Byrant Smith visits campus to honor Black History Month
There are some words you never use, but Bryant Smith was not afraid to break some social rules in his presentation on Tuesday night.
The Co-optation of the N-Word was sponsored by Multicultural Student Services in honor of Black History Month.
Smith, an author and the head of a consulting firm, gave the speech about the use of the n-word in everyday society.
The program began with a specific theory about the over-use of the n-word.
“We have mainstreamed the word and use it in pop culture so much, that in 10 years it will be the name of a professional sports team,” Smith said.
He went on to explain to students that references in popular music, movies and TV have turned the n-word into something that confuses the black and white communities. Specifically, he said the word has become co-opted.
“We take the word that was once used to enslave us and use it as a term of endearment,” Smith said. “But when it’s co-opted, white people use the word as well and take away the power we had over the word.”
The screen behind Smith’s podium was lit up the whole night with different pictures and clips to highlight his varying points about the n-word’s role in popular culture.
He also showed items of past pop culture such as postcards featuring lynching, books using the n-word as a title and former Peoria resident Richard Pryor’s comedy tapes using the n-word as a title.
“You don’t need to take a class to learn how to use the n-word. It’s learned from popular culture,” Smith said.
To truly understand the n-word Smith said we need to look at how it has gone from a word used to suppress a race of people into a word heard every day. Specifically, it’s used in TV shows such as “Chappelle Show” or in music.
“In the plantation days the n-word was enforced because they would not refer to [black people] as people,” Smith said. “They needed to reinforce the mentality of a lesser race to make the rest of the world OK with slavery.”
He also compared the similarities of putting down a race with the way soldiers at war right now are being trained to use derogatory names to refer to the enemy.
“One general said he is teaching his soldiers new racial slurs in reference to the enemies so they feel less guilt when they kill them,” Smith said.
After reviewing some of the history of the word, Smith also examined how it has become so popular in today’s way of life. He played different rap songs to show how it went from being used in a negative way to a positive one.
“Hip-hop came in and all they were talking about was how cool they were and somewhere along the way there was a shift in rap that made using the n-word cool,” he said.
The first rapper to use the n-word in a song with a positive spin on it was not N.W.A or Tupac as most people tend to think, he said. It was actually Ice-T.
Smith also said the entertainment industry covers up the history of the word through using it this way.
“Your introduction to the word was entertainment,” Smith said. “The first time I remember hearing it was a Ku Klux Klan march in Cicero. We went from being oppressed to being entertained.”
At the end of the speech Smith reiterated that he was not out to change anyone’s minds, but instead wanted to make people think.
“It’s important for us to set some boundaries as a community and draw the line,” he said. “We need to be consistent about the use of the word.”
Director of Multicultural Student Services Frances Jones said she wanted to bring Smith in because he was a good fit for Bradley’s campus.
“He has a positive message,” Jones said. “I felt this would be right for Bradley because I do a lot of presentations to the resident life staff. They had questions about the n-word and the spelling.”
The students that attended seemed to like the message portrayed by Smith.
“The speech definitely made me think about the word more and now I want more people to understand the history behind it,” freshman secondary education major Brian McKinley said.
Other students said they felt similarly.
“Growing up I was historically centered and taught not to use the word,” freshman theatre performance major Danielle Davis said. “But, the speech really makes you think one day there will be a sports team named after it simply due to ignorance.”
Smith has written the book “Black Not Blind” and also heads up Smith Consulting and Networking which is a firm specializing in comprehensive training, consulting and development.