Mickens: Nixing the “N” word

Neither Riley Cooper, nor anyone in Philadelphia, needs the “N” word in 2013.

Thomas Mickens Jr.

Thomas Mickens Jr.I am unapologetically black. There are no words, actions or comments that can deter me from my unwavering pride. Not even hateful sentiments like, “I’m going to jump over this fence and fight every nigger here” could shake the feeling. Yes, Riley Cooper, your drunken stupidity amongst your buddies at a Kenny Chesney concert at Lincoln Financial Field – the same building in which both you and the Temple Owls play home games, no less – won’t break me or my peers. What once brainwashed the people before me into thinking they were inferior has become a term of embrace to the decedents of those who endured the pain of that word.  It’s a new day, Riley. Those words can’t hurt us anymore.

To Blacks before me, the “N” word meant that they were second-class citizens, that their value was lesser than a human being’s. Blacks could have easily let the word continue to offend and belittle them. If that were to happen, there would be a hell of a lot more racists like Riley Cooper around. Instead, we flipped the script on society – we dropped the “er,” added the “a“ to soften the blow a bit and created our own positive meaning.

It’s funny how the English language works sometimes.

Since the reinvention of the “N” word, it has become one of the most polarizing words in American society. Whether it’s used with a negative connotation or as a sign of embrace, there is always trepidation attached to the use of the word. In a sense, we are fueling the fire with its continued use. Through hundreds of generations of African-American history, we have built this monster, and now it has a life of its own.

As college-aged students, we hold a responsibility to figure out if keeping this word around is truly beneficial.

I have seen it used in several ways on Temple’s campus, in both negative and positive ways; from both white and black students. Most of the time, I hear people recite it in lyrics, or blacks using it to refer to me endearingly. However, there was a time where I heard a white person say it with a little bit of venom—they’re more than fortunate that it wasn’t said to me, but I digress. What all of these situations have in common is that they’re contextually outdated. Using the “N” word to demean us is clearly frowned upon in our society, and softening the word as a way to desensitize its original meaning is just not needed anymore.

The seething hate of the word is still alive, and if it continues to leave our mouths…we will continue to be treated as such.

I would argue that no matter how much we try to justify the word, its evil origins will never go away. As long as we’re using it, the historical negativity surrounding the word will forever be perpetuated into society, and Temple’s campus is certainly not immune to it.

What the word still continues to do is create a divide amongst the races and cause more friction. So long as the word is around we will continue to be treated like “N” words. Even President Barack Obama mentioned in his press conference regarding the Trayvon Martin verdict that he has been treated as such throughout his whole life. “There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store,” Obama stated last July. “That includes me.”

That includes me too, and just about every African-American that’s been in any kind of store. The seething hate of the word is still alive, and if it continues to leave our mouths, mark my words, we will continue to be treated as such.

If college is supposed to be a snapshot of American progress, we are in a world of trouble. As a black man on campus, I appreciate how the positive usage of the “N” word helped weaken its bigoted meaning.  That being said, now that the word has just become a mere prop in African-american culture, I see no point in continuing.

Thomas Mickens Jr. can be reached at tmickensjr@temple.edu.

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  1. Tom,
    I loved your article. I intend to place it near the area where my teachers swipe in and out daily. Please know that you are truly a gifted writer. Kindly email me (smickens@paterson.k12.nj.us) your snail address at Temple U.

    Love you much!

  2. Love the article’s perspective and its inspirational moral message and Yes I agree “highest and best” for our future concerning the use of this word is to allow it to fade into our history. Thanks Tom for sharing your insight and also the thoughts and feeling of your contemporaries.

    Jeffrey Willis
    actor producer director
    HRL Content Management Groups

  3. Great article Tom! Thanks for your positive observation on the subject that always seems to create controversy. I agree that the “N” word is still a nasty little word, and there’s no room for it in 2013.

    Audrey DiNardo

    • Right on article — so on point, especially coming from a young man’s prospective. I am so pleased that you have the forum and are using that forum to reach and explain, so technically, how this “N” word can affect various people (old and young). Personally, I don’t think the “N” word should “ever” be used but so appreciate your positive and negative take on this controversial topic. Continue using your gift of writing and your insight to reach the masses. The skies aren’t even the limit for you. I do believe I will see you giving a speech in the White House one day!!!!

  4. Great commentary nephew. I am proud of you. You are the shattered perception of superseding predetermined, marginalized expectations of what was to be “our” success, or lack there of, being realized and the fruit of ancestral strength and perseverance continually manifested. God bless and keep you.

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