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As you might expect, students had a wide variety of reactions

to the poem. Some were amused, others appalled, many were hurt,

 some were stimulated and appreciative and others report being

unaffected. We will be working in advisory groups



Books by Mona Lisa Saloy

Red Beans and Ricely Yours: Poems

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Mona Lisa, Lakeside and the N-Word

Poem, Parent Letter, and Poet’s Response


The N Word

                                                For Carolyn M. Rodgers


   We all say it,

But we're not supposed to anymore.

There's the daily,

"Who'd you call a nigger?"  Or,

"Only niggers talk like that!"


   They tell me,

I shouldn't use the N word in the new millennium,

In my poems, in hushed raps to a lover in the dark,

Or in any talk I might give.


   They say the N word is a hold back

To Jim Crow times they'd rather

Forget, so not mentioning it

Eases the N word from memory.

Besides, it's disrespectful, vile, like the do do of our history.

And, we've come up to hyphenated status with

Origin of great pharaohs and queens,

That the N word is no

Longer relevant to our tomorrows.


   So I say that I only call a nigger

A nigger when appropriate,

Such as in the case of dumb niggers, mean niggers,

Lucky niggers, big-leg niggers, and big-butt niggers,

Fat niggers, big-lipped, and no-lipped niggers,

Kinky-hair niggers, and good-hair niggers,

Kiss-ass niggers, and kick-your-ass niggers,

Controversial niggers, famous niggers,

Has-been niggers, movie-star niggers,                                                                                   

Ball-playing, beer-drinking, coke-sniffing niggers,

Skinny, dread-locked niggers, and vegetarian niggers,

Grease-monkey niggers, and

Cowboy niggers on horses in Texas and Oakland, California,

Northern niggers who think they ain't niggers,

Beatnik niggers, hippy niggers,

Blues-singing, Jazz-bopping niggers, and

Rhythm-and-blues swinging niggers, and

Hip-hop, baggy-butt-pants niggers,

And we all know at least two sorry-assed niggers—


Niggers with a handful of gimme

And a mouthful of much obliged--

Important niggers and niggers who think they're important,

Ugly niggers that'll make a jailbird run free,

Pretty niggas that'll make the sun sit on a tree,

Old, corny, jive niggers with their:

            "What's the word?"                                                                                   


            "What's the price?"

            "Thirty twice!"

There's neo-jive, mono-syllabic niggers with their "Word!"

Wise niggers like Oneida– a die-hard nationalist nigger--

Who says:

            "Niggers and flies

            I do despise.

            The more I see niggers,

            The more I like flies."

Canceling the N word is like throwing out the baby

When her clothes don't fit.

We're not speaking of nice Colored men, but

Trifling niggers without a pot to piss in,

No-count, nosey niggers--

Who mind your business and mine--

Brick-head red niggers, and Jungle-fever niggers.

This ain't no

            ennie-meanie-mini-mo flack.

This is niggerness and

Nigger raps for Doctor niggers

And teacher niggers and

Good niggers.

You know,

If they've got you've got niggers.

Real, down-to-the-ground,

Slap-it-on-your-thighs-and-laugh niggers,

Bones-playing niggers,

Street-smart niggers,

And mysterious-come-alive-after-five niggers,

Those midnight-rambler, all-night gambler niggers,

Sweet niggers, and naturally blue-black, brown, yellow niggers,

And uppity niggers.


   I've got a neighbor,

A bonafide, high-yellow tenth generation

Creole nigger.

Says she's

Not Black, or a Negro.

She is Colored.

That's what it says on

Her birth certificate.

My colored neighbor hates sorry-assed,

Incompetent niggers.

Says she "don't want nothin' to do                                               

With anything Black."

She won't call a

Nigger plumber,

No nigger electrician,

No nigger carpenter, 'cept family.

Only thing a nigger can do for her

Is get out of her way or die.

But worse she says is oreo niggers,

Luke-warm niggers, and

Bourgeoise niggers with their

Gucci, pucci, nike, air, pump, BMW,

Or Merced niggers.

You can bleach your skin.

You can texturize your hair.

You can eat crawfish with a fork,

but you're still a nigger, my nigger.


   You're my nigger, if you don't get no bigger.

And, if you do get bigger, you'll be

My bigger nigger!


            "Where y'at my nigger?

            You're my main nigger,

            My favorite turd,

            And that ain't no shit!"

  Hey my nigger.

You know, you're my nigger-

My nerve, my jelly preserve.


 And for folks who talk about

            people like me,

            people my color (yellow),

They say

I don't know my identity

By the biological thinness of melanin.

First of all,

All niggers only been a nigger

A few times in their lives,

And I'm happy to say that

I'll only be a nigger

Six times in my life:

            a nigger baby

            a nigger girl

            a nigger woman.

