Wednesday, 5 December 2012

the n-word: is hate based on race?

I’ve only ever said the word "nigger" once, at home after having heard in primary school. My Mum had lived in the US in the early 1960s, and was probably more aware of the word’s cultural history and emotional import than the person who had used it: her face fell into such a mask of disappointment that I never said it again.

What brought this back was a debate on Jeremy Vine’s Radio 2 talk-show about a white man who has been cleared of using racially aggravated words or behaviour after shouting the n-word at a black man. Christopher Jones, a rap fan with more black friends than white, argued successfully that he could not be racist because the word is part of his everyday vocabulary.

Pauline Pearce: click to find out more
On Vine’s show was Pauline Pearce, a jazz singer and radio personality who famously upbraided rioters in London. She was debating with a hip-hop fan on the acceptability of the word, and both got into a muddle because they use the word as a term of endearment with black friends, but agreed that the term is offensive when used by white people.

elements from page - click for page
Then Vine read out an email from a Yitzhak Hussein, who said sometimes the n-word was acceptable, but the "p-word" never was. Jeremy’s had that debate before with similar conclusions: Pakistanis can call each other Paki – as in "Paki live TV shows" – but from whites the word is an insult.

Could it be that laws banning hate-speech are creating linguistic ghettos on the basis of the sinister and outmoded concept of race, where freedom of speech depends on the amount of melatonin in one’s skin? In that case I’m with Rowan Atkinson on his opposition to hate-speech laws: "feel free to insult me!" Just don’t take offence when I reply in kind.

Gerry Dorrian
300 words

Click to go to the Jeremy Vine Show 5 December 2012