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Gary Younge
Baseball bat linguistics

On June 29th 2005 Nicholas Minucci repeatedly beat Glenn Moore with a baseball bat calling him a "nigger" in Howard Beach, New York. In early 2002, Harvard Law School professor Randall Kennedy released a book called: Nigger: The strange career of a troublesome word. The word got a whole lot more troublesome this week when Mr Kennedy testified for Mr Minucci.

Mr Kennedy pointed out that: "The word is a complex word ... It has many meanings."

True enough. Some African-Americans use it as a form of camaraderie and have done for some time. But I have never heard white people use it as anything but a derogatory term or in a bid to over-identify that invariably fails and insults.

It's not a word I use or feel comfortable around, whoever's saying it, although I have become immune to it in films and music. The last word Stephen Lawrence heard before he was murdered was not one I particularly want to claim.

But I think we can safely say that the discussion about subversion of language stops when someone is standing over you with a baseball bat and knocking the living daylights out of you.

Kennedy, who is on the editorial board for the leftwing Nation magazine (whose institute this year awarded me a fellowship), should know better.

When his book came out his defence for the title was "I write a book to be read". It was clear how it benefited him but difficult to see how it brought the debate on at all. This week he said he had come to town to "advance the aims of justice". Once again it's a whole lot clearer how he advanced the aims of Randall Kennedy.

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