(Mr. Connerly is a former University of California Regent, former chairman of Proposition 209, and currently chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute. He is nationally known for his commitment to end the use of race preferences in government employment, contracting, and education.)

What’s in a Word

The word “nigger” is a despicable word. But, the same can be said of countless other words in the English language. Words like “honky,” “spic,” “greaser” and “fag” are all words that seek to dehumanize individuals and strip them of their dignity. I never use such words and have always counseled my children not to use them. I also make it clear to those in my presence that I have no tolerance for such words, even when they are used in the context of jokes.

When Michael Richards – a secondary figure known as “Kramer” in the highly successful “Seinfeld” sitcom – used the word “nigger” repeatedly in his routine at a Los Angeles comedy club, he triggered a national debate about this word. As expected, race advocates were quick to jump on Richards’s racial “mistake” and to portray this as another example of the rampant racism that courses through the veins of American life. In fact, Jesse Jackson includes this incident as part of an “anti-black mania” that is sweeping the land.

The net effect of all this was announced at a press conference by the racial triumvirate of Jackson, Al Sharpton and Maxine Waters – let’s call them JSW. Henceforth, JSW is calling on all Americans to “just say no” to “the n-word.” With a stroke of the pen, “nigger” is no longer to be used by anyone, even in describing what Richards said. Instead, we are to say “the n-word.” In the fullness of time, if a historian describes what Richards said, the appropriate historical response is to be that “he said the n-word.”

This is where I get off the train, folks. It seems to me that we have an effective way of dealing with those who utter distasteful words either with malice aforethought or who do so in a fit of rage, as Richards did. We call it the marketplace. Richards’s career is largely over. He is not likely to be hired for any primetime sitcom ever again, or to be a spokesperson for any commercial product, or to even be signed up for a comedy routine at the kind of nightclub where his career suicide took place. The reason is that no one would pay money to see this guy and no commercial outlet would risk being identified with him.

In and of themselves, words have no intrinsic meaning. They are just a bunch of letters in the alphabet strung together. It is only when we attach intent to words that they begin to have effect. For example, is it any less hateful to say to someone, “I think you are the equivalent of the n-word” than to say “I think you are a nigger?” It is a distinction without difference, in my opinion.

We have become a society that is too inclined to favor censorship and “political correctness” over the marketplace. Instead of employing euphemisms such as “the n-word,” why not candidly and boldly state that we strongly disfavor words, such as “nigger,” when they are used to hurt or demean other people. We should enlighten others as to why we believe negative terms and stereotypes are not in the best interest of a society such as that which we want for ourselves and our families. To pretend that words such as “nigger” don’t exist anymore and should, therefore, be cleansed from our vocabulary, is foolish and silly.

There aren’t enough letters in the alphabet to cover all of the distasteful words that a PC society might want to exclude from the currency of language. I must also be honest with myself and admit to the fact that part of my distaste for this new “n-word” movement is the fact that this is being promoted by the same guy who coined the term “African-American” a few decades ago – Jesse Jackson. I am a strong opponent of this term, as are many others. But our reluctance to challenge it out the outset has resulted in it becoming an accepted part of our vocabulary despite the abhorrence that many of us have to this hyphenated phrase. I don’t want the same thing to happen with this so-called “n-word” movement.

I applaud JSW for urging black comedians to discontinue usage of “nigger” in their routines, although this takes away about 75% of their material, but why stop there? Why not urge other blacks to discontinue calling individuals such as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and me “Uncle Toms” and “sellouts” simply because we dare to differ from black orthodoxy? When they do this, then I will take seriously their campaign to cleanse the English language of all its remnants of hate-filled speech. Falling short of that, then I consider “the n-word” campaign just more of the same old racial posturing that controls our lives already.