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The N Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn't, and Why

3.77  ·  Rating Details  ·  251 Ratings  ·  32 Reviews
A renowned cultural critic untangles the twisted history and future of racism through its most volatile word.

The N Word reveals how the term "nigger" has both reflected and spread the scourge of bigotry in America over the four hundred years since it was first spoken on our shores. Asim pinpoints Thomas Jefferson as the source of our enduring image of the “nigger.” In a se
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published March 26th 2007 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 2007)
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Community Reviews

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Aug 04, 2010 S10_tommccormack rated it it was amazing
This well-researched book traces the notorious “N” word back centuries and explains how it became what it is today and why it is still so powerful. Asim includes many interesting and thought-provoking historical and cultural references that make this book a fascinating read. Students will be shocked as they read about some of the most disturbing parts of American history and forced to evaluate how and why the “N” word is still used today.
Max Ostrovsky
Apr 10, 2014 Max Ostrovsky rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An absolute must read. Period. This was an insightful and historical look at the "N Word" and the culture it has created.
There is so much about the book that impressed me - primarily having something new to say and teach me.
Its handling of Mark Twain was brilliant. Uncle Tom's Cabin was fully explored.
I did have two complaints. One, historically, it did not go back far enough, explore, and discuss the actual origin of the word beyond a misspelling on a shipping ledger. The word comes from an
Jabari Asim has written an insightful and interesting summary of the history of racism toward African Americans in America. It skillfully dispels such American myths such as a history of "timeless American values" such as "freedom, equality and equal justice", and black passivity in the face of such degradation and hatred. As Asim says more than once, African Americans have constantly been in a state of "writing themselves into existence" through their literary battles against racist ideas. The ...more
Jun 11, 2014 Johnp rated it really liked it
A detailed and well-researched book that seeks to help us understand the origins, uses and issues behind the dreaded “N” word. This books covers a wide path, encompassing history, film, literature, TV, entertainment, interviews and societal changes. It is immense in scope.

In the end, what emerges is a thoroughly depressing account of how this word has come to be symbolize all the injustice and insult to people of color. The casual way in which the word is shown to be used in all manner of Americ
Jul 28, 2011 Katie rated it did not like it
I found this to be quite disappointing....very deceiving. I expected a cultural studies book and it felt more like reading a college history textbook. I don't recommend this one.
Oct 21, 2014 Morgan rated it it was ok
Asim relies a little too heavily on Sterling Brown's analyses in the first third of the book, and I wish he would have made his view more clear--how exactly he feels about the N word isn't really clear. But, I appreciate his thoroughness in examining television, film, literature, and history and learned quite a bit from this.

I did have some small quibbles with his discussion of Gone with the Wind, though. First, the book has a lowercase W in with. Asim tries to somehow apologize for the insuffer
Jul 19, 2008 Cazual23 rated it it was amazing
Jabari Asim is to be commended for his thorough research of the N-word's history, from its birth in the New World to its constant use on 2008 subway rides. I learned a great deal of American history from Asim's exploration. I never knew how involved Thomas Jefferson was with commenting on black Americans. The popularity of minstrelsy in the 1800s, especially with white immigrants, like my Irish ancestors. The vehement debates over whether the Civil War had anything to do with the status of black ...more
Jan 06, 2014 Lesley rated it liked it
More than a simple history of "the word", Jabari Asim takes us thorugh the entire 400 year tragedy of African American oppresion, pointing out how the "n*gger" was used as a tool to dehumanize and humiliate. I was particularly struck by the early chapters on ther 19th century battles between evolutioninsts and traiditonal religion: though they disagreed on everything else, both sides agreed that Negroes were a separatley created and inferior species. Highly relevant to works such as Saviors or S ...more
Aug 10, 2010 Nayarit rated it liked it
This was REALLY insightful. I had no idea about the history at all, especially because I thought it was going to be just about modern usage and that sort of thing. Some later parts of the topic I found to be sort of more "opinionated" than factual as I'd liked. But this wasn't a constant or standard in the book, just something I noticed here and there.

