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Publisher's Summary

It’s “the nuclear bomb of racial epithets,” a word that whites have employed to wound and degrade African Americans for three centuries. Paradoxically, among many black people it has become a term of affection and even empowerment. The word, of course, is nigger, and in this candid, lucidly argued book the distinguished legal scholar Randall Kennedy traces its origins, maps its multifarious connotations, and explores the controversies that rage around it.

Should blacks be able to use nigger in ways forbidden to others? Should the law treat it as a provocation that reduces the culpability of those who respond to it violently? Should it cost a person his job, or a book like Huckleberry Finn its place on library shelves? With a range of reference that extends from the Jim Crow south to Chris Rock routines and the O. J. Simpson trial, Kennedy takes on not just a word, but our laws, attitudes, and culture with bracing courage and intelligence.

©2002, Randall Kennedy (P)2014 Audible, Inc.

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  • Scott
  • Scarborough, ON, Canada
  • 06-01-14

A must read - pulls no punches

Any additional comments?

Quick quiz - how many books would you read about the biography of a single word? Exactly. Well, you should read this one. This is a real tour de force of our most racially charged word - its etymology, evolution, uses, jurisprudence, controversies - you name it. Kennedy does not shy away from controversy; he readily offers his view on the often conflicting, frequently confounding examples in which the use of the N-word has contributed to racial inequality, landed parties in court, benefitted entertainers, and excused (or not) criminal behaviour to name a few. I found this mix thoroughly eye opening, entertaining, and informative. Illustrating his arguments with case studies keeps the narrative moving along and prevents this from being a pure op ed piece. The fact that Kennedy narrates this himself heightens the authenticity of his arguments and it certainly is well narrated. A thoroughly enjoyable must read not only for those with an interest in race relations but also for those with a curiosity about the evolution and cultural impacts of language.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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HARSH TRUTHS

very hard to find anything positive to take away from this read. Just reinforces the ugly truth about this country .the ugly past and right now today it will be hard to think that anything has progressed . thanks to the past 8 years, definitely has not helped

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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The Trump Card of Racial Insults

I’ve always been interested in Civil Rights history, but neglected this book despite several recommendations. This indifference changed after I had an argument with a man about, ironically enough, the legal definition of “fighting words.” Losing the argument, this man grew angry and began threatening me while calling me this word. I took that experience as a sign to 1). Stop talking with that man, and 2). Finally crack this book open. I’m glad I did both.

Suffice it to say, Kennedy does not pull any punches. Contained in this book is a frank, and at times quite grisly, history of this word spanning from America’s colonial days through the early 2000s. Also, since Randall Kennedy is a Harvard Law Professor, his discussion of this word as applied to modern American legal cases is particularly fascinating. I was a bit disappointed that Kennedy only focuses on the American history of this word (the British used it to describe several ethnic groups), but that choice does bring focus to Kennedy’s discussion.

In the end, this is a short, but highly engaging read. I’m not sure I agree entirely (who ever does?) with some of the conclusions Kennedy ultimately arrives at, but it’s a discussion worth having. Also, as evidenced by some of the other reviews on this book, this discussion might be badly needed in America.

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Learned a lot

The author/narrator is measured and well spoken. Clear enunciation, listened on 1.25x (persona preference).

Subject matter is presented matter of fact, without condescension.

Not too long of a book, lots of topics covered to the point easy illumination (for me).

Very educational, thanks.

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Informative

I appreciated the dissection of the word, its historical context and the conveyance of the depth of harm caused by its usage. The stories and case law brought the book to life. It was so captivating that I finished it in one afternoon (as I bookmarked). Good read!