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Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Updated: February 26, 1:36 PM ET
Throw a flag on the N-word

By Jason Whitlock
ESPN.com

Stipulating and enforcing a policy that NFL players, particularly black NFL players, refrain from using the N-word on the playing field isn't complicated, racist, hypocritical or an abuse of power.

It's progress. No different from the NBA stipulating and enforcing a policy that required its players to dress like young professionals when sidelined and attending games. When initially floated and subsequently enacted, the shortsighted and simple-minded crowd pilloried commissioner David Stern's dress code as bigoted and out of touch with modern hip-hop America.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will likely face similar criticism if the NFL's competition committee adopts the N-word code lobbied for by former NFL offensive lineman John Wooten and the Fritz Pollard Alliance Foundation, a group primarily dedicated to lobbying for coaching opportunities for black candidates. Unfortunately, a large, vocal segment of African-Americans sees the N-word as an important possession and a symbol of their blackness. The delight, pride and sense of accomplishment some African-Americans glean from publicly using the word are quite similar to the emotions Southern white bigots attached to it in the 1950s and '60s when the word finally became taboo in America.

Saving and defending the N-word is becoming a cause celebre. It's pitting those of us opposed to the word against people we respect and admire. On Sunday night, I participated in an hourlong special edition of "Outside the Lines" that debated the N-word. It was an excruciatingly painful hour of television for me personally. My friend and "PTI" co-host Michael Wilbon, the rapper Common and NFL player Ryan Clark said a number of things I found objectionable.  

My takeaway is that many African-Americans simply do not fully understand the power of words and branding. They do not comprehend that mental enslavement is more devastating and debilitating than physical enslavement. We broke the chains. We've yet to free our minds. The N-word is the shackle on our brains. It controls how we see ourselves, and how we see ourselves determines our behavior. Our love affair with the word speaks to the level of self-hatred injected into us.

We are comfortable defining ourselves as N-words because we have been bathed in self-loathing and inferiority. Many of us have adopted the mindset of white bigots and we do not realize it. The N-word has always been the most powerful symbol of white supremacy, far more than the Confederate flag. The N-word is a two-syllable word that represents a culture that is hostile, violent and disrespectful toward black people, black evolution and progress. Changing the pronunciation or the user does not change what it represents.

Check the behavior and attitude of the people most in love with the word in the 1950s against the behavior and attitude of the people in love with it today. There's no difference. The violence, disrespect, hostility and affinity for ignorance are all there. The N-word is still the preferred pejorative hurled by a murderer of a black boy or man. Lovers of the word still believe formal education is wasted on black people.

I'm not saying that everyone who uses the N-word today is anti-black and in support of killing black men or denying them education. Neither were all Southern white bigots of the 1950s and '60s. President Lyndon Johnson used the N-word liberally, and he signed much of the civil rights legislation of that era. What I'm saying is that even the well-intentioned can get swept up in a negative culture. It's why the Jewish community guards its heritage and image passionately. It's why no other ethnic group would ever embrace the kind of public degradation African-Americans sanction for the profit of a handful of black entertainers.

Fear of being labeled a sellout, an Uncle Tom or not hip has caused too many of us to sit silently while white record-company executives and easily exploited child rappers took control of the conversation about how black men and women would be defined in this society. Our silence has empowered the ignorant, the greedy and the true sellouts. Their illogic passes as logic. They've "redefined" the N-word. It's a term of endearment. White liberal hipsters are co-signing the ignorance. Let them "redefine" the term "bigot" and start calling themselves "bigots." Let them put out music and videos celebrating white bigotry and see how that flies.

If all this "redefining" of pejoratives is good for black folks, why are we the only ones doing it?

This issue isn't remotely complex. The N-word was a tool invented to mentally enslave black and white people. It's still doing its job today. In fact, it's more effective today. The N-word brands black people as inferior and unworthy of human respect. The only difference between now and its invention is a small number of black rappers, comedians, wannabe intellectuals and talking heads get to make a few bucks denigrating themselves and other black people with the word. In the old days, they got a job in the big house. If he were alive today, Stephen from "Django Unchained" would be 2 Chainz or YG, and he would be signed to Universal Music Group.

I've heard all the rationalizations and excuses for black people using the N-word, including the one popularized by Professor Michael Eric Dyson, the rapping black "intellectual" and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. biographer. Dyson proudly claims King used the N-word in private conversations.

Dr. King also smoked cigarettes, ate fried foods and, according to the FBI, liked to sleep around. Dr. King died at 39. Like everyone but Jesus, God wasn't finished with Dr. King just yet. He made mistakes. He did things that were inappropriate. But he was in a constant state of evolution.

Why aren't we? Why can't we see that how we define ourselves is more important than how others define us? If we see ourselves as N-words, we can't be surprised when the world treats us as N-words.

I'm glad John Wooten and the Fritz Pollard Alliance Foundation see themselves and all of us as men. I hope Roger Goodell and the NFL ignore the critics and impose a code of workplace conduct that forces young black men to abandon white supremacy's greatest weapon.