Why You Shouldn’t Use the N-Word

Alright, let’s be clear. I’m white. My ancestors were, if not actually involved, involved by association in the slave trade, and if not the slave trade then some other repression of non-whites. I probably have white guilt, but I realize that reveling in it is pointless, and hubristic. I cannot ask someone to forgive what my ancestors did to them. I am also not directing this at black people. The use of the N-word in black communities is not my responsibility. In my opinion, it should stop being used by black people as well, but I realize that as a white person my opinions on what black people should do are at least automatically suspect, so I have no real right to police black language nor do I feel I should. What I can do is tell white people to stop because really, we have no damn business using it as casually as I have had the misfortune to hear it used. White people, this article if mainly for us, so shit down and shut up while I tell you a thing or two about language.

Someone once said to me “Why shouldn’t we use the N-Word. It’s just a word and word’s aren’t important.” To that I would like to explain that statement without words. Words are important, and make up the basis of how we understand and communicate reality. While the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis may be putting it to strongly, words do have certain associations that make up our understanding of the world. As such, language has power.

White people shouldn’t use the N-Word because it’s a racial slur. Really, it should be that simple. It’s a word that has been used to demean an entire group of people as part of a wider social attack on them that includes kidnapping, slavery, theft and pretty much every other form of abuse you can care to name. The N-Word is tied up in all that, and that alone makes it wrong. I think that the main problem is that white people don’t really have a slur that affects us. If someone were to call me a honky, I would probably be surprised and a bit uncomfortable, but generally it’s not something that is repeated. I don’t think I have ever been called a honky in any manner that wasn’t a joke. I do not have the word nailed in as anything that should make me feel bad about myself. It feels more like a joke to me. As such, I can’t understand what it is really like to be called a racial slur. I can imagine it, and I have a pretty good imagination, but that is the extent of my ability. (For the record, I imagine it is pretty bad).

Also, something I realized about the N-Word, is that it is not only been used to describe people of African decent. The word has been used to describe other ethnicities, usually by adding an adjective (Prairie for First Nations people, Sand for Arabs, etc). My own Irish ancestors were once referred to as N-Words by a member of the British Ascendency. While some people may think that makes the N-Word up for grabs, the truth is much worse. By adding an adjective, they are merely adding a characteristic to the N-Word. The exact subject matter of the N-Word remains, in this case “someone who is less than me”, and is merely being added to. To make it clearer, to demean other races they are made black.

The N-Word is not just a racial slur. It is the racial slur. It is probably the single most horrid word in the English language. Murder, cannibalism and rape are all words that have been made for an action that we all know is horrible, and naming it puts it into a social context. The N-Word was designed to denigrate an entire people, and it is still used in that manner. It is a horrible word and we should all stop using it.

Class Update: Fall 2012

Among my classes this fall term is “Seventeenth Century Literature, Part One.” I hate this class. I hate the poems of this period. I hate how self-righteously clever they are. I hate how they are all want to impress an overblown aristocratic society. I hate the fact I need to go traipsing through the Internet on some scavenger-hunt to look for examples of “print culture” in the year 1617. It is an entirely toothless period, made up of miniature harpsichords played by pugs and Pomeranians in small tuxedos that are ostentatiously “whimsical” and meant to evoke a sort of “aww. Isn’t it clever we can get a small dog to play chopsticks.”

I will give the seventeenth century this though, it knows how to use metaphor. Metaphor is the main feature of this period, and they do it very well. The problem is I don’t know how to feel about that, since their reliance of metaphor may in fact be part of the reason I find this period so self-righteously clever. I feel poetry should not be direct, and the majority of poets in my community suffer from a naked obviousness that I believe really causes their poetry to suffer in quality. I bring this up to give the poets of the first part of the Seventeenth Century the credit they deserve, they may not be my thing but I do have to admit I appreciate their skill at metaphor.

My other classes are pretty good. My favourite is probably a mix between the comparative lit one, which concentrates on “The Damned Hero,” and the Honours English Studies, which is basically about the Odysseus tradition. Both of these classes involve me reading books I have been meaning to get to but would probably not have gotten into on my own. Homer’s Odyssey is the most obvious, but I’m also reading Goethe’s Faust, which I must say is one of the best things I have been forced to read at University. I am seriously considering learning German just so I can read this in its original language.

I’m also taking a course on German Popular Culture for my language marks. It’s an all right course, and I get on with the professor. It’s turning out to be one of those lecture courses I end up in. Most of my classes are usually in small rooms of between ten and twenty people. German Popular Culture has probably fifty people. This is by no means the largest class I’ve ever been in, the ill-fated Intro to Psychology class would take that dubious honour, but it is my largest this term. It’s still fun, probably the best large class I’ve ever taken.

