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Volume 72, Issue 139, Friday, April 27, 2007

News

Discussion explores controversial epithet

Educators from UH and TSU consider the context and meaning behind its usage after watching a screening of the 2004 documentary 
‘The N Word'

by MELANESE A. PHILBERT
The Daily Cougar

Intellectuals in African-American studies and English from UH and Texas Southern University gathered Thursday to discuss one of the most controversial words in American history.

Attendees viewed the 2004 documentary The N Word prior to the panel discussion. The film looks at the history of the word "nigger" through the eyes of well-known individuals in the academic, political and artistic worlds. It also explores the viewpoints of everyday usage from those outside the ivory tower. 

Michon Benson, an English professor at TSU, expressed a split view of the word.

"The word ‘nigga' is akin to a tribal call. … It's one of the primary ways in which people of color make a deliberate and conscious decision to bear the burden and the joy and the luxury of a history that is both oppressive and joyful and powerful and awful," Benson said. "It gives them the chance to come together and decide that they are all going to be participants. 

"Now those people who use that term -- ‘nigga' -- and don't know the history and just want the luxury of being part of the moment of black culture and not want to bear the burden and the luxury of the culture -- they don't have a right to use it."

Ahati Toure, a UH professor of African-American studies, said that any use of the word by anyone, regardless of race, was wrong, and that people should look beyond the word and instead focus on the proliferation of such epithets. 

"As long as all of the information about (black people) is controlled by other people, then those people will determine our direction, our ability to function and, most importantly, how other people view us," Toure said. 

Discussion also focused on the etymology and perceived ownership of the word, highlighting its use by youths of other races as a greeting.

TSU English professor Hakeem Harris, however, said that demands for the word to be expunged from the everyday speech. 

"The word has been in use for over 400 years. You cannot change the use of it in two or three decades," Harris said. "It's not going anywhere. Until we start defining ourselves, we will continue to revisit the issue." 

Many said black people in particular have become desensitized to hearing the word, and that a certain level of consciousness has to increase within the community for change to occur.

English senior Kalaiah Vaughn, who, like some, felt torn about the use of the word, said showing the film was a positive development. 

"It was inspiring," Vaughn said. "I think things like this that bring awareness to the issue should be done more often." 

The event was sponsored by Songhai News, a UH student-run newspaper, as a part of its PopCorn N Lemonade series. 

English senior kYmberly Keeton, the event's organizer, decided to show the documentary to provoke thought and to foster pride.

"I just want people to think about the word and how they use it consciously and unconsciously," Keeton said. "We need to understand that being black is beautiful, it's strong, it's powerful and you don't have to use slurs to be cool. If I call you a ‘nigger,' then that makes me one, too." 

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