Though I was  a crippled nigger,

And I am a good nigger,

But one day I'll be a dead nigger.


   So, I hope that no card-carrying

African American, or no stamped, certified,

Colored, or Negro is ever insulted

Cause I call a nigger my nigger.


   Nigger please!

Source: Red Beans and Ricely Yours  by Mona Lisa Saloy Winner of the 2005 T. S. Eliot Prize

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The letter below addresses an incident on Dec. 10, 2008, and offers a window on how the school is attempting to deal with racially charges subjects like language. In this case, it was the use of the "n" word in a poem read by African-American guest speaker, poet, and folklorist Mona Lisa Saloy that stirred things up. Source: Crosscut

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Dear Upper School Parents and Guardians,

I want to keep you up to date on an emerging event that no doubt had an impact on many upper school students yesterday. We had invited a speaker, Professor Mona Lisa Saloy, to join us in some classes and to do an assembly presentation. An associate professor at the historically black Dillard University in Louisiana, Professor Saloy is a poet and folklorist whose work has been dramatically affected by Hurricane Katrina. She was recommended by an interested student, and her visit was sponsored by the Affinity groups, Dr. Lindsay Aegerter’s Postcolonial and Diaspora Literature and African American Literature classes, and the Assembly committee.

Several members of the English department were already familiar with her award-winning poetry, and, as is our practice, we researched much of Professor Saloy’s work, discussed the topic of her visit (how her poetry and scholarship as a folklorist capture Pre- and Post-Katrina New Orleans) and informed her of who we are and what we were hoping she might add. Further, Dr. Aegerter had regular correspondence with Professor Saloy to discuss how she would use the class time in both of her senior electives, and indeed those classes went according to plan.

After a significant discussion of aspects of New Orleans life in her assembly presentation, Professor Saloy chose to finish her talk by reading some of her poetry. The very last poem she chose to read employed the “n-word” many times in a litany of expressions. We were not in any way aware that Professor Saloy would choose to read this particular poem in this particular context, and we remain perplexed as to why she might have chosen the poem for a high school setting. We suspect that she did so because she intended to be provocative, but her decision to do so, especially without first providing any educational context for the poem or leaving sufficient time after the reading for a discussion with the entire student body, was disappointing.

She did spend considerable time after assembly discussing the poem in a salon held in the library, but only a small group of students was able to attend this discussion. It is indeed unfortunate that we must now react as a school rather than being able to work proactively with students on a topic and a word that is divisive and hurtful for many, a word that is antithetical to Lakeside’s spirit of safety and inclusion to all members of the school community. Although there may be a rich artistic and academic history around the deconstruction and recuperation of this racist term, Professor Saloy did not provide that context, leaving the school and students with many unanswered questions.

As you might expect, students had a wide variety of reactions to the poem. Some were amused, others appalled, many were hurt, some were stimulated and appreciative and others report being unaffected. We will be working in advisory groups to discuss this assembly and this poem, and we will also be offering a voluntary discussion opportunity for students and adults wishing to explore this topic further. We can also offer helpful articles for any interested students and parents.

We wanted to keep you apprised and informed of yesterday’s events in case your student comes home with questions or wants to discuss it further as a family. If you have further questions or if there are things that we can help with, please feel free to contact me at your convenience.

Than Healy,

Upper School Director

and Assistant Head

Lakeside Prep, Seattle

Source: Crosscut

Red Beans and Ricely Yours

By Mona Lisa Saloy

Winner of the 2005 T. S. Eliot Prize

Reviews, including A Life Won with Blood & Tears

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Dear Lakeside School Administrators, Upper School Parents, and Guardians, the Affinity groups, Dr. Lindsay Aegerter, Abe Wehmiller, and the Assembly Committee:

Since the Lakeside Administration’s correspondence on the Crosscut Blog and some confusion around my intent was made public, let me clarify.   Both the extent of introductory materials on New Orleans culture and my reading was planned in advance.  I was invited to Lakeside School to present what no one else could on the culture and history as new knowledge and a basis for further appreciating my creative works.

I introduced my final poem with a brief history of the controversial nature of the poem and stated that a high-school teacher in Virginia thought it brilliant for her students, that the poem was subsequently banned in the state, and that the University of Virginia Press published the poem in the anthology Furious Flower: African American Poets from the Black Arts Movement to the Present.  The poem itself opens on the historic controversy surrounding the social movement to end the use of “The ‘N’ Word.”  It is in effect an argument, yes with litany effect, but largely with both humor and irony.  While my poem “The ‘N’ Word” is meant to entertain, it’s point is cultural information and insight.

