Yes, we do have a global war on terror (a phrase that always makes me think the government will send out inspectors to check under childrens’ beds for monsters, but I digress). Now New York’s City Council has unanimously declared a moratorium on the “N-word.” This is the most useless piece of political posturing since the Senate thought long and hard about maybe having a debate before maybe voting on a powerless resolution that might condemn the George Bush Desert Classic.
Let no one doubt that this is a troublesome word, as Randall Kennedy called it in the sub-title of his history of the word (which was a better concept than it was an actual book, but I digress). It is a vile and hateful word that no less an expert on outrage than the great Richard Pryor renounced. But if we are going to start banning words why stop here? There are a slew of other epithets both racial and sexual that are equally insulting. (And some of which — like the name of that football team in Washington, D.C. — are actually used as brand names.) Lets ban them all, too.
This won’t actually change behavior or attitudes, but it will force us to come up with some new insults and I, for one, am bored with the old ones.
The City Council’s stated aim is to send a message and expunge this slur from hip hop music and television. Huzzah. This is a noble aim. But so is bringing democracy to the Middle East. Perhaps we should ask our elected officials to focus their efforts on the actually attainable. There are a huge number of other offensive things that actually fall under the council’s purview — hunger, disease, poverty, ignorance, crime. Perhaps they could do something about those before turning to matters linguistic.
Cheers to Chris Rock for giving and Reuters for getting this quote:
“What, is there a fine? Am I going to get a ticket?” Rock mocked in a Reuters interview when asked about the City Council move. “Do judges say, ’10 years, nigger!”‘
Rock said politicians were trying to divert attention from real problems: “Enough real bad things happen in this city to worry about how I am going to use the word.”
Let’s leave the debate on this to Mr. Rock, Mr. Pryor and others with their talent. At least then the debate would be intentionally funny.