Monday, June 05, 2006

the n-word

KC Currents had a segment recently about the N-word. Glenn Rice and Lewis Diuguid of the Star talked about the impacts the word has on the community. Fascinating segment. Really got me thinking.

My first reaction was kind of negative, truth be told. I bristled when Duiguid said the Star has a policy against using the word in print, even in a quote. My immediate reaction was that as journalists our job is to report the world as it is. I don't think it's our job to clean things up.

Indeed, I use the N-word in the epitaph of my book -- in the best quote I've ever gotten in my decade or so of reporting: "Nigga, you white! You can't dictate the revolution!!"

But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed appropriate for the Star. Like network TV, they bleep out curse words and uphold certain decency standards that are generally considered appropriate for venues that kids have easy access to. And it seems that my argument for quoting the N-word is most applicable to narrative journalism, of which the Star engages very little. They do, though, from time to time. And it would seem that in such instances -- if they were, for instance, to run a series of narrative immersion journalism pieces about black teens in the inner-city -- they'd probably be remiss not to print it.

But journalism aside, the segment really got me thinking about the kids on the debate squad. They use the N-word all the time. In fact, they even call me nigga (to which I respond cracka!). And as I thought about Duiguid's comments about the effect of this negative word on one's psyche and spirit I started wondering if it might not be a good idea to try to persuade the kids not to use the word. Perhaps propose it as a collective effort, like getting down with the coalition, or something like that.

Because, truth be told, self esteem is something these kids are struggling to find. And it's something the coach and I are struggling to help them find.

Lately, we've toyed with the idea of having them do affirmations as part of the debate preparation routine. And I read with intense interest the parts of Malcolm Gladwell's Blink in which he reported that black students have been shown to perform better at academic challenges after listening to speeches by the likes of Malcolm X. For a while I've considered playing "The Ballot or the Bullet" speech for them before they go into a debate round (and I've also thought about what a great intimidation tactic this could be to use against their opponents).

I don't know. I'll have to talk with Sean about it. He's emerging as the new squad leader.

It would be sort of an odd campaign for a middle-age white guy to lead.

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