Early Blacks in America survived centuries of degradation and injustice, oppression and humiliation all the while being denied language, native language, worship, the ability to family and procreate at will.  How?  Blacks survived by keeping their stories, their moans and hollers, their rhythms and chants.  When given food not meant for human consumption, Blacks made “Soul Food.”  When toiling in fields, Blacks made works songs into “The Blues.”   Having come to American shores with a great sense of The Divine, to worship, Blacks invented “Spirituals,” what W.E.B. DuBois called “Sorrow Songs.”  

When Creoles were turned out of their quarters in New Orleans, they took their knowledge of European musical notation to their new “Colored” quarters—the home of those chants, moans, hollers, blues, spirituals, and Blacks developed “Jazz.”  As a result, one of the greatest African retentions is a linguistic prowess that allows Blacks to turn anything negative into something good.  Take for instance the word “bad.”  Black popular usage turned “bad” into “good,” really good, now appropriated by everyone. 

My Poem “The ‘N’ Word” catalogues just how Blacks did that; Blacks took a heinous racial slur and made it into a term of endearment, a marvel often overlooked by the larger culture.  As an artist, writer, I must write my time, my culture, and interpret it creatively. There is no monolithic Black culture here or in the Mother/Fatherland, but there are many things on which we can agree, and the affectionate use of  The ‘N’ Word among Blacks is a testimony of cultural longevity and uniqueness.  The book talk after my reading was the platform for explanation; the students and teachers attending received further context and explanation.

Red Beans and Ricely Yours,           

Dr. Mona Lisa Saloy

December 16, 2008

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Mona Lisa Saloy is associate professor of English and Director of creative writing at Dillard University (before Katrina). She won the 2005 T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry for this collection. She has also won fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities and from the United Negro College Fund/Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Her poems have appeared in anthologies, magazines, journals, and film. She received her PhD in English and MFA in creative writing from Louisiana State University and her MA in creative writing and English from San Francisco State University. Displaced by hurricane Katrina, Saloy is a visiting associate professor of English and creative writing at the University of Washington for the 2005/2006 academic year.  Mona Lisa Saloy Bio

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Rudy,  Just a word about Mona.

The respondent is typical of those who would rather deny and omit in light of assimilation into their culture on their terms.  I'm not speaking of the politically black/white thing but European culture which created all of the mess over the last 500 or so years.

Mona is a friend who is always welcomed in my house.  She, Kalamu ya Salaam, John Sinclair were among the first to perform at the Poetry Jams back in the 90'ls at the Louisiana State Museum, a program series that helped push forward spoken word activities and, since the advent of new folk and my departure, is no longer a part of the programming...too bad.

I, for one, am not afraid of the word "nigger" and Mona's piece (according to her apologist) DID the right thing by making the young folk ask questions (isn't that what education is supposed to be about?)...

More power to Mona, it is the duty of the artist to keep the audience from slipping into that dreaded state called ennui. Kindness, joy, love, and happiness.

 . . . Rhonda and I were discussing the N word and some interesting things came up.  One was about Mona's poem which was done before the latest wave of political correctness swept ashore.  As you know, I'm a timeline freak when it comes to history and I brought that up in the conversation.  I find that, for your bibliophiles, it works both ways. I recommend in whatever order seems appropriate to the reader that they read Dick Gregory's Nigger, The N Word (in the middle) and Randall Kennedy's book Nigger.  Kennedy's is basically a history (needed) and Gregory speaks with the zeitgeist of the '60's as his motivation.  As I said, if Mona's piece is in the middle, somehow all of this makes sense —Chuck Siler

*   *   *   *   *

Yes there is also Rap Brown's H. Rap Brown's Die Nigger Die!: a book that was used to tell some awful truths about America and the political role of race. When I think of the recent movements for "political correctness," I usually think of social respectability. That is a reductionism of movement, that provides the shell that one is involved in movement. That is probably not too unlike the overestimation of Obama and what he can do to change the race dynamic for those at the bottom who most need for the dynamic to change. Maybe there is a need to change teenager use of the N-Word in classrooms, especially among those knuckleheads who do not understand the power of words and the discrete use of them. But Ban the N-Word movements are more reactionary than revolutionary and more static than dynamic. There are always pitfalls—Rudy

posted 30 December 2008

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How William Faulkner Tackled Race—and Freed the South from Itself—John Jeremiah Sullivan on Absalom, Absalom!—You are my brother. — No I’m not. I’m the nigger that’s going to sleep with your sister. Unless you stop me, Henry.

This is a novel [Absalom, Absalom!] that uses the word “nigger” many times. An unfortunate subject, but to talk about it in 2012 and not mention the fact hints at some kind of repression. Especially when you consider that the particular example I’ve quoted is atypically soft: Bon, the person saying it, is part black, and being mordantly ironic. Most of the time, it’s a white character using the word—or, most conspicuously, the novel itself, in its voice—with an uglier edge. The third page features the phrase “wild niggers”; elsewhere it’s “monkey nigger.”

Faulkner wasn’t unique or even uncommon in using the word this way. Hemingway, Dos Passos, Gertrude Stein—all did so unapologetically. They were reflecting their country’s speech. They were also, if we are being frank, exploiting the word’s particular taboo charge, one only intensified when the writer is a white Southerner. Faulkner says “Negroes” in plenty of places here, also “blacks,” but when he wants a stronger effect, he says “niggers.” It isn’t a case, in short, of That’s just how they talked back then. The term was understood by the mid-’30s (well before, in fact) to be nasty. A white person wouldn’t use it around a black person unless meaning to offend or assert superiority—except perhaps now and then in the context of an especially close humor.

Even if we were to justify Faulkner’s overindulgence of the word on the grounds of historical context, I would find it unfortunate purely as a matter of style. It may be crass for a white reader to claim that as significant, but a writer with Faulkner’s sensitivity to verbal shading might have been better tuned to the ugliness of the word, and not a truth-revealing ugliness, but something more like gratuitousness, with an attending queasy sense of rhetorical power misused. I count it a weakness, to be placed alongside Faulkner’s occasional showiness and his incessant “not” constructions, which come often several to a page: “and not this, nor that, nor even the other thing, but a fourth thing — adjective adjective adjective — made him lift the hoe” (where half the time those things would not have occurred to you in your natural life, but old Pappy takes his time chopping them down anyway).

The defense to be mounted is not of Faulkner’s use of the word but of the novel in spite of it, or rather, in the face of it. Absalom, Absalom! has been well described as the most serious attempt by any white writer to confront the problem of race in America. There is bravery in Faulkner’s decision to dig into this wound. He knew that the effort would involve the exposure of his own mind, dark as it often was. You could make a case that to have written this book and left out that most awful of Southernisms would have constituted an act of falsity.

Certainly we would not want to take the word away from Bon, in that scene in the woods, one of the most extraordinary moments in Southern literature. A white man and a black man look at each other and call each other brother. One does, anyway. Suddenly, thrillingly, the whole social edifice on which the novel is erected starts to teeter. All Henry has to do is repeat himself. Say it again, the reader thinks. Say, “No, you are my brother.” And all would be well, or could be well, the gothic farce of Sutpen’s dream redeemed with those words, remade into a hopeful or at least not-hope-denying human story. Charles Bon would live, and Judith would be his wife, and Sutpen would have descendants, and together they might begin rebuilding the South along new lines.—nytimes

Psychology of Black Oppression   The N-Word Poem at Lakeside  H. Rap Brown's Die Nigger Die!   The Niggerization of Palestine  

Juneteenth and Emancipation   The Origin of Violence in Virginia   Just Another Dead Nigger  Nigguh Please

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



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#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

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#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

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#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

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#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

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#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

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#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits.

Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America.

This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."

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Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word

By Randall Kennedy

The word is paradigmatically ugly, racist and inflammatory. But is it different when Ice Cube uses it in a song than when, during the O.J. Simpson trial, Mark Fuhrman was accused of saying it? What about when Lenny Bruce uses it to "defang" it by sheer repetition? Or when Mark Twain uses it in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to make an antiracist statement? Kennedy, a professor at Harvard Law School and noted legal scholar, has produced an insightful and highly provocative book that raises vital questions about the relationship between language, politics, social norms and how society and culture confront racism. Drawing on a wide range of historical, legal and cultural instances Harry S. Truman calling Adam Clayton Powell "that damned nigger preacher"; Title VII court cases in which the use of the word was proof of condoning a "racially hostile work environment"; Quentin Tarantino's liberal use of the word in his films Kennedy repeatedly shows not only the complicated cultural history of the word, but how its meaning, intent and even substance change in context. Smart, well argued and never afraid of facing serious, difficult and painful questions in an unflinching and unsentimental manner, this is an important work of cultural and political criticism.

As Kennedy notes in closing: "For bad or for good, nigger is... destined to remain with us for the foreseeable future a reminder of the ironies and dilemmas, the tragedies and glories, of the American experience." (Jan. 22)Forecast: This may be the book that reignites larger debates over race eclipsed by September 11. Look for a bestselling run and huge talk show and magazine coverage as the Afghanistan news cycle continues to slow; the book had already been the subject of two New York Times stories by early January.—Publishers Weekly

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Home  Mona Lisa Saloy Table    Amin Sharif

Related files:  Psychology of Black Oppression   The N-Word Poem at Lakeside  Retrospective on Die Nigger Die  The Niggerization of Palestine  Nigguh Please

Juneteenth and Emancipation   The Origin of Violence in Virginia   Just Another Dead Nigger    A Hip Hop Clothing Store Called Nigger   A Life Won with Blood & Tears