I have no words to describe how deeply the "n word" repels me. For me this repulsion goes as high up on the repulsiveness scale as any non-African-American is capable of feeling. I have lived more than a few years, much of them in the South and have never said that word out loud.
But that said, I seem to have difficulty understanding the notion advanced on an NPR program today that seems to imply that if the "n" word were never uttered or written again- especially among African-Americans, it would improve self-esteem immensely.
As a non-African-American I am not entitled to react to this assertion. But as a thinking feeling, white person who has always practiced tolerance, I feel I must speak out by saying that many white liberals myself don't see the vanishing of the "n" word as anything more than a small step toward eliminating the self-hatred I, an outsider, see.
The problem is not the "n" word, but a mix of racist practices in society, and self-destructive behaviors among some classes of people- black and white.
The babies born out of wedlock, the single-parent families, the repulsiveness of so much rap and hip-hop, the high dropout rates, the gangstas, the lack of exaltation for learning and low voting percentages are all examples of self-destructive behaviors.
The malicious behaviors of a society where jobs are shipped overseas or to exurbs two hours of bus rides away, the loss of so much of the social safety net, the lack of universal health care, the presence of predatory lending instiututions and the defrocking of so many bankruptcy laws that could be helping people get a fresh start are but a few examples of institutionalized racism.
And when you combine these two toxic forces- self-destructive behaviors and racism- you come up with ills that eclipse the uttered "n" word by incalculable orders of magnitude.
The "n" word is bad, and if no one ever said it again, that would be good.
But please don't overlook the fact that there's so much more - and important- work to be done.