Morehouse Must Put a Moratorium On the N-word
By VICKIE G. HAMPTON
Words change the world every day in both grand and subtle ways.
Three words inspired us, even as life as we knew it was crashing around our feet – Yes we can.
I delight in writers and orators who use these tools of creation to inspire, uplift and transform. I believe far, far into the future, after even our most impressive structures have acquiesced to the ravages of nature and time, great words will live on. I have no doubt that the people of the 31st century will be quoting Martin Luther King Jr. ‘48, Benjamin E. Mays and Howard Thurman ‘23.
So, if great words are this powerful, you must understand that the converse is true. Damaging words are tools of destruction and carry with them the ability to incite, desecrate and oppress. There are words that have started wars: “Producing weapons of mass destruction.” And words that keep minds in shackles: “Cradle-to-prison pipeline.”
But of all the words and terms that have become part of the American lexicon,
the N-word is the most powerful in its ability to evoke images of oppression and stereotypes of buffoonery and ignorance, and perpetuate self-hatred.
Many young black men say they are “reclaiming” the N-word as a term of endearment, suggesting that it connotes an even stronger bond than the use of “brother.” But this particular word—this term of enslavement—carries a constant caveat: only black people can say it. All others, use it at your own risk.
So, I just don’t buy it—because I think they just don’t get it.
I’m about to get a little graphic here, but consider this: A woman is brutally raped. The torn, soiled dress she wore during the violation is a constant reminder of the assault, her humiliation, her loss of dignity.
Do you think for one delirious second she would even dare to redeem the dress? Can you imagine her lifting the dress with trembling fingers to wash away the stains and sew up the rips in an effort to wear it the next day, or “reclaim” it?
That’s how I feel about the N-word. With just two syllables, this word speaks volumes about the nefarious—unspeakably evil—loss of dignity and humaneness.
It is the Jewish man’s swastika; the Native American’s Mount Rushmore. It is the soiled, sliced dress of the violated. And no, it cannot be baptized and reborn. It cannot be redeemed. In fact, to try to “reclaim” something so utterly unholy is tantamount to blasphemy—the only unforgivable sin.
So, why then, do so many young black men use this term?
Here’s a better question: Why do so many men of Morehouse—attending the alma mater of many great leaders and thinkers who devoted their lives to uplifting the black community—embrace this term? Walk across campus on any given day (trust me), and, inevitably, from the lips of an heir of this great legacy who has yet to understand the burdens borne for his opportunity, will come the most dastardly word in the American vernacular. And he will sling it about carelessly, as if its utterance doesn’t slice or stain. King, Mays and Thurman would not only be embarrassed and heartbroken, but, I’m sure, speechless.
If I incite a cacophonous debate on constitutional rights and censorship, so be it, because Morehouse College must put a moratorium on the N-word. It is a dereliction of moral and ancestral sensibilities to allow this word to continue to go unchecked—even rampant—on this campus. Surely we believe that the words of King, Mays and Thurman are not mere rhetoric or hyperbole, but are powerful forces of creation that will outlive us all.
Words that nurtured our love for ourselves, that resurrected our humanity, must not share sacred space with a word that has stripped, crippled, perniciously persecuted.
Not at Morehouse College.
For me, the two are incongruent: an educated, young black man and the use of the N-word.
And the only thing even more ridiculously oxymoronic is the N-word coming from the mouth of a man of Morehouse.
Vickie G. Hampton is the publications manager for the Office of Communications.