Motion to Ban Racial Slur Unanimously Passed
In the latest response to elected officials and citizens debating the use of the “N-word,” the Los Angeles City Council officially passed a resolution to ceremonially ban its use on November 9, setting off a debate over free speech versus responsible speech.
The resolution, introduced by Councilmember Bernard Parks, was unanimously passed 11-0 after hearing testimony from civil rights leaders and the owner of the Laugh Factory, the club where comedian Michael Richards sparked a firestorm last year when he used the word during his stand-up routine.
The move comes after similar actions taken by the New York City Council, who passed a similar resolution in February, and the NAACP, who symbolically buried the word this past summer.
Councilwoman Jan Perry said she was very pleased to join Councilmember Parks “in seeking a symbolic ban on the use of the N-word” as well as join the national movement against it.
“Everyone has the right to speak due to the First Amendment allowing freedom of expression, but you don’t have the right to inflame, insult and attack people,” Perry said.
Some have questioned whether a “symbolic ban” proves anything but in the mind of Councilmember Herb Wesson, symbols are just as a valuable as actions.
“As elected officials, we have to lead by example and support others, like the ‘Mothers in Action’s Respect Me Coalition,’ who are showing leadership,” Wesson said. “How can we demand respect from others if we don’t show respect for ourselves and our community?”
The “Respect Me” Coalition may have been birthed from radio personality Don Imus’ remarks towards the Rutgers women’s basketball team, but their drive for self-respect is no different than what the City Council hopes to achieve with this resolution, which is to educate people on the harm the N-word causes.
Both Perry and City Council President Eric Garcetti alluded to Council meetings where speakers would use the word to incite the crowd. As a result, there is now a sign in the council chamber that bans the use of inflammatory language against anyone based on their ethnicity or sexual orientation.
“People can’t ban a word if it’s used in context to express an idea, but the moment it is used to rile people up to incite people to violence, that’s where we can draw the line,” Garcetti said.
The recent gang tensions between Blacks and Latinos highlighted this concern as there were cases where Latino gang members used the word as they targeted young Black men.
It was exactly one year ago when Richards directed the word repeatedly towards four Black patrons at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood. The incident sparked discussions around the country and since then, it has come under heavy scrutiny inside and outside the Black community.
Two weeks after it happened, several Black political leaders and others held a press conference at the Sentinel to encourage people of all races not to use the word.
Rev. Jesse Jackson called for “all people in public usage to stop using the N-word; its use is rooted in hatred, pain and degradation,” Rev. Jesse Jackson said.
Since the end of slavery, the word has been used primarily to insult Black people because of their skin color and the stereotypical attitudes. Perry said she can remember vividly each time word was used against her.
But with the rise of stand-up comedians like Richard Pryor and Blaxploitation films in the 1970s, the word became reborn as a symbol of pride and in the 1980s, South L.A. hip-hop artists N.W.A. and Ice-T used the word heavily in their songs, which eventually led to it becoming part of the hip-hop vocabulary.
This leads to another issue with the word: who ultimately profits the most from it? While entertainers claim they are taking back the power of the word, it is mostly White-owned media companies that reap most of the financial benefits from it.
The “big four” record labels - Sony BMG, EMI, Warner and Universal Music Groups - own close to 80 percent of the American music market and as rappers have made songs using derogatory language, it is these companies who get paid from what some call “self-degradation.”
For the last few years, it has been assumed that Whites are the ones who purchase the majority of hip-hop albums. Although there is no physical data to support this, since hip-hop has gotten more play on Top 40 radio and Whites are the dominant racial group in the United States, one can see how this is most likely the case.
With no education behind the word’s dark past, future generations will hear the word without being aware of what they are saying and that is what the Council most hopes to change.
Garcetti made it clear that the word “is not just something that’s part of our history in the past, it’s part of our present. Whether it’s a celebrity or a knucklehead on the streets or someone who is a vicious racist, [it] seeks to disempower people by making them sub-human.”
To those who question why the Council made this decision now, Garcetti responded because racism has become more subtle these days, the word has become a gateway into accepting more serious actions.
And with tensions currently at a cooling point, it is time to act now before the Council is forced to act because of another senseless tragedy.
What do you think? Can moves like this persuade African Americans to stop lacing dialog with N-Bombs during their casual conversation - even among themselvs? Speak and be heard!