Letters from the Lunar Outpost

When a man dies, what does not leave him? The voice of a dead man goes into fire, his breath into wind, his eyes into the sun, his mind into the moon, his hearing into the quarters of heaven, his body into the earth, his spirit into space, the hairs of his head into plants, and his blood and semen are placed in water, what then becomes of this person? What remains is action. It's quality becomes fate. Verily, one becomes good by good action, bad by bad action.
- Upanishads, Hindu Poetic Dialogues on Metaphysics (c. B.C. 800)

I can remember a controversy that once brewed when a prime time episode of CBS’ 60 Minutes bleeped the use of the n-word while in the very same interview, let the word “kike” go broadcast untouched. I wish I could source it, but this was way older than the Internet and yet my recollection of the ensuing controversy is very clear. And at the time, I can remember an equal part of me both understanding the controversy over this double-standard in CBS’ treatment of the two slurs as well as an equal part of me understanding why one racial slur in America might be more detestable and bleep-worthy than all others.

Had it been a German broadcast, might have been the other way around, but in America, as much as I truly believe this is the greatest nation ever assembled on God’s Green Earth, the n-word in many ways encapsulates what is unquestionably the most shameful chapter in our entire history.

From what I understood going into this blog post, and backed up by the Wikipedia entry with four sources quoting the word’s origins, the n-word began as a neutral term, and while centuries of slavery and brutal oppression gave the mere sound of the word a hateful ring to our modern ears, reading works as recent as the late 19th and early 20th century writers such as Joseph Conrad and Ernest Hemingway, you can read the n-word in their writings and still sense the word being used without any malice, in more of a de facto term sort of way. (In much the same way as hearing the term “negro” used innocently in the 1970s and 80s, and I remember it being used by newscasters both black and white at the time.)

What was most interesting about the evolution of the use of the n-word, however, was the fact that the more and more white people were getting a grip on how offensive the term was, how it shouldn’t be used in polite company and yes, many people do get raised properly to believe that if you wouldn’t tell a joke in mixed circles, probably best not to tell it behind people’s backs, the more white people wouldn’t use the term in public and (hopefully) in their own private conversations, the more the term began to be embraced by the black community.

This is not to suggest that blacks using the n-word to reference each other is some sort of recent phenomenon, I’m sure it goes back as far as the word’s origins, but with the explosion of rap music in the 80s, the “What’s up, my brotha?” of the 60s and 70s definitely gave way predominantly to, “What’s up, my n*****?”

I can remember being sort of shocked by an NWA coming out with the “N” right there in their name and my jaw dropping at Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg dropping about 150 n-bombs on a 60 minute CD of The Chronic, but I also totally got it. “You white folks want to call us a bunch of n*****s? Damn straight I’m a n*****. Proud of it, too.” I totally understood how they were reinventing the word and reclaiming the word for themselves.

That being said, however, at this point, I would be so happy to never hear another person of any skin color use that word again. I would never be so presumptuous as to try to tell any black person how they can or can’t reference themselves and each other, but to me now when I hear that word, it sounds to me like someone saying, “we are never going to get beyond the past.” That is my hope and my prayer, that one day we can get beyond that past.

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7 Responses to The Use of the N-Word

  • my issue with this piece is it seems to imply that the word has somehow been perpetuated by hiphop and African Americans as if we hadn’t used it it would simply fade into obscurity. Im old enough to know that’s not true, not in the slightest.

    The n-word has been embraced by people around the world as everyone I’ve ever enountered from around the world knows the word is a negative descriptor of Africans and African Americans. Hiphop didn’t make it so, but a system created hundreds of years before made it so.

    If Blacks never spoke the word again there’d still be whites and others insisting that n*** is what we are and that somehow it’s what we should be called.

    And the unmitigated arrogance to of many to imply or overtly claim that we have to now earn the right to be offended by it’s use by non-whites it’s reflective of the entrenched problem.

    Would we ever tell any other ethnic group “I ‘ll stop using it when you stop using it” as if you’re so above us that we need to meet your standards before you decide we’re worth further degradation?

    I wish everyone would stop using it. But I’ll never pretend its usage was something it wasn’t.

    • >> my issue with this piece is it seems to imply that the word has somehow been perpetuated by hiphop and African Americans as if we hadn’t used it it would simply fade into obscurity.

      My wishing for the word to fade into obscurity is like wishing for world peace, sincere and heart-felt, but knowing also that we’ll never truly make it to a perfect world in this life. You would agree though that as the word became unacceptable for most white people in the decades leading up to the 80s, after hiphop, the usage of the word exploded in black communities?

