Milele Chikasa Anana has been battling the "N" word for decades. In the 1960s, her young son came home from elementary school in Brookline, Mass., all excited about the school play. The boy had been tapped for the role of "Nigger Jim" in Huckleberry Finn.
"I just hit the ceiling," recalls Anana, now publisher of Madison's Umoja magazine. "I was furious."
School officials told Anana she was overreacting. But when she asked whether they'd let a white student play this role, they said that wouldn't be appropriate.
In recent years, most of the times Anana has heard the "N" word, it's been spoken by blacks. She dislikes it just as much: "I can't tell you how many black people I've asked not to use that word in my presence."
Now Anana is asking even louder. On Saturday, Oct. 21, she'll be at Bethel AME Church in Beloit to take part in a "Death to the ‘N' Word" community rally and funeral service. Other speakers include state Sen. Judy Robson and hip-hop artist Rob Franklin of the Rob Dz Experience. It's part of a national movement aimed at burying the word, once and for all.
"It's disrespectful," says Anana of this word. "It's demeaning, because white people used it to refer to all black people," to cast blacks as "lowly, no-good, inferior rogues." She thinks it's "part of internal racism that we have embraced the term and use it on each other."
But Anana grasps as well as anyone the staying power of this ugly word. "We're trying to make a cultural change," she says. "It's going to take more than a rally."