Ban Jesse, not the N-word

JOHN RIDLEY is a novelist, screenwriter and political commentator who wrote about race relations in the December issue of Esquire.

WHEN EMBATTLED, uh, comedian Michael Richards sat down with the Rev. Jesse Jackson on Monday, the big news wasn’t his repeating, for the 1,000th time, that he had no idea where all that “nigger” stuff came from, didn’t mean to hurt anybody, feels terrible about the whole thing ... yada, yada, yada.

The big news coming out of this meeting of minds is that Jackson, as supreme leader of all things black, has launched Operation N-word Freedom, a campaign to liberate the nation (finally!) from the dreaded N-word. Jesse now challenges all black people everywhere to “give our ancestors a present.” No, not the gift of elevation though education and hard work. Jesse wants us to stop using hurtful words.

Jesse wants this?

Jesse Jackson, the same cat who once referred to Jews as “hymies” and New York as “Hymietown”? This same guy who denied it when the statement was made public, kept up the denial after the journalist who reported his slur had his life threatened, and only under immense pressure finally admitted that, well, perhaps he’d made a slip of the tongue? Twice?


And he wants to lecture us regarding the usage of hurtful words?

I am all for having open and intelligent discourse on the word “nigger.” What I am wholly against are hypocrites who sling hate in private, then smile to us while they lie, telling the rest of us that intellectual debate is closed.

Sorry, Mr. Jackson, but the America I support through paying taxes in my over-inflated bracket allows me not to bow down automatically to your linguistic fatwas. Not all of us quake and quiver before mere words.

I have no qualm about using the word. It is just a word in the English lexicon, and no amount of political correctness will remove it from reality. Trying to amputate it into the “N-word” -- as if by the castration of a few letters we should then be able to conceptualize its meaning without feeling its sting -- only gives the word more power. The word itself has no true effect other than the velocity and voracity the receiver ascribes to it. Deny its use, lock the word away as though you were locking away a weapon, and you increase its puissance.

It’s the Caucasian-dominated media -- the almost uniformly white corporate boardrooms, the mastheads -- which, now that blacks want to control the word “nigger,” have taken away its very use. Those in the media who do not truly practice liberalism by way of diversity in the workplace have replaced “nigger” with the “N-word” in the condescending fashion of adults taking scissors from children too immature to know what to do with them.

The solution to the “nigger” question is to blunt the weapon before it can be used, as gays have done with “queer” and women with “bitch.” Aikido the word; turn it against your enemies. To do otherwise merely strengthens every bigot, every racist, every hate-monger, every closeted race-baiter (and has anyone discussed the irony of Trent Lott becoming the Senate minority whip?), every failed-actor-turned-comedian who wants to lash out and wound and bring low a black individual.

Is that our gift to our ancestors, Jesse? Or our heirs? I will not raise my boys, my two strong brown men, to live in fear of a word. They will go to school, they will study well, they will work hard, they will be productive members of the greater community, and if anyone at any time calls them “nigger,” they will laugh.

They will laugh.

From his new perch as national language czar, Jackson unilaterally declared Monday that the word “nigger” is “not protected” language. His grandstanding is not surprising. It is a bulwark against his diminishing significance.


Jackson is stuck in a rut dug 30 years ago. His sole function of late is to claw himself to relevance as other blacks -- Colin Powell and Barack Obama and Harold Ford and Condi Rice and Deval Patrick -- pass him by with regularity. Blacks who, though one may not agree with their politics, truly have a mandate to serve all Americans, not merely their own special interest group.

Jackson never received my vote, tacit or implied, and as such I would ask him to leave his edicts to himself.