Nigger is the only word like it in the entire global English language. Used in any part of the world, it brings up images and sentiments around oppression and otherization that are unique to the Black American experience. It has become a universal word that characterizes and summarizes racism in a way that no other slur does. Coolie, Kike, Spic, Dago…are vicious disgusting words, but they are not institutionalized the way “nigger” is; and this is not just within the borders of the United States, but it is part of the global consciousness. So much so that the liberal loving media has replaced it with the term I used to start this article… “N-word.”* The problem is that the “N-word” still means nigger, and frankly, it lets people off too easy. If you, as a liberal non-black person think it is difficult to read or say the word “nigger,” imagine what its like being the target of it? Think of this, we don’t say “S” word…we don’t say “K” word. There is a sick need somewhere in the global consciousness to maintain the meaning of the word nigger even if it is not used itself.
There has never been a movement to criminalize a word. Policing speech to that level goes directly against the Constitution of the United States. However, there is only one word, “nigger.” The use of this word, its place in the global consciousness and its place in language is like no other word. The word nigger has been a tool to justify and excuse institutionalized racism that has taken the form of a slow motion genocide. There is a direct connection between this word and scores of lives lost. Those who would object to the criminalization of this word will immediately cry foul for their first amendment rights, but I would argue that the word nigger is not so much a word as it is a cultural pathology that is as damaging a pedophilia, rape and murder each of which carries a heavy legal penalty. To that end, I sincerely believe there should be a way to uniquely criminalize the word nigger in a way that reflects the unique way in which it perpetuates and undergirds institutional racism that is at the core of American culture.
As social media has evolved, so must our laws around communication. Hate groups use the word nigger as a weapon in their online tactics and they use it as a rallying cry. And despite some very gifted black artists and activists “reclaiming” the word nigger, I say to them, what is there to reclaim? As a black man, I never owned it in the first place and I don’t think the existence of the word nigger was ever justified. Let the racists have it.
Historically, the United States refuses to take ending racism seriously. Lynching was never criminalized. The voting rights act has been repealed, within my lifetime we lived under laws that forbade people of different races to marry. Time and again, US culture bends to the minds of bigots. This is crazy. What seems less crazy is taking away one more weapon from the arsenal of racism. But then the United States is weapon crazy. It should be no surprise that the “right” to the word nigger is guarded as closely as is the “right” to guns.
As long as there is a “nigger” there will always be a racist in SAE.
*I have used “n word” here for the sake of how social media works and to allow people to reblog this piece with less hesitation.
Please see this excellent resource: Jim Crow Museum: Nigger and Caricature