RSS FeedFacebookSearch
Gary Younge
US grapples with its most hated word

As part of the project, students aged 12 and 13 were given a chapter from the book, Nigger: the Strange Career of a Troublesome Word by the black Harvard professor Randall Kennedy.

The next day when the calls started coming in to the school and the issue became a subject on local radio, Ms Schumacher proved just how troublesome a word it can be.

Parents and other teachers objected, school officials discussed whether Ms Schumacher should be disciplined but she apologised and they decided not to proceed.

Prof Kennedy, whose book came out in paperback earlier this week, jumped to her defence.

"The teacher did not show bad judgment, she displayed an adventurousness that should be applauded, not discouraged," he said.

It is difficult to think of a single word that has perpetuated as much controversy as the "N-word" in America.

Last Saturday, the basketball coach of Western New Mexico university was fired after six black players quit his team when he used the word to chastise them.

Joe Mandragon ordered all the white and Hispanic players off the team bus after a recent game and then, according to one player, told the black players: "You are all acting like niggers. It's Martin Luther King day and he wouldn't like you guys to be acting like that."

In Boston, one local newspaper banned the title of a play due to start next month called No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs while other publications were considering whether to print its name. The Boston Metro ran the title in its advertising using blanks and asterisks.

On Tuesday, Santa Clara county, California, voted unanimously "in spirit and concept" to denounce the use of the word following a campaign by local black activists who would like to see it banned.

The county, where black people form only 2.8% of the population, had to postpone final approval of the resolution because it could not decide whether to include the word in the resolution's text.

It "carries more violence to it than any other ethnic slur we know", said Lessie James, who campaigned for the resolution and believes the word should be included.

"It is a hate crime. The use of the word is hate," he said.

Efforts to ban the word in the past have run up against legal problems as an infringement of the freedom of speech.

In 1998, a local councillor in Baltimore failed in his bid to ban the use of city money to buy reference books - including dictionaries - that contain racial slurs.

But last year, Baltimore passed a resolution urging "people of all colours to refrain from using the word ... in anger or camaraderie".

Debate over the use of the word has intensified since the publication of Professor Kennedy's book last year.

It is further complicated by the fact that while it is generally recognised as a slur when spoken by whites it is increasingly used among younger black Americans.

A sign of the generational divide is that Bill Cosby refuses to use it while his fellow comedian Chris Rock has devoted an entire sketch to the use of it.

"The word is a bit like fire," said Patricia Williams, a black professor at Columbia law school, at the time of the release of Prof Kennedy's book.

"You can warm your hands with the kind of upside down camaraderie that it gives, or you can burn a cross with it... Seeing it floating abstractly on a bookshelf in a world that is still as polarised as ours makes me cringe."

© Gary Younge. All Rights reserved, site built with tlc
No Place Like Home – A Black Briton’s Journey through the American South
book review
'The idea of retracing the route is a great one, urgent and necessary.'
 follow on twitter
RT @mart_welton: Congratulations to all those getting their A-level results today. If you have BBB at A-level or above you can still apply…
RT @BernardineEvari: Please follow the groundbreaking online #MuseumofColour UK, founded by the unstoppable Samenua Sesher. The 1st gallery…
RT @EthnicityUK: Gary Younge is interviewed by @sonikkalogan about his work on racism and gun violence in @the_hindu #DataPoint podcast. h…
RT @thefreedomi: 🚨 NEW: Saudi women’s rights activist & academic Salma al-Shehab was sentenced to 34 years in prison + 34 year travel ban f…
RT @LRB: #DawnFosterForever! On Thursday 15 September at the @LRBbookshop, @BizK1, @piercepenniless, Lynsey Hanley and @garyyounge will d…
RT @ShowunmiV: This is how we support Black women and girls https://t.co/8YmgV21zHo
RT @sonikkalogan: It's #DataPoint Pod Thursday! In this week's episode, I talk to @noraneus, @garyyounge and @Casey_J_Wooten about the U.S.…
RT @bgnoiseuk: Next month, @LRBbookshop will host an event to celebrate the life and work of Dawn Foster with @BizK1, @piercepenniless, Lyn…
Help me Twitter. The quote: ""You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming." is most commonly… https://t.co/Xs7JkiOEd5
RT @the_hindu: #DataPoint | This Thursday, @sonikkalogan takes a look at the #US gun violence epidemic, as mass shootings continue to grow…
© Gary Younge. All Rights reserved, site built with tlc