I was in high school when a man, a white man, stopped by to visit my parents, whom he had not seen since the years they had worked as sharecroppers. While my parents had left behind that life, he possessed a hardscrabble look, signifying he had not quite shaken tough times.Unkempt and dirty, he reflected with great detail the backbreaking tedium of the cotton fields, where the rows stretched for miles, assuring the promise of a next day's work. He was comfortable that day, too comfortable in fact.
"You know what," he said to my parents with my brother and me sitting near, "y'all were the hardest-working niggers I have ever seen in my life." He said it without blinking an eye, without any sense of regret or shame. My brother and I sat there in shock, my parents embarrassed that a man would visit their home and use the most hateful word in the English language to describe them.
We later concluded that his ignorance was such that he didn't know any better. There have been plenty who do know better who have exercised the same ignorance - even greater because of the assumption that in their world travels, they should have learned something.
Radio talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger is the latest. When an African-American woman married to a white man called for advice on dealing with racist remarks by her husband's friends and family, Schlessinger gave insensitivity new meaning. Again and again she used the racial epithet to justify that since some black folks use the word nigger, why should the offending parties be held accountable.
There's a lofty doctor's degree in front of her name and a 40-year career indicating that she has reached some level of accomplishment. She proved, however, that classrooms and sheltered life experiences are incapable of conveying the hurt caused by that word. It doesn't matter who says it, black people or white. To this day, the words still sting from that day 30-plus years ago when the visitor disrespected people who would never have dishonored him.
There's the wrong-headed presumption Schlessinger and others make that black people are OK with the use of the word nigger because of its use among black rappers and comedians. It hurts just as much, in fact, when black entertainers and regular folk gratuitously use it.
Dr. Laura, who says she will end her show at the end of the year, could not be more wrong in defending her answer to the caller. If she's right, then the tears that well in my eyes when I hear the word nigger must not be real. Knowledgeable she may be on some subjects, but on this one, she knows nothing.
While most agree that there is no acceptable context in which this word should be used today, Agnew's parable demonstrates how the word has evolved from ignorance to hatred.
Thirty years ago, the term was used by a generation who inherited it from parents who simply knew no better. It was not so much a racial slur as it was an unfortunate slang term for "Negros", which is now considered offensive by many.
The "N-word" evolved into the racial epithet that it has become today from the same ignorant culture that believes that when the term is used "inter-racially", that it is acceptable... and often humorous. The "N-word" will never go away as long as we deem it "acceptable" in ANY situation... from classrooms to comedy clubs!
It is hard to believe that anyone in 2010 does not realize that this word is offensive to the majority of our civilized world, but as long as we permit its use, by any race, in any context, for humor or hurt...it will not go away!