The N Word:

We have to decide how to approach the use of the N Word during our study of Huck Finn.

Words are among the most powerful things there are. . . .

Nigger (also spelled niggar): a word that is an alteration of the earlier neger, nigger derives from the French negre, from the Spanish and Portuguese negro, from the Latin niger (black). First recorded in 1587 (as negar), the word probably originated with the dialectal pronunciation of negro in northern England and Ireland. --Anti-Bias Study Guide, Anti-Defamation League, 1998 

In the United States, nigger was first regarded as pejorative in the early nineteenth century. In the era of enslavement, the words nigger or black were inserted in front of a common American first name (e.g., John), given to a slave to distinguish the slave from any local white person with the same name. While usage of the word in African American culture is complex in that it can be used affectionately, politically, or pejoratively, the epithet is considered an abusive slur when used by white people. Langston Hughes in The Big Sea offered an eloquent commentary: 

Used rightly or wrongly, ironically or seriously, of necessity for the sake of realism, or impishly for the sake of comedy, it doesn't matter. Negroes do not like it in any book or play whatsoever, be the book or play ever so sympathetic in its treatment of the basic problems of the race. Even though the book or play is written by a Negro, they still do not like it. The word nigger, you see, sums up for us who are colored all the bitter years of insult and struggle in America. (Hughes, The Big Sea)

The word has gained more acceptance in recent years in youth culture through song lyrics and stand-up comedy. Some claim that the word can be defused through reclaiming it. However, most adults continue to view the word as offensive and harmful. 

Discussion Questions

The N. Word:

Has the word ever been directed at you in an attempt to hurt you?

Tell a story of a time someone insulted you, whether with this word or another word, phrase, or gesture, and how it felt.

In general, who can or can't say the N word? When, if ever, can it be said?

How do you feel about the use of the word?

Is the use of the N word in the classroom different from its use outside the classroom?

Is it different to read a text by an African American who uses it than it is to read it in a text by a non-African American? Why or why not?

Does the use of the word in a "classic" literary work give it validity outside of the classroom? If so, how?

Reports to class.