The Cowardly Nature of the Word “Nigger”

 

“A team is where a boy can prove his courage on his own. A gang is where a coward goes to hide.” Mickey Mantle

The month of February here in the United States has been designated Black History Month. Developed by Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson in 1926 as Negro History Week, it was first acknowledged during the second week in February to reflect and celebrate the accomplishments of many African-Americans in the arts, academics, politics, and civil rights. Over many decades and a push during the civil rights era during the 1950’s and 1960’s, its been extended throughout the entire month.

 

Although blacks have made some important strides here in the United States and abroad, race is still a iffy subject even though the country has afforded the laws and access to many of our white and many diverse counterparts. America as a whole still has a long way to go on addressing race and the beginning of constructive dialogue on integration, relationships, and negative stereotypes.

 

In 1837 Abolitionist and Minster Hosea Easton states in A Treatise on the Intellectual Character and Civil and Political Condition of the Colored People of the United States: and the Prejudice Exercised Towards Them, the word nigger “is an opprobrious term, employed to impose contempt upon blacks as an inferior race.” Easton later adds “the term in itself would be perfectly harmless were it not used only to distinguish one class if society from another; but it is not used with that intent.”

 

Throughout slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the modern Civil Rights era the word nigger has been used as a derogatory means to call blacks outside of feeling and being human. As Minister Easton states, the term is used to keep African-Americans in lower standing in economics, politics, the work place, religion, and in society. But the word is much deeper than this as Europeans during the historic Middle Passage slave trade for two hundred years took millions of people of their native Africa to what is now known as the New World (America). Ship upon ships traveled from Africa to the Americas and the Caribbean seeking free Africans who would be stripped of their names, culture, and all forms of connection to their native land. This stoic triangular trade would take place across the Atlantic and many European countries like England, Spain, France, Portugal, and Sweden took part of this new way of life. Africans didn’t have a say nor the freedoms when they entered the New World. These proud and mighty people where chained and shackled to the bottom of slave ships with no running water, no lights, bathrooms, nor decent food to eat often traveling like this upward of six to seven months. Once these slaves arrived, the term nigger was used to keep mind control on these new people. In fact, the slave owners divided the slaves into the “house” and “field” slaves on their mansions or plantations. The “house” slave were generally the slaves that lived a little better than the “field” slaves. They took care of the slave-master by cooking their food, cleaning their home, and raising their kids. Being a “house” slave allowed them dress better and have more resources than your average “field” slave. Again this, along with the word nigger, continued to further keep slaves as less than human and slave owners controlled their every thought process. Slaves were even forbidden to read. Some “house” slaves who were caught teaching the “field” slaves to read were either punished or killed.

 

In 2011 the very word Europeans created to keep slaves and blacks as second class citizens is now the very word that they want to take out of daily existence. The late Tony Award and Pulitzer winning playwright August Wilson, whose critically acclaimed works include “Fences,” “The Piano Lesson,” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” depict life of working class African-Americans known as the “Century Cycle.” This was Wilson’s famous “Pittsburgh Cycle” which took place in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. His play “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” has caused quite a controversy because David Snead, Superintendent of the Waterbury School System in Waterbury, Connecticut wanted to shut the production down due to the use of the word nigger. What’s even more interesting is principal Elizabeth McGrath of the Waterbury Arts Magnet School who authorized and got the proper powers that be to ok putting on Wilson’s masterpiece, took extra steps with the play’s director Nina Smith to prepare a study guide to be handed out to explain to the actors and patrons of the play to discuss the origins of the word and the context of it.

