This season, the US National Football League is attempting the impossible: banning the n-word within the chalk-lined borders of its purview.
As with the previous attempts, the NFL’s “zero tolerance” policy — which gives referees leeway to issue a 15-yard penalty for a first offense and ejection for a second — comes with good intentions: to establish a field of play free of the most racially charged word in American history.
The policy, though, was widely criticized as being heavy-handed and out of touch. As the league wrestled with the issue, a team of Washington Post journalists examined the history of this singular American word, its spread through popular culture and its place in the vernacular today.
But like the others, it is almost certainly doomed to fail; to be ignored, at best — or mocked and flouted, at worst.
If there is one thing certain about the modern n-word, it is that it defies black-and-white interpretations and hard-and-fast rules.
The word is too essential as an urban slang term to be placed in a casket and buried, as NAACP delegates attempted to do in a 2007 mock “funeral” for the word.
It is too ingrained in youth culture to be eliminated from city streets, as the New York City Council attempted with a symbolic resolution banning the word the same year. And more than likely, it will prove too complex and nuanced to be policed by football referees wielding yellow flags and penalties. Never mind the troublesome optics of a group of mostly white NFL executives dictating the language rules of a majority-black player pool.
If anything, in 2014, it is the very notion of banning the n-word that appears dead and fit for burial. It was a long and noble fight, waged largely — but not exclusively — by an older generation for which the word is inseparable from the brutality into which it was born. If there is still a meaningful n-word debate left to have, it is over context, ownership and the degree to which it should be tethered to its awful history — or set free from it.
A word that is used 500,000 times a day on Twitter — as “nigga” is, according to search data on the social media analytics Web site Topsy.com — is almost by definition beyond banning. By comparison, “bro” and “dude” — two of the terms with which the n-word is synonymous to many people younger than 35 — are used 300,000 and 200,000 times, respectively. For many of this generation, the word is tossed around unthinkingly, no more impactful than a comma.
“It’s such a regular part of my vernacular. It’s a word I use every day,” said comedian/actor Tehran Von Ghasri, a 34-year-old D.C. native of African American and Iranian American heritage. “I’m a ‘nigga’ addict.”
But any larger exploration of this subject leads to the inevitable conclusion that it isn’t just the NFL that has an n-word problem. It’s all of America.
Source: Washington Post