MISSISSIPPI
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The "M" word

nwordI’ve always been interested in sociology, particularly issues about race and culture, so I often rent documentaries exploring the topics. I watched “The ‘N’ Word” over the weekend, directed by Todd Williams, and concluded that the word may be the most complex in existence.

Depending on who says the inflammatory word, and how it’s used, the African-Americans interviewed in the documentary explain how it is both powerful and powerless, both divisive and bonding.

The documentary includes interviews from Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Rock, Whoopi Goldberg, Regina King and Quincy Jones, among others.The film, too complex to explain in a blog entry, also made me think about the complexities of our own state. “Mississippi,” the “M” word, means different things to different people, depending on your perspective.

I’ve often thought “Mississippi” would be a great new Alan Ball (of “American Beauty” and “Six Feet Under”) series because of the state’s reputation, the misconceptions outsiders sometimes have about it and the truths often ignored within it. Perceptions of Mississippi always vary, and Ball would never run out of cultural nuances to explore.

Got a comment? E-mail me at endyanna@earthlink.com or Tweet me at @lareecarucker.

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2 Comments

  1. I’ll have to check out that documentary. The recent Michael Richards tirade generated a lot of interesting discussion about the word, and the paradoxical thing to me – as you mention in your post – is how the word still has so much power, while at the same time it is given no power by the black community. My wife’s a teacher and the question has come up as to whether there is any context in the classroom where it’s appropriate to use that word, say if the teacher is reading aloud from a piece of lit where it appears. I tell her no, there is no appropriate context in this day and age. Perhaps by doing so, I’m giving the word more power than it deserves.

  2. It’s very interesting that you bring up literature. That is one of the things addressed in the film, which is laced with poems and literature by African-American writers, who have explored the meaning of the “n” word. African-American celebrities recite these poems and passages from literature throughout the film. They also bring up the fact that it could be detrimental to completely erase the word from existence, because if its historical significance is not remembered, one day the word “lynching” could become known as the “l” word. I was a literature major in college, as well as a journalism major. I, personally, don’t know how teachers manage to teach anything significant about literature to high school students because of the intellectual restraint they have to use so as not to offend or cross a line. It seems it would limit cruical discussion. But I do think in order to broach a subject like the “n” word and its appearance in historical literature, you would have to set a really respectful, mature tone in your classroom, something I’m not sure is possible with some high school students today. In order to really learn about literature, you have to be able to openly discuss it, and that means talking about everything it is filled with – sex, love, hate, raw honesty. I’m sure that’s why so many classic books are banned in high schools – because it’s probably impossible to figure out how to teach them without losing your job.

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