Dangerous Act: I hate the word, “Nigger.”

The Dangerous Act of Loving Your NeighborI hate the word, “Nigger.” I don’t like what is stands for, it’s not a part of my personal vocabulary, and I cringe when I hear other people use it. I don’t even like variations of the word (ex. nigga) and all of the explanations that I’ve heard justifying its use and the exchange of power associated with reinventing the word. I don’t like when Black people use the word; I don’t like when white people use the word. And unless, we are teaching a lesson, discussing history, or maybe making connections with the more subtle forms of racism that are prevalent in our society today, I would prefer not to hear the word at all.

I am not the only one who shares this sentiment. “In order to ‘bury the N-word,’ the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) conducted a memorial service, complete with pine box and flowers, during their July 2007 meeting in Detroit (pg. 143).” Jerry Herron, professor of American Studies at Wayne State University, says, “It’s a word with about as much bad history attached to it as any word I can imagine…[The potency of the N-word continues because] it refers to things that are woven into the fabric of our society that we haven’t yet fixed…I think if those things had been fixed someplace in the past, the N-Word would be a lot less powerful than it is. But it refers not only to a bad history, but a bad present (pg. 144).”

Of course, the NAACP’s ceremony did not destroy the use of or remove the sting from the N-word. It did, however, express a deep desire among some African American leaders to literally see this word put to rest. Not only do they want to change the “name,” they also want to change the power of racism that is associated with it. Much like the name, the association is also passed down throughout generations.

“Racism is taught by parents and is passed on from generation to generation. Just as you acquire your parent’s genes you learn their ignorance, and lack of compassion (pg. 145).” Don’t believe that racism is still being taught and passed on by parents today? Check out this video.

What we truly need to confront these issues of misnaming, racism, profiling, and injustice is heart change. “Naming is an act of the heart. It’s an attribution of our core perception onto the people and things around us. Naming is what people do, not just what words do. Labels are hard enough to change. Names are something quite different (pg. 145).”

The true questions becomes then, “Do we really want to change? And are we willing to challenge others to change?”

We turn names into labels when the situation (political or personal) demands it. We hold onto names with passion and commitment until they are challenged or grow too costly, at which point we let them go, presuming we can withdraw or qualify them. But they leave greater suffering in their wake.

We want words to mean something—most of the time. But the complexity of communication is that we want words to mean only what we want them to mean, as and when we want them to mean it—to convey what we feel or intend without the consequences of the choices we make. We want the power to pronounce names without incurring accountability for their implications (pg. 152).

How do you feel about the history of the N-word or the word genocide? What response does hearing these words bring out of you? Why?

© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2013

Catch Up on the Discussion:

Introduction: Dangerous Act and a Heart Like the Grinch

Chapter 1: Stop Rubbernecking, It’s Dangerous

Chapter 2: WE See No Evil

Chapter 3: Injustice and the Problem of Misperceiving

Chapter 4: Learning to See

Chapter 5: Looking in the Mirror

Chapter 6: God Help Us

Chapter 7: Choosing to Name

Chapter 8: Why Naming Matters

Chapter 9: The Power of a Name

Chapter 10: Distorted Names

One thought on “Dangerous Act: I hate the word, “Nigger.”

  1. Thank you for educating me about this word; I know not to use it, but the force of your dislike touches my heart.
    I heard Mark Labvertin speak at a retreat once–I was deeply touched by his message.

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