      >> And the unmitigated arrogance to of many to imply or overtly claim that we have to now earn the right to be offended by it’s use by non-whites

      Never came close to suggesting I could be offended by a black person using the word, far from it, I said quite clearly I would never be so presumptuous . . .

      >> Would we ever tell any other ethnic group “I’ll stop using it when you stop using it” as if you’re so above us that we need to meet your standards before you decide we’re worth further degradation?

      When it comes to telling blacks they shouldn’t be using the word, it’s not my prerogative. I’ll leave that to Bill Cosby. What I actually said was I get it, I understand what they were doing, they were reclaiming the word, and in doing so, redefining it to some degree. All I can do is hope the word will pass into disuse in the black community. If I hear any non-black say it, however, I wouldn’t hesitate to tell them how inappropriate I think the word is, precisely because it’s a degrading term.

      >> I wish everyone would stop using it.

      Peace and harmony between us right there.

  • When I was a child this phrase was often taught by many grown ups “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words may never hurt me”. What a lie that was.

    Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior said to the Pharisees over 2000 years ago in Matthew (12:34-37)- 34 You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. 35 A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. 36 And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. 37 The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.”

    Matthew (15:10-11)- Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear, “Listen,” and try to understand. 11 It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.”

    James(3:5-10)- 5 In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. 6 And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.
    7 People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, 8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. 9 Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. 10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!

    So Jesus reminds us that what we say reveals what is in our heart. We cannot solve our heart problem just by cleaning up our speech. We must allow the Holy Spirit to fill us with new attitudes and motives, the Lord Jesus Christ is the Spirit, the source that cleanses our hearts with himself, for those who believe in him.

    James compares the damage the tongue can do to a raging fire-the tongue’s wickedness has its source in hell itself. The uncontrolled tongue can do terrible damage. Satan uses the tongue to divide people and pit them against one another. Idle and hateful words are damaging because they spread destruction quickly, and no one can stop the results once they are spoken. Case in point the “N” word which we now historically refer to as a prejudice, hatred, racists, word. Because many evil white men turned that word into a hate word, enslaving and oppressing black people, robbing them and treating them very wrong. We are all made out of God’s image, no matter what color we are. We dare not be careless with what we say, thinking we can apologize later, because even if we do, the scars remain. A few words spoken in anger can destroy a relationship that took years to build. Before we speak, we should remember that words are like fire-we can neither control nor reverse the damage they can do.

    I believe that the “N” word had its origins way back in the beginning of Christianity and that Satan took what was good and turned it into bad. I believe he was mad at a Christian named Simeon ( a black man) who was either a prophet or teacher in the early church. Here are two translations taken from the Gideon Bible and the New Living Translation from the book of Acts (13:1)
    Holy Bible/ Gideon version Acts (13:1)- Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Luscius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tentrach, and Saul.

    Holy Bible/ New Living Translation Acts (13:1)-Among the prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch of Syria were Barnabas, Simeon (called “the black man”), Luscius (from Cyrene, Manaen (the childhood companion of King Herod Antipas), and Saul.

    I believe Africa was filled with Christians before the white man arrived, because the man that helped Jesus carry the cross was from Africa and so was Luscius who was from Cyrene which was a city in northern Africa. See what the bible says in Luke:
    Luke (23:26)-As they led Jesus away, a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, happened to be coming in from the countryside. The soldiers seized him and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus.

    This is what I believe, but since the “N” word has been turned into a hate word for the majority of people especially in the U.S.A I feel we should love our neighbors and never use the word again, regardless even if others use it in a non-hateful meaning. Because of its past history in this country we should retire the “N” word, especially for the sake of those around us who are offended by it.

    James 3(17-18)- 17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. 18 And those who are peacemakers will plant and reap a harvest of righteousness.

    So we must forgive those who have done wrong to any of us. Not only just those who use curse words to hurt us, but to all people everywhere. Forgiving the people from past, present, and future. Because all of us need to be forgiven from all of our past, present, and future sins.

    Matthew (5:44-45)- But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.

    God bless,

    • Wow, what a great reply, that deserves a blog post all it’s own. Great collection of passages. Good stuff on Simeon, Niger and early black Christians in The Bible, too.

      So true about the tongue, speaking before thinking has gotten me into far more trouble than any of my actions ever have – the unthinking tongue that can cause forest fires! I should memorize and carry with me a few of those passages for whenever I may be feeling anger getting a hold of me.

