Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. (For more about iconic books, see the links to the Iconic Books Project at left.)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Funeral for the "N-Word"

This last weekend, an NAACP-led gathering in Detroit held a funeral for the "n-word," intending to remove it from usage. Most major news sources have an article about the event, and the Chicago Tribune article includes a video. The funeral for the racial slur is comparable to the handling of iconic books, treating the word as a person and conducting it out of common usage with the ceremony customarily used for people, including a horse-drawn cart containing a pine box and black flowers.

What strikes me as most interesting here is the way that something as celebrated as a religious text or name and something as reviled as the n-word can both be handled with the same practices. At the level of language, the racial slur is talked around with the euphemism "the n-word" in much the same way that the divine name and the names of certain religious personages are handled with care, such as writing "G_d" or using titles instead of the proper name (i.e., "The Prophet"). The word is ushered out of usage with a funeral, a ritual more commonly associated with showing respect for the deceased than with erasure. The value of a text or a word can be either positive or negative, but in either case, it can be treated as an icon and handled through caution and ceremony.

1 comment:

Jim Watts said...

Interesting comparison, Cordell. It makes me wonder whether ritualizing the expulsion of the "n-word" with a mock funeral might backfire and strengthen perceptions of its supposed power instead. The fictional example that comes to mind, of course, is Voldemort, the villain of the Harry Potter series, a.k.a. "he who must not be named."