a bird and a bottle

An Honest Debate
February 27, 2007, 8:28 pm
Filed under: law, news, NYC, politics, Uncategorized

Contract via Abolish the N-Word.

The New York City Council is considering a ban on the N-word. A symbolic ban. But a ban on the use of a word nonetheless.

The ban was introduced by city councilman Leroy Comrie, and the black community has been both vigorously supportive and strongly opposed.

I’m not sure what to make of it. Since the ban is only symbolic, the ACLU has remained neutral. But it’s still a speech restriction, which in itself gives me pause. That said, the N-word has a violent and hate-filled history and deserves to scrubbed from speech and seen/heard/read in history classes alone. But as I say, I don’t have an opinion on this one. Which is a rare thing indeed.

So I am curious. What do you think?


4 Comments so far
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Agreed — it’s a tough call to make, especially for those of us who are not African-American. I agree with you that any speech restriction must raise serious concerns. I think that those, like Councilmember Comrie, who support the ban are passionate advocates of equality and are rightfully so offended by the word and its ugly history that there can be no other solution but to rid our society of its use and the hatred that it connotes. On the other hand, those in the African-American community who have used the word in an entirely different way than its history certainly have a right to do so, and might well feel their own moral need to make a statement. In the end, the word cannot be banned, and everyone knows it. But the message of the ban advocates is clear — teach your children well. Let the message be taught and heard that the ugly history of the word must be understood and not shrugged off, and the continuing racism that pervades our society must be eradicated. It is a lofty goal, and by shining a light on the continued use of a nasty evil word, the ban advocates may accomplish at least some of that goal.

Comment by ricky vermont

I think you’re exactly right, Ricky — and so poetic. I actually just read last night an article about leftist censorship. The article talked at length about when formerly (or currently) oppressed groups reappropriate a word to subvert it. So that includes the N-word when used in rap, etc., but also “queer,” “dyke,” “bitch,” and others. The N-word is perhaps unique in its long history, but the question to me remains the same: is that sort of use of a slur ok? What would be the consequences if it were not? I think these questions at least complicate the debate — even about this symbolic ban.

Comment by bean

There was a discussion of this on the debunkingwhite LiveJournal community; I really dug the first comment by rev1.

My own thoughts on this range from apathy to disagreement. Perhaps if the resolution was to ban white or non-Black people from using the word, I’d feel differently, since I do think there’s a major difference between non-Black people (white people especially) and Black people using the word.

However, regardless of that, I’ll repeat what I wrote on that LiveJournal thread: it’s really easy for the City Council to pass this symbolic resolution against the use of a word and look the better for it, while racism marches on, relatively unabated. Even if no one ever used the n-word again, racism and racist oppression would continue; it’s a nice show to attack the less tangible symptoms, but we really need to be addressing the root cause and some of the more material damage done by racism.

Comment by jack

I agree with each of the smart comments above. I am writing from berlin, where many people felt (feel) that the decade-long debate in the german parliament as to what holocaust memorial should be built was better than any memorial could be.
i think a serious discussion of american racism – its history and its continued prevalence – is better than the passage or defeat of this resolution. i hope this debate continues.

Comment by professorplum

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