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In defense of the N-word . . .

Let me begin this post with a disclaimer:

My title—In defense of the N-word—is not a defense for those that use the word as a pejorative—a racial and ethnic slur, an epithet that equals and perhaps surpasses the impact of a southerner being called a son of a bitch—oops, forgive me, I meant to say “a son of a B-word.” When I volunteered—wisely—for military service and was accepted at the tender age of sixteen, I learned that every person in my service was a son of a B-word, and would be labeled incessantly with that sobriquet by virtually every other person. I quickly learned that I could not whup everyone that applied the term to me, and I learned that the term could reflect another person’s attitude in many ways other than a reference to one’s parentage, specifically to one’s mother. The term gave voice to emotions including surprise, incredulity, admiration and even brotherly love, as in I love this son-of-a B-word” or He is one hard-working son of a B-word” or “He is a really bright son of a B-word,” ad infinitum.

This posting draws heavily on my posting dated June 22, 2010. My purpose in this post is to elaborate on our use—or non-use—of the N-word. I have in effect plagiarized my own work and may be forced to sue myself, but my intent then was to discuss ten-cent hamburgers loaded with all the trimmings. Since my intent in this posting is to discuss in more detail my feelings about the use of the N-word, a situation that has limited conversation to a great extent in some segments of our society, versus my intent to laud the ten cent burgers in the earlier posting, I will not seek remuneration for myself from my work having been plagiarized. However, one may be assured that I will not extend that courtesy to plagiarism by others. Click here to read the earlier posting.

In summary, this post is not in defense of the use of the N-word. It is simply used as an attention-getter and is an attempt to explain, at least to some degree, that its use is not always intended to be pejorative, and its renunciation by our society has reduced our language to the point that we are often restricted from “saying what we mean and meaning what we say” by the need to be politically correct in our conversations.

In my boyhood days, those glorious preteen and early teen days when my world was pure and untainted and gave no hint of the vicissitudes, vagaries and vicious shoals lurking in my future, the Varsity movie theater was, and perhaps may still be, located on the North side near the intersection of Main and Fourth Street in Columbus, Mississippi, a city of some 20,000 souls at the time, located in the east central part of the state near the Alabama state line.

Main Street was the dividing line between north and south in Columbus, the county seat of Lowndes County, Mississippi. The first block of Fourth Street South was called Catfish Alley, a block that was comprised mostly of businesses—grocery stores, beer joints, rooming houses, eating places, clothing stores and other businesses—some were owned and operated by blacks.

Fourth Street in Columbus is near a bluff overlooking the Tombigbee River, a stream that in those days teemed with fresh-water catfish, a choice item in the diet of southerners regardless of their race—fried catfish was a staple. Local fishermen kept the cafes and fish stands along Catfish Alley well supplied, and people came from near and far to buy fresh catfish for home cooking and consumption, hence the name Catfish Alley. The block was the prime gathering place for blacks, a mecca for those living inside and outside the city from the countryside and from neighboring towns and cities. Shoppers and diners and gatherings included entire families during the daytime, but the block took on a different tone and attracted a different crowd after dark—rumors had it that more than one house of ill repute existed among the businesses in Catfish Alley, usually on the second floor of the two-story buildings. Click here to read about today’s Catfish Alley.

Note that I use the term black rather than African-American. In those days there was no such term as African-American, at least not in the circles in which I moved. There were numerous terms used in those days to describe black people, used openly without fear of ridicule or persecution. The term most used was the same one used by black rappers today, a word rappers are allowed to use but one that is never used by anyone other than rappers, particularly not by non-African-Americans, but is referred to as the N-word. At this point I will say without hesitation, without rancor, without one ounce of racialism in my body and soul, an absence that was created many years ago through education, understanding and just plain living, that if one is going to say the N-word one may as well use the real word. And in support of that choice I will quote the bard from Romeo and Juliet, followed by a well-known and oft-used religious homily:

That which we call a rose, by any other name will smell as sweet.

The thought is as bad as the deed.

I would add a third saying but this one is a no-no—it suggests that we should call a spade a spade, a phrase that has been around for more than 500 years. It means that we should speak honestly and directly about topics that others may avoid speaking about due to their sensitivity or embarrassing nature. According to Wikipedia, the phrase that says the thought is as bad as the deed predates the use of the word spade as an ethnic slur against African-Americans, a euphemism that was not recorded until 1928. However, in contemporary U.S. society that time-honored idiom, to call a spade a spade, is often avoided due to potential confusion with the slur. Click here to read more about the history of the phrase, call a spade a spade.

