Al Jazeera’s The Stream: Language, Race & Racism in the US

Earlier today, I took part in a discussion on Al Jazeera’s The Stream about the use of the “N-word” with Dr. Cornel West, Tim Wise, Akiba Solomon and Mychal Smith.


Have African-Americans reclaimed racist language? The “N” word has always been associated with the crimes of slavery, but today with the influence of the hip-hop industry it has evolved into a term of endearment used within the community. However, debate continues, as many fear this is disconnecting black youth from their history and making the word acceptable. Join the conversation with Dr. Cornel West.



I was a little surprised that we were tasked to talk about the N-word as if rappers—I am staying within the hip-hop checkbox here because it’s in context with the segment—just started dropping that word into their lyrical lingua franca yesterday. And still, with that said, I felt like the more interesting and progressive conversation would have been how we can, as Jay-Z intimated in the video, redefine how it’s used. None of us have the power to force people to stop using it and then there’s this ideal, free speech, that we must protect at all costs. So, now what?

I live a predominantly Dominican neighborhood where mi gente use the N-word so gratuitously that I think it can mean everything from “friend” to “foe” to “egg sandwich.” Seriously, it’s that crazy.

So, as I was saying, the N-word: I think it has the potential to be used as a connector. It can show, or rather, edutain folks about the things that people in the Diaspora have in common. For example, one of the earliest accounts of the N-word I’ve come across is in a 1518 letter to Charles V from a Santo Domingo based lawyer in reference to slaves on the eastern side of the island (which is also, incidentally, the site of the first slave rebellion in the Americas in 1522). I have shared this fact with people in both my own and the Black American community, not as a teacher but just as someone eager to share all of the things that can bind us together.

However, there’s major hurdle we must cross, before we can continue the discussion: how little we know, beyond the immigration issue, about the Latino experience in America. It’s like, to borrow a line from one of my favorite flicks: “Either they don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care about what’s going on in the hood.” And that, in 2013, is a bummer.

What do you think of the video? 



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