Just say ‘no’ to the ‘N-word’

I agree with Jesse Jackson. Let’s make the N-word a non-word.

It shouldn’t be used anymore in entertainment venues. Come to think of it, let’s ban the N-word from all forums, except perhaps when used in history texts or historical fiction to remind people of the injustice it symbolized.

Jackson’s latest campaign begins with a series of meetings with TV and film executives to try to get them to ban derogatory expressions in the entertainment industry. I wish him Godspeed.

I think his odds of success in this venture are, unfortunately, slim. His toughest targets may well turn out to be African-American entertainers and hip hop musicians who make money by generating buzz. Each one tries to outdo the next by hurling all manner of insults and invectives at any comers, including themselves.

While he’s at it, however, there are a whole bunch of words I’d like to see banned as well. Let’s start with the omnipresent use of the words "bitch" and "’ho" in hip hop culture to refer to women.

Jackson and other African-American leaders were motivated, of course, by comedian Michael Richards’ now-infamous outburst earlier this month at Los Angeles’ Laugh Factory. While in the midst of a routine, Richards was heckled by African-American spectators in the back of the audience. Richards flew into a hysterical rage, repeating the ‘n’ word like someone in a manic fit. This was recorded by a cell phone camera and has spun ’round the world millions of times thanks to the Internet and television. The video shows Richards as an obviously deranged person who should, in my humble opinion, be institutionalized. At the very least, he merits banishment from the entertainment industry.

I hope Richards’ outburst works as a call to members of the African-American community to make the N-word a non-word. I remember the first time I heard an African-American use the word in public. It must have been 20 years ago or more. It was a young mother in a supermarket yelling at her misbehaving child. I was stupefied.

I’m not saying it never happens, but I have never personally witnessed an Italian use the G-word in public to describe another Italian, or a Polish person use the P-word nor a Jew use the K-word against a member of the same ethnic group.

Jackson aside, other African-Americans have campaigned against self-degradation in the community. Essence Magazine several years ago launched its "Take Back the Music" campaign to get hip hop artists to stop referring to black women in derogatory and hypersexualized fashion.

Columnist Earl Ofari Hutchinson wrote this week, "In all fairness, a handful of black activists have waged war against the n-word. There’s a Web site that hawks T-shirts and DVDs and exhorts blacks, especially young blacks, to solemnly pledge not to use the word or patronize anyone who puts out products that use it. But they are the exception. Too often, blacks have been more than willing to give other blacks that use the word a pass."

And that, of course, gives members of other ethnic groups "a pass" to decide it’s OK for them to use it. But it’s not OK. The good news is that Richards’ outburst is already having an effect. Comic Paul Mooney used to joke in his routine that he uttered the N-word 100 times every morning to whiten his teeth.

This week, however, he must have decided to turn to Rembrandt (tooth past whitener) instead. Mooney watched the Richards video and says it "cured" him of the need to ever use the word again. Would that all Americans were similarly cured. But don’t bet on it.

(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and columnist. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)CompuServe.com.)


  1. Disappointed Ol' Hippie

    I have a teen age son. I live in a region of Appalachia. Some, but not the majority, of his friends use the N word. Over hearing this, these young men were first educated (shown a dictionary) and then banned from my property if that is how they felt they needed to speak. My son said – Oh Mom, it’s just how kids talk. And I said Nope, those kids learned it from somewhere and the closest place is either at home or school. It isn’t just a fashionable word to throw about.

    It demeans, belittles, and yes, even makes people stronger.

    About they “why can they say it to one another and it’s ok?” I find that sad also. There must be some mommas or grandma’s missing in those lives OR the N word they are using is being reflected back on the caucasion.

    Either way – time has come to find a respectful way to speak to each other – brother – sister – mother – father – grandmother – grandfather – or miss/mrs/mamam or sir or mister if one is unfamiliar with that individual.

    It is truly the ignorant person that uses such words.

