Passionate students filled the lecture hall in Eisenberg with discussion and debate about the N-word and its prominence in today’s society. KINGS Org. hosted the event Wednesday evening with a goal of educating and opening up a serious discussion about the topic.
President of KINGS Org. and sophomore Amir Hill-Davis began the night by inviting attendees to help themselves to food and drink, aiming to make the event as conversational and welcoming as possible. Hill-Davis then started his presentation about the origin of “the dirtiest word in the English language.”
“Raise your hand if you were taught in high school, middle school, college that the N-word really started around slavery and when Europeans brought all the Africans here to America,” Hill-Davis said.
Almost everyone in the room raised their hands. In response, Hill-Davis said the word can trace its origins back to times far before then.
The word originated in ancient Egyptian culture with the term “ngr,” and originally meant “god” or “divine.” This idea transfers over many other cultures, as well, like the Ethiopian word “negash” meaning “king” and the East Indian word “naga” meaning “people.” These definitions were brought up by multiple people later, during the discussion about when the actual word is used and related topics.
Hill-Davis dove into the corruption and eventual confiscation of the word, as well, giving society its “new” negative definition. He explained that it began in Rome when the word “niger” was associated with people from the region of the Niger River, and then moved to the English, who added the second “g” to coincide with the patterns of the native tongue. From there, the word was corrupted into the definition most people know today, until hip-hop culture came into view.
“When hip-hop came around, they did something called ‘reclamation’ or ‘re-appropriation,’ which is taking a word used to oppress you and using it to uplift you,” Hill-Davis said. “They dropped the ‘-er’ and put an ‘a.’”
The presentation included three videos. One was a news package about a teacher who called a student the N-word, the second was a comedy sketch called “How a White Man says the N-Word to a Black Man,” in which a white man employs a black man to say the N-word for him to his black friend, and the last video was Lil Dicky’s music video “Freaky Friday,” featuring Chris Brown. Many people in the audience had strong feelings about the first two videos, calling them “degrading,” “not funny,” and in a way, symbolic.
“It’s almost symbolic of the history,” one student said. “He’s still at the white man’s beck and call.”
The music video garnered different responses. Some still said it was ignorant and unfunny, but more students mentioned it was better than the other two. One student mentioned Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar-winning film “Django Unchained,” which starred Leonardo DiCaprio as a slave owner and featured a script full of the N-word, written by Tarantino himself.
“It all goes back to intent,” one student said. “It depends on how you use it.”
Seeing a good transition into his next question, Hill-Davis opened up the discussion even more with the questions, “How does the N-word make you feel?” and “In response to the N-word, is violence okay?” The conversation quickly became active, with students all over the room chiming in and voicing their opinions.
About half of the students engaged in the discussion said violence is justified if in response to someone using the word either at them or around them.
“You know you’re not supposed to use that word…I will punch you in the face.”
“If you call somebody that word, you cannot be mad at the reaction.”
The other half of the conversation was centered around the age-old phrase about sticks and stones.
“It’s just a word at the end of the day.”
“It’s perpetuating the stereotype. At that point, you prove them right.”
SRU graduate Malcolm Roberson spoke up before the discussion ended.
“When someone calls me that, when I hear that word, I hear you calling me a king among men,” Roberson said. Before he graduated, Roberson was the Vice President of KINGS Org.
The discussion lasted until about 8:45 p.m., with many conversations being had. After the last point was made, Hill-Davis closed the discussion. He had achieved his goal of educating the public, and allowing the audience to have good, serious and intelligent conversations about “the dirtiest word in the English language.”
“We wanted to educate more people,” Hill-Davis said. “This is something that everyone needs to know, not just black and white, not Asian, not Latino, everyone.”
Many of the events that KINGS Org. hosts are about education of one topic or another; they have hosted events about chivalry, about black history and about the N-word. The main goal of KINGS Org. is primarily a mentor program created to benefit young men of color on SRU’s campus, which is predominantly white, but Hill-Davis said their meetings and events are open to anyone, and the month of April is full of educational and interesting events from many different groups.
“We like to reach everyone, to educate everyone,” Hill-Davis said.
Keep up with KINGS Org. on Twitter @KingsOrgSRU, Instagram @KingsOrg and on their CORE page.