DETROIT (AP/Black Press staff reports) -There was no mourning at this funeral. Hundreds of onlookers cheered Monday afternoon as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People put to rest a long-standing expression of racism by holding a public burial for the N-word during its annual convention.
In perhaps the most memorable civic gesture since former NAACP president Bruce S. Gordon (l) managed to get President George Bush to visit their 90th annual meeting in Washington, DC last year, delegates from across the country marched from downtown Detroit's Cobo Center to Hart Plaza to say a long over due goodbye to the N word. Two Percheron horses pulled a pine box adorned with a bouquet of fake black roses and a black ribbon printed with a derivation of the word.
The coffin is to be placed at historically black Detroit Memorial Park Cemetery and will have a headstone.
"Today we're not just burying the N-word, we're taking it out of our spirit," said Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. "We gather burying all the things that go with the N-word. We have to bury the 'pimps' and the 'hos' that go with it."
He continued: "Die N-word, and we don't want to see you 'round here no more."
The N-word has been used as a slur against blacks for more than a century. It remains a symbol of racism, but also is used by blacks when referring to other blacks, especially in comedy routines and rap and hip-hop music.
"This was the greatest child that racism ever birthed," the Rev. Otis Moss III, assistant pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, said in his eulogy.
Public discussion on the word's use increased last year following a tirade by "Seinfeld" actor Michael Richards, who used it repeatedly during a Los Angeles comedy routine and later issued a public apology.
The issue about racially insensitive remarks heated up earlier this year after talk show host Don Imus described black members of the Rutgers University women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos" on April 4.
During an interview with Grammy-award winning rapper, Rhymefest, he said, "Rappers are the new civil rights leaders."
He went on to say that he will attempt to rid himself of the use the "N" word, but it may resurface because he "make[s] music for people who use the word in their lives."
At the BET Awards nominees day in May, rappers 50 Cents and T.I. fought back against journalists who questioned their usage of the word. In the podcast that runs on BlackPressRadio.com entitled, "Celebrities fight back," T.I. said, "There people like this in the word and as long as this fact exists I think rappers deserve the right to talk about it."
During the BET Awards a few weeks ago, many celebrities defied the traditionally leaders and used the word in their Q&A sessions with the press, even though they knew they were being recorded. Charlie Murphy, host of the embattled BET program, "Hot Ghetto Mess," said he has no issue with the word and plans to continue to use it.
"It's not going anywhere," said Murphy, who gain famed on the Dave Chapelle Show which was criticized for its heavy humor toward jokes about Black people.
Black leaders, including the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, have challenged the entertainment industry and the American public to stop using the N-word and other racial slurs. Minister and rap icon Kurtis Blow called for people, especially young people, to stop buying music by artists who use offensive language.
"They wouldn't make rap songs if you didn't buy them. Stop supporting the stuff you don't want to hear," said Blow, who is credited with helping create the genre's popularity in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I've never used the N-word and I've recorded over 150 rap songs. I've never used profanity. It's possible you can use hip-hop and not offend anyone."
The Rev. Wendell Anthony, pastor of Detroit's Fellowship Chapel and member of the NAACP national board of directors, said the efforts were not an attack on young people or hip-hop.
He said they were a commentary on the culture the genre has produced.
"We're not thugs. We're not gangstas," Anthony told the crowd. "All of us has been guilty of this word. It's upon all of us to now kill this word."
The NAACP has been criticized with being out of touch with young blacks, but Tiffany Tilley said the organization is moving in the right direction.
"This is a great start," the 30-year-old Detroit resident said. "We need to continue to change the mentality of our people. It may take a generation, but it's definitely the movement we have to take."
The NAACP held a symbolic funeral in Detroit in 1944 for Jim Crow, the systematic, mostly Southern practice of discrimination against and segregation of blacks from the end of post-Civil War Reconstruction into the mid-20th century. While odds are very slim that the "N" word will never leave American culture, it was nice to see the funeral if for no other reason than what it symbolized.
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