The N-Word: Negative or Neccesary

Nearly 400 Tallahassee college students and residents gathered Monday night in Lee Hall auditorium to take part in a debate hosted by The College of Social Sciences Arts and Humanities as a part of the Artists in Bloom Festival.

The debate featured five scholarly panelists from the greater Tallahassee area and presented the debate topic: “Should the N-word be banned from the performing arts?”

Darryl Scriven, Ph.D., an assistant professor of Philosophy at Florida A&M University, helped organize the event and served as the moderator for the debate.

“This word is in our culture in a profound way,” Scriven said. “So as thought leaders, we have to be at the forefront of this issue. It’s important that we bring our thinkers together and reason as to how we should move forward using this word.”

Patrick Mason, Ph. D., the Director of the African American Studies Program at Florida State University, and Kermit Harrison, a Professor of Philosophy at Tallahassee Community College both argued in favor of the ban of the n-word within the performing arts.

While both Mason and Harrison agreed that the word holds artistic value, they believed that the negative energy of the word does so much psychic damage that it needs to be banned.

“I’ve always been a supporter of using the word in private amongst blacks because it carries a different meaning,” Mason said. “But the word has become so abused in public that that private space has been invaded and I am less in favor of even using it in private.”

Iyelli Ichile, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of History at FAMU, Dr. Beth Turner, an Adjunct Professor of Theatre at FAMU and Maurice Johnson, a visiting professor of education at FAMU all argued against the ban of the N-word within the performing arts.

Although they were all in favor of using the word within the performing arts, their reasons as to why the word should be used differed throughout the debate.

Professor Maurice Johnson spoke about a generational gap that exists in the debate over the n-word and said Hip-Hop culture is an instrument in reclaiming and redefining the word as a tool of empowerment.

Ichile and Turner however, both expressed great disdain for the word but recognized its power within the performing arts as a necessary teaching tool about its violent history.

“We claim that we can redefine this word as something that expresses love, but it’s really a tainted love,” Ichile said. “We wouldn’t use the word to refer to our elders or figures of authority so why not have that same honor and reverence when dealing with each other?”

A poll taken before the debate showed that 60 percent of attendees favored not banning the word, while 26 percent were in favor of the ban and 14 percent were undecided.

After the debate, the number of attendees who favored not banning the word dropped to 39 percent, while those in favor rose to 28 percent and those undecided rose to 33 percent.

According to Scriven, since the number of attendees for the ban only increased by two percent, and the number of those in favor decreased by 21 percent, the panelists arguing for the ban won the debate.

The N-word debate was the first event of a week’s worth of events featured in the Artists in Bloom Festival. The festival culminates this weekend at the Charles Winter Wood Theater with the showing of the play Sibling Rivalry by James Webb.