On Madlib's new CD, Movie Scenes, there is, near the end of a track called "Pyramids (Change)," a sample from the golden era of the Black Arts Movement (which peaked in the late '60s and counted LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka as its brightest star). While beating a bongo, the sampled black poet repeats the phrase: "Funny how things change, nigga." The poet plays with the phrase in such a way that its meaning slightly changes, so that at times it means this: "Funny how things change a nigga"; and other times it means this: "Funny how a nigga can change things." At the end of "Pyramids (Change)" the poet boils the phrase down to one word, "nigga," which he repeats over and over until it changes into "a gun."

The poet in this particular sample has in mind a revolutionary deployment of the n-word. The gun that the nigga becomes is pointed at his oppressors and exploiters: white people. But that was back in the '60s, when all areas of American society—sexual, gender, labor—were undergoing radical change. These days, however, the gun we get from a nigga is almost always pointed at someone who is black and poor. The revolutionary connotation of the n-word has entirely vanished and what's left is the antisocial nigga, the inner-city gangsta. And as if that weren't disturbing enough, this type of "a gun" (the street thug who shoots his own kind) has been commodified by popular culture. The postindustrial, post-white-flight n-word is heard on cable, on the radio, in movies, and it's only a matter of time before it makes an appearance on commercials for riding mowers, ice-cream makers, and other consumer products.

These days, even whites call each other nigga. To give an example that's close to home, a 14-year-old girl named Kristten posted this comment on the MySpace site of my former coworker Sean Nelson's non-black band, Harvey Danger: "Ur music is so cool man! high five... haha fo real though, you all are the coolest niggas ever!" Nelson has, however, the same opinion of the n-word as the president of the local chapter of the NAACP, Sheley Secrest: "No matter what," Nelson recently wrote on The Stranger's blog, "I can never use that word."

I learned of Secrest's absolute position on the n-word by this circuitous route: About two months ago, Secrest—a 31-year-old lawyer who assumed leadership of the NAACP after Alfoster Garrett's fireball fall from grace—was at a talk her organization hosted called "Silent War: The Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome." At the end of the event, a member of the audience approached Secrest and showed her a cartoon that was published on the penultimate page of The Stranger.

Titled "The Thrilling Exploits of Chas Mudede AKA the Scholar Nigga!" the cartoon was written and drawn by two white artists, Ivan Cockrum and Lara Seven, who purchased the comics page during the Strangercrombie charity auction, which, among other items, sells sections of the newspaper to raise money for Northwest Harvest. What upset the person who approached Secrest was that the cartoon figure of me, a black man, was called "Scholar Nigga." Secrest contacted The Stranger and arranged a meeting to address what she believed to be a flagrant act of racism. I went to this meeting with the publisher of the paper, Tim Keck, on a blustery day and did most of the talking. I explained to the three concerned members of the NAACP that I had actually cleared the cartoon because it wasn't racist, but a kind of homage to my work. The cartoonists were not only knowledgeable about my writing but also the inter-paper conflicts I've had with other local writers. In the case of "Scholar Nigga," it was Samson Spears, a black hiphop critic for the now-defunct magazine Tablet, who gave me that title. The cartoonists were aware of this and other aspects of what I write, such as my intense love for German philosophy, and also my intense loathing for animals from Antarctica.

My explanation hit a brick wall. The NAACP didn't care about inter-paper conflicts, or the fact that it was a black man who called me a scholar nigga. Their position was simply this: The Stranger had inappropriately used the n-word. The meeting ended with her requesting that our paper never use the word again, except for critical purposes—that was the NAACP's policy.

A week later, I had lunch with Secrest in the Frye Art Museum cafe. It was the second round of the conversation between the NAACP and The Stranger. I restated, as clearly as possible, the circumstances that led to the use of the n-word in the cartoon—but she stuck to her guns. "We, the NAACP, understand the rights of the press and everything about free speech that makes this country the great country that it is. We completely understand that, but it's not a matter of can a newspaper publish this. It's a matter of what's appropriate and what's not appropriate. And when you use the n-word, the emotional response that happens to black Americans is what we care about. And the way it was used in your paper, was that appropriate? That's the concern of the NAACP. We have to draw a line of what's appropriate and what's not. Clearly, to all of our members, use of the n-word in your paper is not appropriate."

When asked about the n-word's present ubiquity, its increasing use in popular entertainment and other areas of public life, she said, "I wouldn't necessarily say that it's an increased use. I mean, back in the days of my grandparents it was used every other word, you know, used with every other name. So I wouldn't say that it's an increase. Maybe the meaning of it is trying to change, where blacks are trying to say, 'Well we've embraced it and we're trying to show that we have power over the word and that we're using it.' Maybe that part has changed."

When Secrest asked me what I personally thought of the word, I told her that it was a very bad word and should not, in theory, be used because black Americans still suffer from poverty, underfunded and overcrowded schools, police violence, job discrimination, and so on. But despite all this, I felt the word was out of my control because it's used everywhere—in pop music, on the street corners by my apartment, and by my neighbors, who are mostly black Americans.

"The NAACP, we're not trying to enter into that whole debate," Secrest said, "Our point is strictly this: We can agree that there is a line of what's appropriate and what's not in regards to what an individual journalist writes. From the NAACP, our position is simply the n-word is never appropriate—then in the instance of your cartoon it stands on the inappropriate side."

Sheley Secrest is certainly a smart woman, but the war on the n-word is ultimately a waste of her intelligence and resources. Even if this paper were never to use the n-word again, it would be nothing more than a very tiny victory for the oldest, most venerable civil rights organization in the United States of America.

Note: The n-word in this article was used in complete compliance with the NAACP's guidelines for appropriate and inappropriate contexts.