Attorney Roy Miller from Macon, Georgia has devoted his life to justice, racial equality, and music. He has succeeded in all three roles. In fact, through his efforts, he has even succeeded in having the infamous n-word slur against Black people stricken from a major dictionary published by Funk & Wagnalls. His young niece was the impetus for his fight against the company.
He comments, “Around Christmas of 1993, my sister purchased the new edition of Funk & Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary for my 13-year old niece at a grocery store in Macon, Georgia. I visited my niece on March 6, 1994, and she appeared sad and depressed. My niece told me she no longer wanted the books.”
“Knowing how excited she was when she first got them, I was puzzled at the change in her attitude and asked why. She told me and I immediately understood,” he recalls.
Funk & Wagnalls has published a collection of English language dictionaries known for emphasis on ease of use and current usage. But consider the dictionary’s definition of the n-word: “nigger n. A negro or member of any dark-skinned people; a vulgar and offensive term (See Negro).”
“When I read the definition, I was outraged. I immediately realized that the old definition that applied the N-word to any race had changed. The change only gave a description, not a definition. It merely suggested to the reader that if you don’t know what a Nigger is, just look at a Negro or dark-skinned person and you’ll find out,” Miller says.
He continues, “This definition could never apply to an innocent Black child. The term ‘nigger’ had belittled and confused my niece, causing her to question her identity. I asked myself how Funk & Wagnalls could justify in its 1993 edition that whatever vulgar and offensive things that niggers are supposedly known to do could only apply to a Negro or dark-skinned person (including an innocent Black child).”
“Although I was outraged, I tried to be fair and asked several of my Black, White, Hispanic, and Asian friends what they thought of the definition. They all agreed that it is degrading and unfairly labels good and bad people, even innocent-minded young children,” Miller says.
“Why confuse a child of any color with this definition? Children are pure at heart and not responsible for bad relationships of the past. No child should ever have to wonder whether or not he or she is a nigger,” says Miller, a staunch advocate for the betterment of the lives of children and youth.
He explains that America’s n-word is somewhat of a Frankenstein created by slave owners to label Blacks as inferior. The n-word includes components of racism and identity confusion. At its worse, the n-word is the ultimate insult. It is a meaningless slur aimed directly at Blacks and amounts to the profanity of the worse kind. For whatever reason, this profanity used by adults has become the acceptable language for many children. But profanity should never be an acceptable language for children to use.
Some newspaper and magazine articles, as well as book authors, sometimes use the n-word, but Randall Kennedy’s “Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word” and Baltimore City Councilman Melvin Stukes’ desire to have the n-word discouraged from public use are evidence of the uncomfortable feelings that happen when one hears the word. My concern about the negative impact of the n-word is primarily focused on innocent children, not only innocent Black children, but the effect it has on children of all races.
Miller, a professional solo R&B and gospel recording artist since 1983, says Black musicians are most responsible for glamorizing the n-word. “You do not get freedom, justice, and equality by devaluing who you are and without demanding respect,” says Miller. He says musicians as a whole must stand up for the integrity and respect of our youth.
“It is Black musicians who must clean up what was messed up. Our youth are dying. They are lost and need us to be the lighthouse to lead them to safety. Youth can learn from us and complete the bridge to freedom, justice, and equality that Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X died building in the 1960s,” says.
He wrote to Funk & Wagnall on March 17, 1994, and presented his argument, which was solely for the sake of children. Leon L. Bram, Vice President & Editorial Director, responded in a letter dated March 31, 1994, stating that the word would be deleted from all forthcoming printings. “Mr. Miller, your niece is fortunate in having an uncle as concerned and caring as you,” he wrote.
Miller says that he felt extremely honored that his argument had succeeded. Mr. Bram could have left the definition in the dictionary as it appeared, but he chose to take it out. “I am proud of Mr. Bram for taking the heat and doing the right thing,” Miller says. What had transpired between me and Funk and Wagnalls was reported in the May 1994 edition of Macon, GA – Georgia Informer and October 22, 2001 edition of the Macon Telegraph.