  2. mrtshw

    Michael Richards isn’t a Trent Lott or a Mitch McConnell or a George Allen or a Strom Thurman or a Jesse Jackson or a Louis Farrakan or an Al Sharpton;
    he just plays one on TV!
    I personally choose not to allow myself to lose sleep over other people’s labels; especially the moronic ones such as ” Nigger ” or ” Cracker ” or ” Honkey ” or ” Jungle Bunny “. When bigots such as Trent Lott and/or Al Sharpton actually wield power in our society, I find it difficult to get upset when a frustrated comic spews psychotic racist invectives!.
    The seeds of the civil rights movement were planted decades and probably centuries before Martin Luther King’s considerable accomplishments and since have been nurtured in the radiance of a Sidney Poitier, a Harold Ford, a Barack Obama. Sharpton, Jackson, Farakan et.al. are minor figures in my opinion. Their contributions seem dwarfed by people such as John Marshall, Lincoln, Oliver Wendall Holmes, Dubois and the 60 other founders of the NAACP ( many of whom were white ) in 1909, Mohandas Gandhi, Brandeis, Frankfurter, Black, Douglas, Truman, Warren and the 8 others who voted unanimously to repudiate Plessy v. Fergusson in Brown v.Board, JFK & RFK who personally adopted King’s safety as a top priority and thwarted Hoover’s efforts to destoy his effectiveness, LBJ’s sacrificing the south to the GOP/Nixonian ” southern strategy ” so that the landmark civil rights JFK agenda would not die with him.
    The Richard’s incident is nothing but a mere distraction!

  3. AustinRanter

    Anybody watch HBO, Showtime, and a variety of other cable and satellite channels that has programming produced by blacks, using mostly black entertainers whose primary act (mostly comedy) has the “N” word said so many times that you lose count after the first 30 seconds???

    These so-called comedians are so explicitly graphic about their use of the “N” word that it’s impossible for me to watch. They don’t just use the word in a light-hearted way…its hardcore, irreverant, disrespectful, and in my opinion they are creating a pretty bad stereotypical characteristic about blacks in general.

    In more dramatic series such as “The Wire” on HBO, the series depicts life in the streets and “da hood” in Baltimore and how the police deal with crime. Never have I seen any episode that is about anglo or white neighborhoods. Most all of the bad guys are black drug lords and their band of criminals who push drugs for them. Now…these guys repeatedly use the “N” word in every show.

    Until the black citizens of this country and et al make a concerted effort to end this word, starting with children…then all is hopeless. It’s impossible for anybody, including blacks, to use the “N” word and not sound derogatory.

    As for blacks taking violent actions agains non-blacks for using the “N” word…that retaliation is barbaric and should be addressed with legal consequences.

    When any person of any race kills, especially someone outside of their race over the use of a so-called dergoatory word…then may the justice system impose profound and severe penalities on the killer.

  4. South Point Man

    “Bitch” is a bad word?

    How did THAT come to pass?

    For she beings, it’s highest and most alpha of all honorifics.

    It’s SUPPOSED to be the way of all she beings that they be total raving bitches when it comes to the safety and welfare of their children. That any she being, if she has even the slightest suspicion that there may be a threat to her child/children (however it may be she is doing the mom thang at the moment), instantly turns into the most total bitch there can be. This is part of the job description of being a gal who has gone into mom mode. It’s the most fundamental aspect of the personality of all ladies existing as moms to help insure the survival of their children and protect their children from predation.

    For a lady to be called “bitch” is to honor the fact that she takes her job of being a gal and a mom very, very, very, very, very, very seriously. Any threat to her children puts her into extreme anger mode.

    I agree that the word has been used too frivously and possibly applied to situations where a lady has not yet proved what a true and genuine bitch she can really be.

    Honorifics should only be used when they are deserved.

    That’s why I try so hard to fully deserve the title of being the most “total son of a bitch” there is as otherwise it would only be an empty mockery. I try hard so that any mom anywhere here or elsewhere in the universe would be proud to call me her son (honorary or otherwise) as I prove there is no crankier and more vicious male entity than me when it comes to the safety and welfare of her children.

