Friday, February 24, 2012

Once Upon a Soapbox

Every once in awhile it happens.  I get up on a soapbox and have my say about something.  Some might argue that it happens pretty often, even.  Maybe that's true, maybe it's not but tonight I'm stepping up there all because of a video I saw on YouTube.  So, assuming the position of old-time street preacher...


There I said it.  Go ahead and label me a racist.  I'm a white girl, after all, and I just put in print that singular word no white person is supposed to even think.  Ever.  But... black folks can use it to address one another and it's fine, even the subject of jokes.

Is it okay for me to laugh at Glozell or should I be offended?  Is my laughter offensive to people who share her racial background?

I don't know.  And I don't get it.  I admit that I'm utterly and completely confused by the power and emotion that continues to be vested in this one word.  I just don't understand how any word is so inflammatory when spoken by one person and yet socially acceptable when said by another.  And that the distinction is made based on the shade of brown gracing the skin of the speaker.  How is the very same word used the very same way with the very same tone derogatory coming off my lips and just a greeting when spoken by someone else?

It's not that I even want this word to be part of my everyday language.  I don't.  I think it is demeaning and hurtful.  Then again, there are a lot of words I don't care to have as part of my day-to-day experience for that same reason.  But right now the word I'm talking about is nigger.  I don't understand why we continue to accept the double-standard that's been thrown up around it.  If we are all truly equal as people, as simple fellow citizens on planet Earth, then our words should have equal treatment and acceptability as well.

I did a little research and found a critically acclaimed and peer-reviewed paper from Kevin Cato and the Syracuse University Writing Program titled Nigger:  Language, History, and Modern Day Discourse.  In it he states:
As a black American male, the word nigger conjures up within me hate, hostility, violence, oppression, and a very shameful and unfortunate part of American History. The word symbolizes the everlasting chains of a people plagued with hate and bondage simply because of skin color. For many black people, including myself, nigger is the most pejorative word in the English language. Even when compared to racial slurs like kike, honkey, cracker, wet back, spic, jungle bunny, pod, tarbaby, and white trash, nigger is noted as the worst insult in the English language. The word nigger suggests that black people are second class citizens, ignorant and less than human.
While many blacks and whites agree that the word should not be censored from the English language, it certainly should not be used by all people because of its historical significance. For example, black militants believe whites should never use the word nigger.

He goes on to note that the word has been "reclaimed" by modern youth in the hip-hop movement who argue that people give meanings to words and not that words give meaning to people.  They believe the context makes their use of nigger acceptable.

I wish we could just come to a consensus.  Either nigger is an insulting and debasing racial slur or it's an acceptable term of endearment.  Same word.  Same meaning.  For everyone.  I don't care what shade your skin is, we are fellow human beings.  And in that respect peers.  Equals.  But when you tell me I can't use a word simply because I was born with a lighter shade of skin covering my body, it says to me that you don't see me the same way.  And that makes me angry.  And very sad.  I thought humanity was making progress toward valuing every person's contribution but maybe we're just stuck in the same old ruts of an out-dated mindset... picking at wounds to keep them from ever healing because hate has become more comfortable.

Okay, I've said my piece.  And I feel better for getting that off my chest.

Stepping off the soapbox now...

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