Professors host film screening and discuss the “n” word
Jene Thomas – General Assignment Reporter
As the country still talks of the events in Ferguson, MO., America is reminded that race remains to be an issue for discussion. In the case of Southern Connecticut State University, issues with race stem from one word. The “n” word.
Professor Siobhan Carter-David, of the history department, and Professor Frank Harris III, Department of Journalism, led a film screening of “The n-Word,” that featured celebrities and professors who discussed the origin, past and present meanings of the word on Oct. 27.
The documentary ended with a discussion of how the use of the word has changed throughout time and problems with it in today’s society.
Harris purposefully lowercased the “n” because he didn’t want to “give meaning to the word.”
Because students and staff campus wide were invited to attend the event, the audience was diverse in age and race. In attendance was Dr. Katharine Bendrick, a professor of Economics and First Year Inquiry. Bendrick’s inquiry class featuring lessons of privilege, currently focusing on “white privilege,” brought her to the event on the “n” word.
“My understanding of this word is basically I’m not allowed to say it and I know nothing more than that,” she said.
Because Bendrick is a Caucasian professor, she was instilled with the concept that by being white, she cannot say the “n” word, sparking the debate on who is allowed to say it and who is not.
According to the documentary, the long going debate is sparked from the word’s various definitions, as explained by American linguist Dr. John McWhorter.
His first definition was inferiority, as in, black people were inferior to everyone else and thus were called by this word in a derogatory manner. McWhorter said many people still associate the word with this initial meaning.
However, the documentary inferred that pop culture changed the meaning, led by Comedian Richard Pryor.
Pryor performed at integrated comedy clubs in the 70s and frequently used the “n” word. The video showed a clip at a comedy club with white audience members and it was said repeated. People began to connect with him.
“He made people – white people as well as black people-start looking at the world differently,” said Director Ron Shelton in the video.
New meanings came of the word. McWhorter said the word could mean an African American man who wasn’t behaving in a respectable manner, a distinction between classes, or just a good friend.
Because it could mean a good friend, many people believe that they have the right to say it. Actor Michael Rappaport believes it is among the list one would use to call a friend.
“What’s up boss? What’s up pimp? What’s up [n word]?” he said. “It’s a list, you just pick one.”
The word has had multiple appearances in hip hop cultures. Many songs on WZMX Hot 93.7 have songs with the word it is. The video said because people hear it so much, people have been accustomed to it.
Those of African American descent feel differently. They believe that if the word is to be used, they should use it exclusively, according to Carter-David.
She attended a reading of Fear and What Follows, by Professor Tim Parrish, and as she heard him used the word repetitively, she got up and left.
“I didn’t come to work to hear that,” she said.
The purpose of the discussion after the movie was to discuss how everyone associated with the word and what their relationships were. There is still as debate as to who is allowed to say it. Some believe everyone should say it, and some believe that it shouldn’t be used by anyone.
“I just wish [the “n” word] would just go away,” Harris said.