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A N*gg*r Is a Black Person, Says Webster

08/28/2013 09:39 am ET | Updated Oct 28, 2013

The term n*gg*r is a word that I abhor and a word that I have never used in reference to another. N*gg*r is a word that was NOT used in my home growing up and it's a word that my 9 and 10-year-old daughters have no understanding. For n*gg*r is a word, that alone without provocation, has led to broken spirits, broken bones, whipped bodies, lynched necks, fights, jail sentences and death. In recent weeks, the word n*gg*r has once again shown its power to sift the conscious of our America to reveal lumps of hatred, racism and intolerance.

2013-08-21-pauladeen.jpg Paula Deen's empire has crumbled because she nonchalantly and callously admitted to using the word n*gg*r; Piers Morgan took time out with Rachel Jeantel, the star witness of the George Zimmerman trial, to ask what the difference between n*gg*r and nigga is; Oprah Winfrey star of "Lee Daniel's The Butler" explained during the movie's promotional tour, why she doesn't use the term n*gg*r; and comedian/actor Tim Allen asked an ill-advised question: "How can 'n*gg*r' be bad coming out of my mouth?"

Harvard Professor Randall Kennedy wrote

[I]t (nigger) is arguably the most consequential social insult in American History, though, at the same time, a word that reminds us of 'the ironies and dilemmas, tragedies and glories of the American experience.

In my ignorance, I thought "n*gg*r" was still defined as; " a debased, ignorant, and rather low person", as I was taught as a child. I can only assume Queen Latifah had the same understanding of n*gg*r's definition when years ago she was quoted in Newsweek criticizing the U.S. government saying, "Those N*gg*rs don't know what the fuck they are doing." In fact, the majority of my 35 and older friends agree with David Pilgrim's contention: "Whether used as a noun, verb, or adjective, it (n*gg*r) reinforced the stereotype of the lazy, stupid, dirty, worthless parasite" -- thus "a debased, ignorant, and rather low person."

I have learned, to my great disgust and dismay, that the definition of "n*gg*r" has been altered tremendously. N*gg*r is defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary and at least 30 other available sources, as "a black person" followed by definitions of: a member of any dark-skinned race and a member of a socially disadvantaged class of persons. Despite Webster and other sources indicating that it is a extremely disparaging and offensive term, and a couple sources taking the additional steps to explain "disparaging and offensive", the first definition of n*gg*r is nevertheless; a black person.

Many have petitioned Merriam-Webster to change the definition. The NAACP has also asked Merriam-Webster to revise its definition. Nevertheless, the definition remains virtually the same. Merriam-Webster defended their nomenclature indicating that their practice has been to list what they conclude is the oldest definition of a word -- instead of the most commonly accepted definition -- first in their dictionary.

Consequently, if one, especially one who is non-black were to look up the term one might be confused as to WHY calling a black person a n*gg*r is a problem. Merriam-Webster editors don't explain that "n*gg*r" conjures up painful reminders of America's racist past of brutalizing, enslaving and demeaning Africans and Black Americans for hundreds of years. The editors fail to educate the researcher that "n*gg*r" is used with the intent to deliberately make black people feel inferior.

In a quest to know when Merriam-Webster and other sources quietly changed the definition of n*gg*r to validate the racist psyche and language of America's recent past, I scoured online sources -- to no avail. I read Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word by Professor Randall Kennedy. I learned much about the word and its origin. The book begins with a brief history of the word "N*gg*r," which appeared in the 1600s and was used without pejorative connotations. By 1837, however, the N-word was commonly used by whites for the purpose of expressing contempt and inflicting pain." Still, I have no better understanding as to when n*gg*r was no longer "a debased, ignorant, and rather low person" but was uniformly defined as "a black person."

I journeyed to books stores that sold old dictionaries and I was shocked to learn that the definition of n*gg*r as "a black person" has been used in our dictionaries from at least 1962, which was the oldest dictionary I was able to locate. What I find puzzling is that I was not yet born in 1962 and yet what I was taught is different from what was defined by the leading authorities in the field. To date, I have not been able to locate a hard copy of the dictionary that defines n*gg*r as I was taught: "a debased, ignorant, and rather low person."

Oprah Winfrey was correct when she stated, "She (Paula Dean) is not the first white lady to use the N-word! Good lord!" Nevertheless, we cannot let this racist mentality and language go unchecked, especially coming from high-profile individuals. Society has spoken very loud and clear that despite a dictionary's definition of n*gg*r as "a black person" we will never accept, nor tolerate its public use. I do not think N*gg*r and N*gga are words that should not be uttered by anyone, including blacks.

2013-08-21-niggerstop.jpgKevin Cato wrote very passionately,

The fact of the matter is that current uses of the word N*gg*r cannot erase, transform, eradicate, or successfully redefine its authentic, ghastly definition. In fact, if the continued use of N*gg*r could eradicate it of its original meaning then I am sure by now it would be okay for a white person to call me a N*gg*r but a white person cannot do that because of the history of N*gg*r.

No matter how Merriam-Webster and other dictionaries define the N-word -- I have never and will never be a n*gg*r -- although I am very proud to be a black person.