Apr 082019

On March 31st, someone drove up in broad daylight and shot to death rapper and songwriter, Nipsey Hussle, in front of his clothing store in Los Angeles, California. His loss is an unmitigated tragedy for his family, friends and all of us who love great music and crusading artists who use their good fortune to bless others. Nipsey was lionized in his beloved community of South LA.

In the wake of his death, Nipsey’s friends and fans have taken to social media to share their grief and declare their love and respect for him. As often happens, people use hashtags to signal their shared sense of community with others. In this case, some of the popular hashtags are #RIPNip, #Nip, #LongLiveNip.

Before it was Nipsey Hussle’s nickname, “nip” sprang to life as a racial slur wielded against Japanese people, and because of our laziness in differentiating between the people who descend from the 18 countries of East Asia, the slur extends by default to all of them. And now, it’s all over social media in reference to a slain hero. I can only imagine if someone was killed who had the nickname “nig”, “kraut”, “coon” or “kike”. The internet would plead for folks to use the person’s whole name because of the words’ heavy past. It should be no different this time. 

“Nips are just vermin to be exterminated”

General George Kenney, Commander of the Allied Air Forces in the Southwest Pacific, WWII

The first step in destroying a people is to strip them of their humanity. Word are an excellent starting place. Don’t call them “Japanese” or “Nipponese” (Japan was once known as Nippon), call them “Japs” or “Nips”.  Make up coy put-downs like, “there’s a nip in the air” to describe people and not weather events. After that, a United States Army Air Forces General (George Kenney) who was the Commander of the Allied Air Forces in the Southwest Pacific Area during World War II can make a statement like, “”Nips are just vermin to be exterminated.” And a Seattle Star editorial on December 14, 1944 can be titled, “It’s Time to Do Some Thinking On Nips’ Return.” The editors took a dim view of allowing Japanese-Americans returning from internment camps to re-enter the society they were wrenched from during the war. 

The word “nip” has not lost its sting for Asian-Americans today. My friend alerted me to the offensiveness of the hashtag when he saw it on social media. He wondered if people were ignorant or just didn’t care. I’m not going to post pictures of any posts here that use the offending hashtag because I don’t see a need in putting any particular author on blast. I truly believe that the people who have used this hashtag don’t realize that the word “nip” is a charged racial slur. Now that we do know, I believe we have to be energetic in seeking to do no harm; let’s use his whole name.

Books are available to help us make sense of the past and present. Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston is a classic that is appropriate for middle grade children. Houston renders her personal account of life before and during internment tenderly, with a perspective that allows children to empathize with her family’s plight.

Looking Like the Enemy: My Story of Imprisonment in Japanese-American Internment Camps by Mary Matsuda Gruenewald is a book for adults from a woman recounting her traumatic experience in an internment camp as a teenager.

Only What We Could Carry: The Japanese American Internment Experience edited by Lawson Fusao Inada is an anthology written in the first person by people who experienced internment camps. They share their art, recollections and deepest feelings with readers so that we might understand the depth of the harm suffered.

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