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Racial slur's use rationalized, so it dies hard here Despite high-profile efforts to eradicate the N-word from everyday speech, its persistent presence shows people's willingness to accept it on their own terms.

The N-word was buried in Detroit this week, but it's going to be a long while before it's laid to rest here in Buffalo.

"The word has been around for so long, it'll be hard to eliminate it," said 22-year-old Sidney Watson, a city resident relaxing Tuesday on a bench in Martin Luther King Jr. Park.

"We're used to hearing it with each other," said Edith Smith, a 41-year-old city resident.

"It'll still be used," said Tina Samuel, a Buffalo mother of two daughters, 23 and 12, spending time at the park's playground with her 12-year-old daughter, Courtney Jones.

Watson, Smith and Samuel were responding to Monday's symbolic public burial of the N-word at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's annual convention in Detroit. During the "funeral," two horses pulled a pine box adorned with a bouquet of fake black roses and a black ribbon printed with a derivation of the word.

In Buffalo on Tuesday, about a dozen African-Americans agreed that the word should be eliminated from the English language.

But at least one of those interviewed said that, under certain conditions, the term is acceptable.

"There is a time and a place for it to be used, and that's between African-Americans," said 51-year-old Gregory Hunley, who was enjoying an afternoon in King Park, off Best Street on the East Side.
"Black people are used to us calling us that. For African-Americans, it adds to our inner strength. The better we are able to deal with the word, the stronger we are."

Many other Buffalonians, who admitted sometimes using the word in the context Hunley described, said the word should not be used at all under any circumstances and that the symbolic funeral and burial were a good start.

"It's important. We need to get the message out," said Aaron Watkins, a 2007 Williamsville North High School graduate playing basketball in Delaware Park with his buddy Tyshawn Lackey, who graduated this year from Bennett High School.

"I hope [the mock funeral] makes a difference, but you know people will use the word, anyway," said Saint Macklin, who was playing basketball in Delaware Park with his 9-year-old stepdaughter, Jannaiya Wiley.

The effort to eradicate the word needs to go far beyond a fake funeral, they said, pointing to the influence of comedians as well as hip-hop artists, and the fact that the word has been commonly used among African-Americans for generations.

"We all say it because we're just used to it," Lackey said.

"Young kids are used to it. My parents said it. Their parents said it, and they're still saying it," Samuel said. "A lot of us just grew up like that."

Combating the influences of family and entertainment simultaneously is the key to eliminating the N-word from American culture, said Lawrence Murray, a 21-year-old Buffalo resident, who was pushing his 2-year-old daughter, Leionna, on a swing in King Park.

Murray suggested that comedians and musicians set a trend by not using the N-word. That way, the younger generation of kids who can recite verbatim many hip-hop songs before they can even read may be less inclined to use it.

"If they don't use it a lot, kids might stop using it," he said.

"Without the N-word, it'll still be good music. The N-word doesn't make the music."

Young people agreed with Murray.

Jannaiya said that she hears classmates using the word regularly but that they probably don't know what it really means and that the original meaning is a negative one.

"The young kids just say it to say it. like when they say, 'What's up, my N--?' " Jannaiya said. "They use it like they use the word 'homeboy.' "

"It's never OK to use it, even with hip-hop," said Courtney, a student at the Science Magnet School adjacent to King Park, "because little kids might use it even though they don't know what it means."

Expanding the vocabulary of young people also will help turn the tide, others said.

"The use of the word among youth is an unwillingness to expand their vocabulary," said Jeff Varner, a corrections officer who said he hears the term all the time at work but didn't want to identify his facility. "Can't they find anything else to say other than that? It's a powder keg of controversy that carries with it a barrel of hatred.

"Black people using it doesn't make the word less negative, because it still has a damaging effect on people."

e-mail: dswilliams@buffnews.com

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