Archive for Saturday, June 3, 2006

Language lost on today’s generation

June 3, 2006


No transcript is known to survive, but it is reasonable to assume that when a mob of white men lynched a black man named Sam Hose, cut off his fingers, ears and genitals and skinned his face in 1899, they used the N-word.

Similarly, though there's no recording of the attack, it's likely that when a pregnant black woman named Mary Turner had her fetus slashed out of her, then stomped to death by a white mob in 1918, the N-word was there.

By contrast with Hose and Turner, 23-year-old Glenn Moore got off easy. He was only beaten with a baseball bat last year in the Howard Beach neighborhood of Queens, N.Y. His principal attacker, 19-year-old Nicholas Minucci, admits using the N-word while teeing off on Moore in the dark hours of a late June morning.

The question a jury must decide is: Does that make this a hate crime? If jurors find the attack was indeed motivated by bigotry, the law provides that harsher penalties can be leveled against Minucci.

No such statute existed during the lifetimes of Turner and Hose, but if it had, it's doubtful anyone would have been conflicted over calling their murders hate crimes. But things have changed since then.

It is defense attorney Albert Gaudelli's rather novel contention that a white man beating a black one with a bat while using the most noxious of racial epithets is not prima facie evidence of racial hatred. As he told prospective jurors when the trial began just over two weeks ago, the N-word is used all the time in rap music and among young people as a friendly greeting. The word has changed, he said.

"At one time, it had only one meaning, as a pejorative term, but today it means many things," he told them. And he added, "The word in and of itself does not establish bias. Does everyone agree with that?" According to a reporter, the would-be jurors murmured "faint agreement."

Tellingly, Gaudelli never actually uttered this harmless word himself.

If you are looking for angels in this case, by the way, you do so in vain. The alleged victim was reportedly in the neighborhood with a group of friends looking for a car to steal. And the alleged attacker is a real piece of work: Convicted of shooting paintballs at a group of Sikhs on Sept. 11, 2001, charged in the 2002 stabbing of a Queens teenager. Unemployed, but an associate of the notorious Gotti family, he roams the streets of Howard Beach in a $60,000 Cadillac Escalade.

The neighborhood, of course, is already notorious in racial lore as the place a black man fled into traffic 20 years ago to escape a racial attack. He was killed by a car.

But if the 1986 incident spoke to the endurance and intransigence of urban racism, this latest episode speaks with equal clarity to the harm blacks - younger ones in particular - have done their own interests in the last two decades. Not to put too fine a point on it, but something is profoundly awry when it can be argued with a straight face that a white man beating a black man with a bat while calling him the N-word does not constitute racism.

It emphatically does, but the very fact that Gaudelli was not hooted out of the courtroom is evidence of how muddied the waters have been made by a generation of black people with little historical memory and, one could argue, less racial pride.

Their argument has always been that for them, the term no longer means what it once did. As if they can unilaterally wash clean a word that has been filthy for four centuries.

Sam Hose and Mary Turner would find that hubris hard to swallow, having died with the N-word in their ears. But then, they were of a generation that understood language to have meaning and consequence.

This generation would have us believe you can speak poison without any effect. Which is pathetic. But what's worse is, they're now being taken at their word.

- Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pultizer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.


xenophonschild 11 years, 5 months ago

Why is it that, whenever someone black assaults, robs, rapes, or kills someone white, all the while exclaiming racial epithets, such felony is rarely, if ever, viewed as a "hate crime?"

Pitts needs to occasionally look at the other side of the coin.

Confrontation 11 years, 5 months ago

"the N-word is used all the time in rap music and among young people as a friendly greeting."

Okay, so this idiot lawyer is trying to claim that this white punk was trying to give this guy a friendly "n" word greeting when he was beating the crap out of him? Obviously, the racist pig was beating the guy for being black. His words prove it. We all know what this word means when it comes from a white person. There's no reason to play stupid.

Christine Pennewell Davis 11 years, 5 months ago

racism kills that is the point and the only point.

Christine Pennewell Davis 11 years, 5 months ago

once reread it seems the writer not only point's out the racism issue but the lack of caring how the younger black cummunity represents its' self with the words and actions they use day to day. Some what of a treat yourselves like "the n word' and that is how people see you. But I read a lot more than that in his article but it boils down to racism kills.

xenophonschild 11 years, 5 months ago

Reality is, young black males and white males are not able to peacefully co-exist in our society. As a white male, I view young black males as enemies of our race, as nihilistic villians who are diametrically opposed to most of the positive, civilization-building sentiments I and others like me hold.

"Racism kills." Sorry, too late for that pat rationale. They are enemies of our race, period.

jayhawks71 11 years, 5 months ago

Confrontation, which "n" word are you referring to? The one used between two African-American males as a greeting or the one used historically, by whites, as a derogatory term for "Blacks. (and no, someone who is Black is not always an "African-American," just to nip that one in the bud before someone feels the need.) The two words are said differently, and whether you like it or not, who says it matters.

Xenophon, sorry to hear that you hold that viewpoint, however, you are entitled to your opinion.

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