Professor puts the â??N-Wordâ?? under microscope

Professor Neal Lester, Ph.D. discusses the N-Word with IWC students.

It was a full house Thursday morning inside Iowa Wesleyan College's Science Hall Auditorium. Students in attendance participated in a lecture and discussion on arguably the most offensive word in the English language.

â??I don't think that word is appropriate to use personally, I find it offensive even for other people to use it whether it be within African Americans using it together or especially when other people use it, I just find it offensive overall,â?? Logan Scholtus, IWC student said.

Dr. Neal Lester is an English professor at Arizona State University. He specializes in African American Literature and Cultural Studies.

"My presentation's about the N-word, and it's that six letter word that we aren't supposed to say or think about, and what I'd like to do is move beyond binaries to sort of tease at the word in ways that are more nuanced and just show how there are a lot of myths that are circulating," said Dr. Lester.

Myths he wants to break are that it's just a generational thing and that the past is the past. The professor says the "n-word" conveys centuries of pain evil and contempt.

â??Many of the people who are listening to hip-hop and who are creating hip-hop are disconnected to American History. That shows us that the world is full of all kinds violence that is still with us in the present,â?? Dr. Lester said.

So the question remains, is it ever okay to use the â??N-wordâ??? Dr. Lester says when itâ??s used in context.

â??I don't want to excise any words form dictionaries,â?? he said. â??I don't want to excise any words from Huckleberry Finn. I don't want to excise words in the Civil Rights Movement, but the use about it in hip-hop is not about any of those.â??

He encourages people not to ignore the word's existence.

"I hope they recognize that there are some realities that they're unaware of and they will start thinking about language as they use it because language reflects our thinking or unthinking," Dr. Lester said.

A psychology professor in attendance said the next steps are to continue this conversation in the classroom.