Everyone from BlackProf to the Daily Show has been discussing THE N WORD: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn't, and Why, by Jabari Asim (Houghton Mifflin). Peniel E. Joseph's review just appeared in the Washington Post. Joseph writes: In an era when high-profile rappers, comedians and public intellectuals craft contorted defenses for the use of the word "nigger," Jabari Asim's "The N Word" provides an important, timely and much-needed critical intervention about this enduringly controversial subject. Beyond a simple discussion of the word itself, Asim deftly chronicles the way in which racist ideology went hand-in-hand with racist culture to permanently alter -- and stain -- the character of America's nascent democracy.
Asim's book is an ambitious, sweeping work that surveys four centuries of racist culture and custom in American society. From the outset, the term in question was a convenient, all-purpose condemnation that allowed such architects of American democracy as Thomas Jefferson to claim that blacks lacked the intellectual and emotional capacity to handle full citizenship. In Jefferson's words, blacks were "inferior to the whites in endowments both of body and mind." A veritable industry of scientific and cultural racism would make Jefferson's sentiments seem positively statesmanlike. At each step of this sprawling, briskly paced history, Asim chronicles the way in which the word not only permeated popular culture through literary classics such as "Huck Finn" but had practical, real-world consequences, especially during the post-Reconstruction period of anti-black lynching, violence and rioting that swept across the nation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
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