The NAACP held a funeral for the "N Word" on Monday in Detroit. I think this is a great thing. It seems like a way to move beyond an era in which people could be tagged with this vicious epithet in an attempt to take their dignity and power.
I think it's a good idea, but I say that from the privileged position of one who has never been subjected to the "N Word" and can't really imagine the totality of its power. Honestly, I really don't deserve a full say in this debate, and neither does any other person who can't really know what it is like to have the baggage of that word heaped upon him or her. Frankly, it's probably rather patronizing for me to say that this is a good thing. But hey, it's my blog, so I get to say what I want. We're talking about a very ugly word, and I think it would be good to bury it deep underground, as long as we don't now think that racism has been eradicated by a symbolic gesture. Sadly, racism is alive and well, and it will take a lot of pine boxes (and education, and dialogue, and changes of mind and heart) to lay it to rest.
This all gets me thinking about another debate in which I do have a stake. I like the word "queer." I find it to be a useful word, when applied in the proper context (in other words, when not hurled out a car window as a slur). It's inclusive, and avoids the alphabet soup of "LGBTQSAetc."
Or is it inclusive? "Queer" seems inclusive to me, because I think of myself as queer. There are a lot of folks who would accept one of the above soup letters, however, and would not ever in a million years call themselves "queer." So it is simultaneously an inclusive and exclusive word, depending again on the context. For many folks, that word is as offensive as the "N Word." This is generational and regional and surely cultural. When I was in Berkeley, I met almost no one who disliked the word "queer." Here in the Heartland, I have met several, and have taken to using the word much less often, so as not to run the risk of offending anyone.
"Queer" is an insider word, at least outside of academia, where "Queer Studies" programs are taking off. It's a word that certain people will get away with using, and others will not. That may be a problem; I don't know.
I actually don't know what to do with the word altogether. Should we bury it? Reclaim it? Use it selectively? Some other option I haven't considered?