 

Another blow to the use of the word nigger is the newly revised version of literary icon Mark Twain’s classic “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and the “Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”  Twain uses the reference of word 219 times throughout Huck Finn. Instead, The NewSouth Edition will replace the word with “slave.” According to co-founder of NewSouth publisher Suzanne La Rosa on writer Mark Twain: “that there was a market for a book in which the n-word was switched out for something less hurtful, less controversial. We recognize that some people would say that this was censorship of a kind, but our feeling is that there are plenty of other books out there-all of them, in fact-that faithfully replicate the text, and that this was simply an option for those who were increasingly uncomfortable, as he put it, insisting students read a text which was so incredibly hurtful.”(“Upcoming NewSouth ‘Huck Fin’ Eliminates the N-Word” by Marc Schultz. Publishers Weekly)

 

I could go all day on a tangent on how this violates the author’s or playwright’s work. It does. It’s just plain censorship. But there is a much bigger picture. As an African-American journalist and producer, I’m a avid fan of my culture as well as my great literary giants like Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, Ishmael Reed, James Baldwin, and Zora Neale Hurston. These writers told stories that painted the pallet of the life and struggles of our people and our culture. Whether through music, relationships, or the struggle to achieve the “so-called” American dream, the word nigger whether used in books like Richard Wright’s “Native Son” to  Donald Goines “White Man’s Justice, Black Man’s Grief,”  was to express the characters role in white America. Not as negative, but as how these characters felt against the establishment or their place in society. The word nigger was and still is a word that some blacks continue to use. Many of these writers expressed the word through men and women that faced many adversities like Huck Finn’s Jim and Native Son’s Bigger Thomas. They incorporated and mastered vivid depiction’s of life in the inner city and prison life while using black dialectical forms to paint a picture of our culture. Censorship on this level brings me to my next point in how some people continue to pacify and hide behind the word.

 

Some Europeans and white people, as expressed earlier by co-founder of NewSouth publisher Suzanne La Rosa on writer Mark Twain, “that this was simply an option for those who were increasingly uncomfortable, as he put it, insisting students read a text which was so incredibly hurtful.” When you read Mark Twain or watch August Wilson, our experience existed before and after Europeans and whites created the word for well over 200 years. Again, because of the times and the ‘political incorrectness’ of the word in 2011, whites still feel uncomfortable about using the word. Instead, they hide behind the word and refuse to begin to have constructive dialogue on the origins of the word. I applaud the efforts of the Waterbury school district to go ahead as planned to produce August Wilson’s play. At least the director and the principal have taken the first steps to begin talking about this highly controversial word. It’s been long overdue that they stop using callous and cowardly methods like removing the word and replacing it with ‘slave’ and begin to accept and talk about the word.

 

I felt this topic was appropriate for the beginning of Black History Month because the word nigger isn’t going anywhere. The word is still being used in rap music, heard in movies, and writers are still using the word in poetry and literature. In 2011 America still has a blatant race problem that we refuse to address. To censor the word nigger is like censoring Jesus Christ from the Bible or anything sex-related from Kama Sutra! Comedians like the late Richard Pryor and George Carlin set the bar are how we need to be aware and conscious on how we use the word nigger and addressing race and censorship. According to Pryor in his 1982 stand-up comedy film Live on Sunset Strip, “I was sitting by myself (in the Nairobi Hilton in Kenya) and I just looked around and it was like a voice said to me,”What do you see?” And I said,”People of all colors doing things together”.And another voice said “Do you see any niggers?” And I said,”No!”. And the voice said “Do you know why?”. And I said(whispering),”No”. And it said,”There aren’t any…”. If Richard Pryor could publicly admit the error of using the word, then why can’t whites and Europeans do the same thing? The great John Calvin wrote: “A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.” It’s now time to stop being a coward and start ‘manning up’ to the n-word and begin dealing with race.


 

2011 NEA Jazz Masters Induction Ceremonies

The 2011 Association of Performing Arts Presenters ended this year’s conference with the 2011 National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Masters Induction Ceremonies. Held at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City, this years induction class included composer and lyricist Johnny Mandel, flutist Hubert Laws, educator and saxophonist Dave Liebman, The Marsailis Family including father Ellis, sons Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo, and Jason, and record producer and executive Orrin Keepnews.

