Public Lecture by ASU Professor Dr. Neal Lester. The N-word is unique in American English usage. No other word is so charged with negative meaning and racial insult that its very use is deemed a hostile act, and it is routinely referred to by a well-understood euphemism - "the N-word" - rather than spoken or written explicitly.
When the word is used by celebrities, it spawns leading news headlines: food show host Paula Dean, comedian Michael Richards, John Mayer, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lopez, Barbara Walters, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, or Jesse Jackson Sr. The word itself has a long history. It appears in American childhood rhymes and ditties, in minstrel songs and in commercial advertisements. It punctuates some rap songs, is euphemized, buried in mock funerals, and bleeped from media broadcasts. Responding to one critic’s challenge “to create an environment for dialogue about the word’s purposes and problems,” this presentation is an opportunity to critically examine the word described as “the (single) most inflammatory, shocking and historic word in the English language.” This presentation considers the word’s “continually shifting use” through the complex discourse of American race relations, examining the fundamental role of words, history, language, and performance to construct identities – individual, communal, and even national.
This program will be moderated by Professor Myles Lynk of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. College of Law Professor James Weinstein will offer comments after Dr. Lester’s presentation.