A symbolic resolution calling for New Yorkers to stop using the n-word was introduced Thursday at the City Council, where supporters said the Black History Month is a relevant time to call attention to the racial slur.
Councilman Leroy Comrie, who spearheaded the nonbinding measure, was joined at a news conference by hip-hop pioneer Kurtis Blow Walker and community leaders. They said they hope the resolution will begin a awareness about the word, which has gained a level of acceptance among entertainers and youths that they said is troubling.
"We need to stop looking at ourselves like we are niggas or niggers, so that we can elevate our minds to a better future," Walker said. "So I challenge the hip-hop community, I challenge you to abolish that word during the month of February -- Black History Month -- and beyond."
For centuries, the slur has been used to humiliate and degrade blacks, but more recently it also has become a term of endearment and camaraderie among some. Hip-hop culture in particular has been singled out for its use of the word in music and entertainment, which some say is helping convince an entire generation that the word is acceptable.
There has been increased national attention about the epithet since an incident last year involving actor Michael Richards, who played the nutty Kramer character on "Seinfeld."
While onstage during a stand-up comedy routine, Richards was heckled by black patrons and blew up at them with a profane tirade that included the slur. It was videotaped and widely circulated.
Richards later apologized and said the outburst was motivated by anger, not racism.
After the Richards episode, black leaders including the Rev. Jesse Jackson and California Rep. Maxine Waters challenged the public and the entertainment industry -- including rap artists, actors and movie studios -- to stop using the insult.
Comrie said he is bothered by the conversational use of the term among the youths in his district. Walker said he is waging a battle against it even in his own home because his children have grown accustomed to its casual use.
The resolution is expected to go up for a vote by the council by the end of February. Comrie said he would also like it to spark discussions in New York schools this month about the slur. He and the Abolish the N Word organization announced an essay contest for February, asking schoolchildren to write pieces on the topic.
"The use of the N-word probably pales in the face of so many other ills, but our fight is simply not against a word -- it is a war that we are waging against a mentality that continues within the African-American community, to accept less," said Jill Merritt, a founder of the group.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg's deputy mayor for education, Dennis Walcott, attended the news conference and pledged his support for the movement.
"To me, it goes to the heart of the person's value of self, and the person's value of their community and the person's value of their own worth," he said. "We need to make sure we improve the worth of our community, of ourselves, of all individuals, by totally eliminating the use of this word."