The NEA Jazz Masters began in 1982 as a way to recognize the outstanding contributions of jazz artists and visionaries for jazz music as a great American art form. During the early 1960’s when jazz music was becoming less visible in the clubs and on radio, the NEA was formed and has awarded grants to artists and composers to help establish scholarship funds, research for educational pursuits, and a vast range jazz related programs all over the country. According to the NEA “jazz funding went from $20,000 in 1970 to $1.5 in 1980 to more than $2.8 million in 2005, supporting a wide range of activities, including jazz festivals and concert seasons, special projects such as Dr. Billy Taylor’s Jazzmobile in New York and the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz’s Jazz Sports program, educational jazz programming on National Public Radio, artists-in-school programs, and research.” Each inductee will receive a $25,000 fellowship award and a lifetime achievement award. The ceremony festivities were broadcasted live on XM, Sirius, and WBGO-FM based out of Newark, New Jersey and New York City to fans all over the world.

The NEA also gives the A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Master Award for Jazz Advocacy. This award is generally a non-music recipient who’s made contributions to the history, technology and advancement in jazz, and appreciation. This year’s Spellman recipient is legendary record producer and executive Orrin Keepnews. He was the co-founder of Riverside Records and founder of Milestone Records. While producer and executive at Riverside Records, Keepnews recorded and gave the world great recordings such as pianists’ Thelonious Monk’s “Brilliant Corners” and Bill Evans “Everyone Digs Bill Evans.” From 1952 until the death of co-founder Bill Grauer, these guys recorded jazz icons that shaped and captured the true essence of America’s classical music. Riverside’s impressive roster included Randy Weston, Nat and Julian Adderley, Wes Montgomery, and Johnny Griffin. In 1966 Keepnews started Milestone Records then later heading up the jazz division at Fantasy Records. Fantasy bought the entire Riverside catalogue and he oversaw the reissues of those legendary recordings.

This year’s class, like all other inductee classes, are without question contributors to modern music. I spoke with many of the inductees before the ceremonies, and all of them were elated about being honored for their accomplishments and contributions.

Educator, pianist, and father Ellis Marsails explained “me being honored with my sons, words can’t describe this! The fact that my boys have made a decision to play and continue the rich tradition of jazz is both priceless and rewarding.” This year the NEA Jazz Masters also inducted the entire Marsalis family. Sons Wynton and Branford came out during the “young lion” era during the 1980’s when they and a younger generation of jazz musicians played the music at a time when the music and club scene was scarce in New York City and all over the country. These brothers gave the music new life as well as began educating the importance and history of the music to the younger generation.

Composer, trumpeter, and arranger Johnny Mandel has been a major staple in fusing jazz in film, pop, and modern contemporary music. Mandel has been hailed as the first person to fuse modern jazz music into a musical score. He was a well accomplished trumpet player during the 1940’s and 50’s backing such musical luminaries as Chubby Jackson, Buddy Rich, Georgie Auld, and Zoot Sims. His astute skills as a film composer/arranger came during the late 1950’s and 1960’s when he contributed the score to The Sandpiper which spun the Grammy-Award Winning song “The Shadow of Your Smile” and “Suicide is Painless” from the Academy Award Nominated “M.A.S.H.” Mandel has gone on to score 30 films and has won five Grammy-Awards.

Flutist Hubert Laws has backed and performed with some the heavyweights in jazz music. This Houston, Texas native first got his start in New York while attending Juilliard School. Bassist and 1998 NEA Jazz Master Ron Carter gave Laws’ induction speech and elaborated how Hubert’s playing was” beautiful and poetic.” Over the years Laws has played with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Sarah Vaughn, Earl Klugh, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, and Chick Corea. Herbert’s induction performance was backed by 2010 NEA Jazz Master Inductee and friend Kenny Barron.

Saxophonist and educator Dave Libeman was a major voice during the 1970’s New York City “jazz loft” scene at a time when jazz clubs were closing and musicians who wanted to play jazz needed a venue to play. It was during this time he backed the legendary Miles Davis and Elvin Jones in their groups that Dave developed his style as a fiery and brash saxophonist and flutist. Today, he’s the artist in residence at the Manhattan School of Music and teaches master classes all over the world.

