Should US rappers and others use the 'N' word? That has been a hotly debated topic during Black History Month. For me, hearing it spoken by anyone, Black or white, still sends shivers down my spine many decades after the racial slur was first spat at me as a child.
There can no more painful reminder of why the 'N' word is unacceptable — no matter who uses it — than the brutal murder of bright 18-year-old Black student Stephen Lawrence. It's burned into my brain the fact that the racist mob who stabbed Stephen to death at Eltham on April 22 1993, yelled: 'What, what, nigger.'
As an experienced broadcast journalist and leader of the Anti-Racist Alliance, I worked with Stephen's parents to set up the campaign for justice. Despite huge publicity and political support, our aims were not achieved and the white thugs with Stephen's blood on their hands were never jailed for the crime.
Every Black victim of a lynching during the worse era of Black subjugation in America was called 'nigger', like Stephen Lawrence, before they were killed.
Black filmmaker Spike Lee famously had a beef with fellow Hollywood producer Quentin Tarantino, a right on white man, who thought it ok to repeatedly use the 'N' word in his movies. The word popped up 29 times in Pulp Fiction and 38 times in, Jackie Brown," said Lee.
Self-styled wigga, DJ Tim Westwood is another prominent reinforcer of negative aspects of urban youth culture who is fond of using the 'N' word. At a gig Westwood once made a stereotypical sexual reference to Black men in the audience whom he invited 'as his brothers' to come to the front of the stage. As you can gather from this, all sorts of horrible stuff which is at the heart of racist ideology gets wrapped up in the use of the 'N' word.
The point is that if we use the word in lyrics, jokes and general conversation, why shouldn't every one else? I know the arguments about desensitising the word, stripping it of its ability to hurt us by using it ourselves.
But, have you ever heard two white teenagers greet each other by saying: 'Hey Honkie, how's it going.' Or: 'Whassup Cracker?'
It just isn't going to happen because they know how racially offensive those words are to white people.
Black US artist Kanye West has proved himself politically brave with his campaigning song material and outspoken criticism of President George W. Bush's contempt for the Black victims of Hurricane Katrina. But his sociology professor dad, Ray, has publicly urged his son not to use the 'N' word in his rap lyrics. Ray West says it's 'degrading' for African Americans.
Richard Pryor, one US stand up comedian and satirist I greatly admire, peppered the profanities he used on stage with the 'N' word until he visited Africa. There he underwent a cultural conversion stating simply afterwards: 'There were no niggers in Africa so I decided not to use the word anymore.'
My mother is Finnish, so I am an African of dual heritage. In Finland, there are hardly any Black people; just a few Somalian refugees, students and visiting Black American sports people and entertainers.
So, for more that 50 years no one has complained about racist imagery on Finnish sweet packet — like the one which depicts a Black Sambo. The Finnish word for Black person, until quite recently, was neekari or 'nigger'.
They even had a sweet called 'nigger kiss'. Finland is not untypical of other backward European countries with Black populations too small and powerless to be able to stick up for themselves when they are insulted in this public way.
That is not the case in Britain and America. So, we should speak out to ban the 'N' word, in the full, educated knowledge of its awful origin and oppressive meaning. Such is the growing opposition to it, a group of concerned New Yorkers have joined together to set up a website: abolish thenword.com. It deserves our support
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