Consigning the 'N' Word to Personal History

Pendarvis Harshaw

hide captionPendarvis Harshaw.

Youth Radio

As some African-American leaders call for a boycott of the racial epithet known as the 'N' word, Pendarvis Harshaw of Youth Radio starts a campaign of his own.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

A group of African-American leaders including Congresswoman Maxine Waters and the Reverend Jesse Jackson want to stamp out the n-word. After actor Michael Richards' recent racial tirade in a comedy club here in Los Angeles the group is asking people to stop using the n-word.

Youth Radio's Pendarvis Harshaw is on a campaign of his own. You should be aware, though, that you will hear that epithet throughout his commentary.

PENDARVIS HARSHAW: In every region in the U.S., inner city terminology takes a twist, but the one term that will get you accepted in any hood around the country is the word nigga. The mentoring program I meet with every Wednesday aspires to change that. At the meeting there's a chart that illustrates the hierarchy of self-definition for black males. Nigga is at the bottom, it ascends to man, then to master, and finally to God.

Here's the theory: What you say you are, you become. I'm constantly reciting the self-affirmation - I'm a master. But still I'm struggling to drop the word nigger from my vocabulary. The upcoming generation of black folks maintains the word like it's hereditary, so when will it end?

I always wonder will people forget that the word nigga came from the word nigger? The word is rooted in the dehumanizing period of black slavery, and now it's been warped, multiplied, and like an invasive species, even made it's way to Africa. On a recent trip to Ghana I told a young salesman in the marketplace that I was from California. He instantly referred to a verse from a rap song titled, “California Love.” I shook his hands saying, yeah, that's tight. He said, yeah, my nigga.

Dang! We're known for being niggas worldwide. But there is hope. On that chart in my mentoring program, next to nigga it refers to the corresponding attitude - I don't give a bleep. Next to master it reads, I will get it done. And I believe that from Oakland, California, to Accra, Ghana, it's possible to do as the chart illustrates: redefine ourselves to the point where the next generation of rap music is known as the music of masters.

MONTAGNE: Commentator Pendarvis Harshaw is 19. He's a freshman at Howard University. His commentary was produced by Youth Radio.

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