With supporters chanting "forwards, never backwards!" on the steps of City Hall, the City Council on Wednesday approved a symbolic resolution to ban a racial slur that has a painful history intertwined with slavery.
The nonbinding measure, approved unanimously, calls for New Yorkers to voluntarily stop using the word, which comes from a long past as a derogatory epithet against blacks but has more recently been adapted among entertainers and youths as a term of endearment.
"People are using it out of context," said Councilman Leroy Comrie, the sponsor of the bill. "People are also denigrating themselves by using the word, and disrespecting their history, disrespecting the history of a people and a country and also putting themselves in a negative light that we need to correct."
The effort began weeks ago at the start of Black History Month, and has gradually gained nationwide notice and support. Other municipalities have passed measures similar to New York City's, and a historically black college in Alabama recently held a four-day conference to discuss the epithet.
In New York, supporters gathered at City Hall on Wednesday, many of them wearing small pins featuring a single white "N" severed by a red slash and circle.
Purpose: Fight troubling trend
Comrie and other backers of the nonbinding measure said its purpose was to call attention to what they say is a troubling trend among entertainers and youths to try to repackage the N-word as a term of endearment and camaraderie.
Hip-hop artists in particular have been singled out for weaving the term into music and entertainment, which some say waters it down and convinces younger audiences that the word is acceptable.
Some argue that doing so is empowering, and that reclaiming a slur and giving it a new meaning takes away its punch.
Word derived ‘from hate and anger’
Comrie disagrees, saying it is impossible to paper over the n-word’s long and hurtful history.
“This was derived solely from hate and anger, and you just can’t recreate it,” Comrie said.
The word has received increased attention since the incident last year in which actor Michael Richards, who played the nutty Kramer on “Seinfeld,” used the word while blowing up at audience members during a standup routine. Richards later apologized and said that 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 epithet.
Other municipalities are considering measures similar to New York City’s, and a historically black college in Alabama recently held a four-day conference to discuss the word.