I’m not going to say or type that word. I have my reasons, namely that it isn’t an active part of my vocabulary and I recognize the legitimate causticity of it, but with that said, I firmly believe that a word’s power comes from the intent behind it’s use. Sadly though, others do not agree, and so we have a supposedly “politically correct” replacement phrase like “N-word”.
Why am I writing about “the N-word” on a movie site called Nerdbastards? Well, a few weeks ago, actor Samuel L. Jackson was being interviewed by a Houston based TV reporter named Jake “The Movie Guy” Hamilton and the term figured prominently.
The video can be seen here, but at around the 13:55 mark, Hamilton asks Jackson about the “N-word” controversy in his new film, Django Unchained. In the film, which focuses on slavery, the word that the “N-word” refers to is uttered more than 110 times according to various reports.
Here is a brief transcript from the video:
Hamilton: There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding the usage of the n-word in this movie…
Jackson: No? Nobody? None? The word would be?
Hamilton: Oh, I don’t want to say it.
Jackson: Why not?
Hamilton: I don’t like to say it.
Jackson: Have you ever said it?
Hamilton: No sir.
Jackson: Try it.
Hamilton: I don’t like to say…
Jackson: Try it!
Hamilton: Really, seriously? (He says while slightly looking off camera.)
Jackson: We’re not goona have this conversation unless you say it.
Hamilton is seemingly lost in stunned silence for a brief moment.
Jackson: Wanna move on to another question?
At this point the tension breaks as Hamilton says “Awesome” and Jackson laughs before they continue to playfully bat around the issue. “Will you say it?” asks Hamilton, in what I suppose, was a “you show me yours, I’ll show you mine” type ploy. “Fuck no!” says Jackson, adding: “It’s not the same”.
At the end, after the two parties discuss the likelihood that the question would either be bleeped or edited out, Hamilton bemoans the loss of his “great” question and Jackson says “It wasn’t a great question if you can’t say the word.”
Here’s the thing: neither one of them is wrong.
I’ve been in Hamilton’s shoes (to a degree) and I can’t tell you what I would do if this situation presented itself. I just don’t know: on one hand, he clearly wouldn’t be using the word with any sort of malicious intent, but on the other hand, would it really be worth the headache? Hell, maybe it could have cost him his job or otherwise hurt his career.
Honestly, that’s another reason I’m not using that word in this article: though my intent would clearly be free of bigotry if I were to use it, clarity isn’t worth a visit from the PC police or whispers that I’m a racist.
As for Jackson, this was likely the dozenth time that someone had asked “that” question and maybe he finds the term “N-word” to be an insult to his intelligence and a cop out. After-all, to a degree, don’t we usually use the “blank-word” device to communicate when we are among children and we feel a need to convey something that will upset them? To me, that’s insulting, so perhaps I’ll suspend using that term too, even if it means I am now unarmed when it comes to discussing the phrase that that term refers too, no matter the context.
I really don’t count this as any great loss. The “N-word” is just a code word and a wholly ridiculous and functionally worthless one at that. I can’t tell you how stupid I feel when I type it.
Luckily, I don’t use the term often or find myself discussing such things all that much, but I do think a leading gesture, or an awkward silence in the middle of a conversation on race will strike people as odd and I worry that they may not be able to pick up on what I’m saying.
A noise could work, some kind of chirp or squeak, but then I’d have to work hard to spread the word that the term that had replaced that word has now, itself, been replaced by a chirp or a squeak of some kind.
Despite those issues though, this is a good thing. The death of the “N-word”, well not the word itself, because the “N-word” phrase never quite accomplished that goal, but the death of this thing that was built to be the bubble wrap around that barbed word that we’re not supposed to say — that is an accomplishment. Besides, in the rare moments when I have typed or said the phrase “the N-word”, I’ve had the distinct feeling that everyone knew exactly what word I was referring too, that word I and Jake Hamilton don’t want to say, so what was the fucking point anyway?