The debate over the N word touches almost every aspect of American popular culture. Does it ever have an appropriate place in the media? Are rappers justified in using it? Should Huckleberry Finn, which repeats it 215 times, be taught in high school?
As the cultural critic Jabari Asim explains, none of these questions can be addressed effectively without a clear knowledge of the word’s bitter legacy. Here he draws on a wide range of examples from science, politics, the arts, and more to reveal how the slur has both reflected and spread the scourge of bigotry in America over the last four hundred years. He examines the contributions of such well-known figures as Thomas Jefferson and Mark Twain, W.E.B. Du Bois and Margaret Mitchell, Dave Chappelle and NWA. Through this history, Asim shows how completely our national psyche is affected by the use of the word, and why it’s such a flashpoint today.
Midway through Washington Postcolumnist Asim's history of the "N" word in America, readers may conclude it should not be uttered by anyone, anymore, for any reason. Essentially, this 400-year chronology is an exhaustive history of white supremacist ideology, showing that the word niggeris as American as "liberty, freedom, justice and equality." He sweeps over this sensitive and contradictory terrain including black Americans' use of the word with practicality, while dispensing gentle provocations. Asim notes, for example, that popular civil rights presidents like Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson used the Nword all the time. Bicycling in Africa in 2004, a young black American encounters a black-owned hip-hop clothing store called "Niggers." Children growing up during the latter half of the 19th century sang "The Ten Little Niggers" nursery rhyme. Asim is at his best when offering his opinion "in the 21st century, to subsist on our former masters' cast-off language... strikes me as... an immense, inscrutable, and bizarre failure of the imagination." Still, he concludes, the word niggeris indispensable in certain endeavors. His analysis of 19th- and 20th-century pop culture phenomena may too fine-toothed for general readers, but clear, engaging writing increases the pleasure. (Mar.)Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.