An ugly word in our language

Justin Coltrain, who is charged with a hate crime in an August fight in Ogle County, says he is not a racist.

But Coltrain, who is white, didn't help his case when he used the N-word at least twice in an interview last week with Sauk Valley Media's Matt Mencarini. The jail recorded the phone interview.

Coltrain said that when he uses the word, he isn't necessarily referring to someone's race. But there's no getting around it: The word is an ugly one.

Some blacks also use the word. That, too, is detestable, and civil rights leaders, including Al Sharpton, have said so.

A few months ago, we reported on a discrimination lawsuit filed against the village of Lyndon by a former employee who is black. He claimed other employees called him the N-word. In the story, we didn't spell out the word.

One reader objected in an online comment: "Really had to use 'N-word'? We already know what it means, so just say it instead of babying the readers with this politically correct mantra. We can be adults about it."

Many people decry political correctness, but actually practice it themselves. "Political correctness" is a fancy term for "courtesy." Don't you sometimes soften your language to avoid offending others?

In my private life, I've heard white people use the N-word. A couple of years ago, a woman used the word at a barbecue. I objected. She stood her ground.

In 2005, when a man used the word a couple of times at a party, I stayed silent. I lacked the courage to challenge him. No one else did either.

Has Coltrain become so comfortable using the N-word because it offends no one in his circle? Is it because blacks make up only 1 percent of the population in Ogle County? Or is it because he does not realize how bad the word is?

David Giuliani is a news editor for Sauk Valley Media. You can reach him at dgiuliani@saukvalley or 800-798-4085, ext. 525.

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