Op-Ed: The New N Word – How Racism Has Evolved
by BRUCE SEAMAN
The old N word is so noxious that it isn’t printable. That’s progress. And segregation is over, at least officially. Equal opportunity abounds, so they say. There is a black man in the White House – elected twice. All obvious signs of a racist society are behind us, right?
Racism? What racism? As Coordinator for the Bridges Project, a coalition of concerned citizens addressing racism in Marion County, I’ve found this question posed fairly often over the last year. “What racism?”
Racism’s bad, old days are past. But racism in America has a habit of evolving, never ending. Old, traditional indicators are largely absent in today’s world. Yet, despite a makeover, today’s improved and acceptable racism is unmistakable.
Yes, racism abides. The old N word may be gone, but there is a new N word with roots in the old N word, having the same effect. The new N word is negation.
The old N word was more than an ugly name. The intent was to deny a black person their being, their worth and respect. Black people were disregarded. Their opinion, status, or issues were dismissed. It was permissible to exploit them, make laws targeting or denying them, incarcerate them, and just plain kill them. (For example, there was no law against killing a black person in slave states or the Confederacy; they were property, not people.)
The old N word aimed for negation, the same goal as the new N word.
Negation is when the decline in national unemployment is celebrated for nearing what economists call “full employment” at only 5%. However, no one ever mentions that the unemployment rate for black workers is 9.2%, more than double the unemployment rate for white workers (4.4%).
Imagine if the white workforce was at 9.2% unemployment. Intensive, drastic action would be demanded! But a black workforce at 9.2% unemployment? There isn’t a peep. No one apparently cares. No one is upset. No elected leadership from Washington to Tallahassee to McPherson has the slightest interest, and sadly, scant awareness. That’s negation. It doesn’t matter. It’s a matter of indifference.
Shocking deaths of unarmed black citizens are now upsetting thanks to portable video technology. Such racial killings have occurred all along. Before video, no one took injustice claims seriously. It was negation. Only video has changed that attitude and opened some eyes. Yet we still hear negation as the dead victim or their advocates get blamed, smeared, and denied their being, despite what’s plainly evident. Negation reigns.
Some saw the local Confederate flag issue as irrelevant. Yes, other important issues exist, yet this issue is revealing. Hours of public testimony before the Historical Commission and the County Commission cited the tragedy of the black experience under the Confederacy and its white supremacist ideology that lives on under its flag. Bridges Project speakers and others insisted that this flag, an artifact of history, be treated like all others and placed inside a museum.
The answer was pure negation. It was as if there was nothing racist in the flag’s origins, in the goals of its initiators, and those who continue to wave the banner of racial hatred long afterward. The black experience didn’t belong in the racially “whitewashed” historical narrative. Indeed, no remark ever acknowledged black history with the Confederacy and its flag, not from the Historical Commission or from any County Commissioner. That’s negation.
The message: your history doesn’t count. It doesn’t matter. It isn’t worthy of consideration. It is all negated. Our history matters. Our “whitewashed” history rules, even when it’s wrong.
It isn’t just history. You have a problem, black folks? There is no problem. You are the problem. There are other problems. Yours is not important. Your opinion doesn’t matter. Other opinions matter, not yours. It’s negation at every turn.
The decision to ignore the black experience with the Confederate flag marked the latest way that our public officials negate the black experience overall. Besides unemployment already noted, there are a host of problems that expose deep, sustained, racially defined imbalances. But the common answer to each issue from the majority population and elected officials is mostly silence. Negation.
As a white male drenched in privilege, I know that overcoming negation requires looking and listening more carefully, asking questions that you don’t typically ask, and getting beyond white blindness. With improved vision, it’s impossible to miss: negation is evident everywhere. It’s appalling that so many can be so blind and indifferent. Yes, the new N word makes it so very easy and acceptable.
Bruce Seaman, Bridges Project Coordinator and Presbyterian minister – published in the Ocala Star Banner on December 6, 2015
Image adapted from graphic at themoderatevoice.com