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Editorial Board

Usage of word not black and white

Black United Students held a forum Tuesday evening on the infamous “N-word” and its implications in current culture. Many opinions were expressed, but it appeared that many missed the mark in contextualizing this debate in a meaningful way.

The debate can be reduced to two opposing views. One that says the word should be embraced by the African-American populous in order to bring about a new, positive meaning to the word. The other claims the use of the word is historically insensitive because it forgets the oppressive history of the word and the many who were hurt under its abusive reign.

While both sides generally share an idea about black advancement through either the changing or the abolishing of the word, both sides unfortunately forsook any discussion as to the nature of words.

Words are subjective signs that signify an object, person or idea. They are, inherently, ontologically empty, meaning they have no value outside of the value assigned to them by the sign. Thus, blue exists in reality, but the word “blue” only has meaning due to its concrete association with that color.

Muddying the waters even further is the subjective nature of the speaker, meaning every person is different and what offends the sensitivities of one may not necessarily offend the sensitivities of another. Therefore, we are left with a subjective language being spoken between two or more subjective speakers, and we quickly realize any serious conversation about language cannot be reduced to two sides.

What ultimately needs to be established is a view that is historically sensitive, progressive to future endeavors and, above all else, reasonable in light of what we know about language. Therefore, it is best to not make any attempts to change a word, but rather grow in knowledge of the history of the word, as well as the person to whom one is speaking. It is unreasonable to say that any one policy could possibly suffice every possible situation, and therefore, it is better to take the focus off the word and put it on the message.

It is conceivable that nigger could be used as a joyful greeting between two dear friends, but change their setting from, say, the Rathskeller to a political convention, and one finds the use of the word becomes less acceptable. Does that mean it isn’t acceptable ever? No. Does that mean it is always acceptable? Equally no. It means we must discern in every moment the best thing to say and the best way to say it. Only then will we begin to truly care for those we’re engaging; it is only then true black advancement will be achieved.

Such a policy is hardly fit for those who lack discernment. Small children, for instance, should be told to avoid the word and punished if they do use it. But even this policy toward children admits confidence in the discernment policy, as it recognizes who the speaker is (and assumes who the listener might be) and plans for the child accordingly. Thus, even though we might proclaim nigger is not fit for speaking for children, we do so out of an acknowledgment that language is always used best when it is discerned the most.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board, whose members are listed to the left.