    It is my dream that someday I will fully deserve the very highest honorific that can be bestowed on a male entity of being a Total Son Of A Bitch. Of course, this will be quite difficult if she beings don’t do their job of being total, raving bitches. How can I totally be their son if they won’t be true bitches? There’s no particular honor in being called a “total son of dithering mushiness.” Sad, but true.

    While yes, I am being somewhat facetious, I’m also being dead serious. I really, actually do want to be called a Total Son Of A Bitch. Usually, I don’t care what I’m called just as long as it isn’t late for dinner, but in this circumstance, hell yes I want the most highest honorific there is for a male entity. But, like I said previously, it’s very difficult to be a total son of bitch if there aren’t any bitches to be the totally son of.

    Ladies, ladies, ladies, I usually don’t ask very much of you as I don’t want you to consider me nothing but an annoying and unnecessarily impertinent male entity, but in this circumstance, I’m very much insistent that you go into total raving bitch mode just like you’re supposed to.

    After all, don’t you want the honor and pleasure of others describing you as “SHE is SUCH a BITCH!!!”

    Think of your kids (in whatever way they exist as your kids). Don’t you think that they want their mommy to be truly their mommy?

  5. Ben Kingsley

    Hey, if they eliminate the word “nigger”, what will be the new “N” word. Can I be the first to nominate the word “necrophilia” as its replacement?

  6. Jack Ruby

    I think we should have men with brown shirts and cute little arm bands policing each street corner making sure that non Afro-Americans do not say the word “nigger” in public. If they do, then they should be executed on the spot. We can’t be offending Afro-Americans anymore, because it’s bad.

  7. JIM

    Good God I am sick of it all. I went to visit the liberty bell this week and found it had been turned into another opportunity for the Feds and blacks to beat me over the head with the long dead slavery issue. They aren’t slaves to anything but their own ignorance. I never owned a slave nor did anyone in my family so why the hell do I owe them a free ride 160 years after the fact.

  8. Kent Shaw

    Fred P: “I was far more offended by Richards’ graphical description of a lynching scene than his use of any particular word.”

    Yes, me too. But now that I know what he is, a mentally unbalanced bigot, I can shun him, refuse to pay to see him perform, and tell others what a bigot he is.

    However, I still defend his right to say whatever he wants whenever and wherever he wants (excluding shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre of course, unless the theatre is actually on fire).

    If someone wants to destroy their own career through actions of their own, well then so be it. His loss.

  9. David Rosenberg

    To ban any word, is just impossible to do. not every person has the will power or judgement to comply. How do or can you stop a word to be used? There isn’t a person on earth with that much influence. In this case, Blacks use the “N” word, more then anybody else, it’s just not only in the music. They refer to themselves as one and to any person they know. It is used as a slur and a praise. They have even shortened it to “Niga” but, God forbid someone other then a Black use it. Be ready for a fight on your hands. It is the only racial slur that evokes such a reaction. Call a Jew a “Kike” most don’t even know what it is. Say “Honky” or “Cracker” they are proud to be one. They are all just “Words” by themselves, I’ve never heard of anyone start to bleed or fall down.

  10. Todd

    The replies to this article are absolutely ridiculous. I’ve long ago thought the word nigger should be criticized for being used by anyone it is a derogatory word. If you’re using it in a movie to show real life how people speak that’s a different story. Apparently people who reply to this article don’t understand what free speech is. The government are the only people that can violate the right to free speech. That is what the Constitution is for to make sure the government doesn’t do that. People voluntarily and people trying to get other people to voluntarily stop using a derogatory term is not violation of free-speech, let’s get that straight.

  11. Emarie

    I understand the ‘noise’ the “N” word can cause but I personally have been called “honky” and I didn’t turn ballistic over it. My own opinion is that anyone who was raised with ‘values’ will know that the “N” word is hurtful to some people and as another person has said, I’ve heard many “afro-americans” use this word about themselves. I also think that the more you bring attention to a subject, the more harm you are causing by keeping the situation in view and as my Dad used to say, “Beating a Dead horse”. I think this is giving too much attention to Richards. If he wants to be an idiot, let him, that doesn’t mean we all should follow suit.