Posted: 2/24/22

TAMIU Black History Month Observation Presents Virtual Lecture, 'Straight Talk about the Nword' March 22


Dr. Neal Lester
Dr. Neal Lester  

Texas A&M International University (TAMIU) will continue its observation of Black History Month with a Diverse Cultures, Diverse Humanities virtual lecture Tuesday, March 22 at 7 p.m.

The Diverse Cultures, Diverse Humanities Series will present Dr. Neal Lester, Foundation Professor of English and Founding Director of the multiple award-winning Project Humanities initiative at Arizona State University,  and his virtual lecture,  "Straight Talk about the Nword."

The lecture is free and open to the public. To register, visit: https://www.tamiu.edu/coas/lla/diversity-series/lester.shtml

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.

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, Lester has done pioneering work on the Nword, having created and taught the first college course on the Nword in the United States.

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, México, Italy, and Korea.

Also an award-winning teacher and popular radio guest, moderator, and panelist, 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, he 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).

“Diverse Cultures, Diverse Humanities” is a seven-part virtual speaker series sponsored by Humanities Texas and hosted by TAMIU.

The Series hopes to provide an ongoing conversation about issues connected to diversity and inclusion that brings top humanists and creative writers to share their experience and expertise with the community.

TAMIU's Black History Month events are presented in collaboration with TAMIU's Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Committee (TIDE), TAMIU Student Orientation, Leadership and Engagement, and the Diverse Cultures, Diverse Humanities Series.

Charged by the office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, TIDE is committed to The Texas A&M University System’s normative principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion. It is further committed to advancing the cause of these principles by pursuing cross-cultural exploration, inter-cultural relationship-building, and mutual learning and growth through events and activities that celebrate the unity of cultures in a democratic environment.

For more information, please contact TAMIU's Office of Public Relations, Marketing and Information Services at 956.326.2180, email prmis@tamiu.edu or visit offices located in the Sue and Radcliffe Killam Library, room 268.