MSU N-word Editorial
The social climate of the entire MSU community has changed over the past few month after several racially fueled incidents happened on-campus. Here’s another look at what initially sparked the recent uproar.
“No Niggers Please” was written on the dry erase board of a dorm room in which one out of four residents was black. From there, many other people started to come out and share their personal experiences with racism on this campus. There was also, what I would call, “copycat” incidents that followed once the situation became more public. Black Student Alliance (BSA) was at the head of the protest to stop the racial intimidation. There was an Emergency Town Hall Meeting, a silent protest and a march. My hat goes off to the people who made a statement.
However, I do want to break down the situation a little more. I won’t restate every incident that I have heard because, let’s face it, we know by now what generally has transpired. I’m tired of it just like anyone else is. It didn’t take this incident to make me realize that this country, not just MSU, still has some work to do in the racial sensitivity department. People are acting like MSU invented racism and that this only happens here. I spoke with a friend of mine at Western Michigan University a couple of weeks ago. As we said good-bye he said, “Be careful at that racist school.” It felt like the relationships that I have built with non-black people who respect and love me were being discredited, which made me start to think about a few things, like: Why is a word that is used so often also hurtful? Are we too sensitive? Where do we go now?
Lily, whom I had considered a close friend until my freshman year of college, went with me to rent a DVD so that we could have a movie night. She and I had become close during our days of working as cashiers together at a local grocery story. On our way back to my house, when the car was quiet, Lily yelled, “Hey N*****!” There was no indication that she was speaking to anyone specific, which is why it was strange that she said it. I felt a range of emotions at that moment, from anger, to hurt, to shock. I don’t use the word in conversation so she never heard me say it. When she drove up to my house I told her that I was going to watch the movie alone. I sent her a few texts just asking why she would say that word. What upset me more than her saying it was that she did not seem remorseful. Our friendship was pretty much over that day.
I’ve always found the idea of using the n-word perplexing. A word that offends so many people is also used as a term of endearment. I know, I know. The argument is that “we took back the word.” I still do not understand why you even would want the word. It’s like continuing to use an old diaper and pretending each time that it’s not as filthy as it was before. Author and MSNBC correspondent Toure put the word into perspective in his article, “Can whites say the N-Word?”
This brings up the conversation that occurred at a staff meeting about how to handle difficult situations. A white staff member, let’s call her Rebecca, said that she heard two black girls saying the n-word to each other in the hallway. Rebecca felt uncomfortable hearing the word even though it wasn’t meant to be offensive. In so many words, I told Rebecca and the other people in the group that I understood where she was coming from but it was in her best interest not to say it (for safety reason) and also to consider that a personal issue between the people who choose to use the term. I also had to do the whole “we don’t all feel the same way” speech. Honestly, we can’t put rules on who says what. It just is not going to happen.
I also want to challenge us all to do our research before we jump on the “everyone is against me” bandwagon. One of the hate speech incidents that were reported was a Chinese girl calling a black girl, you guessed it, the N-word. When I heard this something about it didn’t sit right with me. So I called my dear friend Joe, who is a Chinese international student and asked her about it. I vaguely remembered that a word pronounce “nee-ga” is a Chinese word. So as funny as this sounds, I asked Joe, “Doesn’t nigga mean something in Chinese?” She said, “Yes, nigga [pronounced nee-ga] means ‘that’ in Chinese.” Joe went on to recount a time when we were having a conversation and she said “nee-ga” and I got upset and asked her why I was saying it. This must have been a couple of years ago because I did not remember that conversation taking place. I was not there for the incident in which a Chinese student reportedly used a racial slur and I will not say that it was all just a misunderstanding. For all I know, it could have been a malicious situation. I have seen so many people these last few weeks get fired up and they never considered taking an objective stance.
My point is, this is all way too complicated in the name of just choosing to ignore the ugly truth of a word that is a painful part of our past. Why must we (black people) continue to ask for respect while simultaneously disrespecting each other? I often think about whether our great leaders who died fighting the struggle for equality would be content with the fact that the last word they heard before they were lynched, beat, hung, and is now the word that so many people love to use so affectionately.
