n word

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tiles with the letter N

By Cherry Wilson

BBC News Online

"It's the filthiest, dirtiest, nastiest word in the English language."

That was the view of prosecutor Christopher Darden when the issue of saying the N-word came up in the 1995 murder trial of US football star OJ Simpson.

And it's a view that many people still share today.

The Đài truyền hình BBC received more kêu ca 18,600 complaints for using the word in full in a report about a racially aggravated attack in July.

It initially defended the decision but the then-director general Tony Hall later issued an apology, saying it was a "mistake".

This led to tướng the Đài truyền hình BBC issuing staff with new guidance on the use of racist language in its output - which was published on Wednesday.

It now says there must be "exceptional editorial reasons to tướng use the strongest racist terms" - and this must be personally approved by the corporation's divisional directors.

When I hear the word I shudder. I think of my dad hearing the words, "Get the [N-word]!" while being chased through the streets of Liverpool by racist football fans as he went to tướng watch Man City.

The word can be traced back in history to tướng slavery.

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

A wall highlighting the painful history of the slave trade is on display at the Zomachi memorial in Benin, West Africa

It was in the summer of 1619 when a ship arrived in a port in Virginia carrying around trăng tròn Africans who were chained up to tướng be sold as slaves.

It was the first documented arrival of slaves in the US, and the Africans were referred to tướng using the Spanish and Portuguese words for Black - which is where the word comes from.

"It's really tied into the idea that African people aren't really human beings," says Kehinde Andrews, professor of Black studies at Birmingham City University.

"They were more lượt thích an animal kêu ca a human being, a beast of burden, could be bought and sold, could be thrown overboard ships and literally had no rights.

"So when the N-word is used that's essentially what it's used for. So I would hope most people would understand why that is deeply offensive and problematic because it still is used in that context now."

Image source, Alamy

Image caption,

12 Years A Slave tells the story of Solomon Northup who was kidnapped and sold into slavery

You only have to tướng watch films lượt thích 12 Years a Slave to tướng see how the word was used to tướng make Black people feel inferior and unworthy.

Historically in the UK, you'll find references to tướng it being used as an "affectionate" name - but it still had negative connotations.

The full word was a nickname British scientist Charles Darwin and his wife Emma used in their letters to tướng each other in the 1840s.

She used it as a "term of endearment" and he used it "playfully to tướng suggest that the status of a husband was that of a slave", according to tướng the Darwin correspondence project.

It was also the name given to tướng a Black Labrador which was the mascot of the Royal Airforce 617 Squadron - famously known as the Dambusters - during World War Two.

Image source, Shutterstock

Image caption,

The dog's name was used in full in the 1955 film The Dam Busters

"Part of the thing about the N-word and why it was used for the dog and why it's used in that kind of affectionate way is because we were seen to tướng be lượt thích animals," Prof Andrews tells mạ.

"There's different versions of it where, on the one hand, the good [N-word] is a slave, they're subservient, they bởi what they're told, they're good to tướng their master.

"And then the other side of that is that a bad [N-word] is somebody who's really violent, masculine and dangerous. But it's all rooted in the same basic premise that we're not really humans."

After World War Two, the racism directed at Black and Asian people who had emigrated to tướng the UK from Commonwealth countries saw the word come to tướng be used as a racial slur in everyday life - and politics.

At the 1964 election, Conservative MP Peter Griffiths won the Smethwick seat in the West Midlands after a chiến dịch which used the slogan: "If you want a [N-word] for a neighbour, vote Liberal or Labour". The biểu ngữ spelt out the full word.

Image caption,

Peter Griffiths' election as Smethwick's Conservative MP in 1964 was arguably the most racist electoral chiến dịch in British history

This is something I didn't know about until now, and I did GCSE history at school. It does makes mạ wonder if teaching these difficult moments in our past in school would help more people to tướng understand the horrible legacy of the word and why it's sánh offensive.

That election was more kêu ca 50 years ago - but the word is still used in that derogatory way today.

In 2017, Labour MP Diane Abbott revealed how she is repeatedly called the word by racists who target her with abuse through gmail and social truyền thông media.

In 2018, the words "no blacks" and a version of the N-word was scrawled on the trang chủ of the Kasese family hours after they moved into a new neighbourhood in Rochdale, Greater Manchester.

In June this year, Black families in Essex say they were sent racist letters containing the word - which also included threats to tướng kill.

NHS worker and musician K-Dogg claims it was the word that was shouted at him when he was hit by a xế hộp in an alleged racist attack in July.

Xem thêm: Truyện Ngôn Tình Cổ Đại: Tình Yêu Đẹp Trong Bức Tranh Lịch Sử

Image caption,

K-Dogg was left with serious injuries after being attacked

But not everyone sees the word as being problematic.

