N-WORD; THE TROUBLED HISTORY OF THE RACIAL SLUR. “It’s the filthiest, dirtiest, nastiest word in the English language.”
That was the view of prosecutor Christopher Darden when the issue of saying the N-word came up in the 1995 murder trial of US football star OJ Simpson. And it’s a view that many people still share today.
The BBC received more than 18,600 complaints for using the word in full in a report about a racially aggravated attack in July. It initially defended the decision but the then-director general Tony Hall later issued an apology, saying it was a “mistake”.
This led to the BBC issuing staff with new guidance on the use of racist language in its output – which was published on Wednesday. It now says there must be “exceptional editorial reasons to use the strongest racist terms” – and this must be personally approved by the corporation’s divisional directors.
When I hear the word I shudder. I think of my dad hearing the words, “Get the [N-word]!” while being chased through the streets of Liverpool by racist football fans as he went to watch Man City.
The word can be traced back in history to slavery. It was in the summer of 1619 when a ship arrived in a port in Virginia carrying around 20 Africans who were chained up to be sold as slaves. It was the first documented arrival of slaves in the US, and the Africans were referred to using the Spanish and Portuguese words for black – which is where the word comes from.
“It’s really tied into the idea that African people aren’t really human beings,” says Kehinde Andrews, professor of black studies at Birmingham City University.