It is, by my estimation, the most hate filled, vitriolic word in all of language. While the usage of the word is subject to debate, what certainly cannot be debated are the emotions the word the N-word evokes. Whether used to salute or to be spiteful, it is very hard for anyone to engage the word without dealing with the ethos of hate and degradation that accompany it. The feelings (and possibly reservations) most of you encountered as you read the title of this post are of proof of this.
What also cannot be argued is the swift, almost immediate, response one can attain with use of the word. Calling an African American the N-word in 2016 may get you punched in the face the same way it would in 1960! A person, or persons, using this word has historically been labeled one as not compassionate to a person of color nor to the causes that concern their well being. If the emotion and intention behind the word have traveled across the ages, it can be said that the volatile reaction to the word has as well….or has it?
What happens when the institutions around us engage and embody the same level of disrespect that persons who use the N-word do? What happens when the school systems we occupy passively project upon our children what Michael Gerson refers to as “the soft bigotry of low expectations”? What happens when businesses and corporations market to us with portrayals of our people that are dull, disrespectful and demeaning? What happens when our government supports the devalorization of our life through its lack of urgency and ,even worse, its silence?
Is the same call to arms made throughout our community? Is the same outrage evident? Does the same desire to correct press and provoke us to the point of retaliation? Or, has our acceptance of the word in public made us numb to the effects of it being perpetuated in private? Do we force ourselves to accept it; supposing that such is the way of the world?
It doesn’t matter if one refrains from calling me the N-word, when the system I attempt to function under continues to treat me like one. If the ‘way of the world’ erects structures and systems that contradistinguish me, what does it say of that world and those who influence it?
Jesus preaches in His Sermon On The Mount (Matthew 7:20) that we ought able to identify good by the fruit it bears and bad by the same. While we must always be amenable to reconciliation and restoration, we conjointly must be able to identify bad fruit when it confronts us. No matter how much they have been sweetened, fruits of racism and discrimination that fall from the tree of hatred must be recognized for what they are. Even deeper, we must be willing to stand firmly and speak loudly against them in the name of a God that declares that through His Son, we are all equal.
If it is unacceptable for anyone to use the N-word (which, by the way, it should be), it ought to be intolerable for the the institutions that encircle us to exemplify the N-word as well. The same reaction we have when a person calls us one should be in full force when the structures that surround us do the same. As contemporaries that are cherished in the eyes of our God, we ought not be reserved, but instead moved to response that forces institutions, powers, and principalities to regard us as what we are. This is what we, as a liberated people, must do when the structures around us call us ‘nigger’.