To the editors:

I’ve just finished reading Bennie Currie’s article on the N-word (Essay, December 19). While I was reading it, I was thinking about a line out of a book I had read a while ago written by a black man. I forgot the title, but I remember the line saying, “If whites wrote the book on racism, blacks must have learned nearly every word of it.” There may be some truth to that. We have learned some of it all too well, particularly the infamous word “nigger.”

Being black myself, having also foolishly used this silly word, I’m now questioning this whole mess. If this word is so horribly offensive to black people coming from nonblack people, particularly whites, why in the name of heaven is this same word acceptable among blacks? As I said, I’ve used this pitiful word too often and now I feel bad about this. I now know what this word is really about. I’m happy to say that I have dropped and squashed that damn word out of my vocabulary. I’m one of only a few hundred (yes, hundred) African-Americans who have stopped using that word altogether and are quite comfortable with it. As far as we are concerned, that word was, is, and always will be offensive. Just because this world is unkind does not mean we have to be. I now call other blacks “sir,” “ma’am,” “miss,” “Mrs.,” “mister,” and yes, even “brother” and “sister.” It’s much, much better that way. We’re giving and getting respect at the same time.

I can no longer see that word as synonymous with “brother/sister,” “homie,” or whatever. I don’t need to, and the black people I know understand that. Yes, some black comedians, rappers, and poets may use the word and they may be comfortable with it sometimes. I’m glad that Sinbad and Richard Pryor have stopped using it. I will say Paul Mooney, who uses it all the time, has a point. If whites are not comfortable with the word, they should never have made it in the first place. Chris Rock, who also uses it, says that a “nigger” is an ignorant black person (?) who likes being ignorant. “Ignorant black person!” I thought. This has just proved my point! Are we to understand that “nigger” is or is supposed to be associated with “black”? Same as the word “ghetto”? What is an ignorant white, Hispanic, or Oriental person? “Cracker”? “Ching”? I would have to say that this whole mess on race and negativity has really gotten out of hand. Personally, I’m sick of all of it.

Finally, to all the black people who have read Bennie Currie’s article: If you’re comfortable with the usage of this word, fine. But I will say this. If I refuse to be some white person’s so-called nigger, there is absolutely no way on God’s earth I will ever be a black person’s so-called nigger. Enough said!

Cynthia Lee