NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York City symbolically banned use of the word nigger on Wednesday, the latest step in a campaign that hopes to expunge the most vile of racial slurs from hip hop music and television.

“Your momma’s teeth so yellow, when she smiles, cars yield.”

The other day I was at my barber shop and I overheard some boys casually telling “your momma” jokes and calling each other nigger. Now, I was never good at playing the dozens–that “your momma” insult game–and my yellow teeth line was pretty much all I kept in reserve. However, as I sat there listening to them go at it, I couldn’t help but think about how quick we are to drop the N-bomb on one another.

The dozens can be traced back to the days of slavery. As the slaves were being sold on the auction block, eventually the slave dealers got to the slaves who didn’t make it through the middle passage so well. Because they had some defect or another, they were sold by “the dozen.” This is the legacy that we’ve not only passed down, but internalized to the point of making a game out of it.

The same can be said of the word “nigger.”

Last week, New York symbolically banned the word as a way of saying “enough’s enough.” The word has become so ubiquitous in our language and music that it is woven into the fabric of who we are as a community. Some people argue that using the word saps it of its power, that by using it we were reclaiming the power of it from those who had used it against us.

It’s gotten to the point where we can call one another a nigger with a familial familiarity, term of endearment and brotherhood on one hand; and then act shocked when we’ve sent a mixed message to the millions of white folks who buy the hip hop CDs and sing along, repeat the routines of their favorite comedians, or who want to hang out with “their boys” in that way.

No, defending the use of that word only rationalizes the internalization of hatred. It perpetuates the legacy of hate, in one powerful word encompassing the history of slave ships to Jim Crow. The word is the penultimate form of dehumanizing, the spit-in-your-face kind of assault to one’s sense of dignity and self-worth.

I think of the word like I do Confederate flags: don’t ban them – they should be treated like museum pieces: remembered, studied, preserved, but put away.


Also in the “too black, too strong” department, a recent post by my brother from another mother, Wrath James White. Sellin’ Watermelon.

Quote of the Day:

“The way they are playing now, it doesn’t matter who comes back,” said Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, obviously upset. “Jesus Christ could come back and we still wouldn’t have a chance because we’ve ruined the mix by not playing together.”

No word yet on whether Buddha and Muhammad will be filling out the triangle.