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Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word
Synopses & Reviews
Nigger: it 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 this tour de force, distinguished Harvard Law School professor Randall Kennedy—author of the highly acclaimed Race, Crime, and the Law— “put[s] a tracer on nigger,” to identify how it has been used and by whom, while analyzing the controversies to which it has given rise.
With unprecedented candor and insight Kennedy explores such questions as: How should nigger be defined? Is it, as some have declared, necessarily more hurtful than other racial epithets? Do blacks have a right to use nigger even as others do not? Should the law view nigger baiting as a provocation strong enough to reduce the culpability of a person who responds violently to it? Should a person be fired from his or her job for saying nigger? How might the destructiveness of nigger be assuaged?
To be ignorant of the meanings and effects of nigger, says Kennedy, is to render oneself vulnerable to all manner of peril. This book brilliantly and sensitively addresses that concern.
"Nigger is, above all, an argument for the restoration of context and intent in judging uses of the word. Kennedy isn't just a good, clear writer, he's possessed of the uncommon virtue of common sense....The power of Nigger is that Kennedy writes fully of the word, neither condemning its every use nor fantasizing that it can ever become solely a means of empowerment." Charles Taylor, Salon.com
"A lively treatise on the most offensive word in the English language, from a renowned expert on civil rights and black legal history." Kirkus Reviews
From the acclaimed author of "Race, Crime, and the Law" comes a comprehensive, explosive reckoning with the word "nigger" and with both its effect on and place in American culture.
Includes bibliographical references (p. -468) and index.
About the Author
Randall Kennedy is the author of Race, Crime and the Law (available in paperback from Vintage Books). He received his undergraduate degree from Princeton and his law degree from Yale. A Rhodes Scholar, he served as
a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. He is a professor at Harvard Law School and lives in Dedham, Massachusetts.
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