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.
YANKEE RADIO TOOL KIT, #106
1 month ago