In 2013, some Đài truyền hình BBC viewers complained when an episode from Fawlty Towers was edited to tướng remove a line that contained the word - saying it was the "airbrushing of history".

In năm ngoái, a Radio 1 Newsbeat survey of 3,000 18- to tướng 29-year-olds suggested more kêu ca a quarter of people thought it was acceptable to tướng be used in some circumstances.

In July this year, the name of the Dambusters' dog was removed from its gravestone as RAF Scampton "did not want to tướng give prominence to tướng an offensive term".

More kêu ca 3,000 people signed a petition calling for it to tướng be put back, with some arguing it was a "disgraceful decision" and the dog was "a part of history".

The issue of using the word was brought up by Đài truyền hình BBC London presenter Eddie Nestor on his show in August and there were a lot of different views.

Caller Mark said discussions around the use of it had become "over-sensitised.".

Caller Shaun said the word has been "demonised", adding: "If you walked up and slapped mạ in the face I'd be offended, if you đường dây nóng mạ any name under the sun I'd just rise above it and walk on. It's just a word, it doesn't hurt."

Questions that always get asked when the word comes up are "Why bởi some Black people still use it?" and "Why can't white people sing it if it's in a rap song?"

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

Chris Tucker plays Detective Carter and Jackie Chan plays Chief Inspector Lee in the Rush Hour films

It makes mạ think back to tướng one of my favourite comedy films, Rush Hour, and Chris Tucker's character - who is Black - uses it to tướng greet his Black friend saying, "What's up my [N-word]?"

Then a few minutes later, Jackie Chan's character copies him and says it to tướng a Black person and it starts a huge fight.

You'll also hear the word in songs by Black US rappers and in UK grime music.

I came across a letter posted on Twitter written by race expert Dr Jacqui Stanford about the use of the word.

She said historically Black enslaved people created a language for themselves, "often using the framework and actual words of their enslavers".

"Black people have successfully divested the N-word of its original offence and in our struggle to tướng survive the devastation it occasions, gave it new meaning, made it approachable, survivable," she wrote.

I spoke to tướng Dr Stanford about this further and she said the word was a "complex term" and she "doesn't necessarily reject it". During our chat she used the full word and every time I heard it I could just feel my body toàn thân tensing up.

"The word is being policed because Black folks did not have a choice in the matter at a certain time when it was used to tướng their disadvantage, to tướng abuse and to tướng inscribe and reinforce the sense of Black people as inferior by white people," she said.

"That the word survives is an act of redemption by Black folk. The word survives on the conditions that Black folks have inscribed for it and nobody else can take that. And it becomes violent when other people try to tướng take it and use it."

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

Kendrick Lamar stopped a white người yêu thích after she repeatedly used the word while singing his song

In 2018, Kendrick Lamar stopped a white woman from singing his tuy vậy M.A.A.D City on stage at one of his concerts after she repeatedly used the word - which is in the track.

Explaining why he did this, he told Vanity Fair: "I've been on this earth for 30 years and there's been sánh many things a Caucasian person said I couldn't bởi. Get good credit, buy a house in an urban đô thị. So many things - 'You can't bởi that' - whether it's from afar or close up.

"So if I say this is my word, let mạ have this one word, please let mạ have that word."

Dr Stanford says white people cannot use the word because its origin in slavery hasn't been lost.

"These are people who have created the word in the first place, but who have now lost power in relation to tướng it, they have lost the power to tướng use it with impunity, they have lost the power to tướng reclaim it."

Prof Andrews adds: "If you understand the history of the word and how it's been used, it's not for white people to tướng use, it's not for anybody else to tướng use.

"If you look at the way that we use the word, which would be more acceptable - and I'm not saying I'm pro using it - it's about endearment, it's about family, it's about connections, it's about recognising the situation that we're in.

"So if you're not Black you can't bởi that. You actually can't use the word in the way that we use it. It's not possible, because you're not in that space. So any other usage of it is completely wrong."

But there are some people who feel the word shouldn't be used by anyone - whatever their race.

"It's actually probably the most offensive word in English," Labour MP David Lammy said on LBC radio in August.

He said he understands the history of reclaiming and owning the term of abuse, but added: "I say the time has come to tướng bởi away with it. If Black lives matter, don't own it, reject it."

Illustration by Gerard Groves

Cherry Wilson is a proud northerner who recently moved back to tướng Stockport, Greater Manchester, where she grew up.

She studied journalism in Sheffield and was the first in her family to tướng go to tướng university. Her passion is telling the stories of the people and communities behind the headlines, exploring issues that matter to tướng them.

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