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The ugliest word in the English language

Well, there sure was a hot time in the old town last night!

At the Writers’ Salon I presented my holy card of Katherine Drexel.  Daughter of a wealthy family, she founded an order of nuns to minister to the most disadvantaged in America at that time, the Native and Afro-Americans.  She and her sisters endured insults and intimidation, and my poem dealt with a threat from the KKK in Texas to blow up a church where the nuns were teaching Afro-American children.  The nuns prayed, and two days later a tornado smashed the Klan clubhouse to smithereens.  (Gotta love the timing there!) 

 But it was the use of one word in the poem that nearly led to an all-out brawl at the Salon, and when writers fight, it ain’t pretty.  We have to protect our hands you see, so there’s a lot of elbowing and head butting and knees to the groin.  Perhaps I exaggerate just a tad, but the discussion became very heated indeed.  The poem begins, “nigger nuns, they called us,” and my colleague was outraged at the use of the term, which I think did them great credit.  But when my colleague suggested I should have changed it to read “negro nuns, they called us,”  the group was loud in their disapproval and the room instantly polarized.  In the end, my friend would not agree that use of the term in context was appropriate, and then they added, “You’ll never get the poem published.”

There is no more ugly word in the English language than “nigger,”  freighted as it is with dehumanizing hatred and threat of violence, and it is one word that should never be taken lightly on the tongue.  But in fact the sisters were called “nigger nuns,” and to suggest they were called something else, to sanitize it into something more socially acceptable would be to do the nuns a grave injustice and to euphemize the suffering they endured.  My thought was not of publication when I wrote the piece, but of being true to their story.  On my home page you’ll find my favourite quote of Salman Rushdie – “A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep.” 

If I might add – “and tell the story, whatever the consequences.”

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One Comment

  1. dGm5
    Posted December 4, 2014 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    109242 644327This is one extremely fascinating post. I like the way you write and I will bookmark your blog to my favorites. 962397

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