N-Words and B-Words: Can people reclaim these words?

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(Disclaimer:  If you are easily offended by the proper spelling of the words hinted at in my title, then do not read beyond this point.)

As a postcolonial scholar, I’ve become familiar with what Homi Bhabha calls the “ambiguity of colonial discourse.”  In short, Bhabha suggests that colonialism attempts to recreate indigenous minds/bodies in the image of the colonizer, but only to an indeterminate line that allows the colonizer to differentiate itself from the “other,” since its existence as “colonizer” requires an opposite from which to draw its identity.  Within that ambiguity, Bhabha argues, is where the indigenous can launch a different kind of resistance.

I’ve often wondered if this same idea might apply to words like “nigger” or “bitch” (and their various spellings).  While I won’t call myself a feminist scholar or race historian, it seems to me that it is within the realm of possibility that women or people of color could reclaim the words previously used against them by a particular dominant group.  Otherwise, I’d have to look at a site like Smart Bitches, Trashy Books with a certain degree of contempt.  Likewise, I’d have to view any use of the word “nigger” by people of color as inherently derogatory, even if within a particular cultural context, it means exactly the opposite.  Are some of these instances moments of resistance / reversal / reclamation?  How do we know?

That’s where I want to leave it.  A wide open question for the general public to explore.  So have at it!

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

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