  • For sure Mike,

    Here is another one that always comes to mind whenever I get angry at someone or something.

    Ephesians (4:26-27)- 26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

    Note: It is important to handle our anger properly. If vented thoughtlessly, anger can hurt others and destroy relationships. If bottled up inside, it can cause us to become bitter and destroy us from within. Paul tells us to deal with our anger immediately in a way that builds relationships rather than destroys them. If we nurse our anger, we will give the devil an opportunity to divide us.

    Jesus taught that he judges the heart and that anger can lead to hatred and hatred can lead to murder. Jesus even said that if you hate you are really a murderer at heart.

    Matthew (5:21-22)- 21 “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ 22 But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone you are in danger of the fires of hell.

    1 John (4:15)- Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them.

    Note: John echoes Jesus’ teaching that whoever hates another person is a murderer at heart. Christianity is a religion of the heart, outward compliance alone is not enough. Bitterness against someone who has wronged you is an evil cancer within you and will eventually destroy you. Don’t let a poisonous root of bitterness grow in you or your church.

    Hebrews (12:15)- Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.

    Note: Like a small root that grows into a great tree, bitterness springs up in our hearts and overshadows even our deepest Christian relationships. A “poisonous root of bitterness” comes when we allow disappointment to grow into resentment, or when we nurse grudges over past hurts. Bitterness brings with it jealousy, dissension, and immorality. When the Holy Spirit fills us, however, he can heal the hurt that causes bitterness. Praise the Lord Jesus. Amen!

    God bless you and your family brother,

    • And here I just got done posting about what an asshole Ahmadinejad is for denying the holocaust and accusing the US of perpetrating 9/11 on itself.

      A lot of those quotes are words of wisdom, words that would be wise to adhere to in one’s own life. Somehow I just have an easier time with much of the message of the Old Testament, where God is a Righteous and Vengeful God, smiting his enemies and sending armies of His people to attack the wicked. When Jesus came a long, what a completely revolutionary message He brought to the world, and His was definitely the only true message of hope for peace in this world. Sometimes I just think that justice cannot be achieved through peaceful means when wicked people would choose to use might over right and subjugate the weaker people of the world, as in the cases of the Nazis, the Soviets and all the godless tyrants of the 20th century.

      For my own personal life, however, I’d be far better served to try my best to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

  • Hey brother, Jesus is the God of the Old Testament.

    Romans (3:23-25)- 23 For everyone has sinned: we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past,

    Romans (3:26)- for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.

    Romans (9:5)- Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are their ancestors, and Christ himself was an Israelite as far as his human nature is concerned. And he is God, the one who rules over everything and is worthy of eternal praise! Amen.

    John (1:1-3)- 1 In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He existed in the beginning with God. 3 God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.

    Note: What Jesus taught and what he did are tied inseparably to who he is. John shows Jesus as fully God. Although Jesus took upon himself full humanity and lived as a man, he never ceased to be the eternal God who has always existed, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, and the source of eternal life. This is the truth about Jesus, and the foundation of all truth. If we cannot or do not believe this basic truth, we will not have enough faith to trust our eternal destiny to him. That is why John wrote his Gospel- to build faith and confidence in Jesus Christ so that we may believe that he truly was and is the Son of God. (Jesus Christ is in fact God in the flesh). Amen.

    Note: Jesus is coming soon. God’s wrath exists alongside his mercy.

    Revelation (19:11-16)- 11 Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. 12 His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. 13 He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. 15 From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a wine-press. 16 On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords.

    Note: John’s vision- Heaven opens, and Jesus appears-this time not as a Lamb but as a warrior on a white horse(symbolizing victory). Jesus came first as a Lamb to be a sacrifice for sin, but he will return as a conqueror and King to execute judgment. Jesus first coming brought forgiveness: his second coming will bring judgment. The battle lines have been drawn, between God and evil, and the world is waiting for the King to ride onto the field.

    Note: This scene provides a graphic display of the wrath of God. It shows God’s anger and judgment against sin and against those who have constantly rejected Christ as the means of forgiveness and reconciliation. I say again that God’s wrath exists alongside his mercy.

    I’ll wrap it up with this my friend concerning your Old Testament thought:

    Hebrews (13:8)- Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

    Romans (12:19-21)- 19 Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back.” says the Lord. 20 Instead, “If your enemies are hungry feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” 21 Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.

    God bless, brother Mike,


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