THE BLOG
02/28/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Are We Conscious of Nigger Use?

Have words with negative connotations such as nigger become acceptable? Personally, I never speak such offensive words, and rarely use them unless I'm writing and trying to make a specific point. Most times such words do not come off well, including many of their associated words; words largely depend on context, etymology, and historical usage.

This week RNC chair candidate, Chip Saltsman, who sent out the parody "Barack the Magic Negro" as a Christmas gift, defended his decision on MSNBC. But I still wondered about Saltsman's use of the word negro. Negro and nigger are both etymologically rooted in the country of Niger in Africa by colonists. Americans by and large didn't buy Saltsman's explanation of the gift.

Saltsman's defense of his right to use satire on MSNBC appeared sort of like Rush Limbaugh's comedic, often perceived as racist, political satire where just about anything goes. But Rush isn't running for a public office and context and good judgement are still important. By the way, Republican leaders are pleading with Rush to put a sock in it.

Oxford's definition:

Nigger ('nIg∂(r)), Also niggar. [Alteration of NEGER. Cf. Also NIGER and NIGRE.]

1. a. A Negro. (Colloq. And usu. contemptuous.) Except in Black English vernacular, where it remains common, now virtually restricted to contexts of deliberate and contemptuous ethnic abuse. b. Loosely or incorrectly applied to members of other dark-skinned races. c. to work like a nigger, to work exceptionally hard. orig. U.S.

Recently, I used the word nigger in a discussion on tompeters.com and it brought on a discussion its use. (I never use the euphemism "n-word," although I understand and can appreciate why others do.) why others do and can even appreciate it.) I realize its import and believe that there is no sanitizing words that have created such deep historical wounds.

Not being a fan of the word, I do not like to hear it in lyrics sung repeatedly over a "wicked" beat or spoken readily by young African Americans as a term of endearment. There is nothing endearing about the term. But when I hear the word or see it written I tend to judge how it is used and respond accordingly.

On a walk recently I came across four young men with book bags near the high school having a good time. (I typically stop and talk with young people just about stuff in general; most times I have never seen them before.) One of the young men wore a jacket that read "State Property." It was a bit disturbing, so I asked him about it.

The conversation went like this:

"Hey. How was school today?"
"OK." (They never seem to say more than that initially.)
"That's a nice jacket.
"Thanks."
"But what does it mean?"
"What...State Property?"
"Yes."
"It's a record label. Oh...you thought...."
"Yes, I thought you were wearing a jacket that praised prison-life."
"No ma'am. I'm going to college."
"Oh, that's great! And you?"
"Me too."
"Me too."
"Me too."
"Great! You can do anything. Have a good day."
"OK. You too. Thank you."
"No, thank you. You have made my day."
"Really?"
"Yes, really."
"That's dope."

I left. I didn't even ask him about the meaning of "dope." I assumed it meant cool. But it did leave a lingering thought about word usage for young people. As I continued my walk I could not help but to wonder about the record label. Why choose such a name that obviously has such a negative connotation?