DETROIT (Reuters) - Demonstrators marched in a mock funeral procession through downtown Detroit on Monday in a symbolic burial of the “N-word” and an effort to persuade black Americans to stop using a variant of the racial slur in hip-hop music, comedy and casual conversation.
Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm joined the event, which was attended by hundreds of demonstrators from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and others from nearby office buildings.
Victoria Lanier, a NAACP activist from New York, gave a mock obituary arguing that the racist slur with its roots in American slavery and all its modern variations as used by some blacks and in hip-hop could not be separated.
“We will bury this offensive usage among all people, including African Americans,” Lanier said. “We promise that we will be more creative in our rap lyrics, more respectful to our ancestors.”
The mock funeral, which included a plywood casket bedecked with a wreath of black roses and pulled by a pair of horses, was staged by the NAACP, which is holding its annual convention in Detroit.
“This is the first funeral I’ve been to where people were happy to be here,” said NAACP Chairman Julian Bond. “The entity in this casket deserves to be dead.”
Most demonstrators and speakers avoided direct mention of the epithet, which came into focus again last year after former “Seinfeld” actor Michael Richards used it repeatedly in a videotaped tirade at a Los Angeles comedy club.
A similar controversy erupted in April when talk show host Don Imus made a derogatory remark about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team, a remark that prompted his firing by CBS.
Activists carried signs and wore T-shirts saying “Bury the “N” Word,” while a Christian fellowship collected pledges from attendees who promised to stop using a range of slurs.
Under a banner saying, “Don’t Dis’, Uplift,” members of Detroit’s Fellowship Chapel collected pledges showing various offensive terms with a ban mark through each. The signed pledges were collected in a nearby garbage can.
“It’s about self-respect. We need to throw all of this language in the garbage can — all of this racist, sexist and misogynistic language,” said Derek Blackman, who organized the pledge drive.
Several marchers doubted that the event would mark the demise of a centuries-old slur but some said it might start to harden attitudes among black entertainers and parents.
“In our circles, people tend to use this word without thinking about it,” said Jimmie Garland from Clarksville, Tennessee. “But the word is negative regardless of who uses it.”
Some demonstrators noted that the NAACP staged a similar mock funeral for America’s “Jim Crow” laws, which enforced segregation, in Detroit in 1944 but that those laws remained in force until the mid-1960s.
“If the N-word is being buried today, it’s being buried alive,” said Detroit political consultant Sam Riddle, who attended Monday’s event.