvious: as a racial epithet (ie: "We should have never let those N-Words move in this neighborhood. Do they even know what a lawnmower is?"), it's the proverbial "3rd Rail" of American slurs. But how frequently does this even happen anymore? I can't personally remember the last time I was called one by a white person, although I'm sure I was still living in NC when it happened. When was the last newsworthy mention of the "N-Word" being used as a slur? KKKramer? Dog The Bounty Hunter? The OJ Trial? Marge Schott?

In a roundabout way, I guess I'm wondering if maybe the incessant dumbing down of hip-hop culture has actually succeeding in it's (admittedly unintended) job of robbing the word of its meaning. It's used so often, yet so seldom in its original, highly offensive context. It is possible the word, as a slur, has lost its power?

I'm 35 years old now, with a wife and two kids. My biggest concerns in life are nurturing my marriage, raising my sons, and keeping a roof over our heads and food in our stomachs. Period. Everything outside this isn't even secondary, it's thirdary, assuming that's a real word.[2]

With that said, I honestly wonder how much I'd even be upset/offended if someone called me the "N-Word" to my face right now. I'm not an "N-Word", by whatever definition you assign to the word, despite the viewpoint of the theoretical accuser. I know this, whether the person calling me one thinks otherwise is irrelevant. Again, I can't say how I'd react if this happened (I'd probably be too shocked to react, honestly), but I don't think "whoopin' somebody a$$" would be in the Top 5 of my possible responses. Bewilderment, maybe. Amusement, perhaps. "Beat a Cracka's A$$"-level rage? I can't say for sure, but knowing myself, not entirely likely.

Besides, let's face it, if someone really has that much disdain for you to call you that word in this day and age, what good would a beatdown accomplish other than landing you in the clink? Do you think you'd actually beat the "hate" out of them? Prolly not. I'm thinkin' you're just taking totally unnecessary penitentiary chances that will result in you getting a record, and them having a very cool story to tell at the bar.

Again, if the intent of the word doesn't apply to you, why would you really be offended? I didn't get offended (I know, this isn't exactly apples & apples) when TLC's "No Scrubs" came out, cause I'm not one. I don't get offended when I hear all these blogs, songs, movies, TV shows about "Black Men Ain't Sh*t", cause well, they ain't talkin' bout' me. So why exactly would a word that doesn't (by whatever definition you give it) apply to me be offensive?

If you wanna offend me, call me "Dumb". Depending on the context/setting (ie: work, my kids' school), you just might wanna guard your grill. But "N-Word"? Sorry, I'm just a bit too busy to get all worked up over something like that.

Then again, I'm talking from a relative lack of recent experience. Until you're actually confronted with something, who knows?

Question: Would being called "The N-Word" be grounds for you whoppin' somebody's a$$, or does the word not hold that sort of power over you? What words are "fightin' words" in this post-racial America? Got any notable instances where you were called "The N-Word"? For my white, Asian, Latino, and others, what similar words raise your ire?

[1] Let's not get tied up in "gga" vs "gger", please. It's the same thing. If you don't believe me, go to your Grandma's house and just start spouting out either version. Tell me how long you're able to do this and still stand upright (or at least a stern talking-to).

[2] It isn't.

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