Slur heard ’round the world

I really enjoyed this article from Newsday.  I didn’t know that saying the word “Kaffir” is a crime.  Will that ever happen with the N-word?  No, I don’t think so.  That would just be another reason to send black folk to jail.  This article also speaks to how African-Americans are seen around the world.  Our brothers and sisters in Africa don’t necessarily know our history, our struggle accurately because of how we allow ourselves to be shown in the media and through the “art” we produce.  We must take ownership of how our “blackness”, our history is communicated around the globe.

From Newsday | August 20, 2007 | by Katti Gray

Carol Muller cracked her first joke at exactly the moment we shook hands, then offered to pose for my camera. She let the lens capture her in the throes of gale-force laughter and, turning serious, explained how she landed at Teen Challenge, a Cape Town rehab center for teenagers and young adults with assorted troubles. Hers happen to be drug addiction and an early, unsteady single motherhood.

As proof of her motivation to live a more orderly life, she flipped open her cell phone and clicked through its catalog of photographs to the most precious one. Her 4-year-old son smiles in the picture, which she keeps close while he remains in the temporary care of relatives.

“He says he wants to be a nigger,” Muller told me, smiling and chummily pressing her right arm into my left.

“Carol, that’s a terrible word,” I said, blindsided but venturing a quick comeback. “It’s like kaffir.”

Bewildered, her eyelids fluttered nervously, apologetically. “How do you know what kaffir means?” asked Muller, a “Coloured” woman in South Africa, where use of the K-word, that nation’s infamously anti-black label, is on the books as a prosecutable crime.

Under the old white-run government, mixed-race “Coloureds” did edge out the purely black African, though the “Coloured” was never white enough to be considered really white and, thereby, afforded the full benefit of such status. The black was kept on the bottom rung. As justification for those arbitrary demarcations and evils, the architects of the old apartheid government employed the K-word as a primary racial epithet. Today, with the K-word viewed as an illegal impugning of the black person’s human dignity, it is not casually slung about. Not in newspapers, on radio or television, not on the streets, not in townships where squatter settlements and new homes, more and more, are sitting side by side.

“I’m sorry,” Muller said, getting my drift and acknowledging her unintended insult. She patted me on the thigh. “I’m sorry,” she said again.

“There are many African-Americans who feel the same as I do about this,” I said. “Tell your little boy what I said about nigger and kaffir being the same thing. Tell everyone you know.”

The K-word and N-word are two of a kind, first cousins of language. The N-word (spelled out here to preserve the accuracy of the quotes) is in disturbingly popular usage in parts of Africa, helped along by hip-hop culture. Homegrown in the West and imported to God knows where, hip-hop has duped even those who’ve nary a financial hope of jetting off to America into thinking that slinging the N-word, as many Americans do, is coolly cosmopolitan – that it is a standard of behavior to model. Here, on the continent where chattel slavery got its start, the N-word and other vulgarities peddled by some of hip-hop’s hotly commodified stars can be heard regularly and uncensored. Here, classical piano and some rapper’s disputation on what he can do to a woman’s private body parts or how he’ll cut down the — who gets in his way are aired back to back on the radio. I swear I heard it, and it’s a crazy contrast of musical style and message. No wonder little Muller and his mother are confused. – Click here for the rest of this great article.

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Filed under african american, black, culture, history, news, opinion, racism, slang, society

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