The N-word is a substitute for the word Negro and in many instances, perhaps most, it is used as a pejorative, a racial and ethnic slur intended to show the speaker’s disdain and even hatred for persons of that race. However, I submit that there are people that use the word non-pejoratively, specifically in its use by southerners that have a predilection to pronounce words ending in an O, or with the sound of an O, by replacing the O sound with the ER sound. For example window becomes winder, pillow becomes piller, tallow becomes taller, shallow becomes shaller, fellow becomes feller, hollow becomes holler, ad infinitum.

So given that predilection, I’ll give you three guesses as to how such persons pronounce Negro, and the first two guesses don’t count. Yep, many southerners inadvertently use the N-word and in most instances that pronunciation is not tainted with racialism—it is simply a descriptive term, just as other persons are described as white. The N-word ends with an O, so the O is dropped and an er is added. And I’ll grant you that others use the word in all its pejorative sense, expressing contempt, disapproval and hatred with all the pent-up passion and racism that has in the past plunged our nation into civil war and which still exists, and such use of the word is not limited to southerners. Our nation has come a long way, especially since 1964 and the civil rights movement, but we still have a long way to go.

Check out this sentence: That N-word feller that lives across the holler in that house with no winders has to wade across a shaller creek to get to the store to buy a new piller and some animal taller to make candles.

Now please be honest—to thine own self be true, so to speak—do you understand how and why some southerners pronounce words ending in O as er, and do you understand how and why the word Negro rolls off the palate of a son of the south—a southerner—with the sound of what is considered to be one of the most pejorative and hateful words in our English language? The phrase N-word is converted by the listener’s brain to a word that retains the N and replaces the hyphen with an I, a couple of Gs, an E and an R, forming a word that resounds in the listener’s brain with far more resonance than N-word to the ears.

With full knowledge that I have convinced nobody—not even one person—with my explanation of the N-word as used by southerners I will make no apology, neither for myself nor for fellow southerners for past or present use of the N-word. My only point is that the real word is sometimes used without any thought of hatred or disliking, without a trace of racialism in the speaker’s mind or heart. I abhor its use when it involves prejudice, hatred, contempt, disdain, disgust or any other contemptible emotion on the part of the speaker.

I am privileged to be the only remaining brother-in-law of a southern lady, the last one of a host of brothers-in-law. That lady is a native of south Georgia now residing in North Carolina. She recently zipped past her ninetieth birthday, still mobile, still vocal and still pronouncing words that end in O as ending in ER—words such as window, pillow, hollow and yes, the word Negro. She is well aware that our society prefers—nay, demands the term African-American, but she sometimes inadvertently reverts to a lifetime of retaining the N, dropping the O and adding igger, with no more thought of hatred, malice or resentment than when she pronounces hollow as holler, or pillow as piller. I have no doubt—nay, it is my firm belief—that when her time comes she will be welcomed  into heaven by the sound of thunderous applause from all, particularly from the Supreme Applauder.

And one more thought—look at the use of F-word in place of the real word—a listener hears F-word, but can you guess which word forms in the listener’s mind? Yep, that word, the one with the letters U, C and K following the F. The phrase F-word is converted by the listener’s brain to a word that has traditionally been prohibited in all our media including movies, books, newspapers and speech, but its use has now proliferated in every medium, including prime family time on television—and it’s not just the use of the word—the act itself is often portrayed, either suggested by nudity and camera angles or fade-to-black screens. Such acts are ostensibly simulated but sometimes I suspect that the portrayal is real.

Rarely is anyone castigated for their use of the F-word, regardless of when, where, why and who is guilty of its use. Vice President Biden recently used it on television in a whispered aside in President Barack Obama’s ear. He told the president that “This is a big F-word-ing deal,” and it resonated all over the world. That slip of the tongue provoked nothing but mirth—Joe Biden, our potty mouth vice president, remains just one heartbeat away from the presidency. Click here for the story and the video.

Go figure!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 

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A cute joke promised: Playing catch-up . . .

