Recently, I was discussing with a colleague an article that’s been doing the rounds, of a British MP who was caught saying ‘’nigger in a woodpile’’ at a recent committee meeting in the UK.
‘’Terrible how an elected official can use such language in this day and age. It’s nothing short of horrific. I mean the n-word seriously!’’
The above was the sentiment implied by my co-worker on the topic. Disgust, disbelief, disdain; she was having none of it. As our conversation ensued and more colleagues joined in, similar feelings were mirrored across the group.
‘’You know, I haven’t heard someone say the n-word in years”
‘’She’s a disgrace! Her and anybody else who uses the n-word should be hung, drawn and quartered’’
I couldn’t believe my ears! Was this actually happening? I listened to the next few comments to confirm my suspicions.
“That party is notorious for being racist. N-word this, n-word that, leave our country, blah, blah, blah”
‘’If that’s how flippantly she uses the n-word in public, I can only imagine what she says behind closed doors. I’ll never vote for that party again.’’
Are You Scared To Say Nigger?
I was right. My mind wasn’t playing tricks. This was happening! It appeared that the group of adults I was currently engaged in conversation with were terrified to say the word nigger. This group of highly educated individuals, many exhibiting MBAs, PhDs and LLMs were afraid to say a word. I was stunned.
I followed the conversation for a few more minutes before I decided to interject.
‘’Are you guys scared of saying the word nigger?’’
Absolute silence. Uncomfortable shifiting in seats.
‘’It’s only a word! You shouldn’t be scared to use it. Especially here. You are using it in the correct context’’ I continued.
But the conversation was dead. The awkwardness had permeated the group and the flow of the previously passionate conversation had suddenly halted. People started to check their phones, a few filtered off for some ‘fresh air’, while others simply smiled politely and excused themselves.
Later that evening, I approached the topic with a friend and her response was similar. The minute I said the word ‘nigger’, tension filled the air. I could see her become visibly uncomfortable, muscles on her neck tightened and her speech became stuttered and stumbled as she tried to engage me.
“Well, that word you just said there….”
“You know….that word…… the n-word.”
“Nigger?’’ I said loudly in the busy restaurant
My mere utterance of this word at volume in a public setting had momentarily frozen time. Silence struck the tables adjacent to our table, heads turned on swivels in our direction and my friend looked as though she was about ready for the ground to open up and swallow her whole.
Have we really reached this stage in the world? Have the political correctness police finally silenced the world? To the extent where people are physically too scared to say a word and even upon hearing the word it caused them some physical discomfort? This can’t be right. For people to be scared to say a word isn’t normal.
Voldemort Must Have Been A Nigger
It reminded me of when Harry Potter would say ‘Voldemort’ and the people around him would cower upon the sound of its utterance. A word so powerful that nobody, only the bravest wizards, would dare speak it. An average wizard wouldn’t contemplate using his real name and would simply refer to him as ‘’He Who Must Not Be Named’’ for fear of being reprimanded by some superior power. Are we scared that if we say the word ‘nigger’ we will get struck down by a higher power? Even when used in context or during a philosophical discussion on the use of language? Or are we scared that the world has become so politically correct that we can’t use a word for fear of being reprimanded?
As the books progress, more and more characters begin to use the correct term and Voldemort becomes both a common term and a defeated enemy. Not only among the perceived superior wizards like Harry and Dumbledore but also among the students, the average wizards such as Hermione, Ron and Neville. The more people that encounter Voldemort or speak his name, the more normalized it becomes.
I liken this to our current society. Take away the wizards and witchcraft, replace it with humans and racism. Take away ‘Voldemort’ and ‘He Who Must Not Be Named’ and replace with ‘nigger’ and ‘the n-word’. It’s a mirrored scenario. Only difference is that one is reality and the other is a best-selling, fictitious, children’s book.
Our perceptions and ideas of this word have become inflamed and exaggerated. So much so that we’ve become scared to speak it.
A solitary word.
Six little letters.
Two vowels & four consonants.
By not saying ‘nigger’ (or ‘Voldemort’ to a lesser extent) we are ironically reinforcing the power and hurt caused by this word. We are isolating it like some radioactive chemical and exhibiting its power, strength and volatility for all to see. Spreading fear further and further throughout society.
We cannot and should not bury the word, as it breaks people’s rights to free speech under the first amendment. The same amendment that gave black people the power to earn equal rights and remove themselves from the back of the bus. We need to face up to the fact that the word itself is not our enemy, but the people who use it incorrectly and the derogatory context in which they choose to.
We need to stop using the ‘n-word’, ‘n-bomb’ or whatever other childish phrase you have come up with to replace nigger. We are not dumb. When you say ‘n-word’ everyone knows exactly what you mean so why not just say it? I suppose it’s acceptable for someone to call someone ‘a dirty rotten n-word’ by those standards?
Nigger has roots, nigger has history, nigger has meaning. By refusing the use of it, we are disrespecting the roots, the history and the meaning attached to it through years of suffering by our ancestors.
A wise man once said ‘’Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself’’- Albus Dumbledore