"Straight Talk about the Nword"

Virtual Lecture Series on Diversity

As per the speaker's request, a recording of this event is not available.

Neal A. Lester


Event Information

Speaker: Dr. Neal A. Lester

Date: Tuesday, March 22, 2022, 7:00 p.m. CST

Location: Online 

Like no other word in the English language, the Nword spawns leading news headlines particularly when celebrities utter it:  comedian Michael Richards, Larry Wilmore, Paula Deen, Hulk Hogan, Iggy Azalea, Dog the Bounty Hunter, John Mayer, Mel Gibson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lopez, Kyle Larson, Barbara Walters, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, Morgan Wallen, or Jesse Jackson, Sr.  This word shows up in American childhood rhymes and ditties, in minstrel songs that are now popular Disney children’s songs and in commercial advertisements. It punctuates some rap songs, is euphemized, buried in mock funerals, and bleeped from media broadcasts. Responding to one critic’s challenge “to create an environment for dialogue about the word’s purposes and problems,” this presentation is an opportunity to hold under a critical microscope this single word described as “the most inflammatory, shocking and historic word in the English language.” This presentation considers the word’s “continually shifting use” through the complex discourse of American race relations, ultimately gauging more broadly the fundamental role of words, history, language, and performance to construct identities--individual, communal, and even national.

Dr. Neal A. Lester is Foundation Professor of English and Founding Director of the multiple award-winning Project Humanities initiative at Arizona State University. With expertise in African American literature and culture, Dr. Lester has authored or edited seven books and myriad essays and chapters on topics ranging from the race and gender politics of hair, Black masculinities, and African American folklore, to Toni Morrison’s children’s books. In addition to his publications on ntozake shange, Alice Walker, Sapphire, and Zora Neale Hurston, Dr. Lester has done pioneering work on the Nword, having created and taught the first college course on the Nword in the US. His expertise on cultural appropriation, on everyday lessons in privilege and bias, and on humanities and entrepreneurship is nationally and internationally recognized. His expertise has led to interviews on CNN, USA Today, Good Morning America, The Special Report with Reva Martin, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. He has lectured in Ghana, Pakistan, China, Mexico, Italy, and Korea. Also an award-winning teacher and popular radio guest, moderator, and panelist, Dr. Lester is editor of a forthcoming collection on global social justice, to be published in 2023 by the Modern Language Association, and guest editor of the special issue of Humanities on the topic of “African American Children’s Literature.” In January 2022, Dr. Lester received Arizona State University’s inaugural Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Servant-Leadership Faculty Award, an accolade that follows other such MLK recognitions from the City of Tempe (AZ), the City of Phoenix (AZ), the City of Paradise Valley (AZ).

This event is made possible in part with a grant from Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

For more information, contact Dr. Adam Kozaczka at 956.326.3300 or adam.kozaczka@tamiu.edu

*Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this speaker series do not necessarily represent those of Humanities Texas or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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