Editorial by John Ziegler

An End To An Endless Story: Why I will never say 'the n-word' aloud again


Sometimes it is best just to tell a story and let the readers come to their own conclusions about what that anecdote says about the nature of reality. My "relationship" with the most controversial word in the English language is one such example.

In July of 1997 I was an evening radio talk show host on an FM station in Nashville, Tennessee. In the aftermath of Mike Tyson biting off Evander Holyfield's ear, I started an on-air discussion about how Whites and Blacks perceive each other and themselves. As part of the rather academic exercise I used the word "nigger" to describe the distinction that some people (including popular black comedian Chris Rock) make between those who follow the rules of society and those who do not.

For a white man to use the dreaded "n-word" was unusual, but I had said it before in a similar show about why Tiger Woods (whom I literally worshiped by having created the "First Church of Tiger Woods" on that very radio station) is so wildly popular among white people.

I used the word not for shock value (as many radio hosts do), but rather because I thought it was intellectual cowardice to not say the word, and I felt that placing the slur into the category of words that could not ever be used gave it far more power than it deserved. It also bothered me greatly that it was perfectly acceptable for a black person to say the word on the air whenever they wanted, but not for a white person (even if they were quoting the word during a news story about the O.J. Simpson case) to do the same.

Much to my surprise (hey, I was naïve at the time), a couple of days later I was fired without severance. When, very soon after that, boxer Hector "Macho" Camacho used the word "niggers" to describe Tyson and is entourage, no action was taken against him.

Greatly discouraged about both my plight and the state of our society I attempted to make a comeback and was briefly employed (after many months of joblessness) by the other talk station in town. Soon after that, I got hired at an FM talker in my hometown of Philadelphia. I thought that my n-word saga was behind forever. It was really just beginning.

Because of the "n-word" incident, MSNBC had me on live for an hour to talk about the "Greaseman" getting fired for making clearly racist remarks about singer Lauren Hill. This appearance went well and actually led to many other TV spots.

Then, after the talk station I was working for flipped to "All Madonna, All the time" (otherwise known as 80's music), I was forced to work overnights for the all sports talk station in town. Being a former TV sportscaster and a lifelong Philly sports fan, I was actually pretty good at the gig and things were going well until Mike Tyson reemerged in my life.

At a bizarre press conference in which Tyson, among other things, said that he was on Zoloft (the very same antidepressant I am on) so that he didn't kill any members of the media, the convicted rapist actually called himself a "nigger."

Unable to restrain myself from expressing the irony of the situation, that night I told the story of what had happened to me in Nashville when I used the "n-word" in connection with Tyson. Claiming that I had learned my lesson, I reluctantly only quoted Tyson and literally only SPELLED the troublesome utterance.

Thinking I was more than in the clear, I was shocked when my boss (a man who is notoriously loathed by most of his employees) confronted me on what I had done and called me a racist. Knowing that I had said nothing wrong, and being thoroughly insulted that I was being called something I knew I was certainly not by someone whose own character I questioned, I quit the job. The really unfortunate part of this scenario was that, since the same boss ran the only other talk station in town, I would either have to move yet again or find a new career.

After many more months of unemployment, I attempted the latter. I went "legit" and got a prestigious and well paying job as a media spokesperson and polling analyst for the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute (you may remember Quinnipiac as the university located on old Indian land which recently decided their nickname "Braves" was too offensive to continue using).

The fact that a liberal, politically correct university (their conservative president told me he initially didn't hire me because I am a conservative) would hire me as a "spokesperson" was a little strange, but I saw it as a welcome break.

Part of my deal with Quinnipiac was that I would be able to write columns and commentate on TV regarding matters that were not overtly political (as to not stain my "objectivity" as a polling analyst). To that end, when the Philadelphia Inquirer asked me to write a column about my rather surrealistic experience with the "n-word," I thought that there would be no problem. Once again I was wrong.

Without discussion, I was immediately suspended by Quinnipiac and, after several conversations followed by a couple of weeks of silence, I was once again fired for an "n-word" related "offense." Adding further insult this injury, the Philadelphia Inquirer stopped running my columns soon after that.

At this point I began to wonder if this dark "n-word" cloud that was over my head would ever drift away. While I am still not sure that it has, I have been able to find the silver lining.

The "n-word" column in the Philadelphia Inquirer lead to a spot on Jewish World Review and gave me a place for my writing to grow along with a platform from which to commentate on TV. That TV commentary has now lead to a full-time position at a regional cable network that appears to have a promising future.

While I have already done an appearance on this TV network to discuss Randall Kennedy's book Nigger, I think I will refrain from ever using the word publicly again. At some point self-preservation must trump principle. I probably should have passed that place a long time ago.

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