“How many of you have used the ‘n’ word?”

Hands hesitantly rose from a crowd of about 40 people of mixed ethnicities.
Every single person in the audience at Malik Fraternity’s Real Negus presentation on October 10, 2013 admitted to using this word whether derogatorily or just in passing.

The purpose of the event was to explore the evolution of this word that has so much, or so little meaning in society our today.

Members from different classes of Malik presented the history of “negus,” which dates back to the Ethiopian term for royalty.

A word used for kings became depreciated to the term used for slaves in America in the time of slavery.

Now it is passed around casually in pop culture and has trickled down to become a slang word like twerk or rachet.

Has society lost touch with where this word came from?

That was what Malik asked the panel of two caucasion and two black student judges: Gabe Ruttner – Caucasian, Kalin Sims – African American Jasmine Haefner – Caucasian and Esther-Lauren Mutolo – African American.

Mutolo began the discussion with a personal experience of when she was called the “n” word in elementary school.

“I felt bad for the girl,” said Mutolo. “At such a young age, she knew what it meant and used it in a hateful manner.”

The discussion then opened up to the audience as questions were raised about why the ‘n’ word is used, how it is used and if that’s ok.

“It wasn’t that it was ok, that’s just the way we talked,” said Jasmine, a panelist.

The audience joined in with their own opinions giving perspectives from completely different socioeconomical backgrounds as well as ethnicities.

Pascal Messaussa, a Malik brother and graduate student, has been trying to bring awareness to his generation for the past four years. This was his brainchild and finally he’s seen a productive, educational debate on something that matters to him.

“I’ve never seen such effective discussion from a really respectful audience,” said senior psychology major, Bahtara Keita.

“I just want people to think about it before they talk,” said Messaussa.

Jasmine Haefner, an editor at The Press, was a panelist but had no part in the writing of this piece.

Maggy’s Take

A redheaded, blue-eyed girl sitting in the audience, I am the minority.

It’s not something where I feel uncomfortable. I’m intrigued to hear mixed races discuss an issue that hits so close to home.

Raised in the south, the “n” word has never been something I considered casual. The only time it was used was with  the hard –er. It just was not something we threw around.

I am lucky enough to have been raised by two parents who taught me  that no one—regardless of their skin tone—should be reduced to labels. In third grade we learned about the slave age. To help us understand how people were treated then, each day of an entire week a part of the class was separated by some sort of physical characteristic. I’ll never forget standing with the blue-eyed kids in the back of the line to the cafeteria and sitting at our isolated table in silence. I have never felt so ashamed of something I was born with—even as a ginger.

Moving to New York was a huge culture shock. People were carelessly using “nigga” instead of “dude” or “biddie” all around me. It was normal.

I’ve never thought of it as a “term of endearment” like the majority of the audience at Real Negus concluded.

Yes, it’s used in lyrics all the time, and yes even I’ve said it. And while I understand it has become part of our vernacular, every time I hear it coming out of my mouth I immediately feel ashamed.

This isn’t because I’m a white girl, raised in the south. It’s simply because I know it is still used to segregate an entire race.

What I took away from the presentation was it’s not “should we use it or shouldn’t we.” The point the brothers of Malik made in their presentation was to understand what you are saying before saying it.


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