Sunday, February 14, 2010

Book Review: "N-----" by Randall Kennedy

After reading such an emotionally charged book as Kennedy’s, I am almost hesitant to write a review. Anything I say as a white man about the linguistic term that is the title of this book is liable to be controversial to someone. However, it IS a book that I believe readers of any ethnicity owe it to themselves to absorb.
I can appreciate how Kennedy doesn’t explicitly forbid the usage of the word (OF COURSE considering the user’s race and context). He emphasizes that there are free speech debates that are quite relevant in considering censorship, and rightfully so. No one should be forbidden to speak as they will in a free society. At the same time, we can not overlook the fact that this IS (in my opinion) the vilest word in the English language. It has created the setting for murders, fights and court cases.
If there is a criticism I would make about the book, it is that there is not enough history as to why the word has become so volatile. To many, it should be common sense, but those that need to hear the message the most perhaps are unaware of WHY this one word carries so much negative meaning to an entire race of people. One wonders for example, what would have gone differently in John Mayer’s recent Playboy interview if he had just put down an appropriate study of the history of this word.
I will keep this review purposefully short as it is not my place to elaborate on who should or shouldn’t, can or can’t, or does or doesn’t have the right to use this term. I would simply encourage all who doubt the magnitude of one word in the English language to spend some time with this book. It is important for everyone to understand the proper context, background and appropriate usage (or lack thereof) of this powerful, insulting, sometimes bonding and always controversial word.

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