Commentary: N-word has no place in society

Dear Chris Rock:

I apologize in advance for the language that will shortly follow. And yes, there is a certain irony there, given that you are one of the most profane men on the planet.

Also one of the funniest. That's why I eagerly anticipated your new HBO special, Kill The Messenger, which premiered a few days ago, even though I knew there would inevitably come a moment that made me embarrassed for you.

And sure enough, it came. During your routine, you noted how, last year, the NAACP held a symbolic ''burial'' of the N-word. ''Well,'' you said, through that evil Cheshire cat grin of yours, ''tonight is Easter.'' There followed a long and sometimes labored deconstruction of when, according to you, the word is permissible, all in illustration of your thesis that it is ''context'' that determines whether or not a word is offensive.

I was reminded of a quote that appears in the afterword of The Slaves' War by Andrew Ward, about the Civil War as seen through the eyes of black women and men. The speaker is an old woman, an escaped slave who had been reprimanded by a missionary for calling her fellow slaves "niggers.''

She replied, "We are niggers. We always was niggers and we always shall be. Nigger here, and nigger there. Nigger do this and nigger do that. We've got no souls. We's animals. We's black and so is the Evil One.''

The Bible doesn't say the devil is black, protested the missionary. ''Well,'' the old woman said, "white folks say so and we's bound to believe them, 'cause we's nothing but animals and niggers. Yes, we's niggers! Niggers! Niggers!''

Chris, this column runs in upwards of 200 papers, and I won't be surprised if some editors regard the above as too raw for print, if they seek to soften it by replacing the offending letters with dashes. But if I had my druthers, it would run dash free in large red type and be required reading for every black person in America. You will seldom read more vivid evidence of the psychological maiming to which white people subjected black ones in this country and of the profound self-loathing that infected us as a result.

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