The 2011 NEA Jazz Masters Induction Ceremonies as always was well-produced and orchestrated by Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.  The Jazz at Lincoln Center staff as well as the National Endowment for the Arts deserve a lot of recognition for their time and efforts in backing these legends. Also, the few journalists who covered this prestigious event.

Many of the jazz legends and fans showed their support and appreciation not only for these musicians, but for jazz music as a whole. Throughout the week, the NEA Jazz Masters coordinated workshops and seminars along with this year’s Association of Performing Arts Presenters Conference. Many of the workshops helped raise the awareness, direction, and promotion of jazz music.

 

The Revolution Will Be Televised,

Brian Pace

The Pace Report

www.thepacereport.com

thepacereport@yahoo.com

Live at Jazz at Lincoln Center

 

2011 APAP Conference: “Motema Records: The Little Record Label That Could”

Geri Allen and Don ByronAs you know, the first part of year in New York City is one of the busiest times in music. This year’s 2011 Association of Performing Arts Presenters Convention officially kicked off last Friday at the Hilton Hotel in midtown Manhattan. Also, this year’s NEA Jazz Masters Induction Ceremonies and the Winter Jazz Festival has musicians, industry people, and music fans flocking to all the major venues.

One of the many major music showcases was presented by Motema Music. Last year Motema released a slew of critically acclaimed cds ranging from Folk, World Music, Jazz, and Children’s music. Over the last three years I’ve profiled many of the artists on the label and have seen a major progression of the vision of Motema Music founder Jana Herzen. I’ve hailed Motema as the “Little Record Label that Could!” And it has. 2010 saw the first Grammy-Award nomination for jazz vocalist Gregory Porter for his debut disc “Water.” Motema’s vast cadre of diverse artists ranging from jazz pianists Geri Allen and Antonio Ciacca to folk and rock artists KJ Denhert and Patrick Stanfield Jones; has taken real music to the next level.

Founded by Jana Herzen in 2003 in San Francisco, the label is based in Harlem and has been producing some of the most “slept on” recordings during the last decade. Herzen launched The Motema Foundation, a not for profit label for projects that extend services to fundraisers for medical or social causes that artists are passionate about. Over the years Motéma has worked with and continues to extend its arms to the corporate and nonprofit sector, while producing some of the most eclectic music on the planet.

Saturday night’s Motema Showcase was held at Bridges Bar at the Hilton Hotel host of this year’s 2011 APAP Conference. Throughout the evening music fans, promoters, and agents got to witness 30 minute sets from the Motema Music roster to experience the artistry of their music.

Some of this year’s highlights included featured pianist Antonio Ciacca, who’s upcoming disc features the legendary Benny Golson (tentatively scheduled for a May release), played with his trio.

The “World/Jazz” series featured and spotlighted percussionist Babatunde Lea. His Motema 2009 disc, “Umbo Weti,” his fourth release for the label, was a tribute to legendary jazz vocalist and composer Leon Thomas, whom influenced him tremendously throughout his musical career. He’s set to record and release his next project by the end of 2011. He was blessed to share the stage with bassist Charnett Moffett, pianist Benito Gonzalez, and saxophonist Teodross Avery. His performance was outstanding.

The highlight of the evening was the performance by the Geri Allen featuring the legendary jazz clarinetist Don Byron. Allen, who’s 2010 critically acclaimed Motema releases “Timeline Live” and her solo piano recording “Flying Toward The Sound” has enhanced the label’s credibility as a major player in the jazz scene. Both Allen and Byron’s duo performance reflects both musician’s love for avant-garde jazz and continues to bridge the gap on continuing the legacy of “America’s Classical Music.”

2011 will be another interesting year for Motema Records. The talent that surrounds the label is what makes them a possible contender for the future of music listeners. They cover a wide gamut of music ranging from folk, jazz, and world music producing projects that help charities and projects around the country. I must commend Jana’s relentless vision for Motema and wish her and her artists for 2011. For more information on Motema Music visit them on the web at www.motema.com.

The Revolution Will Be Televised,

Brian Pace

The Pace Report

www.thepacereport.com

thepacereport@yahoo.com