Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Can Rev. Jesse Jackson Stop the N-Word?

So the big story last week was the videotaped blow-up of Kosmo Kramer, aka Michael Richards, using the uber offensive n-word (mind you, with an -er at the end, rather than the somehow more socially acceptable -a suffix).

Mainstream media jumped on the story, and Richards immediately appologized. As part of his image readjustment campaign, Richards set up meetings with Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson to ease the tension.

Richards tirade brought about renewed interest to the issue of use of the n-word, and when, if at all, it is appropriate. Shortly after meeting with Richards, Jackson held a press conference asking for entertainers to end their usage of the word. Among those on board were comedian Paul Mooney, who was a co-writer of Richard Pryor's famous comedy album "Bicentennial N-----"

So the next question is, who is going to take the weight? Can the word be banished from hip-hop at all?

In hip-hop, use of the n-word is as ubiquitous as an 808 bass drum or dj scratch. Thousands of song titles and album skits have included the word, and one of the genre's groundbreaking acts, N.W.A., appropriated the word into its band name. The word has been used as both a form of empowerment and a deregatory comment, depending on who you're talking to.

The most telling, and possibly heinous, outcome of the word's association with hip-hop is the free-usage it has achieved amongst non-blacks. The first time I heard a non-black person use the word was on a rap record, on the self-titled debut from Cypress Hill. The lead rappers in the group, B-Real and Sen Dog, are both of Cuban descent. Both used the n-word several times in different songs, and soon thereafter the word was being thrown out all over the place (at least from my vantage point).

I have always had a weird relationship with the word. As a fan of hip-hop music, it's hard not to use when I'm singing along to the lyrics of my favorite songs (I am not one to try and change lyrics even if I'm just singing to myself).

I am embarrassed to admit that there was a short period in my life when I felt comfortable with it's usage among my friends, black and non-black, during my late teens. But I grew out of that, and I can honestly say the word has been eliminated from my vocabulary for quite some time now. I just think it's an ugly word that no one should use, especially non-blacks.

At the same time, it's hard not to recognize the simple fact that it is a word inherent in American culture, good or bad. Private school kids use it. Surfer guys use it. Kosmo Kramer (ab)used it.

I really hopr Rev. Jackson gets this thingkick started, but he needs the right messengers. Mooney was good, but how about Dave Chappelle getting up and saying he won't use the n-word (and just as importantly, the b-word) in his routine.

Or what about rappers like Jay-Z or Snoop Dogg? (Snoop tried doing something like this, replacing the n-word with nephew, a few albums back, but he's since abondoned his stance). They might be the right leaders for this type of movement.

The only way to make a real change is to get folks at the top to admit that it is a bad thing. They have to begin by admitting that the word's usage has gotten out of hand, as well as into the wrong ones.

No comments: