NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City symbolically banned use of the word nigger on Wednesday, the latest step in a campaign that hopes to expunge the most vile of racial slurs from hip hop music and television.
The City Council unanimously declared a moratorium that carries no penalty but aims to stop youth from casually using the word, considered by most Americans to be the most offensive in the English language.
The New York City measure follows similar resolutions this month by the New York state assembly and state senate, and supporters of the ban are taking their campaign to The Recording Academy, asking it not to nominate musicians for Grammy awards if they use the word in their lyrics.
Many rap artists and young New Yorkers toss the word around as a term of endearment or as a substitute for black, angering some black leaders who consider those who use it as ignorant of the word’s hate-filled history in slavery and segregation.
“This could be the beginning of a movement,” councilman Albert Vann said.
Councilman Leroy Comrie, a sponsor of the moratorium, said the campaign against the word has gained strength since comedian Michael Richards spewed it in a racially charged tirade in Los Angeles.
The Laugh Factory club where Richards performed has since banned comedians from using the word there and the former “Seinfeld” television star has apologized.
“The Michael Richards incident really brought it to another level. It has forced people to express their outrage. Many people had been seething quietly,” Comrie said.
Comrie also asked TV network Black Entertainment Television to stop using the word in its shows. Representatives of BET did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A Grammy spokesman said he doubted the academy’s 11,000 voting members would support any measure that might censor artists.
“They are not going to be supportive of something that excludes someone simply because they are using a word that is offensive,” said Ron Roecker, vice president of communication for the Recording Academy.
The city resolution calling for the moratorium traces the etymology of the word from the Latin “niger,” meaning black, to its first documented written use in 1786 as a term slave masters used to label their African slaves.
Use of the word by blacks exploded with the rise of rap music in recent years, and some black comedians like Chris Rock continue to use it in their routines.
“What, is there a fine? Am I going to get a ticket?” Rock mocked in a Reuters interview when asked about the City Council move. “Do judges say, ‘10 years, nigger!”‘
Rock said politicians were trying to divert attention from real problems: “Enough real bad things happen in this city to worry about how I am going to use the word.”
Additional reporting by Christine Kearney