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Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word Paperback – Jan 14 2003
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Nigger is Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy's ornate, lively monograph on what he calls the "paradigmatic" racial slur in the English language. A neutral noun in the 17th century, nigger had, by 1830, become an "influential" insult. Kennedy traces the word's history in literature, song, film, politics, sports, everyday speech, and the courtroom. He also discusses its plastic, contradictory, and volatile place in contemporary American society. Should it be eradicated from dictionaries and the language? Should it be, somehow, regulated? What is the significance of its emergence among some blacks as a term with "undertones of warmth and good will"? Do blacks have a historical right to its use or does that place the term under a "protectionist pall"? With courage and grave measure Kennedy has, in effect, created a forum for discussion of the word he calls a "reminder of the ironies and dilemmas, the tragedies and glories, of the American experience." --H. O'Billovitch --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
The word is paradigmatically ugly, racist and inflammatory. But is it different when Ice Cube uses it in a song than when, during the O.J. Simpson trial, Mark Fuhrman was accused of saying it? What about when Lenny Bruce uses it to "defang" it by sheer repetition? Or when Mark Twain uses it in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to make an antiracist statement? Kennedy, a professor at Harvard Law School and noted legal scholar, has produced an insightful and highly provocative book that raises vital questions about the relationship between language, politics, social norms and how society and culture confront racism. Drawing on a wide range of historical, legal and cultural instances Harry S. Truman calling Adam Clayton Powell "that damned nigger preacher"; Title VII court cases in which the use of the word was proof of condoning a "racially hostile work environment"; Quentin Tarantino's liberal use of the word in his films Kennedy repeatedly shows not only the complicated cultural history of the word, but how its meaning, intent and even substance change in context. Smart, well argued and never afraid of facing serious, difficult and painful questions in an unflinching and unsentimental manner, this is an important work of cultural and political criticism. As Kennedy notes in closing: "For bad or for good, nigger is... destined to remain with us for the foreseeable future a reminder of the ironies and dilemmas, the tragedies and glories, of the American experience." (Jan. 22)Forecast: This may be the book that reignites larger debates over race eclipsed by September 11. Look for a bestselling run and huge talk show and magazine coverage as the Afghanistan news cycle continues to slow; the book had already been the subject of two New York Times stories by early January.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
I believe that this is a worthwhile and thought provoking read.
Kennedy's book takes us through the history of the word "nigger" and how it has been used, for insult and for good, throughout American history. Why is it that blacks can use the N-word as a sign of affection, yet coming from the lips of a white it is automatically offensive? What makes this one word seemingly more volatile than any other word in the English language? These are just a few of the questions that Kennedy attempts to bring to light in his example-bound treatise. "Nigger" is filled with examples - from song lyrics, to court cases, to literary passages, to the repertoires of comedians - to explore how this word is used and abused.
Randall Kennedy has covered all the bases to show how this word is deeply rooted in America's past as offensive, and how it is still taboo today, even though many African-Americans are trying to reclaim it for a positive use. Kennedy's writing is concise and thorough, offering various instances of "wrong" and "right" actions regarding the N-word. Yet at times, there seems to be almost too many examples. After a while, one wishes for more of an argument than a laundry listing of the word's history of discord. He offers little of his own opinion in the epilogue, only saying that he diasgrees with the useage of racially offensive words. I understand his need to remain unbiased, and realize that there may never be a right or wrong answer regarding the impact this word will have on American culture. Kennedy has succeeded at showing us its past; it's up to us to determine its future.
Kennedy discusses many facets of this controversial word in his thought provoking book. After discussing the history of the word, he looks at its use in pop culture, law cases, as well as its overstigmatizing effect. Kennedy succeeds in stating these facts in a reasonably fair and balanced way. In large part, he avoids over-stating his opinion as part of the explanation.
While Kennedy proposes no direct solution to the problems created by this word, it is difficult to criticize him when any possible solution has its flaws. He does manage to create a long overdue dialogue on the subject. The cautions which can be drawn from this dialogue include being cautious of the context of the word and overstigmatizing those who use the word.
The fact that such a book exists demonstrates a deeper cultural understanding and defining of the word is being sought. This makes Kennedy's final product very credible.
Nigger is a book about the word, first and foremost. It discusses its uses in history, its place in history, its uses in pop culture, and so on. Although these are topics that have been digested by the American and Canadain public time and again, Randall Kennedy displays it in a refershing way. I had no idea that the culture of this word was so broad, overused and abused. The book discusses the words useage by black and white persons and when it is ok to use it.
The author does not damn all those that use the word but, is quick also, to priase the person who files for its inappropriate use. Not to say Kennedy contradictics himself, by far, he does not.
Kennedy wrote this book so that Nigger, the word, can be disolved or be used in accordance to society (norms). People must inspect it from every angle, which is exactly what Kennedy did. He has attempted to reduce the evilness, however, not replacing it with good, but, with delicate understanding and careful explination. Through use of quotes, court cases and related experience, we the reader have enough information so that we can respect or disregard his discussion.
For any one person interested in the English lexicom, history or general reading, this book can allow you to think and discover your innermost thoughts. A wonderful intellectual read.
Most recent customer reviews
I used this book as my primary source for a school presentation. The book was informative and really made me think about the word nigger, its origin and its uses. Read morePublished on Feb. 17 2004 by Terence B. Washington
This book--which seems to consist largely of legal cases--barely touched on the cultural significance of the word "nigger. Read morePublished on Nov. 19 2003
The experience of reading this book further highlighted what the book discusses, and why it is a subject that needs discussion. Read morePublished on June 26 2003 by Rich Stoehr
The author... if you can call him that, wrote this book to make some money off the poor saps of Americans that still believe in equal rights, rather than believing that racism is a... Read morePublished on June 16 2003
Randall Kennedy's Nigger: the Strange Career of a Troublesome Word is about the history of the N-word. Read morePublished on April 17 2003 by Reader
I vividly remember the media attention this book received upon publication. Being interested in race relations in the United States, I have eagerly anticipated reading NIGGER: THE... Read morePublished on April 16 2003 by S. Calhoun
I have always been amazed that a few parts per million of Mellinen is the criterian for some to measure human worth. Read morePublished on March 27 2003 by Ernest Boehm
To the reader david, in the movie rush hour chris tucker did not say nigger! he said nigguh! which is a big difference in how the word is used to expressed friendship or kinship... Read morePublished on March 25 2003
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