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Mm whatcha say: Taking the N - Word an Nth Too Far

Sunday, January 6, 2013

As I walked into the kitchen this morning, I was greeted by my sister sitting flabbergasted at the table reading The Style magazine. She then proceeded to show me that an article entitled 'Don't Call Me Dude' had used the N word in a guide to 'Manspeak'. I glanced at the article and sure enough, there it was- albeit using the slang spelling rather than the 'er'. At first I was angry and then I just felt disappointed. I thought perhaps it was written by a newbie, man-boy fresh out of Goldsmiths or whatever, trying to earn his stripes but no the piece was written by Stephen Armstrong- an accomplished journalist. 

So, how did this happen? How did The N- Word end up in a supplement of my favourite newspaper, The Sunday Times? Well, first of all it must be down to laziness and poor editing. No doubt, he asked a couple of 'youf' about the latest slang on the streets and then just copied them down verbatim without considering the repercussions. Sure, there are probably some people who use this word to refer to one another (although none that I know) but considering the controversial nature and the never-ending debate on who can and cannot use this word- or rather should and should not- surely the editor should have said said 'hang on a minute, do we really want to print this one Stephen?' Thus, we have a failure in the departments of common sense and in basic editing skills.

However, there is a greater minefield to navigate. The word has invaded mainstream media and culture more and more over the past few years and we are weaving a very tangled web. Firstly, we have that song with arguably one of the sickest beats of this decade being blared everywhere from clubs to shops to incidental music on current affairs pieces. I was lucky enough to attend one of the Watch the Throne concerts and I distinctly remember my sister hitting me and saying 'did he just say what I think he said?' looking at the man behind us who was f'ing and n'ing with relish. I shrugged. It's complicated. How can I have a go at him when the very man who created the song is pointing back at us, raring us up, and shouting it to the rooftops? Yet at the same time, I felt really uncomfortable. What about the guy who was let off for shouting the n-word across the street because he is a hip hop fan? Is this a viable excuse nowadays? Should I just sign off and forget this discussion because maybe Stephen Armstrong is a hip-hop fan, therefore he is entitled to print the n-word in a reputable British paper? If this is logical reasoning at work, then I need to have my degree revoked because I would have never passed with such an argument. 

Secondly, we have the whole Django Unchained hubbub. Now, as soon as I heard about this film I knew I would not be seeing it- at least not in the cinema. Partly because I am not really a Tarantino fan but mostly because I just don't like the vibe the trailer gave off. Obviously, as an avid reader, I know you must not judge a book by it's cover but on the other hand we all have our personal boundaries and I just know this is not my kind of film. However, I am not stopping anyone else seeing it- do as you please. I am a little bit worried though about the liberal use of the n-word. I cringe just thinking about sitting in my local cinema, in my not very diverse town in the suburbs, having that word shouted at me over 200 times whilst my fellow townsfolk guffaw. Awkward.

We are getting to the root of the problem here I think and I apologise in advance for my poor exegesis but here it goes: This film is about slavery. The word is used because it is historically accurate in terms of the context of the film. Fine. Thus, it is demonstrating that this is a derogatory word used by slave owners to denigrate their 'property'. Yet, it is also used by the black characters in the film to refer to one another- like that song, like Stephen's Manspeak. It is used over 200 times, so by the end it is just normal, no? Everybody laughs. Everybody comes out, discusses the film, goes home. Then, in the subconscious of a certain number of people, it is thought to be ok to use this word once again because even though they have just seen that it was used as a derogatory term, the black characters, the bro's, used it in the same way as 'dude'. I can't explain it very well but hopefully you get the picture. This is wrong and I will be disappointed, once again, if this gets any awards for the script. 

Anyway, that's enough ranting and raving for now. The Style magazine should never have printed that word but they think it's ok because the word has been rendered a joke- an 'I don't mean to offend- but I do *wink wink*- thanks to how it has been handled over the past few decades. We're in a bind my friends and I'm not sure how we can get out of it. Rembert Browne over at Grantland explained the situation much better than I ever could so give it a read- here- and let me know what you think. 


  1. That article was really interesting. I totally agree with everything you're saying. There is nothing more awkward than being the only black person in the room when the n word is being thrown around. Maybe being the only black person in the club when everyone is singing it...or having your white friends drop it like a term of endearment! Err, no, sorry! Not cool at allll.

  2. Thank you for commenting. Yeah, I like Grantland. I don't follow American sports all that much but Lainey Gossip and the GFY ladies often link to the interesting articles. I think everybody needs to agree to take a step back from that word- rappers included. Things are getting too messy on the ground level amongst us regular folk.


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