We are too comfortable with the N-word

Dear Editor,

It will take a stretch of credulity to try and make the case that Bahamians are inherently racist. Black, brown, white or any hue in between, we are wedded to the principle of equality.

But to hear some Bahamians speak, one can be forgiven for thinking that we have deep issues of self-acceptance or we are just tone-deaf to external events.

Some of us have a fascination with and complete detachment from the use of the so-called N-word in even our most mundane or congenial conversations.

What’s more, there is a sick pathology associated with our casual familiarity with the N-word. Too many of us use it in front of family just as easily and freely as we do strangers.

Grandparents use it. Parents use it. Students use it all too frequently. And, most unfortunately, children use it with reckless abandon. It is learned speech and it is as wrong as it is offensive.

Worse still, few people cringe or take offense at the use of the word. It is so commonplace that it can be dropped multiple times in a single sentence.

While Bahamians generally sympathize with the US-led global Black Lives Matter movement, its very message of respect and dignity seems to have been lost in the 50-mile gulf stream between our two countries.

This is sad, given the fact that many Bahamians can trace their ancestry back to enslaved people in the United States. We are as true-true Gullah on Andros as the people in the low country of South Carolina.

Just because some people want to appropriate the word as a term of endearment, they don’t get the right to determine who gets to show them that twisted kind of verbal love. Don’t plant corn and expect peas.

The etymology of the N-word shows that while its use has been expanded by the offspring of its original target, Negro slaves in the New World, it still remains a deeply offensive word meant to degrade a whole race of people.

Talk about Black people appropriating the word and thereby lessening its sting smacks of a gross double standard. That word was at times tantamount to a death sentence or at best cruel and inhumane treatment.

Saying it with a smile or using it to address a trusted friend or lover doesn’t cleanse it of its history.

Perhaps the only way we are going to scrub this word from our vernacular is if more of us start calling people out on its use. If more people would take offense to the next N-word-infused tirade they hear, then slowly we might be able to banish the word from public conversation.

This is going to be a hard sell to do in private conversation because so much of the imported popular culture is laced with the N-word. Rap music, originally a poetic art form with intricate lyrics that tell of love interests or social injustice, has evolved to become a principal medium for spewing the N-word with reckless abandon.

Hollywood turned its back on homophobia and xenophobia in rap music and quickly it got scrubbed from the lyrics. But too many people are comfortable with a word that was often the last one some ancestors heard before a noose tightened around their neck.

With the advent of social media and the ability for even the most mundane local video to go global, our liberal use of the N-word could backfire and hit us in the pocketbook. So-called “woke” people may not want to vacation in a place so apparently verbally racist, even though we are not intrinsically racist.

To some this will sound like nitpicking, but as any builder will tell you, it is often neglect of the smallest detail that gradually leads to the destruction of the whole house.

It is true that the N-word is often preceded by the equally cringeworthy F-bomb. The F-bomb is an equal opportunity symbol of vulgarity. The N-word is blasphemy aimed solely at the heart of one race of people.

It took the unschooled linguistic genius of a previous generation of Bahamians whose ultimate put-down was to call someone “an old so-and-so”.

The Graduate

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