The n-word rekindles equality debate

by Jean Hervy Charles
by Jean Hervy Charles

At the annual roast at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner hosted by the U.S. president, guest host Larry Wilmore, pounding his fist to his chest used the n-word to congratulate Barack Obama on a job well done: “You did it, my nigga.”

He might have offended more than one but he was transforming himself into a true brother, using the enduring term which is a badge of honour to the Haitian people as well as to Black Americans but only when uttered by one of their own.

Indeed, you can be sent to jail or lose your job if you are in position of authority and you refer to a Black person as a nigger.

Wilmore’s utterance could be translated as such: Moi fier Nègre, me proud Negro. I am advancing the fact that my brother Obama has done a superb job in making a mockery of himself, his wife, Trump and Hillary with grace, dignity and with a superb wit. You make me proud, brother!

Wilmore in using the n-word at the White House for the whole world to hear and comment about may have started the conversation of the term nigger as an insult in the U.S. The hypocrisy from the white world as well as from the Black world is postponing the advent of a true project of nation building in America is expressed in that discomfort.

The U.S. that started in 1776 without inclusion of Black slaves would have become a different nation if James Adams had won the election of 1800. He planned to use Toussaint Louverture and Haiti as a model in forcing the U.S. to admit its Black population as citizens. Adams lost to Thomas Jefferson and the fate of the whole world changed.

The gallant heroes of Haiti defied the re-slavery plan of Napoleon Bonaparte. Jean Jacques Dessalines in 1804, the founding father of Haiti, understood it was necessary for the former slaves to assume fully the colour of their skin as a badge of honour. In the Haitian Constitution, he declared that all Haitians are Black, whether they are or not of Black skin.

After 300 years of brutal slavery, when being Black was enough to be used as une bête de somme, it was correct for Dessalines to have the former slaves assume their blackness by using the very term the white world used to demean them.

Frederic Douglass, who spent some time in Haiti as American ambassador and understood well the Haitian ethos, could have liberated the Black Americans from that dichotomy of using the enduring term of nigger amongst themselves while crying foul when it is used by the white world.

Abraham Lincoln’s nation building project after the war of emancipation did not last long because his premature death put a sudden break to the full reconciliation that would have healed the deep scars of bondage.

It took one century later for Dr. Martin Luther King to force upon America the project of nation building. Albeit enforced by Lyndon Johnson, this era enjoyed the span of a rose, because Vietnam and the assassination of King put a damper on full recognition of Blacks as U.S. citizens.

Obama, the first Black American to occupy the highest seat of the land, cannot put as one of his best achievements the advancement of the Black agenda on the American canvas. He did serve with honour and grace, demonstrating that being white or Black is a common denominator in who is the president.

Wilmore’s conversation in exposing to the mostly white audience his inner feeling in Black lingo might have done enough to rekindle the liberation process of addressing the true issues of education, jobs, integration of the Black community.

And in truth, brother, look upon us in Haiti – albeit proud of being a nigga – we have been wasted by successive governments that care less about the human and the natural resources of the country. Born into a country destined to lead, it is languishing in trivial pursuits forgetting the essential.

May the essence of Frederick Douglass’ lecture on Haiti resonate in the soul of each American, Black or white to form the solidarity chain expressed in “my nigga” of Larry Wilmore!


Jean Hervé Charles LLB, MSW, JD, was a candidate in the Haitian presidential election of 2015.

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