What I really liked about the book is that it gave LOTS of information but it didn't feel like it was forcing it or that I was learning. Not like
Jul 16, 2011 Topher rated it liked it
A readable academic treatment of the history of the demeaning epitaph. Perhaps surprisingly, the most interesting part was the early American history and the nearly inconceivable racism that contributed to the malignant potency of the word. Maybe because its use at the time seems uncomplicated, especially in contrast to the contemporary attempts (for better or worse, in good faith or not) to neutralize the word or "take it back." I thought I would be more interested in its contemporary users and ...more
Sep 02, 2011 Mitzi rated it liked it
Every year as I teach American literature I have students ask me why it's okay (in today's culture) for blacks to use this word but not whites. I never have felt that I had a great answer for them because I feel like I am "presuming to know" but how could I? So I was excited to come across this book that would confirm my presumption or give me the correct answer. I thought it would have the exact answer/passages to read to them. So far it is reading more like a history text. It is very interesti ...more
Mar 15, 2013 Dillon rated it really liked it
All in all, good book. The N Word was filled with information on the famous "N" word that everyone, today, still isnt sure about. The book begins with history from the eighteenth century. The book gets the reader up to date about the past and includes major facts that brings up the reader to the present day. The explanation Jabari Asim gives in his book is pretty easy to follow and gives to loads to learn. Only downside of this book was if you feel awkward reading the "N" word, this wont be your ...more
Aug 03, 2010 Onefinemess rated it really liked it
While it doesn't seem that the author exactly answers his question, he certainly provides the reader with enough information (as well as sources for further inspiration) to begin to make an assessment of your own opinion. An educational fastlane through one of the most painful treatment of natives is up there too), embarrassing, and truly despicable parts of this country's history.

Inspires the reader to ask what we as a unified country have gained, and what we still need to gain to truly be prou
Ryan Mishap
Nov 03, 2008 Ryan Mishap rated it liked it
Shelves: race-anti-racist
“Who can say it, who shouldn’t, and why.” More far reaching than the book by a lawyer I reviewed previously in Mishap, Asim traces the word in the history of white supremacy in the United States and ends by examining modern usage in popular culture. The history is a stellar presentation of racism, white supremacy, and how the “n” word is a product and perpetuator of those things. The popular culture part isn’t as clear as the book’s subtitle suggests, but I recommend this book.
May 18, 2009 Lynette rated it really liked it
This book provides an in-depth and provocative history of one of the most hateful yet widely-used racial slurs. I do not think I realized the extent of the animalistic treatment African-Americans received until very recently, and even in today's supposedly enlightened society, they are still degraded if not in subtler ways.
Joi Reece
Jun 25, 2012 Joi Reece rated it really liked it
The book is comprehensive, well-written, and truly showcases the genius of Jabari Asim. This book is not some mere clarification for anyone who may be confused as to who can and who cannot use the word, but a literary work of art that brings to light the mephitic concept of Black inferiority. A must read for all races.
Nick H
Apr 03, 2014 Nick H rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This should be required reading
Dec 21, 2008 Dan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Asim's book is an incredibly interesting history of the most insulting and derogatory word in the English language. Carefully researched and documented throughout, The N Word gives a complete look at the word, its roots, uses and implications for the future. Fascinating read.
May 29, 2009 Kathy rated it really liked it
I'm glad I read this book-- an important contemporary companion to the Classic Slave Narratives. I appreciated how Asim is grounded in history, but isn't overly academic in his writing style.
Marissa Barbieri
Aug 19, 2007 Marissa Barbieri marked it as to-read
I read an interview with this dude on Salon which sparked my interest in the book. As a voracious fan of the hiphop, it seemed like the sort of thing I should be informed about.
Mrs. Mendoza
Dec 18, 2012 Mrs. Mendoza rated it it was amazing
This book is thought-provoking and provides a great opportunity to evaluate the way language, culture and society support, create and interrelate with each other.
Dec 11, 2012 Johari rated it really liked it
This was superbly researched and well executed. I found the early historical parts difficult to read but related well to the preset times.

Thought provoking.
Apr 04, 2007 shruti marked it as to-read
Heard about this on the Diane Rehm show. The author was very eloquent about his arguments against the word and about giving the history behind the word. Sounds great.
Jan 27, 2008 Zina rated it liked it
i thought this book was going to be all contemporary. so, all i really care to read is 1955-present. this section is worth the read.
Mark Cheathem
A good book. I expected more current pop culture references, but that was just my unrealistic expectation. Very balanced.
May 24, 2008 Eboni marked it as to-read
Met Jabari Asim and his wife at a discussion group in Washington DC, but haven't had the chance to read the book yet.
Jul 27, 2011 Ubalstecha rated it really liked it
This book looks at the history of the N word and how it has been used through out history. Very interesting.
I was excited, and then it was mostly just name dropping. Excuse me, N-dropping. So I dropped it.
Apr 03, 2008 Bsampson rated it liked it sparked up alot of debates in my black studies class on the actual meaning of it.
Diana Eberhardt
Jan 28, 2013 Diana Eberhardt rated it it was amazing
Addresses a lot of issues with language and interracial history.

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Where is "The Line"? 1 6 Oct 05, 2011 04:11PM  
Where is "the line"? Why? 1 2 Oct 05, 2011 03:21PM  
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Praise for Only The Strong

"Jabari Asim is such an elegant writer that you won't realize how smoothly he drew you in until you're halfway through this book. Humane and humorous, compassionate and willing to get a little rough, this describes both the writer and the novel. Only The Strong does for St. Louis what Edward P. Jones has done for Washington D.C., Raymond Chandler for Los Angeles---marked
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