Discrimination against minorities has always been a problem in the United States. Actually the word “nigger” is an inseparable part of American daily speech. This word is a hurtful racial slur against blacks, however sometimes it was even used against members of other ethnic groups, for example Chinese, Indians and Arabs. Beatings, lynching and other types of abuse have often followed the use of the word.
To fully comprehend the depth of American discrimination against minorities, it is necessary to know very well how did the racial discriminations had shown themselves in the past. The word “nigger” is obviously an obscenity, so are the opinions of Supreme Court in Dred Scott v. Sandford, which ruled that African Americans were permanently ineligible for federal citizenship, and Plessy v. Ferguson, which ruled that state-mandated, “equal but separate” racial segregation entailed no violation of the federal constitution.
Those opinions shaped the racial insult policy of the country and suppression of the minority groups. Leading etymologists believe that “nigger” was derived from an English word “neger” that was itself derived from “Negro”, the Spanish word for black. Precisely when the term became a slur is unknown. We do know, however, that by early in the 19th century “nigger” had already become a familiar insult. In 1837, in The Condition of the Colored People of the United States; and the Prejudice Exercised Towards Them, Hosea Easton observed that “nigger” “is an opprobrious term, employed to impose contempt upon [blacks] as an inferior race…The term itself would be perfectly harmless were it used only to distinguish one class from another; but it is not used with that intent…it flows from the fountain of purpose to injure.”
The word has been getting different senses as well. For example some blacks use it among themselves as an everyday word. This is done ironically, understanding how abusive the term is and only if one is in a close relationship with a person, who he is speaking.
As Clarence Major observed in his Dictionary of Afro-American Slang (1970), “used by black people among themselves, [nigger] is a racial term with undertones of warmth and goodwill – reflecting…a tragicomic sensibility that is aware of black history.” Many blacks object, however, to using the term even in that context for fear that such usage will be misunderstood and imitated by persons insufficiently attuned to the volatility of this singularly complex and dangerous word.
Some of the viewers do not agree even to watch cartoons or read books that contain the word “nigger”.
This objection to be reproducing the word in not something new. Writing in 1940 in his memoir The Big Sea, Langston Hughes remarked that “[t]he word nigger to colored people is like a red rag to a bull. Used rightly or wrongly, ironically or seriously, of necessity for the sake of realism, or impishly for the sake of comedy, it doesn’t matter. Negroes do not like it in any book or play whatsoever, be the book or play ever so sympathetic in its treatment of the basic problems of the race. Even though the book or play is written by a Negro, they still do not like it. The word nigger, you see, sums up for us who are colored all the bitter years of insult and struggle inAmerica.”
Unfortunately, discrimination against minorities – racial, is not the only type of discrimination popular in America, there are also sexual and religious minorities that are being discriminated against. But the concept remains the same, those who are different from majority must have different rights as well.
Bigliography and References:
- The Big Sea, Langston Hughes 1940.
- Dictionary of Afro-American Slang (1970), Clarence Major.