Oprah Winfrey has no tolerance for “N” word


Reading this article on Oprah again causes me to ask the question: What does the word “nigger” really means. Please indulge me and allow me to quote from my novel THE DAUGHTERS OF JOE STUBBS which might explain what I mean. Let me set the scene:

One day the novel’s central character Joe Stubbs visited his friend Rev. Clifford Moore at his rectory on a business matter and learned that Rev. Moore on Wednesday nights conducted a poetry and rap music workshop at his church for young people in the neighborhood, which was so popular that there was a waiting list. “After the first hour we break into two groups, the poets and the rap artists, so they can work separately in their disciplines,” Rev. Moore told Joe proudly, “I usually go with the rappers so I can help them with their music. It’s a lot of fun. The kids keep me on my toes.” Rev. Moore was a noted jazz bassist before he found God and went into the ministry.

Reading the surprise on Joe Stubbs’ face, Rev. Moore smiled and said, “I’ll admit, Joe, that some of their rap music is pretty raw. Many young people think that using profanity and other shocking terms is hip. We talk about this in class all the time.”

Then he told Joe Stubbs about a heavy discussion he’d had with the kids just last week. “Last Wednesday the combined class in the first hour had a good discussion about black artists using the word ‘nigger’ in their work. The discussion became fairly lively. In truth, it became very heated. One boy, a poet, believed like you, Joe, that the word when used by black folks is inherently self-hating and should never be used. A girl, a rapper, thought the word could be used if done responsibly. She believed it was all a matter of context. She was very level-headed about it. This led to a spirited discussion of the history of the word ‘nigger’ when applied to African Americans. The whole group agreed, and I think rightfully so, that the word was probably first used by white men in referring to black people in the slave trade. Always as master to slave. Always as human being to something less than human. Always used in a superior, ofttimes contemptuous way.”

Then Rev. Moore added, “For that reason the kids agreed unanimously that, in view of this history, there can never be a situation in which whites are justified in using the word ‘nigger’ when speaking to or about black people. Their cruel history in that regard bars them forever from using the word. Personally I think most decent white people realize this, which is why they now speak of the ‘N’ word so they won’t have to go anywhere near the dreaded term nigger.”

Rev. Moore let out a big friendly chortle. “But with black people it’s a totally different story. Over the centuries we have been forced to give the word ‘nigger’ a hundred different meanings. When a white slave owner said to a slave about another slave, ‘Go bring that lying nigger here,’ upon returning with the person summoned, the slave probably said to his white owner sadly, ‘Here’s your nigger, Masta.’”

Rev. Moore said, “The same word, Joe, but used in two vastly different ways. One with contempt, the other with regret. Likewise, when a black mother calls her children to come in for dinner, and says, ‘You little niggers march upstairs and wash your hands before sitting down at the table,’ the term is said with love and tenderness. When a young black woman says about a black man she finds attractive, ‘That’s one good-looking nigger,’ it’s a remark of aesthetic approval. When a black mother looks at the clock and sees the lateness of the hour and says, ‘I’m going to kill that nigger when he gets home,’ these are the words of a worried mother fearful of her teenage son’s welfare. When a black member of the audience says to his friend sitting next to him, ‘That funny little nigger up there really cracks me up!’ he’s bestowing praise on the black comic up on the stage. And when two black men square off in anger and one says, ‘Nigger, you better get out of my face!’ this signifies a danger that these two men are about to fight.”

Rev. Moore concluded, “The same word, with a hundred different meanings. Nothing more, nothing less, Joe. But when a white person uses that term, there’s only one meaning, and we all know what that meaning is.”

He then said proudly, “By discussing it in this way my kids saw what a complicated word ‘nigger’ is, and how profound the responsibility is when a black person runs the risk and uses it in racially mixed company. The kids were so struck by how the context determined the meaning that most of them decided they wouldn’t use the word anymore. One girl said, ‘When we use the word around them, white kids then think it’s OK for them to use it, and if they use the word ‘nigger,’ then we black kids want to beat them up. How can we expect the white kids to understand how we’re using it. It’s impossible. So I’m not using that word anymore. I can write my rap lyrics without using it.’”

“Good for the kids!” Joe applauded, now feeling much better about Rev. Moore’s young rappers.

Rev. Moore looked accommodatingly at his good friend. “Joe, you didn’t come all this way just to hear me lecture on rap music. What’s on your mind?”

That’s my take, a novelist’s view of the “N” word. What’s yours?


Interracial love, lesbianism, conflict between sisters, father’s angst about weddings, homophobia, family love, family unity, African American, Oprah Winfrey

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