Thursday, April 28, 2011

N is for the "N-word"

This is the first time I’m ever writing about this subject. It’s a sensitive one, and I’m going to try to tread very carefully upon it. A recent experience in my classroom inspired me to talk about it, and so here goes…

N is for the “N” Word

That’s right, I’m talking about that “N” word. There aren’t a lot of words in the English language that I don’t like, but this is certainly one of them. I want to preface this by saying that I work in a lower to mid upper class school district that’s about 99.9% white. Though the few black students that go to my school don’t seem to experience any significant discrimination or bullying as far as I can tell, I don’t think it helps anyone’s situation to hear that word thrown around as much as it is.

Kids are always listening to music. IPods, iPhones and all sorts of gadgets never leave a child’s person these days and occasionally I allow the students in my study hall to partake in listening to music as they do their homework. It never bothers me too much as long as they’re working. The other day, one of the students in that class was listening to his iPod and a song came on that he wanted to share with me. After a few minutes of him begging me to give the song a try, I finally relented.

Within seconds of putting the song on I heard the “N-word” for the first time. I immediately told him to shut it off, but not before I heard it at least four or five more times…and this was only within the first 30-40 seconds of the song. I only shook my head and asked him why he listened to that stuff. You see, this particular student is half African American, and his answer was, “It’s no big deal. I’m black!”

Well to me it is a big deal. It seems to be okay these days for people within a target group to use the negative words associated with their group. It’s okay to use the word “faggot” when a gay person says it and it’s okay to use the “N-word’ as long as an African American is the one saying it, right? Wrong! I say that these and other hateful words and expressions should never be spoken, and in the case of the “N-word,” Houston, we have a problem, and much of today’s hip-hop is its source.

Hip hop music is as popular today with the younger generation as it ever was, and sometimes it’s hard to find a rap song without that word in it. The rappers who use it in their songs are predominantly black, and since the music is cool and popular, the lyrics within those songs are learned and of course repeated by those who listen to it.

Hip hop, or rap, is popular with kids of all stripes, including whites, and when they enjoy the songs and are singing along, they’re learning that that word is okay to use. It’s even fun. Just knowing that it’s a taboo word makes them want to use it more when their listening, and they figure it’s no big deal because “just singing a song.” They’re not really using the word itself for what it really means. Isn’t that right?

Well, that’s not so. Having that word ingrained into their young minds through music lyrics puts it into their vernacular and voila, it gets used! In a predominantly white school like the one I work in, that word is uttered more times than one could shake a stick at, and where does it come from? It comes from the music they listen to, which is made by the very people who would never want to be called that by a white person ever.

So, if only some of these rappers, like Lil Wayne, Kanye West, P Diddy, Nelly, Jay Z and so many more could see what they are doing by including this hateful word in their songs. If they saw that though they think they’ve made the word cool by changing its spelling to end in an “a,” it’s still a word no one should ever have to hear. Maybe if they’d stop using, so would the children, and in the future we’ll never have to hear it again!


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