So there is my impromptu update on my class schedule this fall term.

Looking Back on “The Wire”

So I have recently finished watching “The Wire,” and am currently filled with a lot of complex emotions. Describing how emotions work for me is a bit hard, but I think jealousy and righteous anger seem to be the ones that come up. Also a bit of shame, but that fits into the righteous anger.

I’m jealous because “The Wire,” is a really good show. I don’t really want to be one of those guys who’s all “Oh my God, the Wire is the best show ever,” because that kind of goes without saying by now. Seriously, go watch “The Wire.” The fact that I am jealous is because part of me wants to write something like “The Wire.” I want to go deep into the problems of our times and come out with a great novel, maybe not a television show because I’m afraid to get into the television business, but I appreciate what David Simon has done. Technically I wouldn’t write a straight up realist police/crime drama, because most of my writing tends towards a mix of the Beats and Magic Realism, but “The Wire” gets to a level of humanity that should be the goal of any author.

This also fits into the righteous anger, because “The Wire” is really good at looking at some of the not nicer bits of humanity, specifically the great social problems of the United States. As much as I like to pound the maple leaf, I realize that this is also a problem with Canada, in as so much as we are basically another of America’s bitches in the prison that is Earth. But we’re not talking about international relationships, we’re talking about The Wire. It piles up this entire mess of greed and bureaucracy, eventually showing the sheer amorality of the system and leaves us thinking what we’re supposed to do with all this. It dosen’t give any easy answers, particularly since the two cases where someone tries to fuck the system in the show are basically illegal (No spoilers). For me, this kind of leaves me with an after-taste of “What the fuck, people, why are you being assholes?” which is usually something I try to avoid because I have yet to figure out how to manage my anger in a constructive way. That said, I think that the basic logic behind my anger is justified, and The Wire is pretty good at bringing it out in a way that I don’t feel is cheap.

And finally, where does shame come into this? Well, it comes from the fact that I feel I am something of a problem. While watching the bonus features, I watched a few things on the newspaper business and how that’s been failing due to the Internet. Apparently this has lead to the whole problem of news being available for free, so now the newspapers have to compete against people on the Internet. To an extent, people like me. I’m probably not completely at fault since I am very specific, but David Simon does have some good points. I don’t really do journalism, I just comment on other bits of journalism, which I in turn get from other people commenting on someone else’s real journalism. This comes up against the creation of works such as “The Wire,” which show a great sweeping view of the world, where as I rarely give much detail to my own reports beyond my own opinions. I am hiding in my own mind, and to some extent this bothers me.

Why President Walt Disney means Seperatist Pierre Elliot Trudeau, or something like that anyways

I have recently been deeply drawn into an alternate history called A World of Laughter, A World of Tears. It starts off with a joke concept, Walt Disney becomes President of the United States in the 1950s, and then goes about destroying all moments of happy in a slowly turning curve of race war, human rights violations, Senator George Lincoln Rockwell, and Mouse-eared Hitler Youth. I like this timeline, not just because it is one of the most depressing things I have ever read (a man gets torn apart in front of a thirteen year old Bill Clinton), but also for the bright points. There seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel, and some of the bits on culture are pretty good, for instance the exchange between Ed Wood and Orson Welles (“What are we going to do tonight Orson?” “Same thing we do every night Eddie, try to take over the movies.”) Yes, I know that’s cheesy, but when you have actual race war looking like a likely event you need any bit of humour.

So, after reading this really enthralling example of alternate history I started wondering why all there aren’t any Canadian alternate timelines. I looked into it, and all I could find was an anthology of short stories called Arrowdreams, and an article about how in alternate timelines Canada is generally invaded by the Yanks or ignored because everyone they think we’re Yanks. This gets me right in the angry-at-Americans bits, so I decided I should add coming up with alternate histories for Canada should become a project.

I have no real idea what this will consist off, but my current idea is to do something with Pierre Elliot Trudeau. He is by far cooler then most politicians, if only because he was married to a fashion model and generally acted anyway he wanted, including sliding down the banister at Buckingham Palace. That’s something Doctor Who would do. So basically, I thought if I’m going to start a literary movement of alternate Canadian histories, I should probably start with odvious stuff. To me that means making Alt Trudeau a Seperatist. This will be interesting, as Trudeau was anti-Seperatist in real-life, and I want to find a way to keep Trudeau’s inherent Trudeau-ness no matter what I did to his political beliefs. I also want to do this as a wide-ranging timeline, that will feature many figures from Canada at the time, as well as non-Canadians from the time period. Trudeau already has some historical connections with Mick Jagger, so the Rolling Stones might show up. We’ll see how it goes anyways. I have a biography of Trudeau out, and at the very least I can learn more about a figure who has interested me for awhile now.