When Dr. Laura Schlessinger, whom I don't know anything about, and could even care less about, went on a rant about the N-word, the standard firestorm of controversy ensued.
We're all familiar with the arguments on each side-- free speech vs. despicable epithet, but it got me to thinking about how genuinely odd it is to have a word that is generally verboten in the English language.
I mean every possible cuss word reigns on cable t.v., especially HBO, and they are used as well on network television, but bleeped and pixilated. No one goes close to even using the euphemism, N-word, in jest. Look at what the full-fledged version of the N-word did to Michael Richards.
Is the term, N-word, useful, appropriate?
Yes. To use the term, N-word, is to be continually reminded of a rotten part of American history, and it allows us to remain sensitive to ongoing prejudice, bigotry, and discrimination.
We have African-American history month, Martin Luther King's birthday. I substitute taught five sections of a seventh grade class during that time last year. We spent the day discussing Emmett Till, the fourteen year old African-American, who was brutally murdered in Mississippi in 1955. It was effective to persuade 7th graders to think of themselves as Emmett Till because they were nearly the same age. However, I wonder how many quickly dismissed the episode after leaving class.
Not using the N-word on a daily basis, or objecting to its use should you hear it, serves as a living memorial in the English language for something that was really bad that happened.
The ancient Israelites couldn't utter the name of Yahweh in deference to their non-representational belief in God. In fact, I think only the high priest was allowed to say God's name once a year in the holy of holies in the temple.
We appear to be moving in that direction through the use of the term, N-word, not for religious reasons, but we do seem to be instituting it as acceptable usage. Why can't we have the equivalent of a Holocaust Museum right within the English language, ready for use and remembrance at any time? I'm okay with that. We need to remember and, hopefully, do better down the road. Oh, much better.