The N-Word Has No Place in Society – Polite, Impolite, Black, White, or the NFL

by Kent Sterling

imagesHow in the hell did we get to a place where reasonable people of any color can see the n-word a part of a civilized language?

Regardless of the context, it conveys the concept of hatred for another human being, which can never be right regardless of the reason, but is particularly egregious in the case of race.

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The NFL’s competition committee is considering punishing those who use it on a football field by assessing a 15-yard penalty, and it’s about time.

Each decade we become a little less concerned with color, sexuality, nationality, religion, and other irrationally applied differences that foster both a sense of belonging to one’s own subgroup, and a loathing for all others.

There are plenty of words that derisively refer to virtually all groups.  Using any of them is wrong, but using the n-word is especially miserable.

I remember a night in the basement of a friends house filled with strangers where the term “goy” was used.  Everyone got very quiet, and quietly pointed out that I am a goy – meaning non-Jew.  Guilty.

It was a strange moment.  I had worked all summer at a summer camp that was predominantly Jewish, and I never felt for a second like I was not a part of what was going on there.  The differences between us never occurred to me – and they still don’t.

I was more offended that everyone felt uncomfortable on my behalf.  If I were a person prone to irrational judgment and anger, I would have popped the guy myself, but ignorance is so rampant that it doesn’t bother me, and you probably feel the same way if you don’t have to deal with it regularly.

Jewish, Catholic, Presbyterian, Muslim, or Seventh Day Adventist – what difference does that make.  Whatever mythology we ascribe to is no one else’s business, and if that help us make sense of our existence, that’s a good thing no matter to whom we pray.

That guy chose a word in a moment of weakness without a correct assessment of the occupants of the basement.  I would never attack him for it, and certainly require no defense from him.  I don’t assume logic in strangers, so his choice of verbiage was of no consequence to me.

So I’m not a prude when it comes to language.  Words are meant to convey a thought, and the more powerful the word, the better.  Freedom of speech – both acceptable and repellent – leaves it to the speaker and listener to decide whether a word is appropriate.

That’s the way it should be.  How many millions of Americans learned what ignorance sounds like from Archie Bunker in “All in the Family”, even when it was occasionally out of a place of ignorance, not hate?  Plenty.  Banning that use of hate-speak would have eliminated an educational forum that left America wiser.

We should be able to trust one another to take into account the feelings of others as they choose their words.  Banning language should be completely unnecessary.

Except for the n-word.

It’s just too wrong, too hateful, too powerful.  The way it has been used over the past 300 years has taken it out of the lexicon of people who reject hatred, and if rules are needed to pry it from the rest, I’m all for it.

Coming from no one – black or white – do I find it funny or appropriate.  The n-word does not belong to any group, as any word that is in the exclusive purview of a single group serves to divide not unite.  Okay for you but not okay for me does not work for anyone.

At some point 100 or 200 years from now, our society will have evolved to the point where we understand that the focus should be on the traits that define us as human beings, not as exclusive members by birth to the variety of clubs that exist to prove superiority to those for whom that kind of assignation is important.

The NFL would be getting it right by scrubbing the onfield use of the the most repellent word in our language, but I’m not sure 15 yards covers the necessary consequence.

I feel ridiculous writing this post.  The hate conveyed by the n-word should be self-evident and rejected by all of us.  You would think we could find a way as a species to agree that the n-word should never be used by anyone for any purpose.

Not yet, I guess.

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