Monday, September 19, 2016

When Not to Use the "N" Word On Or Off Campus

A Times article entitled “Campuses Cautiously Train Freshman Against Subtle Insults" (NYT, 9/6/16), quotes a newly minted freshman at Clark asking the following question: “When I, as a white female, listen to music that uses the N word, and I’m in the car, or, especially when I’m with all white friends, is it O.K. to sing along?” The subject of the Times piece is “microaggressions” and the writer, Stephanie Saul, goes on to cite Sheree Marlowe, the new chief diversity officer at Clark to the effect that such lapses “are comments, snubs or insults that communicate derogatory or negative messages that might not be intended to cause harm but are targeted at people based on their membership in a marginalized group.” Marlowe’s answer to the freshman’s question according to The Times was “no.” But who exactly is allowed to sing along to the song which uses the N word and isn't it a form of discrimination that only those to whom the pejorative term applies can employ it? Policing language is deadly work. For instance what about the freshman at Clark who decides they want to buy a ream of all white paper for their printer? How are they supposed to go about requesting the paper they want, particularly if the individual working the aisle at the student co-op is Asian and might take offense and how does one ask for the edition of Huckleberry Finn which substitutes the word “slave” for “nigger” ("Light Out, Huck, They Still Want to Sivilize You,"NYT, 1/6/11)? Is it a microaggression to mention the N word, even when asking for the edition of a classic from which it’s been summarily deleted? Then we come up against the old problem of whether you should announce auditions for the role of Shylock at Hillel or that famous, Moor, Othello, in the Black Student’s Union? But let’s go back to the original question. What if you’re traveling in a car and there is music playing that uses the N word but you’re deaf. Can you still sing along?

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