When I traveled around the southern part of the African continent. I saw many people who looked like me. Throughout South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana, there were dark-skinned men and women of African descent. But there were no N-words.
The alleged use of the N-word by a white professional football player has ignited a debate about the use of the term. Efforts by certain groups are underway to ban the word, bury the word and to prohibit use of the word by anybody, anywhere.
Some suggest that use of the word has changed over time from a totally negative, heinous, despicable and terrible word to a word used by some as a term of endearment.
It’s not unusual to hear African Americans greet each other by saying, “What’s up my [N-word]?” or to hear them refer to each other as “my [N-word].”
It’s also not unusual to read about the word in a Mark Twain novel, hear it said in a Quentin Tarrantino movie or listen to it on a Lil Wayne music recording.
What is unique about the word is its origins. The N-word is a noun in the English language. The word originated as a neutral term referring to black people, as a variation of the Spanish/Portuguese noun “negro,” a descendant of the Latin adjective “niger” (“black”).
Often used slightingly by the mid 20th century, particularly in the United States, it suggested that its target is extremely unsophisticated. Its usage had become unambiguously pejorative, a common ethnic slur usually directed at blacks of Sub-Saharan African descent.
After centuries of use, and misuse in the United States and other Western nations, why is there such an apparent outrage about the N-word in 2013?
Well, one reason is the devil is tricky.
People are upset because football players playing in a league that is about 70 percent black have gotten called out, chastised and maybe suspended for using the N-word when their teammates have gotten little or no punishment for similar use of the word.
OK. Black football players and white football players oftentimes speak differently and sometimes use of the same words has different meanings. For example, if a white guy says Michael Vick is a bad quarterback, it may mean a totally different thing than a black player or black person saying Vick is a “bad” quarterback.
Just like “bad” can mean good, depending on who says it, the N-word can be bad or less bad, depending on who says it and the context in which it is said.
Also, everything, good or bad, that depicts or describes blacks in America is being considered for prohibition.
“Minority Business Enterprise” programs are being dismantled in favor of “Small Business Programs,” black radio is being replaced by urban radio. Black media are now being called ethnic media, and so forth.
You can stop the N-word from constantly coming out of people’s mouths or from writing or publishing the word but you can’t take the word and the meaning of the word from people’s hearts.
I hear the N-word all of the time. I was even referred to by the N-word by some of Florida’s premier governmental lobbyists. It didn’t really bother me because I knew the people who said it knew its history and their family members and friends knew it and used it and taught their children to say it.
I can ignore the use of the word once, maybe even twice, but if a person continues to use the word in a hateful manner, we will need to have a conversation and perhaps a confrontation.
The problem with the current N-word debate is that it appears as though the people who created the N-word to disparage people of African descent are telling African Americans what words to use and what meanings blacks should attach to the words they use.
To me, use of the N-word has to be evaluated on an individual basis. While I believe in free speech, people who feel a need to use the N-word should use it at their own risk and that especially goes for white athletes in a predominately black sport.
*Lucius Gantt, a political consultant based in Tallahassee, is author of the book Beast Too: Dead Man Writing which is available at Amazon.com. You can like The Gantt Report page on Facebook and contact Gantt at www.allworldconsultants.net