June 20, 2013

Sticks and stones may break bones but names ...

By ROBIN CAUDELL Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Dr. J. W. Wiley’s debut book is a fulcrum for elevating one’s consciousness or others.

Printed by Stylus Publishing, “The Nigger in You: Challenging Dysfunctional Language, Engaging Leadership Moments” unpacks hurtful language used daily, knowing and unknowingly, in American society that marginalizes diverse groups.

Wiley utilizes his reality as a black man in the United States as a starting point, which he riffs off by challenging readers to reflect on the retard, bitch, fag, girl, trailer trash, cracker, etc. in them.

“As an academic, I heard over and over again that the word ‘nigger’ is the penultimate insult,” said Wiley, who is director of the Center for Diversity, Pluralism and Inclusion at SUNY Plattsburgh.

“It’s the worst word in the English language. Logically, it doesn’t make sense to me. Black people are 13 percent of the population. Let’s just say all black people are offended by that word, and there are 10 percent of white people who are offended by that word. How can it be a worse word than bitch? Women are 50 percent of the population. Most men love the women in their lives.

“In terms of sheer numbers, it’s hard to say if (the worst is) bitch or fag or whatever.”

The problematic n-word is one all Americans need awareness of to historically contextualize and have conversations about, Wiley said.

“Calling it the worst word is problematic,” Wiley said. “As a black man, it’s the worst word for me. It makes sense for me to frame my book by the word that affects me the most and that I know the most and lived with the most. These words have been visited upon me from time to time.”

The n-word’s toll, destruction, stress and pain allows him to imagine its parallel to bitch for a woman, fag for a gay person or retard for a mentally disabled person.

“I can imagine how it would be for them to wear those terms and live with those terms,” Wiley said.

“I chose ‘The Nigger in You’ (as a title) because I knew it would get people’s attention.”

When he got a proof of the book’s cover, it included “wetback,” a word he hadn’t suggested in his cover design.

“There will be a followup to this book. I would have liked to engage ageism, immigration, religion. I could have gone much deeper in the whole gender piece and race. There were a lot of places I didn’t go as much as I would like to,” he said.

What he does address includes multiple identities, sexuality, cool, race and privilege.

Wiley shares personal and familial stories as well as those of others. He illuminates America’s dysfunctional and resilient attitudes through popular culture, TV, film, music and poetry. 

The father of three likened his writing process to giving birth. He started after attending a conference in Manhattan. His publisher wanted a different book, which Wiley wasn’t inspired to write.

As for this book, “I finished writing it in September. The process took until May, close to nine months. I devoted six hours a day religiously or more for 15 weeks. I gained 15 pounds. I had no life whatsoever,” he said.

His favorite chapter is “Of Same Sex, Straight and Gay,” which begins with his encounter with an admiring male and Wiley’s profane response. The hardest chapters to write were the first and last: “Of Diversity, Social Justice, and Multiple Identities” and “Of Misplaced Hate and Self-Definition.” The latter chapter is the most personal, in which Wiley writes about his father’s trials, the s-word, suicide and the importance of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” to his life’s trajectory. 

“It’s important to let students know I’m human, too, and I feel pain similar to yours,” Wiley said.

Feedback from the just barely month-old book trickles in. Former students tote copies from Chicago to Paris. At an author workshop at the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in New Orleans, “The Nigger in You” was his publisher’s top sell. 

Book groups are selecting it. Two bartenders purchased copies after he and his woman friend placed theirs on a Hilton bar. The first bartender wanted it as a teaching tool for her son. The other wanted it as armor to argue with. Overhearing their exchange, an education-board member also engaged Wiley because he was looking for something to shake things up.

One colleague wrote that the book was “wonderful, provocative, beautifully written, marvelously structured and a great read.”

The beauty of “The Nigger in You” is like a supernumerary rainbow illuminating a spectrum of subject matter in one spot.

“The book is a resource to arm parents, people, educators, students going to be future educators and students who want to improve themselves,” Wiley said.

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IF YOU BUY WHAT: "The Nigger in You: Challenging Dysfunctional Language, Engaging Leadership Moments" by Dr. J. W. Wiley. PUBLISHER: Stylus Publishing, 22883 Quicksilver Drive, Sterling, VA 20166-2102. ISBN: 978-1-57922-986-3. PRICE: $21. AVAILABLE: Corner-Stone Bookshop, 110 Margaret St., Plattsburgh;; or