A few weeks ago there was a debate on television about who can say the ‘N’ word. You know which word I mean. Yes, that one. No, it’s still the same word even if you say it with a ‘a’ and not an ‘er’. Duh. OK. Are we really still talking about this??? There are people fighting for the right to say the ‘N’ word? Still yet fa! Then I saw the above video made by some University of Bristol students and it captured some of my feelings on this.
WHY ON GOD’S GOOD EARTH WOULD ANYONE WANT TO EVEN THINK THAT WORD LET ALONE SAY IT OUT LOUD??? WHY? WHY? WHY? WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE? HAVE WE RUN OUT OF WORDS? IS THERE AN ONGOING WORD SHORTAGE AND I AM YET TO HEAR OF IT? HAS THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE SUFFERED A SUDDEN AND RAPID DEPLETION? IS SAYING THIS WORD LIKE SOME SORT OF KEY TO NIRVANA? A PASSWORD TO PARADISE? ONE WORD THAT SHOULD NOT EVER BE SAID! ONE! JUST THAT ONE WORD? REALLY?
Each word comes with a history of use and abuse. And some histories are too horrible to hold on to. Some words are too blood-soaked, too heavily weighted down by human bodies to outrun their histories. And you want to put that word in your mouth? Even to reclaim it. To reclaim. To repossess. To take ownership of something lost, something that used to belong. To return something mislaid, misplaced, missing. To recover. Do we imagine that we can reclaim the sjambok, the whip, the guns and ships of invasion, of rape and colonial robbery? Can we ever reclaim the plunder, the perverse purchase, the occupation, the ostracism carried out in that name? The name which was created to dehumanise, to de-fellowship from humanity, to disempower, to destroy? What is hidden in this word’s history of mass murder that is worth reclaiming? Can we who have been dispossessed repossess dispossession? Can the oppressed be liberated by wearing their chains? The words used to makes us appear less than human, can they ever send a message they were never created to bear? Can these chastisements set anybody free?
And if you are not trying to reclaim, please why are you even thinking, THINKING, of saying this word? This monster masquerading as moniker, this terror treacherously turned out as temperate term.
Know this: Each time you say the ‘N’ word, you say it with all the weight of its history,
Everything the ‘N’ has ever done comes out of your mouth with it,
You exhume and rebury all the spirits under the sea,
You reoccupy all of Africa, fleece her and decrease her,
You revisit the Middle Passage, leaving bodies in your wake,
You oversee all the plantations, from Katanga to Alabama,
You re-plan segregation – from Jim Crow to Apartheid,
You re-murder Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Thomas Sankara and Patrice Lumumba,
You re-imprison Nelson Mandela, re-detain Steven Biko, exile Ovonramwen Nogbaisi,
You parade Saartjie Baartman, dispossess Truganini, re-enslave Sojouner Truth,
You re-fight the proxy African wars of the 70s and the 80s, revisit genocide on Rwanda,
You rebuild the prison industrial complex, the reasonable force that kills black men,
You re-inhabit misogynoir, make a spectacle of black women’s bodies,
You deride the divide of global North and South that leaves so many without,
Every time, every single time you put that word in your mouth.
And… if you are not reclaiming this word as yours, why would you want to say it? Unless you ARE reclaiming it. Because, that word never really belonged to Black people anyway.
And if you are a Black person trying to reclaim it… there are much easier battles to fight than trying to separate a word from its history and getting rid of the blood that has been shed with that name as weapon. So please, whoever you are… take that word out of your mouth.