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In Lee Daniels’ new movie, “The Butler,” the first part of the story gives one of the most compelling arguments in any modern media for African Americans to cease and desist from calling each other the N-word. More than one seasoned character admonishes the young lead not to downgrade himself by using that term. I highly recommend all Black parents to take their young offspring to see the movie, and to sit through it with them. Then take heed to the valuable life lessons provided, including the admonition to stop teaching your children bad habits, like the N-word.
This is not the first time this issue has been addressed in this column. It is simply stupid and counter-productive for Black folks to still use that term with each other. There is nothing positive about the word, and “terms of endearment” my behind. I know we can do better.
And, apparently, we are just now getting some real help with that effort. A Black manager in New York was just pronounced guilty of employment discrimination and creating a hostile workplace environment because of a four-minute rant in which he called a Black female employee the N-word several times. Arguing that the word is not an automatic insult, the manager said that he did not intend to embarrass or humiliate the employee, a Brandi Johnson, but instead intended to provide her with constructive criticism over her workplace attire and overall non-professional behavior.
The federal jury did not buy it. Mr. Rob Camona, the CEO of Strive, an organization started to help Blacks get jobs, was fined $35,000 in punitive damages, and $250,000 in compensatory damages in favor of Johnson for his N-word-laced tirade, which was heard by several bystanders and, of course, taped. Both Camona and Johnson are African Americans.
That may be the ticket. Sue those in court who continue to use the N-word. Hit them in the pocket and watch how fast the behavior changes.
Like unhealthy and unsanitary portions of soul food (e.g. chitllins’), parts of Black culture need to be written off and buried. Just because it’s historical, does not make it all good. The N-word is exhibit A. Time to incinerate it. To keep trying to de-fang a word which is impossible to rescue, when clearly the arc of history is not in one’s favor, is a kind of cultural insanity that we should recognize and step away from as soon as possible.
In the 21st century, surely the creative wordsmiths among us can craft a positive replacement for that word in our vocabulary. Yes, some of us are actually addicted to it, but being sued and fined heavily may be the strongest cold turkey medicine available.
Each of us needs to take the pledge right now—I will not use the N-word anymore in my conversations, comments or speaking, in references to Black folk or anyone else.
The axiom is simple: one and one is two, as long as you disrespect yourself, they’ll keep disrespecting you! How many more Trayvons, Oscar Grants, and others do we have to bury before we finally get it?
Mark up one round for the home team. Stop ‘n Frisk New York got one right for a change. Pay up time!!
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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