Ken McElroy Online

The N Word

Ken McElroy
February 19, 2001

California Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante recently caused a great furor and was compelled to apologize profusely for accidentally using a racial epithet. Speaking last month at a Black History Month event attended by about 400 people, Bustamante apparently meant to say the word "Negro" as he recited the title of an early black organization. Evidently, he slipped and the word 'n*gger' accidentally came out of his mouth. He has apologized repeatedly, and there is no reason to believe that his apologies were not sincere.

Jesse Jackson has also been heard using an 'N' word lately, but not the same one as Mr. Bustamante. The Rev. Jackson's 'N' word of choice was "Nazi." The Rev. Jackson accused the President of the United States, George W. Bush, of using "Nazi tactics" in the election aftermath in Florida. He didn't speak by accident. He didn't have a slip of the tongue. He chose his words purposefully to smear his political opponent.

What does one have to do with the other? The 'N' word used to demean blacks is universally considered to be one of the most vile words that could be spoken in public (unless you're making a rap album). It is so taboo, it is almost never even typed out in a column like this. You're more likely to hear the 'F' word in public.

Of course it's terrible to call a black person the 'N' word; it is used to demean the individual, to dehumanize them. But why isn't it equally bad, if not worse, to call someone a "Nazi" or accuse them of "Nazi tactics"? Does the Rev. Jackson really believe that George W. Bush shares the views of the Third Reich? Or was he simply seeking to damage the reputation of a political opponent?

Calling a black person the 'N' word really says nothing about that person's character, their honesty, integrity, intellect, or anything else. It is a cruel, but shallow, attack. But calling a man a Nazi is an attack on his character, an attempt to make other people think that he is corrupt or evil. The latter is arguably worse.

My purpose here is not to single out Jesse Jackson for criticism, though his words certainly deserve criticism. Many on the Left in America have made it a routine part of their rhetoric in recent years to use this kind of character assassination to try to destroy political adversaries. Are you black and conservative? Do you oppose affirmative action programs? You're not wrong on the issues, you're an "Uncle Tom," you're a "sellout." If you're white and oppose affirmative action, you're racist. Oppose gay marriage? You're not wrong on the issue, you might as well have murdered Matthew Shepard with your own hands. Conservative politicians and public figures are routinely referred to as racists, bigots, Nazis, Klansmen.

A few years ago, during debate over the Contract with America, Rep. Charles Rangel from New York said of the Republicans in Congress, "It's not 'spic' and 'n*gger' anymore. They say, 'Let's cut taxes.'" Imagine for a moment that a Republican member of the House of Representatives responded by calling Rep. Rangel the 'N' word. His career would be over immediately. His reputation would be irreparably damaged, and rightly so. But Rep. Rangel is still a respected member of Congress. Why is it acceptable to call people Klansmen in public?

In the recent hearings to confirm John Ashcroft to be Attorney General, the former Senator was repeatedly accused of "insensitivity", and it was implied that this was an offense so grave that it disqualified him from public service.

So where are the sensitivity police when John Ashcroft is accused of racism, when President Bush is accused of Nazism, when Clarence Thomas is accused of Uncle Tom-ism, when the House Republicans are accused of Klan-ism?

Just this past February at the NAACP annual meeting in Washington D.C., NAACP board chairman Julian Bond, referring to the new Bush Administration, said, "They selected nominees from the Taliban wing of American politics." Does Mr. Bond really believe that President Bush is akin to the Taliban? Or is this just another ugly slur?

Lt. Governor Bustamante apologized for using the 'N' word by accident. Will Julian Bond apologize for using the 'T' word on purpose?