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A Discussion of a Troublesome Word

*This is a book review of Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word by Randall Kennedy.

“‘To use the word to inflict…harm is unacceptable. To mention the word in a discussion of how the word is used is necessary for honest discourse.'”

– Professor Phillip Adamo

Quick Facts

Author: Randall Kennedy
Release Date: January 14, 2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Number of Pages: 208
SJ Rating: 90%

The Synopsis

Backed by comedians, filmmakers, court cases (LOTS of them), Randall Kennedy explores the history and complexities of “nigger”, the most taboo, controversial word in America. Is it a racist insult? Is it a general insult? Could it be a term of endearment? This book explores it all.

The Review

As someone who often doesn’t feel Black enough and doesn’t feel like she’s a part of the culture the way she should be, I felt heavily inclined to read this book as soon as I saw the cover. Just because I’m Black doesn’t mean I know everything about what it means to be Black, and I thought this book would be a tool under my belt in gaining knowledge about my culture.

Regarding the word “nigger”, Randall Kennedy writes, “To be ignorant of its meanings and effects is to make oneself vulnerable to all manner of perils, including the loss of a job, a reputation, a friend, even one’s life.” I didn’t want to continue being ignorant.

Apparently I bought the 20th anniversary edition, which includes a very long introduction before the introduction. It was not a good time.

This book really opened my eyes, which I expected. I was shook when I learned they changed “nigger” to “tiger” in the eeny-meeny-miney mo! children’s rhyme. My kids will definitely not be saying that nursery rhyme.

It just baffles me that the same race of people who forced Black people here on a boat are the ones telling us to go “home”; my ancestors didn’t ask to be here! I literally don’t know what home is. The fact that there are entire websites dedicated to racist “nigger” jokes…

As for the actual book, given this book is less than two hundred pages of reading material, I feel like I would’ve flown through it if it were an audio book. Sometimes it’s easier to hear lawyer jargon and unfamiliar words than to consistently try to read them. Yes, this is another book that had me consistently googling words.

Randall Kennedy definitely treats the word like a scientific study. He writes, “Nigger is fascinating precisely because it has been put to a variety of uses and can radiate a wide array of meanings.” As factual as the book is, the author throws in his opinion, which is equally necessary and important. He also makes the difference between the fact and his opinion very lucid.

The book leaves you with a lot to think about, and with the consistent use of the word in the book, you’re forced to become comfortable with it.

Next book to be read and reviewed: The Upside of Falling by Alex Light

“Experience is only an opportunity; what matters is what one makes of it.”

– Randall Kennedy

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