Words hurt. It’s true. The power of words is something that we often don’t stop to think about. As kids, we used to say things like “sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.” As adults, and even as kids, I think we have always known that words do hurt.
One interesting things about words are that specific disciplines have completely different vocabularies. Doctors and nurses use words that I wouldn’t understand. Engineers and computer programmers speak in terms that are completely alien to me. I think we can all agree with this to some extent. People speak and use words differently depending on whom they are talking to.
This brings me to the use of the N-word. Who gets to use this word? What discipline does it belong to? Should this word even be used? Let’s address these questions one by one. First, who gets to use this word? Rappers seem to use it a lot. Black comedians use it too. Secondly, what discipline does it belong to? Well, I have heard this word so many times in my life that I think it currently seems to be part of hip hop culture. This brings me to the third question, should this word even be used? This one doesn’t have such a simple answer.
If you grow up listening to rap records, especially as a white kid from the suburbs, you get introduced to a lot of words that you otherwise would not have heard. It took me a long time to realize that some of the vocabulary I acquired through my favourite artists was not right for me. I realized it the hard way when I used the N-word to a black friend of mine. This was a long time ago. I was still a kid. I thought it was a term of endearment as it is often used in songs. My friend was really offended and it almost ended up in a physical altercation. Fortunately, it didn’t. We are still friends today.
My point is that I have heard the N-word dozens of times a day or more since I was a teenager. I have also heard a lot of other offensive terms. Since, I associate myself with hip hop culture and proclaim to be hip hop, in the likes of KRS-One, I thought I could use those terms. It took me a long time to realize that I couldn’t and I shouldn’t.
So when Don Imus called some ladies, “Nappy Heads,” a few weeks back, I didn’t really think much of it at first. I learned that term from rap too. It didn’t seem like a bad word to me. The Fugees have a song with that as the title and there is another group called “Nappy Roots.” Of course, now I realize that it is a racist term. I bet a lot of people didn’t come to that same realization though until that news story broke. So my question is why are all these racist terms used in rap songs?
Of course, I didn’t even get into the semantics of the word itself. 2Pac turned it into an acronym meaning Never Ignorant in Getting Goals Accomplished. Some people differentiate between the N-word and nigga, like they are two different things. But let’s be honest, they really aren’t.
Russell Simmons has advocated that we bleep out words such as bitch, ho, and the n-word in all songs. I like his approach. If we want to stop the use of these racist words that hurt people, than we should try to erase them from our vocabularies. It doesn’t mean we need to start censoring artists, but it means we need to be more sensitive to the power of words. If we stopped using these words and putting them out there, and if everybody did that, maybe the hurt would decrease. I don’t know if this is the answer. I don’t know what the answer is. I’m just using my words to address the problem. And it is a problem.