In June of this year I posted a story about living for a time in an upstairs boarding house on College Street in Columbus, Mississippi and in closing the posting I promised to tell a cute joke told by an invalid widow in my mother’s care. This is my promise, excerpted from the original posting:

Oh, I’ve decided to save the story told by the invalid lady in the apartment house my mother managed, but stay tuned—it’ll show up in a future posting, and it’s really funny! Sadly though, it’s a clean joke—not even the suggestion of a bad word or thought in it, not one entendre in it, single, double or otherwise—bummer! To read the original posting click on the following URL:

https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2010/06/16/college-street-301-12-a-boarding-house/

This is the joke:

The elderly widow that ran the boarding house was very hard of hearing, and she urged a young man, a new guest, to have more helpings of various items on the dinner table.

Widow: Sir, please have some more to eat.

Guest: No, thank you, ma’am, I’ve had sufficient.

Widow: What’s that, sir? You went a-fishing?

Guest: No, ma’am, I said I’ve had plenty.

Widow: You say you caught twenty?

Guest, under his breath: You old fool!

Widow: Oh, in a pool!

The lady that told that joke was bedridden, and it fell to my lot to sit with her, often for hours at a time, listening to her jokes and reading to her from the Bible. It was not an easy task. The room always smelled of medications and urine, and to compensate for the odors she liberally splashed some sort of toilet water all over the room as far as she could throw it—some of it appeared to have been directed at me, but perhaps that was my imagination. Yes, I am aware that toilet water is a misnomer, one that has fallen in use over the years—in this case it was not water from the toilet.

The lady had lots of stories and jokes, but the boarding house joke was one of her favorites. The joke was pretty funny for the first few times she told it, but over time it lost a bit—no, it lost all—of its freshness and its humor.

Speaking of the Bible—the invalid had a frequent visitor, an elderly woman that was said to have memorized the entire Bible and the New Testament, and spoke by rote in response to a request for any specific chapter and verse. I listened to her recitation on some of her visits. She always brought her Bible but it remained in her lap, closed—she never opened it. I can’t speak for the accuracy of her memories, but she never missed a beat with her response—no hesitation, no pauses, speaking in a strong voice, its volume rising and falling appropriately and its timbre changing to fit the meaning of the biblical passage.

The speaker was a black lady, an elderly Negro. Yes, black and Negro were two of the the terms that were used in those days, in the mid–1940s, to identify such persons. I had never heard the term African-American at that time and I seriously doubt that the black lady had ever heard it. And yes, a variety of other terms were used to identify the race of such persons, all derogatory and all demeaning—I wish I could say not by my family, but we tended to go with the flow. Even my mother, a goodhearted and kind lady that professed love for all others, took this stance: I like black people and I have nothing against them—just as long as they stay in their place.

Times have changed, and mostly for the better. I say mostly because most people, other than African-Americans—not all, but most of them—make every effort to avoid using those derogatory terms. However, apparently not all African-Americans are reluctant to use them, claiming such terms are their right to use and have entirely different meanings than when used by racial outsiders.

Go figure!

That’s the joke I promised, and that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!



 
1 Comment

Posted by on August 24, 2010 in Books, Humor, race, religion, segregation

 

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Note to sign painters: Head for West Virginia . . .

Letter to the editor

San Antonio Express-News

P.O. Box 2171

San Antonio TX 78297

Your editorial in the Metro Section on Monday, July 19, 2010 entitled, Renaming dorm at UT proper, recounts the changing of Simkins Hall’s name to Creekside Hall, an action taken because of the scholarly research of Tom Russell, a former UT law professor and inquiries by the Austin American-Statesman. In what appears to be a rewrite of history, William Stewart Simkins is now considered a racist because of his association with the Ku Klux Klan, and therefore not worthy of having his name on a student residence named in his honor some 56 years ago, in spite of the fact that he was a longtime popular professor and considered a great legal scholar and teacher.

The article states that, Once that past was uncovered, it was clear Simkins’ name was inconsistent with the mission of a public university and an affront to UT Austin’s more than 2,000 African American students.

This letter is not meant to criticize UT for renaming the student hall. It is a matter of no consequence to me, nor should it be to anyone else, including your editorial writers and the 2,000 black students enrolled at UT. The student residence is UT’s property and subject to any name they prefer, for whatever reason. Nor will the renaming affect William Stewart Simkins—he’s been dead since 1929.

However—and this is a big however—it should affect the sovereign state of West Virginia. West Virginia is morally bound to follow in UT’s footsteps. They must follow UT’s lead and rename everything in West Virginia that carries the name of Robert C. Byrd, the late United States senator from West Virginia. The state should also rename everything that carries the name of Erma Byrd, placed there by the senator in honor of his long-time wife.

