The N’Word as Sculpture

Tony Award® nominated, film and television actor Joe Morton

Recently Roland Martin got into a debate with a young man on Twitter over the use of the n-word. In response to the young man’s insistence on using the derogatory term, Scandal’s Joe Morton sent an essay to Roland called “The N-Word As Sculpture.”

horizontal break


The N’word has been burned into the psyche of black folk in this country not unlike the numbers branded on the bodies of living Jews in concentration camps… and its stigma is equally as indelible. If I were a sculptor, I would create a memorial to all those who have suffered from its poisonous and debilitating affects. I would construct the word out of deeply scarred and rusted steel to symbolize its onerous antiquity and unfortunate endurance. I would make the letters as tall as the average person to suggest that human beings, not animals, were demeaned by this word. I would overlay the tarnished metal with clumps of thick black paint, let them dry, and pick at them, leaving deep wounds, to emphasize the African culture that was debased, cut away, and left to decay. I would inlay the ulcerated steel with hair, segments of human bone, and dogs’ teeth, to recall the outrageous violence with which the protesters, marching under the banner of civil rights, were met. I would take flesh-like fragments of the American flag and embed them in the corners of the word to represent the lacerated tissue of American democracy. I would dot the “i” with the “Eye of Providence,” as seen on the back of our one dollar bill — but with a cataract — to remind us that this word, as connected to slavery, and blinded by religion, was all about profit and oppression. I would put at the end of the word an exclamation point made of whips coiled together and dotted with a cannon ball to recall the civil war and the end of slavery. I would stain the word with “blood” — the blood shed by freedom fighters everywhere — and bury the entire construct in “barren ground,” so one could stand over it and read it… and to illustrate…that wherever this word is planted, nothing grows.