Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Color of Language

The NAACP is having their convention in Detroit right now, and on Monday they’re planning to hold a funeral for the N-word. (“NAACP convention: Can 'N-word' funeral bury hatred?”)

For those of who you aren’t sure what the N-word denotes nowadays, (and why would you, as the F-word went from meaning a profanity to now meaning,“fag”?), the N-word still rhymes with “wigger”.

And speaking of rhymes, the point of this interment is to symbolically urge hip-hop artists to stop using the word. One of the article's quoted experts explains that "the word's usage is down considerably among whites, [but] it's 'as out of control as it has ever been' among African-Americans."

Targeting other African Americans is a significant departure for the NAACP, which the last few years has focused most of its attention on blaming everything on white racism. That, and maintaining their working relationship with Louis Farrakhan, to whom NAACP officals publicly gave an enthusiastic ovation in 2005 when he explained "that New Orleans levees were intentionally blown up after Hurricane Katrina in order to flood the section of the city housing poor blacks."

Back to the N-word funeral. According to the Detroit News, "culture watchers and members of the hip-hop generation are doubtful the ceremony will have any effect at all.” But I’m not so sure.

The last time the NAACP buried a racial term it went away forever, at least from the lips of white Americans. I’m referring to the expression “colored people,” which is resting peacefully inside the acronym of the organization itself. At one time, the official name was used interchangeably with the acronym, and people used to proudly refer to the “National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.” Now all news outlets exclusively use "NAACP." Partly it's to save precious space in newspapers. But really it's from unadulterated terror of violating PC guidelines.

In fairness, the full name still appears on the NAACP website.

(By contrast, the term “abortion” has been terminated by the former "National Abortion Rights Action League,” which has re-named itself NARAL Pro-Choice America, and pretends it was always called that on its website, carefully avoiding mention of the hallowed procedure it is dedicated to preserving. As everyone knows, "choice" and "abortion" are perfect synonyms, which is why waitresses are always saying, "With the pasta you get your choice of soup, salad, or an abortion!").

Back to the N-word funeral. I only mention all this about the NAACP because I find it odd that, next to only the N-word, nothing can get white people in racial hot water faster than referring to African-Americans as “colored people.”

I’ve always thought this strange, because while the N-word has always been an epithet intended to hurt and insult, the phrase “colored people” is at best a euphemism, and was intended to be polite.

Just as strange, during the 1980s the racial authorities dictated that the phrases “people of color” or “person of color” were more correct even than calling someone an African-American. That's hardly much of a distinction from “colored people.” (Nor has DU been able to confirm rumors the organization is planning to change its name to the "NAAPC").

And on that point, though I never liked the comic strip Bloom County, I do find this one exchange from that strip circa 1988 illustrates where I'm coming from:

Mom: That's the most adorable little colored girl playing outside.

Steve: "Colored"? You're saying "colored people" in 1988? You know better, Ma.

Mom: Then why the "National Association for Colored People? I don't think Negroes mind at all.

Steve: Don't say "Negroes," Ma! You can't say "Negroes"!

Mom: Can I say "United Negro College Fund"?

Steve: You are baiting me, Ma!

Dad: That's it. We're leaving.

Mom: Stay put, Reginald. "Mister Socially Sensitive" isn't finished shaming his parents into enlightenment.

Steve: Everybody just calm down. Let's agree to use the New-Age term "People of Color."

Mom: People of Color.

Steve: People of Color.

Mom: Colored people.

Steve: NO!!

Dad: We're leaving.

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