A very ugly word.

The word nigger is a very ugly word.

This poem sums just how ugly

By Countee Cullen

(For Eric Walrond)

Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, “Nigger.”

I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That’s all that I remember.

Not saying not to use it. Not my place to say.

And I know I shouldn’t give power to the word. I have heard all the arguments from co-opting it to using it until it is rendered useless.

In the end, none of those arguments work because the need for those arguments betrays them. Why would I want to co-opt the word nigger? Why should I need to render it useless? What good has or does the word done or do? What are it’s redeeming qualities? What beauty does it hold that makes it too precious to let go? Perhaps there is a tragic truth that only it can express and to lose it would be to break from reality?

Not saying not to use it. Not my place to say.

But perhaps a more judicious use of it? It is a word with a history, a word that to this day holds the power to order murder. And the Queen’s English is a poor enough vehicle for communication, we can ill afford to lose more words, lose more meaning. Nor should we hide our precious egos from the ugliness of history, the wretchedness of truth, the nakedness of shadow.

Not saying not to use it. Not my place to say.

I will say this, it doesn’t make you cool, doesn’t make you down with the cause. Black folk who use it as a ball in a game of keep away, you do the world no favors. White folk who use it to show how you have embrace your inner “wigger,” you do the world no favors. It seems as had been the case for most of its history, the honesty in that word comes served with venom, bile, and malevolent revulsion. It always comes from a place of self hate, no matter the color of spewer. And its purpose is always cruel, even when said with a smile and hug and proceeded by “my.”

Not saying not to use it. Not my place to say.

Poets and prosists have used the word to great effect exploring its violence and exposing its parasitic nature. Its tragic truth, its seductive misery, its damning invective against speaker and listener. And yet…

And yet we cannot let it go. It is the bastardization of our exceptionalism, it is the hate that gives us meaning, our cross to bear and on whose timbers we sacrifice whatever gods we see, whatever souls we be and loathe in the truth of our imperfection.

Not saying not to use it. Not my place to say.


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