The Week of the “N” Word

 

Last week was a great one for me intellectually, spiritually and business-wise.  I had two distinct opportunities to publicly discuss an issue that has had and continues to have a tremendous impact on America as a whole.

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On Wednesday April 13, I was a panelist on “The Simply Bonita Show” on www.svmixradio.com.  The topic: “The ‘N’ Word.”  The theme centered around whether or not the African-American community should still use the word in conversation.  The debate got heated (as one might expect), but everyone was respectful and articulated their opinions well.  I’m typically the facilitator in such events, so I really enjoyed the opportunity to speak my mind on the issue without having to be concerned about “equal time.”  (It was Bonita’s turn to worry about that)!

My thoughts?  The word should be unequivocally tortured and executed, much like what has happened to many Americans under this particular word’s banner.  As a former U.S. History teacher, I am all too familiar with the atrocities committed with this word at the center.  While still teaching, I was asked to write a poem (I love to write poetry and I’ve had the honor of blessing some open mics here in Baltimore) to commemorate Black History Month.  It was the first time I’d ever been asked to write something, and I didn’t know what to say.  So for a week, I stood outside my classroom door and listened to my students as they walked the halls.  I was appalled at how many times I heard the “N” word thrown about the building.  I thought about Malcolm X and his assertion that we no longer needed to be physically chained because many of us had adopted “the slave mind.”

The result was a poem called “Whose Nigga?” which explores in grim (and historic) detail the pain, torture, death and destruction dealt to Americans labelled by other Americans with that word.  I was thinking about this poem when I spoke on Bonita’s show.  Sure enough, the argument was made that “a” is different than “er,” and I responded to that with lines from another poem of mine called “A & ER.”

 

The difference between A and ER

Is the difference between ignorance

And ignorance with malice

 

But which is more dangerous?

Malicious intent from the outside?

Or contaminated content from the inside?

 

The debate continued to ebb and flow, and many more profound points were made than I have room here to explore.  But we all, panelists and guests alike, learned.  It was a great evening.

The following night, Caprice Smith of SharperMinds Consultants and I presented the third in our Third Thursdays community open forum series, entitled: “Enough Already!  Stop Using The ‘N’ Word!”  This was another great opportunity for dialogue and cross-pollination of knowledge and ideas.  As facilitator, my comments were limited, but the panelists and community guests were FANTASTIC!  Some of the same issues were brought to the forefront, but this event brought some twists to the debate: including the perception of Blacks from the Caribbean and other parts of the world concerning African Americans and their struggle with racism here.  Everyone was active and LIVELY, and the conversation continued long after the forum came to a close.

The most powerful moment for me came at the end when I did something off the cuff and a little different from the norm.  I recalled for everyone another open mic presentation I did with a great friend of mine of a poem called “Words Give Birth.”  (Geez, recurring theme, anyone?  I seem to have written a lot about this).  During the presentation about the power of words, we placed a stand with the pictures of famous African American leaders such as Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ida B. Wells, Malcolm X, etc. on the stage.  While I recited the poem, my friend Kurtis Watkins, who had recited a similar piece the week before, spray painted in bright red paint the word “Niggas” over the pictures.  We left the stand there the rest of the night, and nobody dared to move it.  POWERFUL.

Having set the scene, I asked the panelists to close the forum out by each channeling a leader, and describing to the audience how they felt about having that word painted over their pictures in front of an audience of their people, and whether or not it mattered that the word was spelled with an “A” instead of an “ER.”  The responses were REAL, EMOTIONAL and extremely thought-provoking.  What a way to end a forum.  It was a great week.

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As always, many kudos and thanks to: Bonita Linkins and the svmixradio.com crew, my co-presenter Caprice Smith, Forum Co-Hosts Pimlico Elementary/Middle School # 223 and Park Heights Renaissance, Elneeta Jones – Principal, Jackie Peterson and Wanda Williams of Pimlico, panelists Dalyn Allen, Dr. Renee Harding, Will Hanna and Mia Miata, and to all of the countless others who make these kind of events possible.

This was the week of the “N” word…may it rest forever…in peace or otherwise.  What are your thoughts on this?

Sound Off!

Broadcast Your Inner Champion!


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