Let’s Lynch [a] Nigger…For Good

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*Niggers are all over the place these days.

Yes, I said “nigger,” not “the N word” or “nigga” or “n****r” or some other version of the word that the overwhelming majority of media outlets routinely use in lieu of THE word. I say if we’re going to use the word, let’s use it.

Or more aptly…let’s not. Ever. In any form.

I remember when only Richard Pryor could get away with regularly using the word “nigger.” He even named one of his standup albums Supernigger and sold millions of albums in the process. My mother didn’t allow that album or any of Pryor’s others in our home, but when Mom was at work Dad howled with laughter to his contraband Pryor cassettes and 8 tracks.

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When George Jefferson said “nigger” on the classic sitcom The Jeffersons, millions of viewers laughed while advertisers threatened to drop the show.  Then, in the mid-1980s, Eddie Murphy picked up in feature films and standup specials where Pryor had left off, and the word’s use started to creep.

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By the 90s’ torrent of hip hop and rap, use of the word had spread broadly. “Nigger” was on a roll! And now, we’re living with a whole generation of people who grew up hearing the word used very casually — and we need to be ashamed of ourselves.

Today, if anything makes me crazier than pulling up to a red light next to someone blaring “nigger”-infused music from their car speakers, it’s the increasing acceptance and use of the word in the media.

Just last weekend, Saturday Night Live’s Michael Che let the word rip at the Weekend Update desk during the show’s season premiere.  (SNL has a history with the word, as Chevy Chase called Pryor a “nigger” during the show’s inaugural season.) Also last weekend, the premiere of Netflix’s new Luke Cage series pummeled viewers with the word, including a scene where Alfre Woodard’s character expresses her disdain for its use.

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“You know I despise that word,” she sneered, only to have the character she was speaking to say “I know. It’s easy to underestimate a nigga.” Over the course of the series’ first seven episodes, the word is used over two dozen times.

I’ve heard the argument about the difference between “nigger” and “nigga,” but I believe that just as when I use “brother” or “brutha” to describe another man of color in a loving, positive way, “nigger” in any form is abhorrent, vile, and without a home in civil, modern discourse. I don’t think of the word “nigger” in ANY form as a term of endearment of ANY kind.

I’ve also heard the argument about “taking the word back” from our oppressors. To that argument I’ll simply reply with another obscenity: bullshit.  We are making it easy for white folks to use pejoratives when describing us, and by sanitizing the word “nigger” and using it so effortlessly, we are sanctioning its use by others.  

Maybe I feel so strongly about it because I still remember the first time it was used to describe me. Somewhat like your first kiss, you never forget the first time you’re called a “nigger.”

I was in my late teens and finishing up a college internship in Bettendorf, Iowa. I’d gone shopping at the Duck Creek Mall. In retrospect, the name of the place should have tipped me off that I was far from the ‘hood.

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As I walked through the mall’s parking lot to my car, four or five young, white The Dukes of Hazard rejects pulled up to me in a symbolically white midsize pickup truck and started a conversation with “Get out of town, nigger!” This was in broad daylight, in a crowded parking lot, and believe me, the fellas were using their outside voices.

An almost debilitating cocktail of terror and rage swelled inside me, but I somehow managed to suppress the former. I’d always heard that dogs could smell fear, and I’d always suspected the same of bigots. I lashed out with a few choice epithets of my own (my parents had taught me well) and luckily, the good ol’ boys laughed and drove off, leaving a trail of cigarette smoke and hatred.

I was left standing in that parking lot with a taste of what civil rights workers — those heroes who had paved the way for me to complete a college internship in Bettendorf, Iowa — must have gone through. I’ve never heard the word “nigger” or any of its derivations the same way again.

Most media outlets can’t — or won’t — report on incidents of the word having been used without resorting to diluted, softer terms like “the N word” or  “n****r.”  That industry-wide practice is profoundly hypercritical. The Jewish Lorne Michaels, SNL’s executive producer, can approve “nigger”’s inclusion to Michael Che’s script for a live comedy show on NBC, but the next day, the network’s own news division resorts to the term “the N word” in talking about the broadcast.

My initial experience of having been called a “nigger” — and a few subsequent experiences — just don’t have the same punch if I sanitize the word. When I have spoken of having been verbally assaulted, I don’t quote the hillbillies of Duck Creek Mall as saying “Get out of town, N-Word!” The heinous act itself deserves fair, accurate reporting. If someone can say the word “nigger,” I can tell people it was said. And media should, too.

The word “nigger” is rooted in the very foundation of the darkest chapter in our nation’s history. I imagine it was the last word heard by men before they were lynched, often set on fire and torched to death or hung from trees — or both.

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Routinely, large crowds of cheering white onlookers watched those executions smiling…laughing…and chanting…“Nigger!”

“Nigger!”

“Nigger!”

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And just as those thousands of lynchings were executed without remorse, we should send the word “nigger” and all of its variants to their final resting place.

Immediately.

Let’s lynch “nigger.” For good.

What do you think? Is there a place for the word “nigger” in the 21st century, or should its use come to an end? Does modifying the spelling and / or the pronunciation change things for you?  And what do you think about its use privately v. in the media?  Let us know in the comments.

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This blog was written by Michael P Coleman. Connect with him at michaelpcoleman.com or on Twitter: @ColemanMichaelP

8 thoughts on “Let’s Lynch [a] Nigger…For Good”

  1. There is no place for this word and people need to let it go. Some of the Black folks that think it’s okay to use because “it doesn’t mean anything unless you give the word power” likely flip out when someone calls them an asshole or a pussy.

  2. I hate that word! Like you I can’t stand it when I’m forced to hear it because some ignorant person is bumping their must so loud next to me when I’m in my car. Like cigarette smoke, it’s offensive and I don’t want it to blown in my face, my ears or anywhere near my person. It’s negative and I’ve always found it to be extremely demeaning and offensive no matter who’s saying it white or black. I don’t find anything so funny about it where it should be included in stand up comedy, sit-coms etc. I also think it’s so sad our youth (black youth) and the pop culture are so out of touch with our history and the racial discrimination we as a people fought so hard to end the injustice.

  3. Thank you, Mr. Coleman, for your thoughtful and heartfelt article. It’s debilitating (& ignorant) to recycle and remodel a word, a term, a method and manner of demeaning, reducing, and obliterating the worth of our people. We’re “taking it back?” No, thank you. I decline any and all parts of that legacy. Additionally grievous, is hearing other people of other races casually referring to each other as “nigger,” as if some new, completely acceptable badge of cool. My predecessors faced and survived too much laced with that word for me to crown it worthy of keeping. Goodbye, “nigger”. I really don’t need you.

  4. Wonderfully said, Michael Coleman. Ship the word straight to hell. *Drop the mic*

  5. If we did away with the word nigga’ how in the world would the rappers of the world earn a living?

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