There's No Crying in Baseball
As you probably already know, February is "Black History Month," a phrase that grew out of one coined by the esteemed black historian Carter G. Woodson, author of the book The Miseducation of the Negro.
Woodson received his high school diploma at the age of 22 and went on to get a master's degree in history from the University of Chicago. In 1912, Woodson received a doctorate in history from Harvard, though he was unable to get a teaching post at the elite university because Harvard wasn't hiring black professors.
In 1915, he became director of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. In 1916, he was named editor of the association's scholarly quarterly, The Journal of Negro History.
The distortions and deletions in the American historical record regarding race matters, Woodson believed, were detrimental to the health of a nation whose inherent promise is life, liberty and justice for all.
Secondly, Woodson realized that in a society where black intelligence and moral worth is incessantly demeaned and devalued, studying black history could provide the psychological and cultural armor black students needed to survive overt and subtle forms of white supremacy.
Hence, in 1926, Woodson gave birth to Negro History Week. But it wasn't until after the civil rights movement of the 1960s that Black History Week was taken seriously outside of the educated black community and expanded into Black History Month.
February was chosen as Black History Month because the birthdays of former-slave-turned-abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, and the celebrated black poet, Langston Hughes, fall during this month. It's also the month the NAACP was founded.
Of course, one of the most vile words in black history (indeed, in American history) is the so-called n-word. It's also a word that black Americans sometimes use to address one another in casual conversation.
The n-word being used by blacks is a source of irritation for many white Americans who are rightly horrified by the word and consider it a hypocritical double-standard when darker-hued Americans use it among themselves but are outraged if a white American does the same. In fact, this year, a "ban the n-word" internet campaign is under way.
"Like Negro, the word derives ultimately from the Latin niger; black. It is not an Americanism, the first recorded use of nigger being in a 1786 poem by Robert Burns ... 'Nigger' has also been an offensive derogatory term applied to Indians as well as blacks up until recent times," according to Robert Hendrickson's 2004 edition of Word and Phrase Origins.
"So sensitive are people – black and white – to the use of nigger that the word niggardly (miserly), which sounds like but is no relation to it etymologically, is often avoided," Hendrickson reports, noting also that the word was once used by white mountain men in the early West among themselves.
I concur with Hendrickson's recommendation for those seeking an in-depth study of the word by a black legal scholar, Randall Kennedy. The book is titled Nigger (2002).
Is it acceptable for blacks to use the word while whites are morally castigated for it?
Well, consider this: Black people aren't doing anything different than white ethnic groups in America. Though I would not address someone outside of my racial group with an epithet, I've heard Italians refer to each other as "guineas" and Irish brothers and sisters call each other "micks."
Is it "racism" to use such words? Depends on the context and intent. But considering that white ethnic groups use derogatory terms with one another, let's call a truce based on a baseball analogy. Call it "home-field advantage," which in baseball means that the home team gets the last at-bat.
Nobody cries foul in acknowledging that the home team gets preferential treatment. That's the game.
Think about it. If you're black you might not be able to hail a cab for an important appointment and then get Rodney King-ed by police for "fitting the description of a suspicious person."
But, if you're white you might not be able to use a word? And blacks get berated for "crying victim"? That's funny.
For those who cry hypocrisy when the "home-field advantage" rule is applied to racial epithets, remember that Tom Hanks line in the movie A League Of Their Own: "There's no crying in baseball."