A member of the Democratic party, Byrd served as a West Virginia senator from 1959 to 2010, and was the longest-serving senator and the longest-serving member in the history of the United States Congress.

Why, you may ask, should the people of West Virginia rename all the places that sport the senator’s name? My answer is because it’s the right thing to do, the honorable thing to do. West Virginia should take the moral path and remove the name Robert C. Byrd from any and all public buildings and areas—parks, streets, highways, bridges, monuments and history books, and from all local, state and federal institutions and offices. While at it they should also remove and rename all the locations and institutions the senator named in honor of Erma Byrd, his late wife. Married for 69 years (1937—2006), one can reasonably assume that she was aware of his association with the Ku Klux Klan.

In 1944, Byrd wrote to segregationist Mississippi Senator Bilbo: I shall never fight in the armed forces with a Negro by my side … Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds. Click here to read the complete Wikipedia article.

Over the coming years, beginning with his first campaign, Senator Byrd did a complete about face—he renounced and denounced the Ku Klux Klan and embraced the black population of the United States, or at least the voting population of West Virginia, and was re-elected to his seat for the next fifty years.

Does that redeem him? Will his record in the U.S. Senate nullify the feelings he expressed in his 1944 letter to Theodore Bilbo, the segregationist Mississippi senator?

Perhaps—and perhaps not.

Listen to the You Tube video below, an interview with Tony Snow in 2007—the senator starts out fine, but manages to step on his pepperoni before the interview ends, so stay with it to the end to hear his apology for his comments. Did he really change his feelings? Remember that  this interview was conducted in 2007 following decades of professing far different feelings toward blacks—a slip of the tongue, perhaps?

In closing, allow me to repeat UT’s reasoning for renaming Simkins Hall:

Once that past was uncovered, it was clear Simkins’ name was inconsistent with the mission of a public university and an affront to UT Austin’s more than 2,000 African American students.

I submit to you that the same rationale should be applied by West Virginia residents regarding the plethora of places that are named in Byrd’s honor. Click here to read the 51 places that have been identified, plus nine named to honor his wife, a total of 60 and counting—the authors do not claim that the list is complete and are soliciting any that do not appear on the list.

The following editorial statement should appear in the Charleston Gazette and every other newspaper in West Virgina:

Once the past was uncovered, it is clear that Robert Byrd’s name and the name of his wife are inconsistent with the mission of the various edifices and other locations that bear their names, therefore they must be renamed—the present names are an affront to West Virginia’s population of some 52,000 African Americans.

An important footnote: West Virginia is home to some 52,000 African Americans—that’s 50,000 more than were supposedly affronted by William Stewart Simkins’ name on a residence hall at Austin’s University of Texas campus. I wonder if an effort has ever been mounted to rename even one of the 60 plus places in West Virginia that bear the Byrd name?

A final note: In the interests of full disclosure, I must admit that I did not submit this letter to the editor. Over the years I have accumulated numerous rejections from that worthy, some of which—but not all—may have included a thought, or thoughts, that could possibly be considered criticisms of the paper. I don’t handle rejections well so I decided to appeal to a wider audience—the highly erudite and always perceptive readers of my postings on Word Press.com. As of this posting I have never been rejected—not once—by Word Press.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Catfish Alley, ten-cent hamburgers & the N-word . . .

The Varsity Theater was, and perhaps may still be, located at the intersection of Main and First Street. Main Street was the dividing line between north and south in Columbus, the county seat of Lowndes County, Mississippi. The first block of First Street South was called Catfish Alley, a block that was comprised mostly of black businesses—grocery stores, beer joints, rooming houses, eating places, clothing stores and other businesses—most, but not all, were owned and operated by blacks. Catfish Alley was the the prime gathering place for blacks, a mecca for those living inside and outside the city and from the countryside and from neighboring towns and cities. Shoppers and diners and gatherings included entire families during the daytime, but the block took on a different tone and attracted a different crowd after dark—rumors had it that more than one house of ill repute existed among the businesses in Catfish Alley, usually on the second floor of the two-story buildings.

Note that I use the term black—in those days there was no such term as African-American, at least not in the circles in which I moved. There were numerous terms used in those days to describe black people, used openly without fear of ridicule or persecution. The term most used was the same one used by black rappers today, a word that is never enunciated but identified only as the N-word, and at this point I will say, without hesitation, without rancor, without one ounce of racialism in my body and soul, an absence that was created many years ago through education, understanding and just plain living, that if one is going to say the N-word, one may as well use the real word. And in support of that choice I will quote the bard from Romeo and Juliet, followed by a well-known and oft-used religious homily:

That which we call a rose, by any other name will smell as sweet.