Black Student Alliance (BSA) soon got involved:
1. Power to the word:
2. Don’t just believe what you hear: Meetings with Mentors and OCATS, Lou Anne K. Simon
3. Why keep using it?
4. Where do we go now? The Media is blowing it out of proportion
Nigga in Chinese means “that.”
Click to view Toure N-word article: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAzcCSR04Ao
Nigga is nigger with an ironic twist, but the venom is still in its fangs. Inside both words, I hear the echoes of slavery and lynching’s and the Klan. It’s a word that locates Blacks as monsters. Blacks who use it are laughing at that idea and perhaps thinking they’re defusing it or reclaiming it. Maybe we are. We have argued about whether or not we are for years with no resolution in sight. But still, Blacks playing ironic games with the tools of our oppression does not give outsiders the right to play along. Whites who use it colloquially may think they’re using it in a non-racist way but the thoughtless, wanton usage does not come over standing the history behind it, but from willfully ignoring it as if the past is done with us. We know it’s not even past.
Only one out of the four residents in the room was black. The student was upset about what happened and the residence hall staff attempted to address the issue as best they could. A floor meeting was held by her mentor and Intercultural Aide. The student wanted to move to a different dorm and was accommodated the same day the incident happened. The East Complex Neighborhood Meeting, planned several weeks in advance to unite the Residence Life staff with the Engagement Center staff, addressed the issue as well. Mentors and Intercultural Aides were encouraged to make all students feel included on-campus regardless of their race, gender, sexuality or weight.
The Repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: One Step Closer to Perfecting a Union
By Jamal Chevis
In the fall of 2008, a 47-year-old biracial presidential candidate by the name of Barack Obama looked Americans in the face and told them “yes we can.” When it came to the military policy Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which banned the service of openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual citizens in the military, many Americans took those inspiring words to be nothing more than a campaign slogan. Two years of debating, media coverage, testifying, research, investigations, and protests got us nothing but a Republican filibuster in the Senate of the Defense Authorization Bill this past year. However, none of this matters because the repeal eventually passed and was signed by President Obama.
What we have to look into and evaluate is what this means for us as MSU students, and what we have to do to move forward because the fight has only begun. It is one thing to have to fight for your rights, but you’ve entered another ball park when you have to fight for the right to fight for your country. I think the shock that people feel when they hear that this is going on stems from the fact that the discussion of gay rights has centered around racial and gender rights. Those who argue for gay rights tend to argue that gays are an identifiable group, just like black people and women, and deserve rights as well. Those who argue against gay rights tend to argue that because gays didn’t endure the type of abuse and discrimination that blacks and women experienced, they don’t deserve the same rights. Both of these arguments are problematic and don’t deal with the root of the problem.
The mainstream argument for gay rights presented above fails because it claims that gays are an identifiable group in the same way as women and blacks. It is true that gays are a group, but the reality is they are not identifiable in the same way blacks and women are, nor are they discriminated against on the same basis. Women and blacks are discriminated against because of their physical/visible appearance. Unlike blacks and women, gays can hide their identity and avoid any social resistance that may occur because of who they are (sexually). In the case of blacks and women, there is no hiding your identity; your identity is revealed when you exit the womb and enter the world.
The problem with the mainstream argument against gay rights is that it makes it seem as if a group has to go through catastrophic discrimination to receive rights. People shouldn’t have to be raped or legally lynched before we realize that the law is oppressing them.
Understanding the reality of these arguments is crucial to the defeat of discrimination against gay citizens. As future leaders of this country, we must be prepared to engage and include new ideas and new ways of thinking. It just may be that comparing being gay to race and gender is not the best approach to take. We might have to begin listening to activists like feminist Chris Cuomo, who suggests that we put freedom of religion, sexual freedom, and freedom of privacy at the forefront of the fight for equality for gay citizens. We must stand together and stand up against the exploitative, discriminatory, and traditional views of our parents and grandparents. We must stand up for the Constitution and the ideals that make this country great: that all men and women are created equal!
Guest Columnist Jamal Chevis:
Jamal Chevis is a Political Science/Prelaw major with a Theatre minor. This is his fourth year at MSU.