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Laura Schlessinger, Don Imus, Mel Gibson and 250 million white people in America are not allowed to say the word nigger. Ever. Neither are African Americans, according some older Black folks who purse their lips and bristle on the bus whenever it’s tossed around casually by high schoolers, by young Black, Asian and Latino urbanites and, if you believe what you hear, any rap record booming out of your headphones.

Michael Paul Britto is an educator and visual and performance artist based in New York City who tackles blackness and its representation in popular culture. He’s made documentaries on the history of the handshake and added new layers to Britney Spears’ song “I’m A Slave for You,” casting background dancers as 18th Century slaves singing along to the pop-star’s 2001 hit single.

“This Little Word of Mine,” his new performance piece about the N word, that often debated and buried epithet and term of endearment used by every other young person of color today, is embedded in all facets of media and our lives. It is based around a church revival staged to include live video and music mixing, creating a call and response atmosphere that prompts the audience to join in and participate, to question the usage of this word in music, movies and everyday conversations. 

GlobalGrind spoke with the New York City educated artist via email about his “This Little Word Of Mine” performance at The Kitchen, NYC’s premier performance venue, next week. Read Britto’s take on the next page.

Above: Michael Paul Britto portrait by Jayson Keeling. 

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GlobalGrind: Who is allowed to say or use the word nigger?

Michael Paul Britto: I think anyone is allowed to say the word nigger, due to the fact that it is so embedded in our current culture of music, television, and movies. But you need to be ready for the response you get for that use. It’s definitely still a very loaded word.

Do you have a memory of the first time you heard the word nigger or was called so, if ever?

I don’t have a specific memory of first hearing the word, but I do know I became very aware of it through popular culture. I’ve never been called a nigger to my face.

What do you hope to accomplish with this piece?

I hope to make people more aware with my performance, I’d like to show how embedded the “n” word is in our current popular culture.

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Stills from Britto’s “This Little Word of Mine” rehearsal.

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Stills from Britto’s “This Little Word of Mine” rehearsal.

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