by Ward Fantroy
Almost every person who has commented on Bill Maher's use of the word "nigg$r" has substituted in its place the euphemism "N-Word" when quoting what he said, presuming that they are saying something other than the exact same thing that Bill Maher said. We need to stop fooling ourselves by thinking that "N-Word" is more pristine or pure than the actual word it is used to convey in conversation. Everybody who uses the euphemism "N-Word"
During a discussion has in his or her mind and means to convey the word "nigg$r" and its meaning; therefore, nothing truly is accomplished by pretending that the message conveyed and received is more or less acceptable than if the person said the actual word. Every person who hears the word "nigg$r" has to take responsibility for his or her own interpretation of the word, its use, and the purpose for its use in a specific conversation.
Using "N-Word" in the place of "nigg$r" is dishonest and deceitful because its use represents an overt attempt to vitiate or cleanse the word of its racist, bigoted, and racially prejudiced meaning and history. We should not give the word more meaning than it has or more value than it deserves, and we should not give the wordless. We should learn to interpret the use of the word according to the context in which it is used and according to the thought and the meaning, the speaker or writer seeks to convey by using it.
If some obviously racist person calls a Black person a "F***ing N-Word" would that be less offensive than if the racist simply said the word that actually was in his heart and mind? And, if Bill Maher had said that he was a "house N-Word" or "house slave," would his joke have been more funny or less offensive to those who seek to find fault with what he said? We need to stop pretending that we have grown up in an institutionally racist society but our character and behavior has not been poisoned and corrupted by that which institutional racism produces.
Since the vast majority of American citizens are products of an institutionally racist society and since we seek to downplay the continued existence of the notion of White supremacy and White privilege in our society, we often seek to underrate, obfuscate, or ignore certain institutionally racist aspects of our society so that we make the presence of institutional racism acceptable in our society.
We concentrate on diminishing its negative impact by dealing with its symptoms so that negative impacts are ameliorated rather than facing up to and dealing with the difficult task of eliminating it altogether. A consequence of this approach has been that too many in our society have chosen to presume that we can eliminate the offensiveness and the legacy of racism associated with the word "nigg$r" simply by substituting "N-Word" in its place whenever we want to convey its meaning. The word has the same meaning, regardless of how it is conveyed. The problem we have in American society with the word "nigg$r" is not that it exists; instead, our problem is the racist, bigoted, and racially prejudiced thoughts and feelings it expresses, invokes or inspires based on its historical meaning and legacy.
Substituting "N-Word" in its place in our public discourse does not and cannot erase its meaning, history, or legacy; it only placates those who wish to pretend that the history and meaning of the word change simply by uttering the euphemism. When we use "N-Word" in public discourse, it undermines the pressing need within our society to face up to and teach our citizens the true history of the origin, meaning, and use of the word "nigg$r" in American society, as well as undermines the need to eliminate the institutional racism that promotes its continued malevolent use.
Ward Keith Fantroy is a Texan by birth and a resident of Reynoldsburg, OH, and a 32-year veteran of the U.S. Navy. He is a Captain, Supply Corps (Retired).