- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 17, 2002

The Baltimore City Council on Monday unanimously adopted a black member's resolutions urging citizens to quit using a racial epithet and asking elected officials nationwide to implore their constituents do the same.

The resolutions don't ban the word, and they aren't backed by the force of law, but council member Melvin Stukes said he hopes the measures can dispel negative influences and raise the consciousness in black communities in the city.

Co-sponsored by nine other council members, the resolutions were adopted 16-0 with two members absent from the session. The council has 11 black members and seven white members.

"There is no denying that the use of the term 'nigger' is becoming more prevalent," the first resolution reads. It urges "people of all colors to refrain from using the word in anger or camaraderie, and to condemn the use of the word in any form or fashion in popular music, film and literature as an accepted variant of artistic expression."

Mr. Stukes, 54, who has two teenage daughters, said the resolutions aren't about "grandstanding." He said he has grown upset that the word has slipped into casual usage among blacks, especially young people inspired by comedy acts, rap music and popular films.

"The emphasis without question of this resolution is on the black community no ifs, ands or buts," Mr. Stukes, a Democrat, said yesterday. "I know it's not going to stop everybody, but some people are using the word strictly for monetary purposes."

The second resolution calls on federal, state and local officeholders to implore their constituents to refrain from using the word and a variety of other epithets against "others not of their same ethnicity, religious sect, gender, age, physical ability or sexual orientation."

Copies of that resolution will be sent to the president, the U.S. Congress and local and national civic and black activist groups.

"Basically what we're trying to do is get this before every elected body in this country," Mr. Stukes said.

It has been debated for years whether blacks' use of the term is empowering or insulting. For example, comedian Richard Pryor, who used the word frequently in his early stand-up career, swore off the term after a visit to Africa in the 1970s.

Debate about the word was renewed with the January release of Harvard Law School professor Randall Kennedy's book, "Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word." Tracing the word's origin to the Latin "niger," which means black, Mr. Kennedy describes its transformation from a pejorative by whites to a term of affection by some blacks.

Mr. Kennedy, who is black, says the word has several meanings not all negative. He opposes banning the word as well as banning books in which the word is prevalent, including Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn."

Mr. Stukes, who heads the council's education subcommittee, agrees that books containing the word should not be banned and says his goal is to make children realize that it's not "cool" to use the word.

"Those on whose behalf many have labored valiantly must be reminded that a toxic word that represents years of human bondage, cannot be 'flipped' to somehow become the rallying cry of a liberated generation," the resolution reads.

Mr. Stukes says much of the blame for the prevalence of the word goes to older generations that have not educated youth on its demeaning origins.

"A portion of my generation didn't pass on the baton about the struggle of the black race in America," he said. "We kind of went to sleep to some degree and thought everything was going to be OK after a bunch of laws were passed."

He said he has received a few threats during his crusade but said that people, white and black, mostly have come up to him and praised his efforts.

"People just didn't know how to talk about this issue," Mr. Stukes said.

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