Pop and African Americans

Frank Abate Abatefr at CS.COM
Wed Apr 19 16:03:22 UTC 2000

Natalie's story below reminds me of recent discussions I've had re the "n-word", and the apparent fact that it is used among black people when speaking about other blacks, and is not necessarily derogatory when so used.  Can anyone confirm this?

Of course, outside the specific context of one's own environment, the "n-word" is highly inflammatory, perhaps the most dangerous word in English.

The PS is also revealing of the too-frequent assumption that one individual can/should speak for a whole race, which is never true (or a whole gender, etc.).  This seems to me an often overlooked point, and merits emphasis, whether the topic is language, politics, whatever.

Frank Abate


> I've got to make myself get back to paper-grading and quit this
> e-mailing, but I wanted to report the results of a quicky research
> effort.  I went down to our main office a few minutes ago and
> asked one of the African American secretaries if she ever said
> "pop" for coke.  She said, "Sometimes.  It depends on my
> environment."  When I asked her what kind of environment made
> her say "pop," she laughed and said "when I'm among my own kind."
> The two African American student workers who were listening to
> our conversation laughed and nodded.  I told them why I was
> asking, and they all three said that my student was right --
> that "pop" was the common term among African Americans but
> that they often switched to "coke" in inter-racial conversations.
>    --Natalie Maynor (maynor at ra.msstate.edu)
> PS: This secretary is a good friend of mine and has made clear
> that she doesn't mind -- in fact that she enjoys -- being a
> resource person on African American language and culture.  I
> realize that not everybody feels that way.  One of my students
> told me last semester about how annoyed she was with a teacher
> she had had the previous year who kept calling on her in class
> to give "the African American perspective" on whatever they
> were talking about.  She said that it made her feel weird and
> that she did not consider herself qualified to speak for the
> whole race.

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