Bonus: The N-Word is Both Unspeakable and Ubiquitous. 'Still Processing' is Back, and They're Confronting it.The Daily
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- 20 Mar 2021
Introducing the new season of “Still Processing.” The first episode is the one that the co-hosts Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris have been wanting to make for years. They’re talking about the N-word. It’s both unspeakable and ubiquitous. A weapon of hate and a badge of belonging. After centuries of evolution, it’s everywhere — art, politics, everyday banter — and it can’t be ignored. So they’re grappling with their complicated feelings about this word. Find more episodes of “Still Processing” here: nytimes.com/stillprocessing
Hey, it's Michael this week, my colleagues Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris begin the latest season of their show, still processing with a conversation about a single word, a word that has haunted America for generations and whose place in American life is still being debated to this day.
Take a listen to this quick preview and to the entire episode. When I lived in San Francisco, when I was 23 and 24 and 25 years old, I get on MUNY and, you know, there'd be some Filipino kids or some Chicano kids, you know, just hanging out on the subway and we're hitting each other. Hmm. And I'm like, I would go up to them as a recent college graduate and be like, yo, oh, my God, y'all need to stop.
This is not it's not your word. You can't say that, Professor Moore. I mean, reporting for duty. I love it so much.
Yeah, but I will report back to you that. It didn't go anywhere. They were like, get out of my face. Yeah, and I think part of what I was thinking or what I was trying to do was preserve it. If I could just get it out of Chicano usage and just then I could sort of get black people to stop using it, too, but. It was a folly. Again, I was 23 and I realized it just wasn't useful, like there's no point in doing this in terms of where it's going in the culture and who is using it.
It's settled. It's settled. And to the degree to which, like I was trying to win something, I was going to lose, I was just going to lose.
I just had to come up with my own relationship to that word. Yes. I'm always in awe of the N-word.
And as much as I don't want to hear it when it is employed in this cultural sense, whether it's use as a greeting, whether it's used in a song, whether pretty much any time is not being used by a white person. Right.
I really have to take a step back and, like, admire the power. And the energy that it took to transform that word into something that can be used in that way. That word, which was erected to create a category of otherness, to create a category of non humanness, to create a category of people who weren't even seen as people but to create.
US and then y'all and we can do whatever we want to y'all, because you're not really people, you're at this other word and to really over time that that word could mutate into this other usage. I mean, that is like think about the power that that takes.
Think about how much energy you have to invest.
It took years of polishing that word right. To get it to where it needed to be to change it enough that it could be used in a way and a multitude of ways that are vastly different from the original creation of that word.
To hear the rest of Wesley InGenius conversation, search for still processing, wherever you're listening to this podcast and follow the show, new episodes air every Thursday, Cecil.