Summary: If your classes incorporate The Wire, contemporary music, clips from stand-up comedy routines (e.g. Dave Chappelle or Chris Rock), or books like Gang Leader for a Day, your students have probably been exposed to the "n-word" in an academic context. These can offer important opportunities to engage students in a conversation about how and why the word is used in contemporary society, and if it is really ever acceptable for anyone to use the word. This is a particularly important conversation to have in today's media environment, where students are exposed to the word so frequently that many of them will become de-sensitized to its usage. This clip from Countdown with Keith Olbermann offers an opportunity to engage students on this taboo topic. The clip was done shortly after Michael Richard's (the actor who played Kramer on Seinfeld) racist rant that went off script during a stand-up routine. It provides a summary of the event, coverage of his public apology to the African-American community, and reactions from various people to the event and apology. The bulk of this clip features commentary from comedian and actor Paul Mooney, who had a particularly powerful reaction to Richards' rant. Mooney recounts how he, along with Richard Pryor, had long used the word in their comedy "to de-power the word." Mooney explains this as an attempt within the African-American community to assign new meaning to the word. However, after hearing the context in which Richards used the word, he was shocked, and has vowed to stop using the n-word in his work (he similarly notes that he won't use the "b-word" anymore). He argues that "It's time for us, as a Black race, to not be tolerated; we have to be celebrated. And I want to celebrate my Blackness and I want to take back my power ... and I want to bring back the dignity ... All people, the Latino kids, the white kids, the young Black kids, the Asians, all use that word ... and I want to just lock it up." The clip offers an important counter-weight to those who so frequently use it in their music, comedy, or everyday language--reminding us of its historical context and how that context cannot be ignored. Viewers might consider why Paul Mooney has changed his attitude about the word? What are the different positions about the word's usage within the Black community? Regardless of the performer's race, what are the negative impacts of using the word? Can we actually separate the word's contemporary usage from its historical origins? In what ways is this similar to, and different from, other racial slurs used in contemporary culture?
Submitted By: Paul Dean