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.)