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The N Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn't, and Why Hardcover – March 26, 2007


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1ST edition (March 26, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618197176
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618197170
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 6.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,676,636 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Midway through Washington Post columnist Asim's history of the "N" word in America, readers may conclude it should not be uttered by anyone, anymore, for any reason. Essentially, this 400-year chronology is an exhaustive history of white supremacist ideology, showing that the word nigger is as American as "liberty, freedom, justice and equality." He sweeps over this sensitive and contradictory terrain—including black Americans' use of the word—with practicality, while dispensing gentle provocations. Asim notes, for example, that popular civil rights presidents like Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson used the N word all the time. Bicycling in Africa in 2004, a young black American encounters a black-owned hip-hop clothing store called "Niggers." Children growing up during the latter half of the 19th century sang "The Ten Little Niggers" nursery rhyme. Asim is at his best when offering his opinion—"in the 21st century, to subsist on our former masters' cast-off language... strikes me as... an immense, inscrutable, and bizarre failure of the imagination." Still, he concludes, the word nigger is indispensable in certain endeavors. His analysis of 19th- and 20th-century pop culture phenomena may too fine-toothed for general readers, but clear, engaging writing increases the pleasure. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Asim addresses the root of this controversial word in American rhetoric and contemporary experience. Just as our founding fathers tried to dodge the issue of race and slavery by only hinting around it, the current debate often suggests that by not using the "N word," the race issues will remain dormant. Asim looks back at Thomas Jefferson's essays on slavery, his justification of the misuse of slaves on pseudoscientific bases, and continued denigration of blacks in word and deed. He traces the use of the word through popular entertainment from minstrel shows to films (notably Birth of a Nation) to current comedy routines and rap music. Despite attempts by hip-hop culture to reverse the impact of the word, and remove the sting of racial hurt, the result has been to maintain socioeconomic distance among the races, Asim maintains. Still, he argues that the word has had a long history of powerful impact in more responsible hands as a reminder of the troubled legacy of race relations in the U.S. Vernon Ford
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

More About the Author

JABARI ASIM is the acclaimed author of What Obama Means . . . For Our Politics, Our Culture, Our Future as well as the author of the highly praised and controversial The N Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn't, And Why.

He is the editor-in-chief of Crisis magazine, a preeminent journal of politics, ideas and culture published by the NAACP and founded by W.E.B. Du Bois in 1910. He spent 11 years at the Washington Post, where he served as deputy editor of the book review section. For three years he also wrote a syndicated column on political and social issues for the Post.

In April 2009, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation awarded him a fellowship in nonfiction, one of 180 fellowships awarded to artists, scientists and scholars in 2009 selected from a group of almost 3,000 applicants.

He is a frequent public speaker and commentator who has appeared on "The Today Show," "The Colbert Report," "Hannity & Colmes," "The Tavis Smiley Show," "The Diane Rehm Show" and countless other programs. He has lectured at many of the nation's finest universities, including Seton Hall University, Northwestern University, Syracuse University and the University of Florida. He is an associate professor of creative writing at Emerson College.

His first work of fiction for adults, A Taste of Honey, was published in April 2010. The Road To Freedom, his first novel for young readers, was published in 2000. His other children's books include Whose Toes Are Those, Whose Knees Are These, Daddy Goes to Work, and The Road to Freedom. His children's books, Boy Of Mine and Girl Of Mine, were published in April 2010. Fifty Cents And A Dream, a new book for children, will be published in December.

Jabari Asim lives in Massachusetts with his wife and children.

Customer Reviews

The content seems to be all over the place and just doesn't flow.
Tabbatha Cavendish
In Mr. Asim's introducing, he clearly states that his little book is selective in his examples and some readers will disagree with his oversights.
Franklin the Mouse
I would recommend the book to anyone interested in race relations and social science.
Rosa L. Simmons

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Jean E. Pouliot on May 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The only bad thing to say about "The N Word" is what author Jabari Asim said himself. The subtitle, "Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn't, and Why" is a marketing invention that missed the point of the book and does injustice to its purpose.

Asim follows the N word through America history, like a trail of bread crumbs through a dark and dangerous forest. There are times when the trail is rather sparse, and other times when the pile of crumbs is wide and deep. The first crumbs are laid by 1619, with the unloading of 30 Africans into the new world. From the beginning, the word has a brutally negative meaning. Some have attempted to soften the word's harshness by claiming that it originally meant little more than an observation about the darkness of a slave's skin. But Asim makes clear by quoting from period documents that pigmentation was considered a radical (and unsavory) deviation from the European standard of lightness. Some even considered it to be literally an infection of the skin. Very quickly, the word took on connotations of inferiority, debased humanity, servility and lack of intelligence. To use the word meant to distance oneself from and to deny another's personhood. Thus it was, thus it has always been. In fact, one thing I admire about Asim's approach is that he does not give in to the now-current opinion that one should not judge past generations by this generation's morality. Asim will have none of this - to capture, sell and own human beings, to separate them from wives and family, and then to ratify that action by creating an enduring culture that belittles and demeans them on account of skin color -- has always been and will always be an act of heartless depravity.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Franklin the Mouse on February 5, 2011
Format: Paperback
In Mr. Asim's introducing, he clearly states that his little book is selective in his examples and some readers will disagree with his oversights. The author does a fine job of explaining the horrible history of the word and, despite almost 400 years of usage, the 'N' word still has a huge impact. He places such luminaries as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington in proper perspective in their attitudes about blacks. Pseudo-scientific nonsense such as niggerology is also accurately dissected. Other cultural examples hightlighted are Uncle Tom's Cabin, Jim Crow, minstrel shows, Reconstruction, race-baiting, Southern lynchings, Uncle Remus, Huck Finn, Archie Bunker, the OJ Simpson trial, Richard Pryor, Spike Lee and gangsta rap. Mr. Asim's book isn't out to slam whites or excuse African Americans for their verbal indiscretions. It is meant to stimulate discussion about this peculiar word. Speaking as one of two Causcasian parents raising two African-American boys, I am deeply appreciative of this wonderful, thought-provoking book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Great Oaks Institute/Herbert Hillman on May 15, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Good reading for anyone. This provides good information and about the origin of the "N" word, it's usage and why it is so offensive. I consider it a must read purchase. Great Great work.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Charlie on December 11, 2013
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Great book. It really clarified what took place in history in the establishing of an institutional system that decided who was and was not advantaged in the system.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Rosa L. Simmons on March 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I saw Jabari Asim speak at our Black Heritage Festival in Savannah. He was so wonderful I had to have the book. I attend with several friends and we ordered as a group. The book was just as we expected. I would recommend the book to anyone interested in race relations and social science.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Verbal Killer on July 11, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is more than just the etymology of the "N" word; it is also a historical discourse that talks about the norms and social values of whites and blacks in America, using scholarly references by some of country's most famous patriots.
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By Amazon Customer on August 26, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
so far so good. thanks Zoe Williams (TV Radio)
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jarael Madyun on December 7, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It's completely the opposite of what I expected. I think the history this book discusses really allows the reader to have a great understanding of the overall concept.
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