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Friday, January 12, 2007
For Immediate Release:
January 12, 2007
Rance E. Huff
Comrie To Introduce Resolution Calling For Symbolic Moratorium on The "N" Word
NEW YORK, NY- Council member Leroy Comrie (D-27th District) today announced that he will be introducing a resolution calling for the New York City Council to declare a symbolic moratorium on the use of the "N" word in the city during the month of February, in honor of Black History Month. The resolution encourages New Yorkers of all races and ages to refrain from the using the "N" word and to encourage all the encounter they may encounter to do the same.
"Given the recent events surrounding the Michael Richards incident and the current campaign in many quarters to abolish the use of this hateful term, I thought it would be appropriate to encourage my fellow New Yorkers to join this movement," stated Councilmember Comrie. "It is my hope that this resolution will spark a dialogue in all communities and begin to move our society, especially in our entertainment culture, toward a place where the use of the 'N' word is simply unacceptable in any context."
During a November 17 performance at the Los Angeles-based Laugh Factory comedy club, comedian Michael Richards - best known for playing the character Kramer on the television show "Seinfeld" - launched into a tirade of racial insults directed at an audience member that ended with him using the 'N' word. The exchange was captured on film and sparked a national outcry.
Richards subsequently apologized but the furor over his use of the term sparked a new debate about the use of the word in popular culture. Additionally, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Rev. Jesse Jackson issued a call for a moratorium by entertainers who used the term.
"Michael Richards was merely the symptom of a much larger issue- that of race and racism in our nation," continued Councilmember Comrie. "I believe we come to a point in our society where we can hopefully have an honest discussion about this country's terrible, racist history and how it still reverberates in our culture today. Some members of our society- especially the MTV/BET generation- has no historical or contextual understanding of this term. And that has led to the casual use of the word, or different variations of it, by people who see it as part of the lexicon of hip hop culture.
"I've proposed this call for a moratorium during Black History Month this year in an effort to begin a dialogue that will reexamine this issue. On any given day you can traverse this city and encounter young people of all races casually using the word in public with no regard or knowledge of the terrible history behind it. We, as adults, must begin to take a stand and say this is utterly wrong. I can't imagine a place where people simply went around casually spewing derogatory names about Jews, Asians, Latinos, Irish, Italians or any other ethnic group without being challenged or shamed. This moratorium simply represents my line in the sand. I’m not prepared to go any further and not speak out about this issue."
The 'N' word is taken from the Latin word Niger or the French word Negre`, both meaning black and when it is used as a noun, it means "black person'. The word was first documented being used in writing in 1786 and is a term slave masters used to label their African slaves. The word has its origins in the hate and contempt that slave masters had for their African slaves. No matter how it is spelled, the word has carried these emotions of hate throughout the centuries, which is why it is so painful for many African Americans to hear.
By the early 1900's, the word "Black" began to appear in print, in reference to African Americans. However, the term "Black" was rejected by the community because of its negative connotations and in 1906 civil rights leader Booker T Washington endorsed the term "Negro". The 'N' word, once a common label used for African American people, officially becomes recognized as a derogatory racial epithet.
The definition of the 'N' word became defined as "a lazy person with no self respect, no regard for family, ignorant, stupid, slow moving, did not speak proper English and had childlike qualities". The caricatures of Black people in early 1900's American culture, such as the notorious film "Birth Of A Nation" encapsulated this definition. The age of the Harlem Renaissance challenged this idea, primarily due to the leadership of Renaissance scholar Alain Locke, who encouraged African American artists, writers, poets and musicians to fully express their African pride by aligning with their rich West African history.
As the late 1960's approached, so did a surge of racial pride and the term "Black" was taken on by the African American community as positive. The Black Power Movement of this era proclaimed "Black is Beautiful" and entertainer James Brown declared "I'm Black and I'm Proud". The followers of this movement called each other "brother and sister", while denouncing the use of the 'N' word.
Some African Americans started using the 'N' word to refer to themselves in the 1970's cultural era known as Black Exploitation. The term was also adopted during the beginning of the 1990's cultural era known as Hip Hop, by taking the "er" off of the end of the word and adding the letter "a", thereby creating the term "Nigga". Although in use in the Black community, it was still a pejorative and at some point depending on the social circles denoted class difference.
Today the African American community still differs in its use of the 'N' word, as some use a neo-revisionist attitude in an attempt to redefine the word, still others do not use the word in their vocabulary at all. In 2003, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) successfully influenced Merriam-Webster Lexicographers to change the definition of the 'N' word in the dictionary so that it would no longer mean African Americans. Additionally, the term "N word" began being used in popular culture and in media reports in effort to avoid using the full spelling or pronunciation of the word publicly.
Recently, a small group of New Yorkers, led by Brooklyn residents Jill Merritt and Kovon Flowers, founded the organization "Abolish The 'N' Word Project Inc.". They began a public relations campaign to abolish the use of the word by all people through the establishment of a website, educational materials and community events.
On Sunday, January 14, Councilmember Comrie will join the Abolish The 'N' Word Project as they host a gathering of celebrities at the New York Laugh Factory from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. to share personal stories of the first time they were called the "N" Word and how that experience would forever change their lives. The stories will be compiled for an educational DVD that will be used in schools and by organizations to help educate not only children, but all people who are unaware of the pain associated with the 'N' Word.
For more information about this event and the Abolish The 'N' Word Project, log on at http://www.AbolishTheNWord.com .