Nigger! There, now I've said it. Apparently, political correctness, an inadequate grasp of history and a failure to maximize resources have taken the real ugliness from the word and turned it into verbal medallion that hangs in a shadow-box on a museum wall of the minutia of American Slavery.
Thanks to Quentin Tarantino and Jamie Foxx, nigger is raising eyebrows, stuttering speech and making the politically correct choke on their own spit. Of course, the lovely and talented Spike Lee added his two cents worth without even seeing the movie and to no one's surprise, he fell a cent short. Lee's forgettable diatribe aside, it seems Americans have come out in droves to protest what was common less than 100 years ago.
It seems that over the past five decades in a misguided attempted to end hatred, nigger has been relegated to the shelves of political correctness where it rests, dust covered and replaced with the innocuous "N" word. However, that idea is not only romanticized, it is damn well incorrect. I was here and found myself constantly referred to as "nigra" or "colored." It was no mistake. That is the way it was. Negroes were constantly referred to as "boy," "uncle," and nigger long after slavery ended.
I recall during the 50s, "nigger" coming from the mouth of a white person became dangerous speech as Negroes lost their docility and began to demand their civil rights. By the 60s, for any white, even in the South, uttering the word nigger could turn ugly and even fatal. Yet, to deny that whites referred to African slaves as niggers is to avoid reality, which is always the case in trying to bring old stories to life and stay true to actuality. Kudos to all offended by the word nigger today; but, this is a movie and as “Tarantioish” as it might be aspires to some historicity.
In the 60s, I played baseball in towns that sported signs at the city limits saying, "Nigger Be Gone by Sundown." It was common. We threw games to get out of town alive. We could never be off guard or react to the shouts of "nigger" and "coon" from the crowd. That was 50 years ago; not exactly ancient history.
The power of the word comes in the reaction it provokes and from whose mouth the word happens to emanate. Rolling from the lips of a white person, nigger has incendiary power, especially if the warped face of prejudice is in the vicinity. However, to some, nigger is a term of endearment and pride if spoken by another black. In reality, nigger is a despicable word that rightfully belongs in the garbage cans of history. Unfortunately, that will not happen.
Or, it won't happen without serious thought by all. Until whites remove it from their memory as a term of hurtfulness and degradation making the term moot, it will continue. Until blacks recognize the duality of the message they send with proper or improper usage of the word as well as the message of self demeanment carried by self usage, it will continue.
Flowing from the pen of Amiri Baraka, the word swam easily in a mix of romance, interrogatives and philosophy. Southern bigot Bull O’Connor fired it like bullets, mowing down entire communities and their families as collateral damage. Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown incited riots and fire with staccato delivery and rage filled sermons. The words etymology is complicated and dark, filled with supposition and guess. Today, coming from the mouths of rhyme-spitters and gangster posers, it is little more than filler.
When a word becomes so vile that it can no longer be spoken but only referred to by its first letter only shows the lengths an entire country will stretch to avoid its history. There is no need not to call it as it is. If the word nigger offends, then it should be removed from the vocabulary of all. Social rejection in all communities will take care of the rest.