Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

LET us have no more about it after.this week, please. One or two readers have written to say that nigger is such an intrinsically 'unacceptable' word that it should not be discussed. I cannot see that. But nor can I see a future for it in Britain as a badge of pride for black people, as some in America use it. This is for historical reasons.

But I have come across a borderline use of the word from such an eminent source (who had already been hauled over the coals for seeming to be antiSemitic) that, by way of scholarly scrutiny, I feel I must quote it. It is from T.S. Eliot, and is published in the collection edited by Christopher Ricks under the title Inventions of the March Hare (1996):

The Outlook gives an interview An interview from Booker T. Entitled `Up from Possum Stew!' Or `How I set the nigger free!'

The Outlook was a periodical, formerly called The Christian Union, and Booker T. is Booker T. Washington (1856-1915), the black American educator whose autobiography, Up from Slavery, was serialised in the Outlook. He was still alive when Eliot wrote those lines in 1911.

Eliot's use of nigger is not exactly in propria persona, since his comic poem is implicitly in the mouth of a narrator, and in any case the word nigger is satirically attributed to Booker T. …

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