Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Redefining the ‘N’ Word

By Nicky Reid aka Comrade Hermit

Exile in Happy Valley

Jimi Hendrix was a n*ggaJesus Christ and grandma, too Jackson Pollock was a nigga Nigga, nigga, nigga, nigga Nigga, nigga, nigga Outside of society, they’re waitin’ for me
Outside of society, if you’re looking That’s where you’ll find me Outside of society, they’re waitin’ for me Outside of society
-Rock n Roll Nigger, Patti Smith

Are there any niggers here tonight? Could you turn on the house lights, please, and could the waiters and waitresses just stop serving, just for a second? And turn off this spot. Now what did he say? “Are there any niggers here tonight?” I know there’s one nigger, because I see him back there working. Let’s see, there’s two niggers. And between those two niggers sits a kike. And there’s another kike— that’s two kikes and three niggers. And there’s a spic. Right? Hmm? There’s another spic. Ooh, there’s a wop; there’s a polack; and, oh, a couple of greaseballs. And there’s three lace-curtain Irish micks. And there’s one, hip, thick, hunky, funky, boogie. Boogie boogie. Mm-hmm.

I got three kikes here, do I hear five kikes? I got five kikes, do I hear six spics, I got six spics, do I hear seven niggers? I got seven niggers. Sold American. I pass with seven niggers, six spics, five micks, four kikes, three guineas, and one wop. Well, I was just trying to make a point, and that is that it’s the suppression of the word that gives it the power, the violence, the viciousness. Dig: if President Kennedy would just go on television, and say, “I would like to introduce you to all the niggers in my cabinet,” and if he’d just say “nigger nigger nigger nigger nigger” to every nigger he saw, “boogie boogie boogie boogie boogie,” “nigger nigger nigger nigger nigger” ’til nigger didn’t mean anything anymore, then you could never make some six-year-old black kid cry because somebody called him a nigger at school.
-Swear to tell the truth, Lenny Bruce

I grew up in a pretty close minded community, where the word inappropriate was tossed around a lot to excuse generally totalitarian behavior to young children with common sense. Don’t stand for the Pledge? That’s inappropriate. Don’t kneel for Father Diddlesmore’s fiftieth homily? That’s inappropriate. Don’t maintain traditional gender performance? That’s inappropriate. Speak up for yourself? That’s inappropriate. Saying a lot of things was inappropriate and I’ve always had a lot to say. Me and my big mouth were consistently inappropriate, but try as they might, all the rapacious priests and ruler stroking nuns in Pennsylvania couldn’t contain the feisty inner bitch that hid in my mouth until she was ready to come out. So I guess it should come as little surprise to anyone that once I finally lapsed from that putrid pederast factory, I assumed freedom of speech as my new religion, with malcontents like Patti Smith and Lenny Bruce as my saints.

I have plenty of contrarian positions, I can’t even stick to one gender for more than five minutes, but there are two positions on which I am downright dogmatic, and that’s my total objection to war and censorship. As a thesaurus groping gonzo autodidact, my love for words is practically a sexual fetish; big words, small words, “good” words, “bad” words, I pretty much use them all. I’m pretty sure that I’ve called Donald Trump a cunt at least once a day since his inauguration, and I’m pretty proud of that guesstimation. But if there is one word that affords me more grief than any other, it’s the word that only needs one letter. The word that begins and many times ends with the letter N. I don’t use it often in my work but when I do it seems to upset people.


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