Somewhere in hell, Lenny Bruce is laughing at us, bitterly.
As a society, we keep loading up that Chekov gun and hanging it back above the fireplace with a great big sign on it, "Hands Off! Danger!" and it works just as well as those "NO SPITTING" signs that make a lot of folks want to spit the second they see 'em.
Bruce thought we -- that's all of us more-or-less civilized humans, with our varying accents, skin colors and damfool political notions -- ought to get together and drain the power from the word, but it's probably too late. Attempts to reclaim it as an in-group word have, rap artists notwithstanding, just point a bigger spotlight at it. Nope, for a non-African American public figure (at least and ya shouldn't get too damn' comfy with it no matter where your ancestors were hauled off from), having ever provably said "the n-word" is just the same as being caught in bed with an underaged partner,* period.
There are plenty of disparaging-outgroup words but only one with so much power. It didn't get there overnight and it's not going to turn back into just another dreadfully rude term polite grown-ups don't say in a hurry, either.
At this point, it doesn't even make any difference what you think about it; there it is and we're stuck. Like the punchline to the joke where the guy goes to his doctor and says, "It hurts when I do this," my advice is the same: then stop doing that.
* The rule used to be "A dead girl or a live boy," but we hold pols to a sterner standard these days...though, notably, still rather more lax than the standard one applies to friends, neighbors or the fellow who runs the corner service station.
T. R. MCELROY'S STREAMLINED TELEGRAPH KEYS
6 months ago