The New York City Council "Symbolically" Bans The Word Nigger
By Janet Walker
6 March 2007
New York, NY – By a unanimous vote, New York's City Council adopted a resolution on February 28, 2007 that called for a symbolic ban on the use of the racial epithet, Nigger, by all citizens of the five boroughs. The action, left largely up to the individual citizen to enforce, does not carry a fine or imprisonment.
Researching the request "Word Nigger Banned" resulted in 255,000 Google entries. Although, all results did not reflect on the current New York City Ban the fact is that the symbolic ban reached both an international and domestic audience with newspapers and websites around the world voicing their account of the "largely symbolic" ban on the use of a single word.
It is important to understand that the deep seeded feelings associated with the use of the word belong, as all feelings belong, to the individual expressing them. Every person is entitled to his or her own feelings and responsible for the actions that may stem from those feelings. Individual City Councils cannot ban words without taking away the freedom of the whole society to enjoy the freedoms of speech.
New York City Council has set a tone that resonates of political attachment to the future and political detachment to the past. Hip-hop rappers have made the word common, taking away the 1950's stigma. Children of the Civil Rights Movement have a connotation of the word that creates within them a negative feeling, a feeling of separate and not equal, memories, of "colored" signs, of Selma and Montgomery those are leftover feelings that are within the individual. Just as the Stonewall riots create the same feeling in the gay community.
It is called pushing buttons like only family can. Your family knows all the right words to say to make you angry. Moreover, if you live in a distant city and travel to visit on the holidays you can be sure that by the last three days of the vacation every member of your family will say everything that has ever made you angry.
The "N" word revisits a place where some people remember only hatred and cannot see past the lynchings, the violence, the hatred based on ignorance, on history, on generational beliefs. Saying the word is like pushing the buttons like only family can.
The attempts at banning free speech have a storied history in America. The most targeted are groups who choose to voice hate rhetoric and go against mainstream society. According to Norman Siegel, the then Executive Director for the New York Civil Liberties Union in a 1999 article posted on BBC News – Americas, who stated, "Regardless of the message, the First Amendment says that people have a right to express their views."
That is why the White Supremacist group, the Klu Klux Klan, are given permits to gather in public and give speeches. While the message this group propagates is distasteful to the majority of society the protections afforded all citizens of the United States under the First Amendment are for all citizens.
Speech and its protections fall into two categories under the law, protected and not protected. The simplest explanation of speech that is not protected and the most common example is that an individual can not yell "Fire" in a crowded theater. The fear of being trapped and dying in a fire can cause a stampede. This can lead to deaths through asphyxiation, from being crushed, from heart attacks.
The more expanded examples of unprotected speech include hate rhetoric spoken by someone who has a history of carrying out the rhetoric spoken. In a domestic situation where a person continually shows enraged behavior or physical abuse and uses words such as "I am going to kill you" and follows those words with physical action and the actions result in a police complaint being lodged, whether or not there is an arrest, those words can be used in criminal prosecution and are not protected under the law.
Protected speech can use the identical words and be considered protected because there is no physical violence to back up the use of the words.
Some Americans have even gone so far as to introduce legislation to ban the use of "One Nation Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. The 9th Circuit Federal Appeals Court in San Francisco decreed that it is "unconstitutional" to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in schools and public gatherings, because it violates the separation of church and state. This decision was later overturned by the United States Supreme Court.
The New York City Council has made no mention of banning guinea wop, honky cracker, spic, wet back, mick, gook, faggot, dyke or any other racial, ethnic or sexual slur.