bitch, slut, freak, fag. my friends in SF laughingly address each other in all manner of slurs once meant to degrade queers, loose women, outcasts, and misfits. we rarely if ever use these words as they were intended -- without irony, to demean and lambaste someone we disapprove of, or hold power over.
still, queers calling each other faggots doesn't seem to elicit the same amount of nervous commentary as rappers and comedians calling eachother "niggaz." leaders in the black community this week announced a voluntary ban or boycott on the use of the word "nigger" and its colloquial stepchild, nigga. even the white commentator on NPR yesterday couldn't bring himself to say the word, which still carries the legacy of its malevolent origins. i don't want to wade into the central debate over whether or not young black men can re-appropriate the word to promote solidarity, as a form of ironic commentary on their social position, or if its use can only serve to express internalized racial hatred.
but i do wonder about the attempt to curb popular culture through a voluntary ban like this. my general approach to speech i dislike is to offer more speech in critique, rather than promoting bans or censorship. still, i can't argue with comedians and artists voluntarily agreeing to avoid a word they find problematic -- or worse, subject to misuse by whites and other non-black fans. i might prefer to see an ongoing dialogue rather than an outright ban, but then again, perhaps the publicity over this issue will accomplish just that.
from the perspective of youth and popular culture, however, i'm wary of simply boycotting a word that's so deeply entrenched in hip hop and youth culture. disposing of its use won't erase the racial tensions that underlie it, and in fact, this kind of approach fails to engage the reasons why young black men might call eachother "nigga" in the first place (as a side note, most of the commentary seemed to gloss over the fact that young black women are rarely called "niggaz"). i suspect there's more going on here than either self-hate or solidarity-building, but i'm not quite sure what it is. there's a particular register that has currency in the hip-hop community, and "nigga," for good or for ill, has a key place in that lexicon. instead of banning or defending the word, how about investigating its use more closely, to better understand why and how young people use it? i'd rather see engaged debate and education over the issue, so members of the black community, and producers of hip hop, can come to their own analysis on the use (and abuse) of the word.