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The N Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn't, and Whyby Jabari Asim
Synopses & Reviews
A renowned cultural critic untangles the twisted history and future of racism through its most volatile word.
The N Word reveals how the term "nigger" has both reflected and spread the scourge of bigotry in America over the four hundred years since it was first spoken on our shores. Asim pinpoints Thomas Jefferson as the source of our enduring image of the nigger.” In a seminal but now obscure essay, Jefferson marshaled a welter of pseudoscience to define the stereotype of a shiftless child-man with huge appetites and stunted self control. Asim reveals how nineteenth-century science” then colluded with popular culture to amplify this slander. What began as false generalizations became institutionalized in every corner of our society: the arts and sciences, sports, the law, and on the streets.
Asims conclusion is as original as his premise. He argues that even when uttered with the opposite intent by hipsters and hip-hop icons, the slur helps keep blacks at the bottom of Americas socioeconomic ladder. But Asim also proves there is a place for the word in the mouths and on the pens of those who truly understand its twisted history — from Mark Twain to Dave Chappelle to Mos Def. Only when we know its legacy can we loosen this slurs grip on our national psyche.
"Midway through Washington Post columnist Asim's history of the 'N' word in America, readers may conclude it should not be uttered by anyone, anymore, for any reason. Essentially, this 400-year chronology is an exhaustive history of white supremacist ideology, showing that the word nigger is as American as 'liberty, freedom, justice and equality.' He sweeps over this sensitive and contradictory terrain — including black Americans' use of the word — with practicality, while dispensing gentle provocations. Asim notes, for example, that popular civil rights presidents like Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson used the N word all the time. Bicycling in Africa in 2004, a young black American encounters a black-owned hip-hop clothing store called 'Niggers.' Children growing up during the latter half of the 19th century sang 'The Ten Little Niggers' nursery rhyme. Asim is at his best when offering his opinion — 'in the 21st century, to subsist on our former masters' cast-off language... strikes me as... an immense, inscrutable, and bizarre failure of the imagination.' Still, he concludes, the word nigger is indispensable in certain endeavors. His analysis of 19th- and 20th-century pop culture phenomena may too fine-toothed for general readers, but clear, engaging writing increases the pleasure." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
The debate over the N word touches almost every aspect of American popular culture. Does it ever have an appropriate place in the media? Are rappers justified in using it? Should Huckleberry Finn, which repeats it 215 times, be taught in high school?
As the cultural critic Jabari Asim explains, none of these questions can be addressed effectively without a clear knowledge of the words bitter legacy. Here he draws on a wide range of examples from science, politics, the arts, and more to reveal how the slur has both reflected and spread the scourge of bigotry in America over the last four hundred years. He examines the contributions of such well-known figures as Thomas Jefferson and Mark Twain, W.E.B. Du Bois and Margaret Mitchell, Dave Chappelle and NWA. Through this history, Asim shows how completely our national psyche is affected by the use of the word, and why its such a flashpoint today.
Asim traces the roots and meanings behind the racial slur and argues that using the word keeps blacks at the bottom of America's socioeconomic ladder. He also proves there is a place for this word in the mouths and on the pens of those who truly understand its twisted history.
About the Author
JABARI ASIM is the editor in chief of The Crisis, the NAACP's flagship publication. For the previous eleven years he was an editor at the Washington Post Book World. His writing has appeared in Essence, Salon, the Los Angeles Times, the Village Voice, the Hungry Mind Review, Emerge, and elsewhere. He lives in Maryland.
Table of Contents
PART I Birth of a Notion: 16191799 1. Founding Fictions 9 2. Niggerology, Part 1 20 PART II The Progress of Prejudice: 18001857 3. No Place to Be Somebody 33 4. Niggerology, Part 2 44 5. Life Among the Lowly 55 6. Jim Crow and Company 72 PART III Dreams Deferred: 18581896 7. The World the War Made 85 N 8. Nigger Happy 99 PART IV Separate and Unequal: 18971954. 9. Different Times 119 10. From House Nigger to Niggerati 128 11. Bad Niggers 150 PART V Progress and Paradox: 1955Present 12.Violence and Vehemence 163 13. To Slur with Love 172 14. Whats in a Name? 196 15. Nigger vs. Nigga 212
Epilogue 235 Notes 243 Selected Bibliography 258 Index 263
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