The thought is as bad as the deed.

I would add a third saying but this one is a no-no—it suggests that we should call a spade a spade, a phrase that has been around for more than 500 years. It means that we should speak honestly and directly about topics that others may avoid speaking about due to their sensitivity or embarrassing nature. According to Wikipedia, The phrase predates the use of the word “spade” as an ethnic slur against African-Americans, which was not recorded until 1928; however, in contemporary U.S. society, the idiom is often avoided due to potential confusion with the slur. Click here to read more about the history of the phrase, call a spade a spade.

The N-word is a substitute for the word Negro, its pronunciation corrupted, of course, by the southerners’ predilection to pronounce words ending in an O, or with the sound of an O, by replacing the O sound with er. Window, for example, becomes winder, pillow becomes piller, tallow becomes taller, shallow becomes shaller, fellow becomes feller, hollow becomes holler, ad infinitum.

Can you guess how Negro is pronounced? Yep, for many southerners the N-word is not tainted with racialism—it is simply a descriptive term, just as other persons are described as white. The N-word ends with an O, so the O is dropped and an er is added. And I’ll grant you that others use the word in all its pejorative sense, expressing contempt, disapproval and hatred with all the pent-up passion and racism that has in the past plunged our nation into civil war and which still exists, and such use of the word is not limited to southerners. Our nation has come a long way, especially since 1964 and the civil rights movement, but we still have a long way to go.

Check out this sentence: That N-word feller that lives across the holler in that house with no winders has to wade across a shaller creek to get to the store to buy a new piller and some animal taller to make candles. Now please be honest—to thine own self be true, so to speak—do you understand how some southerners pronounce words ending in O, and do you understand how the word Negro became, to a southerner, the N-word?

With full knowledge that I have convinced nobody—not even one person—with my explanation of the N-word as used by southerners, I will continue with my dissertation—or posting if you insist—on Catfish Alley and ten-cent hamburgers:

First Street in Columbus is on a bluff overlooking the Tombigbee River, a stream that in those days was teeming with fresh-water catfish, a choice item in the diet of southerners regardless of their race—fried catfish was a staple. Local fishermen kept the cafes and fish stands along Catfish Alley well supplied, and people came from near and far to buy fresh catfish for home cooking and consumption, hence the name Catfish Alley.

The going rate for hamburgers on Catfish Alley when I was a boy was ten cents. Hamburger buns came only in one size in those days—small. The huge ones we have today either did not exist or had not yet come to our town, perhaps late as so many changes were—drive-in theaters, for example. Click here for a posting on the ins and outs of drive-in theaters. The ten-centers stood head-and-shoulders above today’s What-a-Burger and its Just a burger with its thin patty, one pickle slice, a bit of minced onions and a smear of mustard—the ten-cent patties were ample and came, if wanted, with lettuce, tomato, pickles and onion and one’s choice of mustard, ketchup or mayo in any combination.

But it gets better, because Catfish Alley had a competitor. Just a brief walk brought me and my fellow students from our high school at noon to the river’s edge where a lady dispensed five-cent burgers from a portable kitchen on wheels, burgers that had no tomato or lettuce or pickles or onions but featured a substantial hamburger patty—fifteen cents would get a student two burgers and a Pepsi or RC Cola or a Coke or a Grapette—most of us went for the 12-ounce sodas rather than the 6-ounce brands, an easy choice since the cost was the same. Ah, for the good old days!

Does anyone remember this jingle?

Pepsi Cola hits the spot
Twelve full ounces, that’s a lot
Twice as much for a nickel, too,
Pepsi Cola is the drink for you!

I make no apology, neither for myself nor for fellow southerners for past or present use of the N-word. My only point is that the real word is sometimes used without any thought of hatred or disliking, without a trace of racialism in the speaker’s mind or heart. I abhor its use when it involves prejudice, hatred, contempt, disdain, disgust or any other contemptible emotion on the part of the speaker. And one more thought—look at the use of F-word in place of the real word—a listener hears F-word, but can you guess which word forms in the listener’s mind? Yep, that word, the one with the letters U, C and K following the F, just as the phrase N-word is converted to a word that adds an I, a couple of Gs, an E and an R, a word that resounds in the listener’s brain with far more resonance than N-word to the ears.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on June 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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