The NAACP plans to bury an old adversary and, unfortunately, for some an old friend. Chairman Julian Bond says that the group plans to symbolically bury the N-word on Monday at its annual meeting in Detriot:
Julian Bond wants people to understand that when the NAACP symbolically buries the N-word on Monday, the effort will be led by the younger members of the venerable civil rights organization.
“Seven young people are on our board of directors, and they are spearheading this initiative,” said Bond, the group’s chairman. “This is the continuation of a long fight against the denigration of African Americans in popular culture. If it’s someone black or someone white, it’s equally wrong.”
I agree, but most of the word’s use over the past few decades have come from the rap industry, which seems to have a love affair with the word. It didn’t start with rap, though; that started with its acceptance in the black community as a term of rough endearment, the same as in rap today. I recall discussing this with African-American co-workers over twenty-five years ago at my first full-time job, who explained to me that it meant something different when Caucasians said the word. I understood their point, but I never understood why anyone would want to perpetuate such an ugly slur, even for the irony.
So good for the NAACP, but it’s interesting that it took this long for them to stand up to the rap industry, which is the subtext here. It wouldn’t have happened at all if it hadn’t been for the fallout from Don Imus and his use of racially-charged insults on the air. Imus didn’t use the N-word, but when the outrage of his bone-headed quip peaked, people began asking why Imus got such harsh treatment when rappers said much worse on almost every record. Under that pressure, chief Imus antagonist Al Sharpton attacked the recording industry, and the word finally got the disgust it deserves.
It’s worth pointing out that it isn’t just rap that has a problem with the word; Hollywood does as well. For some reason, Quentin Tarantino seems to regard the word as a talisman for authenticity in his overblown and mostly overrated grindhouse genre flicks. Other indie producers have followed suit. I loved Pulp Fiction, but nothing in that movie makes me cringe more than when Tarantino as Jimmy keeps barking the N-word at Samuel L. Jackson in their scene together.
Perhaps Bond should invite Tarantino to the funeral, as well as rap producers, singers, and filmmakers. The most ironic point of this burial is that the people who used it most in the last couple of decades are those who exploited it for financial profit, rather than for any racial animus. That’s why, despite this well-intentioned and long overdue burial, I expect to see the Night Of The Living N-Word shortly thereafter, as the term is simply too lucrative to stay dead for long — which is another sad commentary on our culture.