• The N Word

  • Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn't, and Why
  • By: Jabari Asim
  • Narrated by: Mirron Willis
  • Length: 9 hrs and 24 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (275 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In The N Word, a renowned cultural critic untangles the twisted history and future of racism through its most volatile word.

In 2003, the book Nigger started an intense conversation about the uses and implications of that epithet. The N Word moves beyond that short, provocative book by revealing how the word has both reflected and spread the scourge of bigotry in America.

Asim claims that even when uttered by hipsters and hip-hop icons, the slur helps keep blacks at the bottom of America's socioeconomic ladder. But he also proves there is a place for this word in the mouths and on the pens of those who truly understand its twisted history: from Mark Twain to Dave Chappelle to Mos Def. Only when we know its legacy can we loosen this slur's grip on our national psyche.

©2007 Jabari Asim (P)2007 Blackstone Audio Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Clear, engaging writing." (Publishers Weekly)
"Informed, sensible and impassioned." (Kirkus Reviews)
"He is most eloquent when relating how African Americans have been characterized in our culture; how the word nigger has been employed to oppress, belittle, dismiss, humiliate, and ridicule black people; and how they themselves have increasingly used it to satirize and oppose that oppression." (Library Journal)

What listeners say about The N Word

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    3 out of 5 stars

Good points, long winded

Some really pertinent history and context surrounding this word! Takes a really long time to cover them.

3 people found this helpful

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Deeply insightful

Troubling past with hopes for the future
It was painful to get though but I am hopeful for the word to come as a black man

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  • Hi
  • 06-17-21

a must listen

this is a heavy book but a book of great importance.. Will not be a waste of time or money

1 person found this helpful

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I’m gonna think twice before I use the N word

This was a fascinating and enlightening read. It educates the history of the usage of this word and also talks about the history of racism in itself. I recommend everyone to read this!

1 person found this helpful

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History lesson

Well written and very informative. Great resource for more research. Our younger generation needs more of this.

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very understanding

very educational, and I love the past to present representation of the word usage.

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Eye Opening

Learned a lot about why the N word is till used today. the author expounded by adding the history.

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Outrageously Well done! Entertaining, Insightful

As a historian, and a Western Horror Author (i.e. 1800s Civil War-Cowboy era type stuff) the history of blacks in America has a huge place in my book. After all, the three pillars of Western Horror is (#1) God is Judge, (#2) Satan is Real, & (#3) People are Cruel. In my fictional books (with real history often tied in), they're meant to be as disparaging and offense as possible - but then they're Horror. *Brilliantly written books like this really give me something to chew on. As a white guy who writes really offensive garbage, I would add that a lot of my work is deeply inspired by Black Historians, & Black horror makers in general. It was from Black scholars that I learned of the mind-blowing enormity of Negroes who owned Negro Slaves. The largest slave owner of while had over 700 (i.e. during the 1830s). ...It was a black historian who wrote the brilliant book "Forced Into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White American Dream", and so forth. This book is at the tip-top of my list for my favorite books that I've listened to on Audible. Frankly, it is flawless. It's opened me up to a number of books, movies, and such that I was unaware of. Sincerely, this is an exceptional book. It's like art. This author is now subsequently someone who I hold in high regard. Bravo! - B. L. Blankenship

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Thoughtful and thorough.

I really enjoyed this book. One thing that really struck me listening to this is I feel like the author leans to both sides of the argument about this word at times. That is the epitome of how we feel about this word.

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Disjointed overview of racial pseudoscience.

Don't trust the science. An interesting, if disjointed, overview of 200+ years of some of the more ridiculous racial pseudoscience/cultural/literary commentary.

Asim's 2007 "The N Word" is something of a bait and switch. It isn't really a linguistic history of the N-word and is more of a loose collection of examples of clearly racist/supremacist writings across a variety of fields over 200+ years. We get dilletante Thomas Jefferson's musings on the "natural inferiority" of the negro along with multiple other examples of shoddy racialist quackery (racial categories, skull features, and the hilariously macabre "Drapetomania" -- the mental illness that causes enslaved blacks to flee bondage). While the citations are interesting in an intellectual train-wreck sort of way, Asim never quite brings the thesis together (his attempts to saddle Jefferson with being the originator of the American vision/sterotype of the "n*****" is unconvincing at best as Asim criticizes Jefferson, who had the most extensive personal library in the nation at the time, for *not* having certain books by/about Blacks -- it's a decidedly odd and petty criticism in light of the era in which Asim is talking about -- 18th century rural Virginia).

His brief sections on the Framers and Constitutional Convention are similarly unconvincing as Asim argues that the Framers were so bound to their (generally Southern) code of "honor" which explains why they went out of their way to *avoid* using the term slavery in the debates. This is substituting John C. Calhoun for John Adams, and it doesn't match the record. Rather, the Framers avoided references slavery in large part because they knew it to be morally wrong but (for some) politically/economically necessary. Only once the abolitionist movement started becoming more overt in its denunciations did the "slavery as a positive good" school begin to take hold. Asim's transference of 1850 arguments about race/slavery to the Founders/Framers is just bad research.

The most interesting section is when Asim highlights the literary criticism of Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" from all corners (then and now). Asim acknowledges that while it was a hugely influential book in bringing to white Northerners the physical brutality of slavery but it did so in a very paternalistic manner, almost undermining the humanity of those it seeks to sympathize with. Now, while Stowe's novel is, objectively, not very good and the selections Asim chooses to highlight the various problems with it are very unique, Asim goes too far in saying that the problems with Stowe's novel in its portrayal of blacks outweighed the good it did (helping popularize and galvanize the abolitionist movement).

We also get sections on the post-war Reconstruction era as well as commentary on the popularization of minstrel shows (and minstrel-like caricatures of blacks until way too far into the 20th century). The book ends with some fine, if underwhelming commentary on more modern examples of racially charged language -- taken almost exclusively from various forms of entertainment (TV, movies, music, comedy, etc). Here the power of the work diminishes because it's mostly just cherry-picked examples of entertainers (mostly black) using the N-word and Asim explaining why in X context it's appropriate and in Y context it's not. To the extent Asim defends his title of explaining who "can" say the N-word, it's mostly a question of intent. Asim avoids a categorical rule and says intent and context matters and that most current context counsels against the word's use. Cool.

The overall feel is that as Asim went through various historical eras and found the "juiciest" quotes about how Blacks were inferior, lazy, shiftless, or whichever baseless stereotype was at play, and struggled to find a way weave it into that particular chapter. The result is that it's a lot of objectionable/risible opinions from people that are long dead but that otherwise doesn't really enlighten except to say that people used to write a lot of racist stuff under the guise of "learned science."