Sunday, September 30, 2007

The "N" word and non-Americans

Here is the thing: I am a southerner-meaning, I was born and bread in the deep south of the US. The 'N' word surely was coined in the south by slave owners/bigots/racists. It is a word that is far more offensive than any cuss word, and in my circle of people in the US, it is never uttered. So, it is strange to hear it tossed into the banter of everyday discourse.
The other night while sitting with family, I was surprised when a cousin, who is a doctor educated in the UK, say, "Well when X is ready to get married, he prefers n-----s"! Oh, my gosh! I almost spit my tea out all over her designer clothing!
As it happens, I began to ask other non-Americans in and around the family, and they also have used that word to simply mean a person of African origin. Shocking! How terrible what the US truly exports to the world! I am assuming that it comes simply from people listening to rap music and just mimicking that. But honestly, I fear for any person to travel to the US and use that word and not get the crap beat out of him or her.
Let me add one caveat: There are still people who still use that word casually in their circle of friends, but they are probably wearing white sheets over their heads and burning crosses in the evenings too.


Stinni said...

That reminds me of the time I told my sister-in-law (husband's brother's wife) that I was thinking of getting an Ethiopian maid. She gave me this look of disgust and said, "No! She will be black and scare your children!" (I ended up getting an Ethiopian maid and my children loved her.)

Also, I heard through teacher friends of mine that male teenagers in private schools tend to throw the N word around like it was "dude" because of MTV - they think it's acceptable. I just wonder what happens when they're abroad for the summer and say it in the wrong place...

Thirdly, I knew a few southern women in Kuwait who not only used the N word but one that begins with J and ends in BOO. I nearly choked when I heard them using it.

It's up to you to explain how hurtful the word is, I guess.

slartybartfarst said...

Hey, Carly! How are you? Yes I have been out of it. My hip is almost there, just got to shake off this residual limp. Another chapter for the book!
More to the point, how are you? Have you setled in? You have obviously survived a month or so, but I hope it has not been too painful. My new school is just fine, most of the kids are delightful.
I haven't read any of your blog, 'cos I just woke from my slumbers and glanced at 'the beast. I have to go to job no.2. But when I get home this evening, I will. Good to hear from you.

Carly said...

Hey Stinni,
We too have a maid from Ethiopia. She is so kind. And you are right about the male teenager thing too. I was trying to tell them that it was not an acceptable thing, but they didn't take me seriously.
Like I said, there are those who still use that word, but if they aren't burning the crosses, then they are close enough to be roasting some marshmallows. :)

Hey Slarty,
Welcome! I hope you are all healed up very soon. :) We are slowly settling in, but still not in our house. Seems it takes some wasta to get some basic amenities...inshaAllah, inshaAllah.

boojam said...

Seems you have had some trouble getting used to the sorts of things which to the long term expat seem normal and unremarkable. If you last long enough, I guess you too will become blase. Hope so or you won't cope. Incidentally, after 4 weeks of term at the new school there are no moves to alter the management structure and import Kuwaitis. Of course, a number of top positions are already held by family of the owners. Fortunately, these people are western oriented and educated.

Intlxpatr said...

The "N-word" is still totally taboo in our family, so I suffer the same aghast reaction you do when I hear it used casually. All of those words that say "i'm up here and you're down there," there has to be a special circle of hell reserved for people who use them.

BTW, I've tried so many times to comment on your blog, but until recently, could not get logged on. I really like your blog. I think you are at the beginning of a GREAT adventure.

Carly said...

Hey Intlxpatr,
Thank you. I'm glad u like it; that means since I am a fan of your site too.:)
I've always had trouble w/the thicker skin issues. Maybe one day I will be able to role with things better. :) Anyway, I am glad to hear that about the administrator issue. I have yet to see an exodus from ASK either. Thanks!

Jewaira said...

I was stunned when my own young son, who is in an all-Kuwaiti school environment and has certainly never heard the word in our home, used "nigguh" with the intent of a demeaning expletive (and with that same pronunciation).

I am guessing he knew the word had negative connotations but obviously he did not realize the sensitivities attached to it.

I can only say he has heard it originally through American made media and absorbed it as one does the language of another culture.

As children usually are, he was quite defensive as I sat him down to explain the enormity of using this word as people would surely not understand, especially in a Western environment and that it was totally unacceptable.

I think Carly that it is a good topic to discuss but do bear in mind that not all Arabs or Kuwaitis are familiar with the cultural sensitivities of Americans even if they speak English and even if they are highly educated.

I believe the misuse is a cultural thing and has nothing to do with being racist.

Carly said...

Hey Jewaira,
I totally agree with you, as my husband's family is certainly not racist and they are some who used this word. I never thought they fully got the enormity of its connotations, rather that it is shocking to hear it so flippantly used, hence, it must be due to hearing it thus from awful American rap. I am not a lover of most rap music, sorry anyone who is.
Also, given that many Kuwaitis and other non-Americans travel or study in the US, it could potentially be a big problem for them if used there. That was my main point. :)

Ritwik Banerjee said...

I knew that this word was somewhat offensive, but I had no idea to what extent it might a person of African origin. And, frankly speaking, I don't understand how it came to mean something so offensive. Negroid, for instance, is a scientific term used to denote one of the human races, right? Then, why is a word that is a mere local distortion of a scientific term used (or not used) like the way you say?

I have one question: how do you refer to an American of African origin without offending him/her?

Carly said...

Hello ritwik,
Thanks for your input. I think that the notion or scientific ideas of race have dramatically evolved over time, to the point that most scientists argue against racial categorization altogether.
The offensiveness comes from the use of said term when slavery, lynching, and sub-humanization of the African American people was commonplace, and the term was vitriolically spat at them as a way to put them in their place.
I think most people of African descent in the US, prefer to be called African American, if they have to be delineated as such.

slartybartfarst said...

Interesting isn't it, that in UK we do not refer to British African. We still use the cover-all 'black'. I have black British friends here who routinely refer to themselves as black. Is the word unacceptable in US in this context?